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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Masculinity Retrieval?

In my last post I discussed the portrayal of men in the media, television in particular. The inspiration came from an article by NPR’s Linda Holmes that explored whether, even considering all the advancements our society has made in terms of social issues, television has begun to regress in terms of its portrayal of men. I must admit, it had me sold: while there are certainly some great programs out there that do a fine job at positively portraying the multiple roles modern men do and should take on (I’m thinking ABC’s Modern Family), there are about a million others that do nothing but promulgate a flawed, stereotypical, testosterone-fueled image of men (i.e. anything Spike TV has ever aired). Unfortunately, I write to you all bearing news of another TV show that can be added to the latter list: Last Man Standing, a new sitcom starring Tim Allen which promotes itself as one that is retrieving masculinity…whatever that means.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have never seen Last Man Standing. However, I have seen its advertisements and read Linda Holmes’s latest article reviewing the pilot. From what I can gather, it does in fact seem to mindlessly parade stereotypical notions of “real” masculinity with an unapologetic, boastful attitude that tramples anything that some sort of macho culture deems as an obstacle to their ideas regarding manhood. For example, Holmes points out that Tim Allen’s character proudly pulls his grandson from a daycare that seems to be promoting an open mind towards things like homosexuality and gay men and instead chooses to take him to the outdoors store he operates, which he loves because “it smells like balls.”

Holmes goes on to point out that unlike Allen’s first sitcom, Home Improvement, his character this time around has no loveable qualities nor does he have a “sensible-wife counterbalance that can take the ugly out of all (of it).” As Holmes puts it, there “ is a sense in the pilot that someone sat around a table and said, ‘We need to make a show for people who are really upset about the fact that sitcoms don't make as many jokes about women, gay men and people from other countries as they used to.’”

I can say that I am definitely going to check out Last Man Standing and I’m curious if any readers have seen the first episode. Is it as bad as Holmes claims? Furthermore, does this in fact prove my earlier hypothesis that television, and the media in general, is in fact regressing in terms of its attitudes towards masculinity?

Ryan Derry

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Please (also) Join Us For...

The Jana Mackey Distinguished Lecture Series:
Featuring Tony Porter as he speaks about "Real Men, Real Talk"
Monday October 24th 7:30pm at the Woodruff Auditorium, University of Kansas Student Union.

Tony Porter is an educator and activist who is internationally recognized for his effort to end violence against women. For more from Tony Porter, watch the video below:

Please Join Us for...

Region VII Town Hall Meeting October 26th 8:30am-11:30am
Empowering and Engaging Men In Reducing Violence Against Women

As a part of Vice President Biden's initiative to raise awareness on dating violence and sexual assault among women and girls, the Region VII (IA, KS, MO, NE) offices of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education invite you to participate in an event that will highlight local and regional efforts to engage men of all ages in preventing violence against women.

This event will bring together males, youth, government officials, domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, community leaders, medical professionals and other public health leaders to participate in a conversation about how men and boys can become more proactive in stopping violence against women and girls. Participants will have the opportunity to hear about regional and local programs and efforts to work with men to address violence against women in their communities as well as network with others interested in this important issue.

Space is limited. RSVP by replying to

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It’s Going to Take All of Us….

Power is an amazing thing. It has the ability to change everything from the way we live to the way we think. It has the ability to create positive change. It also has the ability to destroy.

A couple of years ago, I saw a documentary that truly changed me. It started by enlightening me about the current status of HIV and the AIDS virus. I knew there was an increased infection rate among African-American women. According to researchers and medical experts, the increase was attributed to several factors – drug use, Black men on the “down low”, an increase in sex among teenagers, etc.

But the documentary, All of Us, decided to truly examine the subject by focusing on the realities of some unique women, including:

  • Dr. Mehret Mandefro, public health practitioner and medical anthropologist. The documentary was filmed as Dr. Mandefro was completing her residency at Montefiore Hospital, in the South Bronx. She took on the task of researching why there is an increase.
  • Tara, also HIV+ and battling a form of cervical cancer that has required very invasive surgery. She has also dealt with sexual/physical abuse and rape.

