A conversation with my dad on Saturday helped clarify in my head what I disliked about the movie American Beauty. First of all, I’m sick of seeing military men in movies stereotyped as angry, emotionally stunted, violent, homophobic troglodytes who tyrannize their familes. It’s getting old, and it’s too one-dimensional to have a place in all but the most cartoonish of movies.
The bigger problem was this: Near the end, Lester is all set to make love with Angela. Both of them have clearly thought about it and want it, despite the age difference and the fact that she’s his daughter’s best friend. Then Angela admits that despite all her bragging, she’s a virgin. And Lester suddenly backs off, gets all fatherly, tells her she’ll make she’ll have a great first time with some lucky guy who isn’t him, and makes her dinner. And we are supposed to think he has done the moral, responsible thing.
Now, assuming for the sake of argument that it’s OK for this married middle-aged guy to be having sex with a teenaged girl, what made it wrong for him to take her virginity? Chances are that as an experienced man he’d make a far more considerate and gentle first time than the jock that she’d otherwise lose her virginity to. He’d probably make it a happier memory than most boys her own age would.
The only reason I can see for his change of heart is that as long as he saw her as “damaged goods”, it was fine to be just one of the many guys who had taken advantage of her; but as soon as he saw her as “pure as the driven snow”, he couldn’t bear to be the one to “defile her”. In other words, it’s a perfect example of our society’s twisted double standard when it comes to women and virginity. So long as a girl retains her virginity she’s put up on a pedestal. But once she’s deflowered, she’s fair game for anyone. After all, she has nothing left to lose.
To have made a moral decision, Lester should have either decided that he really wasn’t ok with screwing a teenager and backed off regardless of her virgin status; or gone ahead with it and given her the best first time he could. The fact that her virginity checked him shows that he has two different standards, one for “pure” girls and one for “sluts”.