A Call for Reformation of Media’s Portrayal of Masculinity

When discussing the media, it is a common argument that portrayal of certain demographics is inaccurate to a point of detriment for the parties portrayed. The portrayal of females in the media fosters insecurity among young women; minorities are portrayed using stereotypes that reflect negatively upon entire cultures; and individuals with mental illness are portrayed in a way which causes them to be feared and avoided by the public, to name a few examples. This sentiment is true for men as well. Media portrayal has long portrayed masculinity by heavily relying on stereotypes that perpetuate a negative belief of how men should act, a belief that is held by men and women alike. This type of inaccurate media portrayal is detrimental to society because it exacerbates problems prevalent in male behavior across the world. Violence and rape have long been problems which plague society, and these problems are generally contributed to men and the way masculinity is defined in cultures. Mass media is becoming more expansive every day, reaching more individuals across the world, and uniting the vast reaches of the earth into a global society. This means that the media now holds more power, and more responsibility than ever before in history. Major reformations need to be made in the way media portrays all walks of life. Throughout this page, you will find examples showing how media portrayal affects the many different types of people it portrays.
The concentration of this page, however, is to discuss media portrayal of men, and how a reformation of this portrayal is the first step towards abolishing the association between violence/rape and masculinity. The abolishment of this association will be an invaluable step toward reducing these atrocities in the world because it will teach young men that this is not a facet of masculinity or being a man.
In the article “Crime in the News” by Jessica Pollak and Charis Kubrin states that “over 75 percent of the public claim they form their opinions about crime from what they see or read in the news, which is more than three times the number who say they get their primary information on crime from personal experience.” The article “Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illness” by Maragarita Tartakovsky, M.S. states that “Research has shown that many people get their information about mental illness from the mass media (Wahl, 2004). What they do see can color their perspective, leading them to fear, avoid and discriminate against individuals with mental illness.” These two quotes show the power of media in affecting the opinions of individuals across the world. It also shows that it does not matter who or what is being portrayed, that media still holds power to significantly sway public opinion. This is an essential part of my argument. Mass media (e.g. the internet, news, television shows, movies, print sources, music, etc.) has reached a level of breadth and influence that could bring positive change to the world. However, media also has enough power to make current world problems even worse.
[with great power comes great responsibility]

 

In the past, masculinity has been subconsciously taught and passed down to young men in a very negative way. In his book “Guyland” Michael Kimmel discusses three different types of cultures that support masculinity:
• The Culture of Entitlement: Men are raised to feel they deserve something. They feel entitled to power, sex and women.
• The Culture of Silence: Men are not to talk to outsiders (those not embedded in the cultures of masculinity) about drinking, bullying, rape, or any performance of masculinity by their peers that they may get in trouble for. If they do talk, they will be seen as unmanly traitors.
• The Culture of Protection: Communities do not hold men responsible for questionable and illegal actions. Many turn a blind eye, assuming their boys would never do that. Others write off dangerous acts as “boys will be boys”.

So far, current forms of media have done an flawless job of portraying men and masculinity in this way.

(Warning: Some of the linked content is not exactly “G rated”)

T.V. shows such as Two and a Half Men portray masculinity in a light that emphasizes extreme lust and objectification of women, excessive use of drugs and alcohol, and an overall lack of responsibility in a severe sense.

Mad Men, which portrays men as power-hungry, controlling, condescending to women, and aggressive.


Books such as 50 Shades of Grey (soon to be made into a movie) which portrays a single man in one of the most abusive, lustful, controlling, manipulative and dangerous relationships that modern media has created. Click on the links page for more information about how this story is such a grotesque misrepresentation of a “BDSM” relationship that it has sparked disgust and outrage from individuals which subscribe to that culture. This information shows that the foundations of this story are not rooted in a culture that condones this type of behavior. Rather, this culture is founded on a very Antioch set of rules meant to ensure the safety and well-being of those who participate. So, even though this particular example may ostensibly seem to be built around a culture which allows this type of behavior from men, it is actually the opposite: the basis of this story is drawn from a culture which is very concerned about the self-respect and safety of its members. However, it has portrayed the culture in a way which glorifies a man who repeatedly ignores the wishes, autonomy and consent of his partner.


