By Leah S. Dunaief
Unless you are a conspiracy theorist and view “the slap heard around the world” as a publicity stunt cooked up by Will Smith and Chris Rock, the episode at the Academy Awards Sunday night left you first puzzled, then shocked. After we caught on, there then ensued an outpouring of opinion and punditry about the incident. But there seems little consideration about how Mrs. Smith might have felt about the matter, or how societal values have dramatically shifted.
Mrs. Smith, otherwise known as the actress and producer Jada Pinkett Smith, is a force of her own. An award winner and named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2021, does she need defending by her husband? Although it was only a quick shot on the camera, she seemed to grimace at Rock’s joke about her baldness. And indeed, alopecia is a serious and anguishing condition that usually occurs when the immune system destroys the hair follicles and causes hair loss that can last for months or years. She had revealed the diagnosis, sharing a video on her Instagram showing herself with a shaved head, in 2018.
Back in the day, my day, women expected the men in their lives to defend them physically. That was the rationale for men walking on the outside of the sidewalk if a man and woman strolled down a street. The man would be there to protect the woman from any danger or even any mud splash that might come from the road. It was part of the definition of manhood that the male was there to protect the female. Is that an expectation today? Do men still take the curb position during any sidewalk stroll? In truth, I haven’t noticed. I haven’t even thought about it. The idea goes with men opening doors or pulling out chairs for women. I suppose it still happens, and it’s thoughtful if it does, but it doesn’t seem like de rigueur today.
This is a significant societal change. I remember an exchange I had in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a graduate student who was a friend at the time. As we were passing an ice cream parlor, he suggested we go in for cones. I readily agreed and stood in front of the door, waiting for him to open it. How surprised I was when he asked, “Why do I have to open the door for you? Is anything wrong with your arm?” He was clearly ahead of his time, believing as he did in equality of the sexes, and I was glad he wasn’t my boyfriend.
It is my sense today that whoever is in front opens a door. Is that correct or am I just an aggressive woman?
Later, when Will Smith won the award for best actor as the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams in the movie “King Richard,” he made the first of his apologies, explaining that he had acted because he had become emotional. Hey, again, back in my day, men were not allowed to show any emotion, unless they were wimps. Macho meant the strong, silent type. Men who cried were certainly not poster models for unfiltered cigarettes or Marines. If a man cried, there was probably something wrong with him.
Today, men are praised when they offer their “soft” side. Men are allowed to have feelings and to show them. Even the President of the United States, any one of them, has been seen wiping away a tear. For men, feelings can even be a license for strange behavior, which is how Smith explained his behavior. Never mind that he could have stood up and walked out or even turned his back on the comedian. His feelings freed him to be violent, and in front of 15 million people no less.
I wonder what his wife said to him when they got home.