Arts & Culture

The “Eat Pray Love” Backlash Strikes Again

If Elizabeth Gilbert were a man, would the plot of Eat Pray Love seem quite as charming and relatable? Rolf Potts, writing on a travel site called World Hum, doesn’t think so. Here’s an excerpt from his pitch for the … Read More

By / February 15, 2008

If Elizabeth Gilbert were a man, would the plot of Eat Pray Love seem quite as charming and relatable? Rolf Potts, writing on a travel site called World Hum, doesn’t think so. Here’s an excerpt from his pitch for the male equivalent:

I start by going to Italy, where I eat a lot of pasta, drive around and take some naps. I also study the language with a cute, younger Italian woman, and I frequently fantasize about having sex with her and her equally cute twin sister. I extol the virtues of these Italian women, who know how to treat their men—selflessly lavishing them with love and making them the center of attention. I pointedly ponder how nice it would be if the American women in my life had had the awareness to treat me that way.

Potts postulates that Eat Pray Love is a female version of 1950’s era adventure porn, which appealed to office-trapped men with its stories of danger in exotic lands. Women, he argues, are more interested in traveling inward:

The legacy of “adventure porn,” I think, is not the kind of adventure writing you see in Outside magazine, but books like “Eat, Pray, Love.” Instead of wrestling crocodiles in distant lands, our protagonist wrestles despair; instead of exploring rivers, she explores emotions; instead of surviving disease, she survives heartbreak. Men occasionally appear in this survivor’s tale, but they are as one-dimensional as adventure-porn wenches, and mainly serve as a sounding board for the protagonist’s feelings. When these men are giving our heroine love and help, she gushes with admiration; when they can’t intuit her emotional needs, she reacts with despair (and vague contempt). Rarely does she ponder what—besides emotional availability to her—might motivate these men in day-to-day life.

If he's right, Eat Pray Love certainly isn't alone. A lot of books/movies/TV shows aimed at women don't spent much time on the emotional lives of their male characters. (Can you imagine being friends—not sex-friends, but buddies—with any of the Sex in the City men, for example? I could maybe hang out with Steve for half an hour if drinking was involved, but that’s it.) Of course, the inverse is even more common. Plenty of movies and books for male audiences have one-dimensional female characters. But is that any excuse?

Previously: Eat Pray Backlash?