This post focuses on traditional representations of men as reinforcing aspects of hegemonic masculinity before considering some of the changes to male representations in more recent years.
Traditional representations of men reinforce hegemonic masculinity
Traditional representations of men have ascribed certain attributes to male characters such as strength, power, control, authority, rationality and lack of emotion. In other words, media representations of men have reinforced hegemonic masculinity.
Gilmore has summarised this even more simply, arguing that the media stereotype men into ‘the provider, the protector and the impregnator’.
Violence as a normal part of masculinity
According to Earp and Katz (1999) the media have provided us with a steady stream of images which define violence as an ordinary or normal part of masculinity, or in their own words….
“The media help construct violent masculinity as a cultural norm. Media discourse reveals the assumption that violence is not so much a deviation but an accepted part of masculinity”.
Wider representations of men and masculinity
Children Now (1999) conducted research in the late 1990s and found that there were six common types of representation of men in the media
The joker – uses laughter to avoid displaying seriousness or emotion
The jock – demonstrates his power and strength to win the approval of other men and women
The strong silent type (James Bond) – being in charge, acting decisively, controlling emotion and succeeding with women.
The big shot – power comes from professional status
The action hero – strong and shows extreme aggression and violence
The Buffoon – a bungling father figure, well intentioned and light hearted. (Homer). Hopeless at domestic affairs.
(Boys to Men: Media Messages About Masculinity, Children Now 1999).
The Crisis of Masculinity, the New Man and changing representations of masculinity
As with women, the changing roles of men in society are reflected in changing representations of men in the media.
Representations of men are moving away from absolute toughness, stubborn self-reliance and emotional silence with more male characters being comfortable with showing emotions and seeking advice about how to deal with the problems of masculinity.
There are also an increasing amount of images within advertising which encourage men to be concerned with body image and appearance as well as a sexualisation of male bodies, in which they are presented as sex objects for female viewing pleasure, much in the same way as female bodies have been traditionally been used by the media.
In 2017 the Advertising Standards Authority published a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, prompted (among other things) by the hundreds of complaints it had received from the public about Protein World’s 2015 ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign.
That particular advert led a public backlash, with several people posting images of themselves and their ‘ordinary’ bodies in bikinis, vandalism of some the posters, as well as making the advertising industry reflect on how it should be representing women.
The ASA’s 2017 report identified six categories of gender stereotypes in adverts:
Roles Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender
Characteristics Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender
Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype or making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way
Sexualisation Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner
Objectification Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts
One example is Volkswagon’s recent electric Golf ad which shows men actively doing a range of dynamic activities (such as exploring space) and closes with a woman passively sitting on a bench with a pram, watching the car go by:
A second example is this Philadelphia ad, which was banned for depicting men as poor child carers, with one of them accidentally putting his child on a food conveyor belt in a restaurant:
An effective mechanism for combating gender stereotypes in advertising?
The very fact that the ASA is now censoring ads for representing men and women in narrow stereotypical ways suggests that we should see less gender stereotyping in adverts in the future: now that ads have actively been banned from UK screens for failing to conform to these new standards, it should make ad makers more sensitive to how they represent men and women: it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to avoid stereotyping, after all, and surely most ad makers would rather make ads that can be broadcast as widely as possible, especially in countries with large consumer economies like the U.K.
The limitation of this is that the ASA only has the power the censor in the United Kingdom, not globally, and the U.K. only makes up 1% of the global population!
Men are enjoying more leisure time than they did 15 years ago, while women have less. according to the latest stats from the Office for National Statistics.
In 2015 Men spent 43 hours a week on leisure activities, up from 42.88 hours in 2000. In the same period, women’s leisure time fell to 38.35 hours, from 39.24 hours.
NB – it doesn’t matter what age group we’re taking about, men have more leisure time than women (unlike the pay gap, which ‘switches’ in the 20s and 30s.)
Over a 40 year period, this means that men have 9672 more hours of leisure time than women, or just over 600 days (calculated by diving the original time by 16 to reflect the number of waking hours in a day), or getting on for 2 years….
I want to blame this on the X box, but other surveys suggest that one reason for this is that women spend more time caring for adult relatives than men.
This is good evidence supporting the view that the gendered division of labour is still not equal, in fact it’s suggesting the trend towards equality is reversing!
In the final section of Zimbardo and Coulombe’s ‘Man Disconnected’ the authors outline a few suggestions about how to combat the crisis faced by young men around the world. The post summarizes chapters 16-21).
