May 13, 2015

Media, Gender, and Relationships

50 Shades of Grey is all the rage right now, but before it there was Twilight’s Bella and Edward, Gossip Girl’s Chuck and Blair and many others. The ‘bad boy’ stereotype isn’t anything new, but it seems to be having an unexpected resurgence. Besides the issues surrounding abusive relationship qualities that these forms of ‘entertainment’ have in common, there is also another issue that is less often addressed: how boys and men are psychologically impacted. Along with unrealistic images of bodies in advertisements and magazines, men’s personalities and mannerisms are also under constant scrutiny.

As teenagers, boys are faced with the two categories of either ‘jock’ or ‘nerd’ and are expected to fit into only those binaries. Growing older and into the dating scene, they are expected to be gentlemen, chivalrous, strong, smart, assertive… the list goes on and on. But to counter the good guy stereotype, there is the saying that “nice guys finish last.” Moving through life into father hood, men are expected to be the breadwinners while simultaneously being the perfect male role model for their children; they need to be the dominant parent, the protector, and the source of authority, reason and decision making for the entire family unit. Besides being demanding, these qualities are very out-dated. Although they are being challenged more today, in many relationships they are still held to be true.

In terms of cultural norms, the devoted, loving gentleman is still alive and thriving – but only in theory. In reality, he is being challenged more and more by male characters in the media who are detached, abusive and controlling. Not only are these portrayals creating seriously harmful ‘ideal relationships’, but they are also creating an extremely unhealthy lens through which men see other men in relationships. The empathetic, compassionate, ‘feminine’ qualities that are equally felt by men are forcefully shoved out of the definition of a ‘man’. The fact that women are sold these abusive qualities embodied as heroes in epic love stories isn’t helping either.

In order for everyone caught up in these violent-sexuality fantasies to realize that they are not realistic or healthy, the media first and foremost needs to stop glorifying and romanticizing abuse. Period. It is completely unethical to be making money off violence that destroys women, children and their families every day. Secondly, we as a global community need to start talking about what actually constitutes a healthy masculinity. No more violence, exaggerated manliness, and dominance over women to prove their worth. Those behaviours are being deemed unacceptable and are being questioned more in society, but unfortunately the entertainment business is slow to catch on. Luckily, one of the easiest things a person can do to help with the fall of this sector is to refuse to watch, read and participate in discussion surrounding these idolized forms of media. Without supporters, it will cease to exist. As a culture, we need to start valuing our men for who they are – human beings with a vast emotional capacity and the right to express it in positive, constructive ways.

For more in formation on hyper-masculinity in our society and its effects, watch Tough Guise & Tough Guise 2 documentaries by Jason Katz.

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