Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Representation Project

As I continued my quest to find masculinity presented within the framework of social justice on the internet, I came across The Representation Project. For those of you who are familiar with the documentary “Miss Representation” and the upcoming documentary about masculinity called “The Mask You Live In”, it is a campaign by the very same people. It was really cool to me after watching the video (posted below), because the organization is attempting to break down the traditional definitions of gender established by society. As seen in the video, they are trying to teach men that power is not about having domination over others (namely women), but instead is to be used as a force for justice, equality, and fairness. This is a great message if we can get our men to buy into it. The problem is, how many men are truly ready to give up power, and by power I mean domination? Indeed, as the video shows, the youth of America are fed these extremely limiting narratives on what it means to be a “man” or “woman” in society. If they do not conform to what the media shows what they should be, they are often outcast by their peers. All of this, of course, does not even take into account intersectionalities such as race, sexual identity, ethnicity, etc., so that makes these narratives presented by the media even more limiting.

If you go to the organization’s website listed below, you can find out more of what they are all about. The whole movement is to expose injustices created by gender stereotypes and to shifts people’s consciousness towards change. They have really cool link on there where you can take a pledge to challenge society’s limiting and skewed views on gender (already 100,000 strong!). I just thought all of this should be shared because it is something we can use to show to our students. In doing so, hopefully it can help redefine what gender means to him or her. Videos the organization releases can be important teaching tools we can use at student conferences, organization meetings, university seminar classes, etc. to help students critically think about challenging gender roles created by society.

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Hegemonic Masculinity in TV Commercials

One aspect of the media that has plagued men since they were born are television advertisements. These advertisements frame how a man should act and look. In the examples in the clip below, one can find what men are supposed to look like (strong, ripped, muscular, and tan), what they should desire (“exotic” women), and how they should be the saviors to all of the poor, helpless women.

One aspect of masculinity that I believe is often looked over is male body image. The media often associated body image with women, but when men see commercials like these, there is no doubt that many of them feel as though they should live up to this image. To be sure, I once bought into these ads. I mean, just look at how muscular and physique they are, attracting all of the women! Well that’s what they media shows us, anyways. So I was determined to work out as much as possible in order to have a ripped body like these guys. No matter how hard I tried (many times to the point of extreme exhaustion), I never quite achieved this image, and it was really tough on me. To put this in perspective, if images such as these are constantly shown across various forms of media to young men growing up, they already know what a “real” man should look like. At least if they want to attract the ladies. On a slight tangent going off of this point, all of these commercials take a heteronormative point of view and assume that every male identifies as heterosexual and are only attracted to women. How must this feel to young men struggling with their sexual identity, when they may not be attracted to women, yet are shown by the media that women are who they are supposed to be attracted to?

It is important to help our students understand that they do not have to live up to the image portrayed by the media to be accepted by others. In reality, 99% of people do not look like this anyways. There will surely be times where men consistently feel like they can not live up to these images portrayed by the media, and it is here where we must help them. Do not get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of fitness and healthy living, but not to the point where it is detrimental. So if we come across these students, it is possible we could help connect them with groups that emphasize fitness in a healthy, fun way such as intramural sports, fitness clubs, etc. There, they could meet others who could hopefully be a support/friend base system for them, as well as help debunk myths that all men should look how the media says they should. We just have to be aware that men have been exposed to these images their whole life, so many may be experiencing negative feelings because of this in regard to body image. Many man simply do not have the physical build to look like these men, no matter how hard they work out. I am a prime example of this, as I am not extremely tall for a man, nor do I have a huge body frame. I had to have people help me understand and accept who I am, and that if I wanted to work out that it was fine, but was also told not to overly obsess with it so that it consumed my life. Our college men need people like this in their lives, in order to help debunk these myths and help them be comfortable in their own skin.

Dating a “Real Man”

Out of curiosity, I typed in “real man” on Google to see what would come up. The very first link that came up was from the Huffington Post, titled “10 Ways To Know You’re Dating a Real Man”. It can be found here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-michael-sama/dating-a-real-man_b_4310638.html. Of course I was curious to see what Huffington thought a “real man” should be like, so I clicked the link, hoping for something a little more progressive than what I usually find on the internet. Unfortunately, what I found was something very heteronormative that takes away individuality, as well as a man’s story, out of the picture. It is a message to women on what a “real man” should be, and if you happen to find a guy with these qualities, they claim you have “struck gold”.

