Jessica Grose's analysis of the omega male in film and TV has us wondering: when does the omega female get her movie?
Grose takes as her jumping-off point Noah Greenberg, protagonist of the upcoming Ben Stiller film Greenberg and all-around loser who "sabotaged his career as a musician" and "can't even drive." She writes,
In human terms, if an executive or a warrior is an alpha male and a nice-guy middle manager like The Office's Jim Halpert is a beta male, then Greenberg and his brethren are omega males. [...] The omega male is not experiencing the tired trope of the midlife crisis. A midlife crisis implies agency, a man who has the job and the family and chooses to reject it. The omega male doesn't have the power to reject anything-he's the one who has been brushed off. He's generally unemployed, and his romantic relationships are in shambles-he's either single or, if he's married, not happy about it. "I'm doing nothing and I'm tied to no one," Greenberg boasts.
What follows is a taxonomy of different types of omega male that makes clear one thing: Hollywood and marketers alike care a lot about the diffuse misery of the disappointed man. Grose identifies certain tropes of masculinity that can be hard to live up to ("Think slick ad executive Don Draper in Mad Men and the WWII heroes in the Tom Hanks-produced HBO series The Pacific"). But the female gender has its own unrealistic expectations, and women who can't meet them often feel like losers. So with all this filmic chronicling of male failure and its repercussions, when do women get their moment in the shit?
Maybe it'll be when Natalie Portman stars in Best Buds, although as any high-achieving stoner will tell you, not all stoners are losers. And from writer Jamie Denbo's description, the film seems less about female failure to launch than about the equal-opportunity joys of bongs. A more likely candidates for the title of omega female film is the underwhelming Sunshine Cleaning. Herein Amy Adams's character, a single mom named Rose, is caught in a dead-end affair, is embarrassed by her house-cleaning job (actually, this makes movie #2 in which Amy Adams is embarrassed by her job, the other being Julie & Julia), and needs money. But instead of wallowing in her loserdom as Greenberg seems to, she ... pulls herself up by her bootstraps and starts her own business!
In movies, when women's dreams are deferred — or downright destroyed — they tend to display either adorable pluck or quiet dignity (Adams, who doesn't do quiet, has a lock on the former). Part of this may be that audiences have more sympathy for directionlessness in men. A deadbeat dad can still redeem himself in the movies — but can you imagine if Adams's character didn't provide for her kid? But I think there's something else at work here, and I think it's about time. An omega male, no matter how low he's sunk, still has time to pull it out — for instance, 41-year-old Greenberg can date a 25-year-old. But everyone from Hollywood execs to Lori Gottlieb is always telling us how little leeway women have, how we'd better get it right pretty soon or we'll be screwed forever. If women were afforded a little more time to fuck up, more omega female movies would probably be the least of the benefits.