When I was seven, I had a “huge” decision to make. My mom wanted me to start partner dancing while I desired to play basketball. Concurrently, I saw dancing as a feminine activity, since none of the boys from my class joined. Accompanying this, one of the most frequent things I was exposed to on TV was basketball, where an image of a successful, relentless man was painted. Media influenced my decision, and I am sure that it affects many more decisions made by men. This is an article that concerns the narrative of masculinity presented in the media.
To avoid any confusion, masculinity on its own is not adverse. Masculinity is a set of values that are traditionally thought to be typical or suitable for men. The examples of those traits could be being physically fit, decision-makers in the family, taking responsibility for the actions. None of these traits are inherently harmful, yet there is a pre-existing narrative that men are capable of and should only represent those traits. Widely used media consists of such narrative, creating a pressure to follow those traits. There are several forms of media that could even lead to a repressive and designating manhood defined by violence, sex, status and aggression, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness. It is better known as toxic masculinity, the most harmful concept for both genders.
One of the threats that are so near-at-hand to us every day is social media. The traditional gender norms have been pushed without exception throughout the electronic age, with many men not having a voice to express their opinions over it. While the emergence of social media has enabled the latter, the hard man image is still present and developing.
Social media is the perfect place to create and satisfy the macho man image. More and more males, especially starting at a young age, are posting pictures on platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram. The photos contain themselves posing near luxury cars, flexing their muscles or having a party that involves a lot of females. Each one of those things creates an individual status, and, simultaneously, the pressure to reach that status. In reality, things are much different behind the smoke and mirrors of those images. Yet, social media does not allow us to get that reality, which leads to appalling consequences. Striving for quick money, using drugs such as steroids, is what drives many men to depression and suppression of emotion.
Even the recently emerged phenomena on social media, simping, has the idea that you can be too respectful or friendly to the person that you like. While the term is usually not interpreted severely, it can be used to spread the masculine agenda of being the alpha male. Some even hint that the word’s meaning that someone who you like should not be respected could link to toxic masculinity, in which aggression would be emphasized.
If we are following the topic of toxic masculinity, pornography, as a medium, has the capability of enhancing it. With the wide accessibility that pornography has on the Internet, many young boys can access millions of websites. It explains why boys aged 12 to 17 are the biggest consumers. Not only does this give a false sense of reality, but it also can lead to sexual assault, or in the worst-case scenario, rape. While the demand for violent porn has gone down, just ten years ago, research indicated that 88% porn scenes consisted of violence.
Due to addictiveness to porn, and exposure over and over again, an example of social learning theory could occur, in which violent pornography can be normalized and might be seen as typical. Due to the non-existent negative consequences that the man faces in the pornographic clips, it could encourage some men to try it. It creates a threat to our society, as not only women could be sexually assaulted, but men would have a narrative that being violent is justified.
Is the narrative being altered?
While some things remain stagnant, the mindsets of people are continually changing. Industries that once were the leading narrative creators of masculinity are now becoming more accepting than ever. One of such sectors is the professional sports industry. NBA stars, Demar Derozan and Kevin Love are coming out with stories about their struggles with mental health and how they have dealt with depression.
Kevin Love: “I was taught to not show any weakness. My dad said, ‘Don’t cry,’ because he was from an era where they don’t do that.
Throughout history, male athletes in sports have presented an image of a man that is supposed to be physical, rigid and emotionless, which millions of young aspiring kids followed. Yet, more and more players throughout all the sports are coming forward to help men express their emotions and feelings that were suppressed for a long time. Considering the exposure athletes have on social media and TV, this could be a real game-changer when chipping away from toxic masculinity and its painful consequences.
Obviously, the issue of masculinity and toxic masculinity is more complicated than just the media, as it could wholly depend on the environment you grew up in. Nonetheless, it is a fact that the media plays a role in enhancing the narrative and continuing the traditional norms of masculinity. However, it brings joy to see that more and more media platforms are becoming aware of the issue and are trying to resolve it.
Cover: Kammeran Gonzalez-Keola