Give it a Sec Hon, Toxic Masculinity Needs Some Attention

(c) Men’s Health, 2019.

Every day, regardless of where I am, I find myself surrounded by images of ‘ideal’ masculinity, usually in a toxic form. On a recent trip to Walmart, a magazine display targeting men contained covers focusing on cigars, fitness, cars, culture and sports, with headlines promising “Strong and Fit at Any Age” and “Terminator Tough”. On television, commercials selling beer, men’s hair products and razors, feature tattooed men with women swarming around their rugged manly looks. The masculine ideal for men is everywhere, showing men being as manly as a man can get. I never flinch at this though, because this is how it is and always has always been.  

In the documentary, “Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood & American Culture” (Katz, 2013), Jackson Katz argues that male violence in America is caused by models of masculinity that are portrayed in the media. Katz states that there are two sides to American culture; horror when news stations show images of violence in America, and excitement when violence is shown as a form of entertainment in media. Regardless of the portrayal, violence is usually focused on men, “when we talk about violence in America, whether it’s real or imaginary, we’re almost always talking about violent masculinity.” (Katz, 2013).

Katz explains that the masculine ideal that stems from media, regardless of being attainable or not, tends to lead to violence, “In his fascinating study of violence, the psychiatrist James Gilligan interviewed hundreds of violent criminals in American prisons and found that the single most powerful reason they turned to violence was because they felt shamed, humiliated, or disrespected as men.” (Katz, 2013).

(c) Procter & Gamble, 2019.

Advertising has no shortage of masculine ideals, with messages encouraging men to be better men, which is not always a progressive thing. Gillette’s advertisement, “We Believe: The Best Men Can Be” (Procter & Gamble, 2018) gained attention from both men and women. Men were outraged that Gillette portrayed them negatively, while other people saw it as a progressive move by Procter & Gamble (Holland & Stroud, 2019). The message the advertisement was trying to illustrate was getting away from ‘toxic masculinity’, and encouraging men to “be the best you can be” (Procter & Gamble, 2018). The ad, hi-jacking the #MeToo movement, shows images of men ‘mansplaining’, fighting, being sexist and aggressive. The commercials ending shows the toxic men at the beginning of the ad, becoming positive role models by ending the negative toxic male behavior. This appears as a positive message, but there are hidden meanings within the advertisement. In one scene, a man is cat-calling a passing woman. His friend intervenes, grabbing him by the arm and saying “not cool man”. The subtle part that is easy to over-look is from the previous scene where the same ogled woman is seen passing another woman who judgmentally eyes her up and down. In another scene, two boys are fighting while a row of barbequing men are chanting “boys will be boys”. A man eventually breaks up the fight, correcting the young boy’s behavior. As the camera pans out, women are seen in the background chatting and sipping wine, oblivious to the action that is happening, as if they are passive bystanders (Procter & Gamble, 2018). Although Gillette may be trying to sell the idea of progressiveness in their advertisement, the negative portrayal of women in the ad discredits their message.

(c) War Paint Makeup for Men, 2018.

Advertising seems to follow the proverb, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Masculinity and sex sells, so why change the template that’s working? War Paint, a company that has designed makeup for men, has been criticized for selling their makeup using toxic masculinity. The company’s first advertisement showed a tattooed man, his face out of focus, putting makeup on. When he’s finished, he puts on a skull ring and leaves the scene. The original video can be seen here: https://nypost.com/2019/05/10/male-makeup-brand-war-paint-slammed-as-fragile-masculinity/. The advertisement never shows how the how the actual product looks when used, but focuses on the manliness of the actor in the video. The ad created huge backlash for the new company (Wischhover, 2019). The company eventually took the video down, and replaced it with another commercial, which was not much better.

(c) DreamsWorks Pictures, 2001.

Media shows toxic masculinity in all forms: children’s animation, cartoons, movies, and television shows. Peter Pan’s Neverland is an island that only boys are allowed on, showing their toughness, Pinocchio wanted to be a “real boy”, and Shrek is the epitome of toxic masculinity. The Handmaid’s Tale has a complete cast of toxic male characters, and Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation is as manly as you can get. These toxic figures also appear heavily in movies.

(c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 2019.

Ad Astra (20th Century Fox, 2019) recently was released in theatres. The film is about an astronaut, Major Roy McBride, who goes on an official mission to find his father in space (20th Century Fox, 2019). The film has received criticism for having masculine stereotypes. In an interview, Brad Pitt, the actor who plays McBride, commented, ““What we were really digging at … was this definition of masculinity,” he recently stated, and lamented “having grown up in an era where we were taught to be strong, not show weakness, don’t be disrespected””(Rose, 2019). Pitt was criticizing how space films have historically been male-dominated, and have not changed, including his own film (Rose, 2019).

Media is not shifting the way that men are portrayed. Toxic Masculinity is seen in print advertisement, commercials, television shows and movies. Men are still being portrayed as being emotionally solid, tough fighters, who show no weakness, do not cry, and are always in control. The attitude, “boys will be boys” has remained in the media, and attempts of shifting this outlook has come up short. Will this change? We can only hope.

References:

Holland, G. & Stroud, S.R. (2019). Case study: Gillette’s close shave with toxic masculinity. Media Ethics Initiative. Retrieved from
https://mediaethicsinitiative.org/2019/03/05/advertising-ethics-and-social-issues/

Katz, J., Young, J., Earp, J., & Jhally, S. (Directors). (2003). Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood, and American Culture. United States.

Mendelson, S. (2019). ‘Ad Astra’ is the latest movie about toxic masculinity to struggle at the box office. Forbes. September 24, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/scottmendelson/2019/09/24/toxic-masculinity-box-office-poison-brad-pitt-hustlers-mamma-mia-joker-ad-astra-lego-angry-birds-rambo/#23a283db68fa

Men’s Health. (2019). Men’s Health Magazine. Hearst: Men’s & Enthusiast Media Group. Retrieved from: https://www.menshealth.com/style/a29056277/gabriel-luna-terminator-t-shirt/

Pitt, B., Gardner, D., Kleiner, J., Gray, J., Katagas, A., Teixeira, R. & Milchan, A. (Producers), & Gray, J. (Director). (August 29, 2019). Ad Astra [Motion picture]. United States: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Rose, S. (2019). Fly men to the moon: Ad Astra and the toxic masculinity of space films. The Guardian. September 16, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/sep/16/ad-astra-movie-toxic-masculinity-brad-pitt-james-gray-sci-fi

War Paint Makeup for Men (October 2, 2018). War Paint Men’s Makeup. Men’s World. United States: Jakes Films.

Warner, A., Williams, J. H., & Katzenberg, J. (Producers), & Adamson, A. & Jenson, V. (Directors). (April 22, 2001). Shrek [Motion picture]. United States: DreamWorks Pictures.

Wescott, R. (Producer). (2019, January 13). We Believe [Advertisement]. New York, NY: AOR Grey New York. Procter & Gamble.

Wischhover, C. (2019). A brand called War Paint is using toxic masculinity to sell makeup to men. Vox (May 10, 2019). Retrieved from: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2019/5/10/18563388/war-paint-men-makeup-toxic-masculinity

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