The Media’s Portrayal of Masculinity and Femininity

Emma Houser


As I watched these two movies, many of the images were things that I had seen before. As a youth in today’s society we all see women’s sexualized bodies used to grab peoples attention and sell products, just as we are used to seeing men sporting guns and throwing punched. What really bothered me is how normal all of these images are. When did it become normal for women to be beaten and used as sex toys? Similarly, when did it become normal for men to carry machine guns and kill everyone who gets in their way? This is the way that masculinity and femininity are displayed in the media, but nothing about this is normal and acceptable.

The masculine and feminine ideals that society supports have a negative effect on men and women both. As we saw in Tough Guise II, men are taught from a young age to focus on violence and power as a way to assert their dominance and masculinity. They are taught that violence is the way of the man’s world and if they don’t follow this “rule” they are looked down upon by society, especially other men. Katz focuses on the ways in which these images, and the portrayal of masculinity in general, affect men and boys. These images and the idea that this kind of behavior is normal for men are at the root of many of our nation’s tragedies. Boys and men who are discriminated against, unemployed, bullied, among other things are responsible for mass shooting because to them it is a form of redemption.

One of the things that Katz discusses in his film is that although these issues are so prevalent we almost always ignore the fact that they are related to our society’s idea of masculinity and what it means to be a real man. One of the things that really struck me is when he was discussing statistics that showed that an overwhelming number of the violent acts we frequently hear about in the media are committed by men. This is a fact that most people already know, but many people, myself included, have never questioned the idea that this is normal behavior for men. Until recently, I went along with the idea that this kind of behavior is the result of biological differences in men. After watching Tough Guise I and II it is so easy to see that the source of these behaviors really lies in the masculine ideals that have been created and reinforced for men in our society.

Similarly, the feminine ideals present in our society are equally damaging to both men and women. Our society has put an enormous amount of focus on the female body as a sexual object to be used as a moneymaking tool. Although I had seen most of the images shown in Dreamworlds 3 before, it was difficult to sit through an entire film in which young women exposing their bodies to a camera so that whatever “artist” could produce a successful music video. These kinds of images have been all too normal since the days of MTv. They show men exerting their power over women to degrade and control them. Although these messages are geared towards male empowerment, young girls and women are watching too and getting ideas about what it means to be a woman in today’s society. These images and portrayals of “sexy” and “admired” women are teaching women to focus on their bodies, rather than teaching them to be independent and powerful beings.

In today’s society, especially in the media, we have created a double standard. We are all horrified by the mass shootings and suicide rates, rightfully so, but at the same time we religiously watch violent sporting games, wrestling matches, and gun shows. We portray masculinity and femininity that promotes this kind of violence and supports the idea that men and women need to prove their identities using their bodies, either in a violent or sexual way. Over the weekend I spent a lot of time watching the Olympics on tv. As I watched it was easy to see the differences in the ways that male and female athletes are portrayed in the media. When it comes to sports, men’s power and strength is still the focus, whereas the focus is frequently on women’s graceful athleticism and even sexuality. This stood out as I watched the figure skating team competition. In ice dancing and pairs skating the men lead the program and even lift the women. I know that this is a part of the sport, but this is just an example of how our ideas about masculinity and femininity carry over into all aspects of our lives, even sports. Overall, I think the Olympics does a pretty good job keeping their advertising very neutral, but often times in sports, especially in advertisements, women are completely sexualized. Female athletes are pictured in full makeup while wearing their sports bras and tight shorts next to exercise equipment or a sports drink, whereas men are shown dripping sweat while participating in violent activities. When we are constantly focused on these attributes in women in men it is easy to see how our societies ideals about masculinity and femininity have become so harmful to the identity development of youth. We need to take the focus off of the biological differences between women and men and seriously question the social norms that are having a negative effect on the welfare of our society.

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