There is no end of opinions about where a woman’s place is, from the bedroom to the boardroom to the blast-off pad. Indeed, women have been having lively discussions, organizing social movements, and pushing beyond the centuries-old boundaries that have been put in their way.
A man’s place? Do we need to ask? Men have been running most of the world for thousands of years. Their place is well understood by those who have been under their control—but perhaps not so well by men themselves. This is especially true now, as the modern feminist movement has opened fissures in the relationship between the sexes and led to an identity crisis among many thoughtful, well-intentioned men.
In her documentary feature debut, French director and screenwriter Coline Grando dives into the deep end by examining what a man’s place is with regard to abortion. In a featureless room, Grando interviews five French-speaking Belgian men between the ages of 20 and 40 who all had to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. All five were reluctant to talk about their experience and probably were persuaded to do so only because their interviewer was a woman. It’s not something men talk to each other about, one of her subjects says.
The emotions the men exhibit range from distant and intellectual to angry and remorseful. The oldest of the men and his girlfriend both wanted the baby even though they had only been dating for two months and were not getting along. They were at loggerheads throughout the pregnancy, and he considered abandoning her and the baby. “In my case, the man is forced to have the baby. You feel someone is making a choice for you,” he says in a true, but almost parodic echo of women who are denied an abortion.
Two of the men decided to convince their girlfriends to have an abortion the women didn’t really want. One of them, already a father from a previous relationship but not willing to be tied to this woman, clearly is still disturbed about it; the other seems thoughtful, but still lingering in a happy abstraction of fatherhood that he was unwilling to undertake.
One young man describes the devastation his girlfriend felt when the abortion drugs kicked in, causing her to expel the fetus into her toilet. He complains of being alone with his own feelings of sadness when she locked herself away from him and then being unable to help her when she finally emerged because of his own wrecked condition.
The youngest of the bunch was less than 20 when he accompanied his girlfriend to the clinic where she had her abortion. He bangs his legs with his hands repeatedly as he vents his rage at being treated like a child whose feelings were ignored. “We’re going through it, too,” he says. “I was excluded whereas I wanted to be involved.”
All of the men acknowledge that they took no responsibility for using birth control, assuming that their girlfriends were on the pill or simply not caring enough to discuss or practice it. That unthinking decision may haunt a couple of them, but lack of education about birth control and safe sex seems widespread and of little concern to them or others.
A Man’s Place provides them with the space to consider how they related to their own abortion experience and what it means to them to be responsible men in a world that demands more of them than it did of previous generations. I must say that I found the seriousness with which they questioned themselves and their actions hopeful, while still seeing more than a few wisps of male entitlement that in less tolerant places than Belgium have led to the criminalization of abortion. If women are ever to redress the gender power imbalance, we need to address the distorted views men have about us and themselves and honor their genuine feelings as we would like them to honor ours.
A Man’s Place is streaming on OVID.tv as part the streaming services August 2022 documentary programming that focuses on women’s issues.