Long Shot, Knock Down the House, and supportive partners

This week I watched Long Shot, the new Charlize Theron/Seth Rogen rom-com, and Knock Down the House, the Netflix documentary about four women who ran for Congress last year, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Although these two films probably seem wildly different, it struck me that they had some similar themes. In Long Shot, which is surprisingly feminist and pretty funny, we watch a schlubby, sweet guy date and eventually become a supportive partner to woman who is quite literally at the top of her game: she is Secretary of State, and running for president. The real joy of this movie is watching a (hetero) couple where the man is completely comfortable with letting his career take a backseat while he supports his female partner in pursuing her ambitions. And rather than the usual rom-com trope where a workaholic woman stops working so much in order to find love, in Long Shot, Theron actually advances her career by the end the movie — with her partner proudly supporting her from the sidelines.

Knock Down The House is about four women who ran for Congress last year, but much of the attention around it has been specifically about AOC, who is the most high-profile of the women in the documentary. And while the film largely focuses on the historic campaign that led to her unseating longtime incumbent Joe Crowley, you also see rare snippets of her private life, including her boyfriend, web developer Riley Roberts, being a supportive partner: making her tea, filming her declaring her candidacy on his iPhone, and generally just hangs out in the background while cheering for her on the campaign trail.

It struck me that in both of these films you see something we still rarely see on screen: a hetero relationship where the man’s career is second to the woman’s, and the man is happy to support his more successful partner’s career. In 2017, Avivah Wittenberg-Cox wrote in Harvard Business Review, “Professionally ambitious women really only have two options when it comes to their personal partners — a super-supportive partner or no partner at all. Anything in between ends up being a morale- and career-sapping morass.” Wittenberg-Cox found in her research that in dual-career couples, women could only be successful if their spouses were fully supportive — if not, they were better off staying single than dealing with a less-than-supportive spouse. She also cited a study of Harvard Business School graduates in which more than half the men said they expected their careers to take precedence over their wives’ careers, while most women expected egalitarian marriages — and almost no women expected their own careers to come first, probably because it’s still pretty radical for a woman to say so.

Wittenberg-Cox’s piece has stayed with me. I was reminded of it again last week when the New York Times published this piece by Claire Cain Miller that looked at highly educated, dual-career couples, and found that even when the women did everything “right,” they still often found themselves taking a step back from their own careers in order to let their husbands accelerate theirs. Cain Miller argues that the real cause here is capitalism — that the workforce now demands 24/7 availability, and only one partner in a couple can be on-call for work all the time, so usually the woman pulls back from her career, maybe goes part-time, while the man is able to accelerate his career and earning power.

All of that is to say: Long Shot and Knock Down the House are both worth watching, for many reasons, but especially because they both present a refreshing, modern vision of relationships; one that we see very rarely on screen. But they do exist! (My own husband copyedits this newsletter for me every week.) And I hope we’re finally in a world where they’re starting to become more common, where women don’t have to make their ambitions second to their partner’s.

Stuff I’m reading

What I’m cooking

Last week I mostly leaned on really easy, low-maintenance recipes: Skinnytaste’s balsamic chicken and roasted veggies, salsa chicken tacos, this 15-minute Korean beef and quinoa bowl, and Bon Appetit’s spaghetti aglio e olio with kale.

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