Most people are well informed about the controversies surrounding the portrayal of women in media. Women are often spread across high-speed cars eating a cheeseburger in a commercial, dropping it low in music videos, or being critiqued by both women or men in a film. Despite our overwhelming knowledge of the daily struggles women encounter in various media mediums, there hasn’t been much progress made towards female roles. While I can acknowledge that there has been an increase in the amount of female characters that challenge stereotypes, it’s often a character that’s made to look undesirable or is the butt of all jokes.
It’s possible that the missing element hindering our development is our passivity with analyzing male roles. By analyzing the role males play in our media content, there may be an opportunity to dismantle long existing gender binaries. Through a series of interviews, involving both the men and women between the ages 18 and 23 years old, I’ll be exploring the various male stereotypes produced and sustained by media. Specifically, I’ll analyze how male narratives present in media infer with our behavior, and our expectations for others and ourselves.
Who Runs the World?Girls?
It’s a Man’s world, so why put anymore spotlight on them? Why analyze the male perspective when it’s the gender that simply sits pretty in the most favorable position in media, rather the most favorable position in society? Although men hold a strong and dominant position in society there is rarely a discussion about the various techniques society uses that helps maintain this hierarchy. Men are getting assistance from numerous mediums, like broadcast television, radio, news, music and movies all reinforce the social idea of how men should behave; most importantly how people from other genders should interact with men. By engaging in equally meaningful conversations about male stereotypes, as we do for females, there may be an opportunity to gain a complete understanding of how gender stereotypes are created and shaped into becoming social norms.
While I recognize the lack of discussion surrounding this topic, 23 year old Jesse is fully aware of the various portrayals men are expected to take on.
The Mask You Live In
A film by Jennifer Newsom as apart of the organization The Representation Project, The Mask I Live In, highlights how societal expectations regulate the behavior of young boys, and how that structure impacts them has adults. Moreover, it reveals how this conditioning creates a “training ground for masculinity” that stifles the emotions of young boys and grown men while perpetuating aggression and violence.
The documentary features various male perspectives that reinforce the social view of what it means to be a man. In one instance, the social conditioning of one young man led to his frequent thoughts of committing suicide because he had no one to talk. A child at the time, him and his mother was experiencing both verbal and physical abuse from his father. The reality was that he wasn’t willing to share his story because he was taught, that showcasing any kind of emotions was strictly for women. This gender based guideline that he chose to abide by was the reason he contemplated ending his own life on multiple occasions. Another narrative comes from a mother whose bond with her son drastically takes a turn for the worse when he begins going to high school (the entry to the training ground of masculinity). Ultimately becoming distant and emotional depressive, this training ground introduced the structure for masculinity; outlining the dos and don’ts of how young boys should interact in a particular social setting. As boys simultaneously, enter the training ground for masculinity, they are passively building a foundation to the kind of men they’ll become.
As Seen In The Movies
Alongside the training ground, young boys and men are learning a set behaviors from popular films. Although The Mask You Live In is a powerful documentary, there’s a wider audience range with blockbuster movies. Each film having a number of male roles, there is repetition with the kind of men the audience has access to. The emotionless character, typical played by the jock, is a far more difficult role to play when it’s real life, you aren’t an athlete and you have a much smaller pool of friends, like the young boys in the documentary. With very few or no one to confide in the jock often avoids displaying feelings like sadness, but is quick to display moments of anger.
If it’s not anger, the jock often conceals his emotions with his flirtatious advances and charming smile.
Another common character narrative is the bad boy loner who can’t be understood by anyone else, not even himself. He walks around wearing a black leather jacket with black jeans, accompanied by a nonchalant attitude towards everything and everyone.
Whether it’s the jock, in John Tucker Must Die, the bad boy in 1o Things I Hate About You, or the nerd from She’s Out of My League, by the conclusion of the movie he’s more likely than not to end up with the hot girl (which in all these movies happen to be blonde and voluptuous).
As Seen in “Real Life”
While movies and documentaries are the two extremes, the news can be viewed as the happy medium. A place where ordinary people are glammed up to discuss the harsh realities the world faces. While it’s debatable how factual the content presented is, it’s evident that there’s a certain type of presenter, as stated by Terry.
Men are suppose to be strong, independent, heterosexuals with incredible hair and physique, of course that’s what they’re suppose look like. While it may appear that I’ve listed normal behavioral patterns or average traits, it’s far from an accurate representation of society. The words above are simply reoccurring themes in media, not prerequisites. Men who fail to fit into these categories are then labeled a wimp, sissy or gay. These informal behavioral perquisites create expectations for men and women to follow; placing men in a structured box filled with positive traits, while simultaneously forcing women into a box that is the exact opposite of that box. The parallel moment where what happens to men influence the trajectory of women , highlights the importance in equally discussing both genders. Woman who get the opportunity to exist outside of this box can get labels like masculine, aggressive or difficult. Women who take on these roles are merely doing just that, and are rarely viewed as being genuine . Rather they’re viewed as characters temporarily taking on a preexisting characteristic that exclusively belongs to a man. Women cannot authentically be themselves and be aggressive , simply because aggression has been designated to the male gender. The same can be said about men who get emotional. If and when men are emotional there’s varying degrees of acceptability. If a jock gets emotional, he’s having a momentary lapse, so it’s okay. The emotional loner in black leather will get a pass because it’s outside of his character, so he’s crying will be sweet, a rare but acceptable side of the bad boy. Lastly, the crying nerd won’t get much attention because no one cares enough to notice. If you place the emotional face onto a woman, it’s not seen as her having a bad day, but as just another day because women are so emotional.
