Pop-Culture Connoisseur: How Media Portrayals of Masculinity Are Hurting Men

-Brianna Huber

Before now, I hadn’t given much thought to the idea of men being viewed in society as the “more violent sex.” It’s one of those things that I took for granted as just being part of the way things are. Men are physically stronger than women by direct comparison, so that makes them more capable of overpowering people of either sex. It took seeing Jackson Katz’s 1999 documentary, Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis in Masculinity to make me question and see that the idea of male violence is something a lot of people take for granted.

We live in a culture that tends to place blame on the female victims of rape and that downplays male violence in the media. I was surprised to learn that TV and movie portrayals of “masculine” men and “feminine” women have grown narrower over the past several decades given that I always thought society was supposed to be progressing for the better as time goes on. I guess I was being idealistic. Just look at the differences between these two action figures of Luke Skywalker. Masculine men used to be imagined as figures like the Godfather (Marlon Brando) and earlier incarnations of James Bond (Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton). Now the ideal is exemplified by characters like Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) and the Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Even James Bond has bulked up (Daniel Craig). Use of guns in movie violence has grown more pronounced over the years. According to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics from 1980 to 2008, 90 percent of murders were committed by men, and 70 percent of the victims were men.

The traditional American idea of masculinity says that men need to be strong, aggressive, and emotionally withheld to be considered “real men.” Women need to be petite, passive, and reliant to be “real women.” I find it disheartening to see how our beauty ideal has moved from full-figured women like Marilyn Monroe in the 1950s and ‘60s to the waifish figure we idealize today. I feel like women who are strong and powerful are seen as a threat to the male-dominant status quo. People don’t give a second thought to male violence in films, but when Thelma & Louise came out in 1991, it caused quite a stir because the two stars were women engaging in violent behavior toward men. The movie was criticized by New York Daily News columnist Richard Johnson as “degrading to men.” For all the times I’ve seen movies be degrading to women, that’s hardly an effective argument against the film to me.

I realize I may sound like I’m “male-bashing” with some of my criticisms, but I assure you that it is not my intent. I am tired of seeing people of both genders be put into boxes. Being overly emotional can be a bit overbearing no matter who it’s coming from, but otherwise I’m always happy to see a man who isn’t afraid to cry if he’s touched or deeply saddened by something. If anything, I see that as a form of strength rather than a weakness. That says to me that he is comfortable enough with himself that he’s willing to express what he’s feeling, even if it might mean appearing vulnerable. I find that open-mindedness and strength of character are attractive, and I’m sure I’m not the only woman who feels this way.

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