As Dr. Mandefro conducts her research, the film records her discovery of the connection between increased infection rates in women and issues such as poverty, education, and of course, sexual abuse and assault. But the biggest revelation occurs during a section of the film with Tara.

One afternoon, Dr. Mandefro separately speaks with Tara and her boyfriend. She asks them questions about specific areas of their lives and who makes the decisions in those areas. Tara is asked first and establishes, by her response to each of the questions, that she is in control. Except for one area – the bedroom. When, Dr. Mandefro asks her boyfriend the same questions, his responses are in total agreement with Tara’s.

In another scene in the film, Tara becomes anxious. She is a few weeks into the recovery process from another surgery – one that has physically altered her cervix and vagina. Despite her pain and discomfort, her boyfriend is pressuring to ask her gynecologist when she will be able to have sex. Once the Dr. sets a date, the boyfriend begins to countdown the days on a calendar, marking the days until he’s expecting to have sex with Tara.

As Dr. Mandefro begins to discuss this revelation with her peers, and even travels to her native Ethiopia, it becomes clear that men, quite often, seek or force control when it comes to sex. No matter the race, class, socio-economic status or culture, men sometimes hold the power.

The title of the film comes from Dr. Mandefro's realization that it was not just Black women who become powerless in the bedroom. It affects ALL women.

What I realized after watching the film is that if we, as men, have the power, we have misused and abused this power. Essentially, we sometimes take the power away from the women in our lives by using sex as a bargaining chip or a carrot…or even worse, a weapon. Sex should be a mutually agreed upon experience, a shared pleasurable experience.

One woman alone can’t decrease the rate of HIV infection and the spread of AIDS. One man alone can’t cause a paradigm shift in the way we men view sex and its power. It’s going to take all of us to do that.

Carlton Logan

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Media’s Portrayal of Men: Worse than that of Women?

Often, as I prepare to write for this blog, I make what I call my usual “internet rounds” (a scan across the web of some of my favorite sites) in search of material to write about. Last week, I came across an editorial on NPR’s website in which Linda Holmes proposed a rather interesting proposition: that the media (television in particular) “is even worse at managing its ideas about masculinity than about femininity.” Such a sentiment seems ridiculous at first; the conventional wisdom of course being that women have been unrepresentatively characterized in the media and that television and other forms of entertainment have put forth a series of “ideal” yet impossible expectations of women in terms of appearance and even behavior. While I am not here to challenge such a notion (of course the media has unfairly represented women) it is interesting to wonder what sorts of expectations the media puts on men.

The NPR article goes on to describe a new CBS series entitled How to be a Gentleman. Apparently, the show is a sitcom that explores the definitions of masculine, rugged “real men” and their counterparts found in delicate, sensitive “gentlemen.” Holmes points out that the show’s “overt and unapologetic sexist stereotyping, in which only certain kinds of men are ‘real men,’” suggests that the show promulgates the notion that there is a very specific set of criteria that determines what masculinity is and that, through countless manifestations of such a sentiment in the media, television has become even worse at presenting a fair and varying portrayal of men than it has of women.

Furthermore, I am reminded of ESPN Magazine as they are set to release their latest “Body Issue” soon. For those not familiar with the sports magazine, the “Body Issue” is an edition that features nude and semi-nude photographs of professional athletes. To be fair, while the photos can be a bit racy, they are shot artistically and do feature both men and women. The “Body Issue” has been criticized for its contents not just because of their risqué qualities, but because they prominently feature what many consider impossible body types. The men featured in the magazine especially strike a chord with me, as their chiseled bodies represent an ideal that many of my male, college-aged peers strive for yet will most likely never realize. To be honest, I am torn on this issue. ESPN’s “Body Issue” does represent images of men that are typically considered to be at the peak of health and fitness; and what’s so bad about ensuring a healthy body? The problem, however, is the fact many young men are encouraged into unhealthy habits - such as steroid usage- in pursuit of such physiques.

As always, readers, I am curious to hear your thoughts on the portrayal of men in the media? Has it really reached a point that, as Linda Holmes believes, is worse than its portrayal of women? Moreover, what do you make of shows like How to Be a Gentleman and publications such as the “Body Issue”?

Ryan Derry