Before reading this you might like to read the following posts:
Man Disconnected, which summarizes the evidence that young men are in crisis (chapters 1-7)
Zimbardo and Coulombe break down their solutions to focus on what governments, schools, parents, men, women and finally the media can do…
What governments can do:
Support the role of the father
Limit the use of endocrine-disruptors
Get more men into grade school teaching positions
Get junk food out of schools
Improve how schools prepare students for their lives ahead
What schools can do:
Teach life skills
Incorporate new technology for more interactive learning
Quash grade inflation
What parents can do:
Teach children to be resilient by letting them organise their own play and take risks
Give children responsibility for important tasks within the family
Encourage children to think about a future career, and to explore vocational options
Discussing taboo topics like sex
Fathers need to priorities fatherhood
Get children to track how much time they spend on different activities
What men can do:
Turn off the porn
Track your activity and consider what else you could be doing!
Make your bed (small accomplishments lead to bigger accomplishments)
Discover your inner power
Make a few female friends
Don’t call women sluts
Find a mentor, be a mentor
What women can do
Mothers and sisters basically need to encourage the strength and hardness associated with manhood, while having the depth of character and emotional sensitivity to help men become better communicators.
Don’t be promiscuous – because this just sends out the message to men that they will always have a string of available sexual partners
Choose a ‘good partner’ rather than a ‘flash partner’ – there are plenty of ‘good men’ (who want long term relationships) being overlooked because they are ‘drowned out’ on dating sites by better looking men who have no genuine interest in commitment.
Zimbardo’s final chapter is a brief one on what the media (especially the porn and gaming industries) can do to help stem the crisis of masculinity.
A summary of Zimbardo and Coulombe’s Man Disconnected, part 4.
It seemed appropriate to devote a whole blog post to this chapter (chapter 11) as this seems to be the main thrust of the book. (No, the book’s not that well organised!)
Chapter 11: Technology Enchantment and Arousal Addiction
J.R.R. Tolkein used the word ‘enchantment’ to define a human being’s total immersion in a fictitious world.He said that the more…
‘You think that you are bodily inside [a] Secondary World [the more] the experience may be very similar to Dreaming… but you are in a dream that some other mind is weaving, and the knowledge of that alarming fact may slip from your grasp’.’
Tolkein’s writing is certainly enchanting – when I first read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was about 11, I was absolutely transported into Middle Earth for most of the book.
However, according to Philip Zimbardo, it is far easier to get wrapped up in online virtual realities than it is in a book, because they are more sensually immersive and have rewards systems and status which hook you in: with games, for example you get to actually play the hero or anti-hero, and gain virtual rewards risk free; while with online porn you get to be a ‘virtual sheikh with a harem’ – having your choice of girls to wank over with no threat of rejection.
Today, both computer games and porn are extremely pervasive, and literally millions of young men use these two together as their first port of call to meet their basic ‘male urges’ – to be competitive/ be a winner/ and gain status, and to achieve sexual gratification – you can do both by using a combination of computer games and porn: in fact, not only is it accessible (and very cheap), you have a choice over exactly which game, or which ‘type’ of porn you want to use to ‘fulfil your needs’.
This has been encouraged precisely because men have been taught to be ashamed of their competitive nature and their male-sexuality over the years: according to Zimbardo these are effectively aspects of masculinity that men have been taught to hide in an era of female liberation: the result is that young men repress these ‘natural’ aspects of themselves in public and turn to online worlds to express these aspects of themselves: to be competitive and get their status rewards through gaming, and get sexually gratified by wanking over porn.
In the world of online gaming and porn gaining status and sexual gratification is very easy: you simply learn a few skills and level up, or choose your fetish and spank your monkey, and millions of young men who have effectively grown up immersed in these environments now have their pleasure sensors hard-wired into this ‘switch on get gratified immediately’ mentality. There is also research which suggests that the more pleasure is associated with habitual patterns of action (such as online gaming and porn) then the less responsive pleasure centres are to less familiar experiences.
The problem with this is that in real-life gaining status through such things such as working with others, and gaining sexual gratification in a relationship are just a little bit more complicated!
Zimbardo has been criticised for lumping gaming and porn together, but he sees them as similar arguing that they are both based on ‘arousal’ and that increasingly the two are merging. As far as he see it, Porn and Video games are potentially psychologically and socially damaging to some males, especially those who use them excessively in social isolation.
Zimbardo points out that games designers may think they’ve ‘hacked Maslow’ except that the rewards online games offer can be achieved without the need to relate effectively others.
Zimbardo now cites research in which in gaming cultures, it is common to mock people for losing, which doesn’t happen in real world sports, and that some gamers retreat further into their gaming worlds the more their offline lives do not yield them success.
There is also a phenomenon in which gamers real world selves becomes more like their gaming personas, and Zimbardo warns us that this could lead to more egocentric and individualised behaviours.
Finally, there is a problem that people’s behaviour can be manipulated online, through clever use of avatars for example, a problem which will become more acute as online and offline worlds become more similar and harder to distinguish.
