September 16, 2017

Toxic Masculinity and the Hyper-Sexualization of Women

[CW: Toxic Masculinity and Rape Culture]

Mass media regularly presents pervading images of masculinity, portraying ‘real men’ as aggressive, physically strong and always in control of their emotions and work. In particular, the movie industry is a prime perpetrator of hegemonic masculinity which feeds the global culture with an unlimited stream of violent male idols. Tens of millions of predominantly young males worldwide swarm at theaters to watch the latest action movie, starring male superstars such as Vin Diesel, Matt Damon, Bruce Willis and Christian Bale. Local or regional equivalents of the male icons created by Hollywood also dominate local and regional film and television industries in other parts of the world – from Nigeria’s Nollywood to India’s Bollywood. Moreover, adding to this stock of ubiquitous images is the music industry through the widespread practice of advertising to stress gender difference, both implicitly and explicitly reaffirming the ‘natural’ differences of males and females in their music videos.

Toxic masculinity is deeply rooted within all societies and can easily be credited for many material and immaterial destructions seen today. Male youth is bombarded by menacing representations through all the previously mentioned mediums that characterize men who reveal their feelings as weak, spineless and unmanly. Such depictions engrain into boys’ minds this illusive idea of a need to uphold a facade of ruthlessness in the fact of life as they know it. They are taught not to wither at anything, not to show any signs of weakness, to grow cold; being stripped away from those attributes that make one human. Boys are brought up with the notion that they must swallow a cry because instead of being asked about the problem, they are told their reaction is the problem. Consequently, you find these boys growing, only in shape. You see men who are still young boys that do not know how to handle the reality of raw emotions, the reality of being human.

The media, which may as well be considered the fourth branch of the government, works hand in hand with transnational corporations to manufacture and maintain ideals of masculinity which dictate that men must be strong, have no feelings, and dominate women.  This lead men to lose touch from emotional connections and nurturing—essential aspects of life, in order to preserve stoic masculinity. Every day, young boys are swamped with images on TV, in magazines and other sources of advertisement that only either show men as intimidating figures in high positions of power or heavily-built, fearless heroes. Such depictions teach these boys early on, that the only way they’re allowed to show emotion while still appearing strong is by being angry, which results in a pernicious culture promoting violence against women.

Men are socialized since birth to feel entitled to the female body. The media depicts women as prizes to be won by the male hero of the story, no matter how rude, condescending or undeserving he is or whether the woman even likes him. For instance, we see this as a repeating pattern in romantic comedies such as “Say Anything,” “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” “500 Days of Summer” and numerous others. An underlying theme these films tend to share is that the little guy will overcome great odds to get what he wants—with just enough persistence, he’ll finally land a date with the prettiest girl in the room.  They often tell a story about the guy who meets the love of his life, but she doesn’t know it yet. The woman is initially uninterested, rebuffing his advances. He’s just not her type. However, he isn’t so easily dissuaded. He shows up to her office every single day to ask her out—until she finally says yes. No matter which version you hear (maybe he’s in the Navy or she’s already got a boyfriend), there’s one constant: they always end up married at the end. A female body will always be part of his prize for saving the day. As a result, women are presented as objects—bodies to be used by and for the pleasure of men. Men absorb such messages from society and believe them to be true. Messages such as “never give up” and “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” offer us necessary lessons about the value of perseverance, but rarely do they illustrate the importance of consent. Rarely are men taught that it’s OK to try your best and not get what you want—rarely are we taught that “no” deserves respect.  They then act on these messages, creating and further feeding into rape culture and enacting violence against women that is encouraged by the fallacious idea which associates women and femininity with impotence and inferiority.

Women internalize this misogyny as well, learning that we have to be sex objects to find our place in the world. The sexual objectification of women in film and other sectors of the media has a detrimental effect on girls and young women, in which when girls have extended exposure to films where female characters are dressed in over-sexualized costumes, they became more aware of their own body competence and the exposure impacts their view of the female gender and female roles. Such over-sexualization in popular Hollywood industry takes away from girl’s self-esteem and encourages them to want to alter their bodies to look more like the actresses in films and media. The result is a generation of women who struggle with their body image and/or sexuality. These struggles show up as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, reproductive concerns, parenting issues or relationship crises.  We police our bodies and absorb ourselves in vanity in order to compete for male attention as if that is the ultimate dream—as if we were brought into this world simply as accessories to satisfy the man. The media allows the exploitation of women’s bodies for profit.  In here, money becomes more important than human dignity, ethics and morality. This is one of the ways in which patriarchy benefits men. It teaches women that we must perform a very high standard of objectification and that objectifying ourselves is normal. The result is a society that has been attacking our humanity since birth.

One thought on "Toxic Masculinity and the Hyper-Sexualization of Women"

  1. Karina says:

    It’s 2020 and this article stands as even more relevant today. I really enjoyed this, thank you.

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