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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


Mike Eggleston said...

I couldn't agree more with you - the media image of men and masculinity is truly messed up! At best, it's confusing; at worst, it's insulting. Men have been portrayed as morons on TV for far too long, but now there's a new wave of shows that make them appear weak if they express emotions or as self-absorbed idiots if they don't...I think the NPR editorial you referred us to says it best: "it really begins to look like men are the new women, when it comes to being mercilessly pigeonholed and mocked for failing to represent an impossible ideal of perfect behavior and perfect looks."

Ryan Derry said...

Mike-That's an excellent quote from the article. Good point about the dichotomy of men either being emotionless or morons (I'm thinking the Bud Light commercials that portray us as Neanderthal-like beings guided only by sexual desire and "toughness"?) in the media. Thanks for the comment!

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