The Dynamics of Porn
In this section, Zimbardo outlines the results of a survey on the effects of porn on young men and women. The general gist is that the availability of online gratification through porn reduces young mens’ patience, makes them hold themselves to unrealistic expectations and cripples them socially.
He cites numerous interviews with men young and women in which they outline the fact that porn has resulted in a lot of young men suffering from performance anxiety, further evidenced by viagra prescriptions increasing for the under 30s.
Porn also encourages young men to see sex as just an act in itself, with no ‘build up’, or no ‘chase’ as such – young men are now less likely to approach women in night clubs, partly because, in porn, there is no story to lead into the sex-act itself.
Chronic Stimulation, Chronic Dissatisfaction
A recent study by the CDC found that heavy porn users are more likely to suffer long term physical health problems, suggesting that over-stimulation through porn rather than engaging in actual person to person sexual interaction might lead to eventual sexual isolation.
According to Alexa, 5% of the top most 100 viewed websites are porn site, and most of the people viewing them are young men under 24…. Alone in their bedrooms.
And porn sends out certain messages, most obviously that sex is about fucking rather than emotional connection and conversation, and of course condoms are rarely seen in porn.
7/10 heavy porn users report sexual problems in their relationships, compared to 3/10 light porn users.
Research from the Max Planck Institute suggests that heavy porn use ‘wears out the pleasure receptors’….. The lead researcher hypothesizesd that to get a dopamine release, and basically to get an erection, porn users would rely on more and more extreme types of porn….. And sex with the same partner in real life becomes less and less satisfying as a result.
The Madonna-Whore complex…
Zimbardo rounds off this section by suggesting that a lot of men in the Western World have developed a ‘Madonna-Whore complex’ – they regard the women they have, or want to have sex with, as whores… but they cannot deal with women who are both attractive to them and nice – mainly because they can’t sustain an erection when having sex with the same woman over and over again.
The Dynamics of Video Games
Zimbardo starts this question by pointing out by recognising that there are positives to playing computer games, and that that they are really only concerned here with young men who play video games in isolation, primarily with strangers, which is just over a third of all gamers.
For these people, Zimbardo suggests that computer games can make real life and other people seem boring by comparison.
He cites statistically controlled evidence that children who spend more time gaming later on suffer lower paper-test scores at school, and reduced attention spans generally, suggesting that this could explain the higher rate of ADHD among boys compared to girls.
This chapter is a bit skewed – much more evidence on the effects of porn, much less on gaming, and I’m not convinced that it’s useful to lump the two together – these are both hugely diverse areas which at least deserve the attention of being studied separately, surely?
Today, children are brought up with much less contact with adults: they used to be surrounded by extended families, but today the average household size is just below 3 in the US and 2.4 in the UK, and on top of this, the typically teacher pupil ratio at school is 1:20.
It’s not just quantity of contacts, but quality: something like 50% of households feel the ‘time pinch’ to the extent that they cannot find time to sit down to meals together on most days of the week.
Zimbardo also cites the tired evidence on the increasing number of children being brought up in cohabiting households, which have twice the break up rate of married households, and the fact that today about 1/3rd of US children and ¼ of UK children are brought up in single parent (mainly mother) households.
In the US trust in the general public has declined so much that we no longer even trust the nannies we employ to look after our kids – as evidenced by the increasing sales of ‘nanny cams’.
The percentage of people reporting that most people can be trusted has fallen from 55% in 1960 to 32% in 2009.
Zimbardo now seems to link declining trust to divorce, citing evidence that divorced people have lower immune systems than married people (yes, there are measurable physiological effects!)
He focuses first on the effects of divorce on separated mums and their children: arguing that only around 25% of single mums report that they are happy, half the number of married women. He also argues that girls brought up in single parent households are given mixed messages – that they should put their kids first, and get a career, but there are hardly any examples of people who successfully do both!
He then turns the effects on the separated dads: who have a suicide rate 10 times higher than divorced women, suggesting that the typical experience is for them to spend time working for someone else, who is now distanced from them, and basically having to ‘suck this up’ because they are conditioned to not seek help from anyone.
High divorce rates makes children who experience them think differently about relationships – he cites Vaillant’s famous Longitudinal Harvard Study as an example of the negative effects….suggesting that such children are suspicious of relationships (they are less likely to trust adults!) yet they are still caught up thinking that stable monogamous relationships are for everyone (thanks to Disney).
Zimbardo finishes off with the usual trawl through the ‘problems’ which the decline of the nuclear family create for society – arguing that countries with more stable families (basically a prosperous society is based on the nuclear family seems to be his argument) are correlated with higher employment rates, more wealth generation, better qualifications and lower obesity levels. Although he cites Charles Murray as part of his evidence.