Despite being well informed on the way men are perceived, the general population remains oblivious to its affects. We sit idly in a bubble of acceptance failing to confront the subtle problematic issues that arises with the expectations we hold. My interview participant, Jesse, understands and acknowledges negative male stereotypes, but also views how the stereotypes may inform her personal interests in men.While recognizing this she further communicates er acceptance through both her words and body language.
Problem For Women
Discussion around male stereotypes may appear to be an irrelevant conversation for women, but it’s a conversation that determines the expectations women have for men, and the standards a woman sets for herself. For instance, two of my participants mentioned Tyler Perry’s depiction of men of color, where there’s always a black woman who is being abused by a dominant black male character. Occasionally, there’s a white man but he’s paying the role of the jock, or player as he takes advantage of the black female. Tyler Perry’s constant depiction of men as women beaters or players, as noted in my interviews, have had an effect on both male and females. More broadly, it’s possible that a woman might see that behavior as occasionally acceptable for males, specifically men of color because of the constant portrayal of violent or arrogant behavior. Some women may potentially begin to believe that men should get a one time pass, simply because he had a bad day.
Frequently we hear the phrase “boys will be boys”, used as a pass for bad behavior. Typically used when boys are playing too rough or have acted in a way the parent is unfit to address. Similarly for men, a woman might say “that’s just the way men are”.
In addition to this free pass, there are various media contents that promote a particular narrative like the Prince Charming, who’s a gentleman, brave, kind and perfect. Media content like Cinderella, or more recently, The Princess and the Frog rely heavily on a narrative that sets an unrealistic standard of perfection. Men are trying to achieve this perfection, because women expect it. Under these circumstance, women obviously aren’t complaining about this standard, and men are trying to live up to it.
Jonas, age 22 shares his experience growing up being told by media how he should behave. Luckily, he had parents who were understanding of his identity, who encouraged him to not assimilate to the preset perimeters outlined by an undefined media source. As one gets older, it becomes more difficult to defend oneself. We lose parents as the guardians who challenge stereotypes and gain peers who reinforce them.
There’s a general consensus that stereotypes surrounding females were and continue to be created by older white men sitting in their corner office smoking cigars. But then where are these males stereotypes originating from ? Why continue to create modern day versions of stories like Cinderella and Rapunzel or produce action movies with strong dominant male characters for an expectation only superheroes can fulfill? If there is a boardroom full of white old men controlling the world, why set the bar so high for themselves and the future members of the male population?
From my research, I found that neither gender gave much thought to how males were portrayed in media. This lack of thinking stemmed from all the positive characteristics attached to being male. Given the overwhelming amount of positive characteristics associated with being a male in media industry, each participant was accepting of at least one stereotype. The most common of list being a male’s ability to provide for his family. No one was willing to discard that expectation, but instead modify it. In addition to setting that expectation for men, it would be understood that women could also “bring home the bacon”. This modification still required that men be able to financially support his family, while only suggesting that women have the opportunity to financially contribute.
Another participant, 20 year old Zander, who identifies as Asian believed that there was anything significantly wrong with the portrayal of men, but didn’t understand why he found all the stereotypes to be acceptable. Moreover, he acknowledged that giving the reason “it’s always been that way” wasn’t sufficient enough to explain why it’s like that now. While both males and females found the discussion to be interesting, neither gender believed this topic was one that needed immediate attention.
Negative v. Positive
Despite the general negative feelings towards media and the gender binaries that comes along with it, most of my participants agreed that there is an overwhelming amount of positive images of men seen throughout media. Interestingly enough, because of this positive male image, most males are accepting of the expectations and are ready to try to live up to them. When asked the question whether they believed there were more negative stereotypes or more positive stereotypes, all hesitated. For the males, it may have not seemed appropriate to say there was more negative stereotypes, when considering the overwhelming unrealistic expectations women face daily. Like the males, some females also hesitated given the pre existing expectations for females. Others hesitated because they were comfortable with the preset standards men had, like being able to take care of their family, but thought being comfort with any stereotype was wrong.
My research isn’t suppose to offer any concrete solutions, but what it can do is place a spotlight on a subject that’s rarely discussed. There is value in continuing this dialogue and using our findings as guidelines to inform our behavior. Overall, both genders and their assigned characteristics must be understood through a series of discussions that include all identities in order to dismantle the hierarchy media created and relies on to make a profit.
For more information about The Mask You Live In: http://therepresentationproject.org/film/the-mask-you-live-in/the-issue/