The Media and Sexism

1037 words | 4 page(s)

In the video, “Tough Guise,” societal perceptions of what it means to be masculine in the United States is explored. The role of men in American society derives from a great many sources which are perpetuated by the media in films, television, advertising. Katz uses the “Wizard of Oz” as a metaphor for the way men wear a disguise to camouflage any of their abilities by presenting themselves as tough and all-powerful. The young men that he interviews and asks what it means to be male respond by visiting traits such as toughness, athleticism, strength, and physical prowess, all descriptive language that implies fearlessness and independence. If men don’t conform to these images, they are regarded as wimps, gay, bitches, and a wide range of words negatively associated with femininity. There is a great deal of pressure to conform to these masculine roles.

Media plays a tremendous role in limiting men to viewing violence associated with masculinity as the norm in American culture. There is an increasing link in our society between being manly and being violent, and this is bourne out by statistics that demonstrate that most murders are committed by men, as is the case with domestic violence, rapes, and other violent crimes. Even boys who experience abuse tend to assume that role when they mature. These roles are reinforced by media when “masculine invisibility” is the exception rather than the rule (Katz, 1999.) For example, media refers to “kids killing kids” instead of boys killing boys and girls, rather than girls doing the killing, and so becomes connected to being masculine. When things are omitted, important aspects of stories and discussions are left out. For example, when women are violent, that is usually a main part of the story such as when Lorena Bobbitt cut off her husband’s penis. According to Katz, it is crucial to make visible how violent masculinity is in the culture.

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Over the last 50 years, according to Katz, images of men and what it means to be masculine has changed so that men are more aggressive and physical. This is demonstrated with heroes such as Superman and Batman, and in movies these masculine roles are played by actors such as Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood as well as Sylvester Stallone. All of these actors demonstrate their manliness by using numerous and tremendous weapons and engaging in violent threats and acts. Women are portrayed in an opposite way: looking fragile and thin.

Katz believes that the development of the masculinity image of men in the culture has historical significance that involves a backlash. This is linked to the threat to masculinity prompted by movements like the Civil Rights movement or the women’s movement. Both of these movements have created insecurity about the role of white men who formally held the monopoly on various forms of power. As evidence of this, he cites the book by Susan Faludi, Backlash: the Undeclared War against American Women, and provides examples of the ways that the perception of masculine roles are promoted by people who tend to bash feminists such as Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh. There is also much applause of violence in professional sports, video games, and “slasher” movies that invariably result in females being murdered by men who are stalking them or breaking into their houses.

Naturally, this, violence is harmful to the victims but it also sends a message that it is unacceptable or risky for men to exhibit other form of masculinity besides aggression and violence. Even the reaction to the Vietnam War promoted the idea that males had lost their masculine identity because of the antiwar movement which presented a type of the wimpy behavior that had taken the place of the sort of macho image that formerly had been so desirable, such as a Rambo-type figure. Other figures from movies such as Ronald Reagan and John Wayne perpetuated the development of the role of the tough guy. Katz suggests that masculinity is only a guise, a starring role, that is a societal norm which is reinforced by media portrayals of what it means to be a man. In addition, the notion of masculinity is associated strongly with violence and domination. Nevertheless, Katz acknowledges that the United States has made progress in recent years by presenting media representations of men who are more sensitive and vulnerable as well as highlighting those qualities in some of the strongest leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

There are many examples of the way that the media perpetuates images of masculinity in our society. For example, there are countless ads advertising cars that link driving a car to masculine abandon, such as those involving Matthew McConaughey speeding carelessly in the desert with a nearly orgasmic narration about being alone with his car. Another interesting sexist series of ads involve medications for erectile dysfunction; although the Cialis ads do show couples, the Viagra ads nearly always show a beautiful woman introducing the product and talking about how she can create a romantic and sensual evening that will lead to a sexual encounter because of Viagra. A man only appears in the end of the ad when the two of them are seen together. Why is it a woman promoting the product? The suggestion is that she has a lot to gain by having her man use Viagra, which is true, but why not have the product promoted by the male who must use it? There are so many ads directed towards women that are focused on physical beauty, advertisements for makeup, hair products, shoes, most of which present the idea that the whole purpose of looking great is to attract men, rather than pleasing oneself. Hardee’s ads link eroticism with eating burgers, and American Apparel shows men in flannel shirts and pants while women wearing flannel shirts with underwear (Griner, 2013.) Despite all of the gains made by women regarding equality in various forms, media portrayals of women clarify that there is still a long way to go in redefining traditional gender roles.

  • Griner, D. (2013, November 17). 10 Most Sexist Ads in 2013. Retrieved from Adweek.com: http://www.adweek.com/
  • Jhally, S. (Director). (1999). Tough guise: Violence, media, and the crisis in masculinity [Motion Picture].

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