March 10, 2008

Masculinity and Violence in the Media

Tough Guise is directed by Sut Jhally. Video courtesy of the Media Education Foundation

As the saying goes, girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice while boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog's tails. Even from a young age, male children are being contrasted as the opposite of femininity where girls are represented through a holistic cuteness while boys are dirty and gross.

Being socialized on the “boys will be boys” mantra, male children grow up with an automatic aptitude geared towards accepted violence. Being bombarded with stereotypical imagery, the basis of maleness is constructed even before the moment of delivery through biology, continues to the time of child birth when doctors decide whether an infant’s penis is of a correct size, and carries on upwards through a boy’s developmental stages as he incorporates rough and tumble play into his daily routine.

This idea of a socially and acceptably aggressive male wreaks havoc as a link between masculinity and violence is formed. Jackson Katz, in an interview for Tough Guise states that "[v]iolence isn’t so much a deviation as it is an accepted part of masculinity”. Instead of vilifying violence, we have embraced it as part of the masculine culture, alienating all who do not conform to the tough guy ideals.

Media representations help children sculpt what it means to be a man. In Tough Guise, Jackson Katz asks teen males what traits they would ascribe to masculinity. Words such as powerful, fierce, strong, and independent were used to describe the ideal masculine form. Throw race and culture into the mix and we bring the masculine form to whole new levels.

Clip by Sanjay Newton

Ads, children's programming, sitcoms, action movies, etc, are all prone to this media assault on the male body/masculinity. The harsh reality is that these representations are celebrated leaving those who do not conform to the side. Not to mention that all other alternative forms to these ideals are either not represented or typecast as the side characters who provide comedic support to the strong male lead.

As males have been socialized to keep their feelings to themselves, there are few support groups out there to help males deal with the rising dissatisfaction they have with themselves. To compensate for their apparent lack of masculinity, some guys participate in high-risk situations to prove their masculine worth.

Masculinity is not born but made through a barrage of social construction centered around themes of strength and violence. Maintaining the “boys will be boys” creed only harms society as it creates a link between masculinity and violence. By doing so, we are creating a land of alienated males who fear to fall outside of the accepted norm. Strength, fierceness, and independence are just projected notions of masculinity. The true descriptions of media-made men are along the lines of conformity, dominating, and capitalistic.

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