Movies such as Charlie Countryman. This is a great movie! I highly recommend it! However, the antagonist of the story (Nigel) is a violent criminal- abusive and aggressive, and repeatedly jeopardizes life of the woman he claims to love.

But at the end of the movie, with the scene of Nigel’s blood pouring from his head in the shape of a heart, he is still portrayed as having acted as someone truly in love.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rj3Qh-s9w1c

News stories such as

Virginia Inmate Who Begged for Death To Be Electrocuted

This is a perfect example of a problem I find very prevalent in the news. The over-portrayal of criminals in the news (more often than not, males) in a way which does not discuss the harrowing tragedies committed by the convicted, and does not discuss the hardships that the victims and their families have suffered, but rather advertises the faces and names of the individuals that commit the atrocities.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/video/virginia-inmate-begged-death-electrocuted-18231737

 

And Music.
Often rap music, which “is a striking example of masculinity on display. Rappers boast about their sexual conquests of women (emphasizing heterosexuality as well), wealth, power and violence.” (Kubrin)

I am a huge fan of G-Eazy and his music. However, that does not change the fact that many of his lyrics are misogynistic and perpetuate almost every negative aspect of masculinity that needs to be dispelled from media. Although many rap songs do graphically portray violence; a domineering attitude towards sex; and the objectification of women, thankfully there are very few that portray rape.
All of these examples of modern media exemplify media portrayal of masculinity in ways that coincide with Kimmel’s description of the overwhelming negativity present in cultural masculine norms.

 

However. For every book, movie, t.v. show, and piece of news that portrays the negative sides of masculinity, there are just as many that exemplify the positive attributes of masculinity and the ways that men can be positive role models. There is a page on this site that I will continually update which shows these positive portrayals of masculinity in society.

 

So, why does all of this matter? These media portrayals of masculinity are simply showing the way that masculinity has evolved and been passed down over centuries. Right? Well, in the simplest answer, yes.
So why does this need to change?

 

If I were to delve deep into sociological theory, I could discuss control theory in depth and talk about the huge role that media plays in this principle. But in the interest of keeping this main discussion concise, I will post links (on the links page) to pages which discuss control theory. But for the basis of my discussion, the applicable point of control theory asserts that these negative media representations of masculinity create a perceived societal norm of how men should behave. This norm is portrayed so repetitively and so constantly that it dissuades men from deviating from this pattern for subconscious fear of being seen as an outcast in male culture.

 

It is my belief that if media portrayal of masculinity is adjusted to show the positive aspects of manhood and how men can be responsible, caring members of society that this perceived norm of behavior can be reformed. The ideas of control theory could be utilized to portray an entirely different norm of masculine behavior, and would then dissuade men from deviating from positive, responsible behavior- for the same reasons that men now do not often deviate from the negative norms portrayed by the media. To put it simply, show a better path, and the people will follow it.

 

I strongly believe that in the technological age in which we live, with all the power that media holds, this could be a huge first step in changing the way that masculinity is viewed and enacted. Subsequently, this would affect the ideals that are passed down from men to boys, and would promote enduring, positive change in the culture of masculinity. If these measures are taken, and the ideals that define manhood are changed, then the violence, aggression, and objectification of women that is at the root of murder and rape will begin to subside from the social unconscious of males.

The benefits of this could be miraculous. Lower crime rates involving the rape and abuse of women, lower death tolls in cities which have historically plagued with violence, and a stricter sense of morality and responsibility among men seem like pipe-dream goals, but these are exactly the kinds of statistics that would change for the better if the portrayal of masculinity—and subsequently the common ideals of what it means to be masculine—is reformed.

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