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Hirsch, I. (1999). From Helplessness to Betrayal to the Illusion of Strength. Gender and Psychoanalysis, 4(3):291-306.

(1999). Gender and Psychoanalysis, 4(3):291-306

From Helplessness to Betrayal to the Illusion of Strength

Irwin Hirsch, Ph.D.

Richard Gartner (1999) is emphatically clear about how heterosexual males1 tend to maintain at least an illusion of strength in relation to women, regardless of the potential ill consequences of such self-deception. Indeed, he believes the consequences are considerable, especially when older females sexually dominate young men or boys. He illustrates vividly, through the popular medium of film, how seduction by an older and dominant woman becomes converted to a sense of agency and power by the younger and more passive boy or young man. In one memorable example, in a well-known French movie, Murmur of the Heart, even explicit sex between mother and son is portrayed as something beneficial for both. Experiences that Gartner views as egregious betrayals with very harmful potentials may be depicted in film as salubrious events for the male or for both parties. The two films that are most clearly illustrative of this mature woman/young heterosexual man sex with good outcome theme are Tea and Sympathy and Summer of ‘42. This configuration is particularly relevant, of course, because the medium of film captures the psychology and the mythology of the culture that even quite young males allegedly desire sex all of the time and that, from the conscious perspective of many heterosexual boys, there is no such thing as premature sex (except perhaps for literal incest) with a woman.

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