Boys are affected relatively more than girls by family break up
The USA leads the way in fatherlessness, and for those who do have fathers, the average school boy spends just 30 minutes a week in conversation with his father, compared to around 44 hours in front of screens.
Zimbardo basically goes on to make the argument that boys need father figures – but that way too many of the current generation are missing out on this – boys are growing up thinking that ‘being male’ effectively means avoiding parenting (this is something mothers do); he cites further evidence that men are basically afraid of hanging out with teenage boys.
Boys need men to offer reassurance and guidance, but they are less likely to get it now than in the past.
This is further compounded by the fact that girls have been taught how to evolve into both traditionally male and female roles, but boys have no role models to teach them how to evolve into both roles either: and when they fail at the traditional male role, as they increasingly go, they are left in the shit.
This problem is further compounded by the lack of positive male role models in the media, and especially porn, which offers teenage boys instant gratification with no need to learn how to communicate.
Chapter 9: Failing schools
Education systems are failing our boys.
The general gist here is that schools focus on ‘academics’ which require children to sit still and focus for longer periods of time, and they require this from a younger and younger age. This disadvantages boys because boys mature later than girls, and they are thus turned of learning, which explains why boys end up with worse GCSE results than girls and for the dramatic increase in female graduates compared to males since the 1960s.
Then there’s the fact that school play times have been cut and that hardly any teachers are male, all of which has resulted in a gynocentric education system which is increasingly shaped in the interests females, and works against male achievement.
Zimbardo offers up Montessori style education as an alternative.
Finally, Zimbardo suggests that we need to start educating our children about sex properly from the ages of 10-11, rather than leaving it to the porn industry!
In this chapter Zimbardo makes the argument that toxic chemicals in a whole range of day to day products (such as tins) are causing endocrinal (hormonal) disruption, resulting in increasing health problems for men: such as higher rates of testicular cancer and a lower sperm counts.
In order to back up his claims, Zimbardo cites a range of evidence from studies on animals who have been exposed to toxic chemicals over the long term, and admits the effects of chemicals on human biology remain inconclusive.
He rounds off the chapter by suggesting that many harmful chemicals are built up in body fat tissues, and we don’t really know what the effects of the release of these when (if?) fat cells get broken down will be.
All in all this is something of a speculative chapter.
New research suggests that women make better surgeons than men. For the study, a team at the University of Toronto compared like for like procedures performed by 3,314 surgeons at a single Canadian based hospital over an eight-year period.
This revealed that the post-operative death rages for female surgeons were 12% lower than for their male counterparts – a figure that equates to one less patient dying per every 230 operations a woman performs. (Clearly the death rates are very low!).
Previous research has also found that women doctors have, on average, slightly better outcomes than male ones and that they are less likely to be struck off.
How might we explain these disparities?
Researchers speculate that women may be more better communicators and more cautious than men.
However, it may also be that women face greater obstacles to entering a male-dominated profession – with the result that only the most skilled qualify as surgeons.
You also have to question the representativeness of the Canadian study – in only one hospital in one country, you can hardly generalise from this!
Sex Role Theory explains gendered differences in offending in terms of the differences in gender socialization, gender roles and gendered identities. The norms and values associated with traditional femininity are not conducive to crime, while the norms and values associated with traditional masculinity are more likely to lead to crime.
Female socialization, traditional female roles and low female crime rates
Parsons (1937) argued that because females carry out the ‘expressive role’ in the family which involved them caring for their children and looking after the emotional needs of their husbands, that girls grew up to internalise such values as caring and empathy, both of which reduce the likelihood of someone committing crime simply because a caring and empathetic attitude towards others means you are less likely to harm others.
The child caring role also means that women are also effectively more attached to their families and wider communities than men – It is traditionally women who keep in touch with relatives and get to know their children’s friends families and thus bond local communities together. In terms of bonds of attachment theory, women are thus more attached to wider society and thus less likely to commit crime.
Similarly, because traditional female gender roles involve women being busier than men, especially since they have taken on the ‘dual burden’ and ‘triple shift’ in recent decades, this reduces the opportunities for women to commit crime.
It has long been theorized that the early socialization of boys into traditional masculine identities is at least partly responsible for the higher male crime rate. Sociologist Sutherland (1960) stated this very simply by saying that ‘boys are taught to be “rough and tough,” which makes them more likely to become delinquent’. Talcott Parsons (1964) purported that masculinity was then internalized during adolescence, which led to boys engaging in more delinquent behavior than girls, and sub cultural theorists Cloward and Ohlin (1960) proposed that in gangs, younger members learn through contact with older males that traits such as toughness and dominance are necessary in order to assert a strong masculine reputation.
One possible criticism of sex-role theory is that it is less relevant in today’s society because of the decline of traditional gender roles.