Don’t get me wrong here. I see what the Huffington article is seemingly trying to do. It is trying to show girls that they should find a man that doesn’t just treat them like a piece of meat and a sexual object, but instead respects them and shows them traditional chivalry. But here’s the thing: I really have a problem with the phrase “real man”. So if I don’t fall into these categories set out by the article, what am I, a FAKE one? If you want to know what a real man is, know this: A real man is just that – a real human being. First, not every man is heterosexual, something this article seems to assume. Secondly, “real” men come with baggage. That is to say they all come with a past, fears, phobias, faults, etc. They also come with their own life story as well. The author here seems to dismiss all of that and instead basically claims that a “real” man is perfect. It is very “cookie cutter”, in a sense, at least the way the author describe what a real man should be. This article also does an extreme disservice to the heterosexual women out there. If women really buy into these ideas, they are sure to be let down when they start looking for men to date. No man will be perfect and exhibit all of these qualities to a “T”. Every human has their faults, and men are definitely no exception. The media should not be setting up women to look for a “perfect” man in the way that they frame it.

This all can apply to student affairs professionals, as it shows us what society frames our young men to be like. It also shows us what the media is telling the young women to be looking for in a man. But what if these men fail to live up to this standard, or these women fail to find this seemingly perfect man? It is imperative that we help them realize that there is no “perfect” person out there, although it is possible to find someone who is uniquely perfect for that student in a romantic relationship, complete with flaws and all. We must be cognizant, however, that society has these expectations for our men, as well as giving girls almost unrealistic expectations for a heterosexual partner.

I can definitely relate to this culture, however, as I am still a part of it and exposed to it. I grew up trying to be everything society said a “perfect” man should be. Sometimes I consumed myself with it. I did it because I knew that the message was out there, and if I did not live up to these standards, no girl would ever want to be with me. As wrong as I realize I was back then, it was very much a real reality at the time. We must keep in mind that it is the reality these students are coming from as well. We must do our best to educate them that everyone is very unique and that we do not ever have to live up to societal expectations. Getting involved with partners romantically can be a big part of the college experience for many students. We must try to help them be comfortable in their own skin and happy with who they are as an individual. If we do not and they pursuit being what society tells them to be, they are surely bound to meet failure. At the same time, I acknowledge that we must give them space to fail, for it is often that development and learning comes from failure and experimentation. We just have to be able to be a resource for them whenever that inevitable failure does come around in their lives.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-michael-sama/dating-a-real-man_b_4310638.html

A Perusal of Social Media

As I casually peruse my social media accounts, I realize that I can never go a day without seeing blatant messages on how “real men” are expected to act and how they are supposed to treat females. Posted below are three images I screenshot while on my twitter account. Surprisingly, I did not even have to search for these; they were all posted by someone I follow (maybe I need to reexamine who I follow).

Let’s start with the first image eliciting a “joke” on how only men know and determine how a woman can act. This teaches our men and boys from a young age that women are inferior. They are lesser. The message is sent that we, as men, determine how they should act and what they should and should not do. They are subservient and we control them. At least that’s what message is sent to practically every young man in America. The thing about the very skewed image of manhood portrayed by society is that it helps to perpetuate the oppression of women. How can we ever expect to break this cycle if the media holds that women should be submissive to men and that we are inherently more intelligent? From a man’s point of view, we are taught that women are ours to do with what we want. They are an object to be conquered. This first image definitely perpetuates that thought.

Okay, on to the second image. Again, it is showing how men “should” treat women and show them off as an object. Indeed, this image shows men that women are objects, conquered territory, meant to be showed off. Not only that, but according to this image, women actually want to be showed off. So what does this mean, then? First, as mentioned, women are objectified in male culture and are meant to be conquered and showed off. Second, male culture actually makes women want to be showed off by their man. In fact, I got this picture off of a female’s account that I follow from my undergrad, so it shows that many women actually want this and help to perpetuate the objectification unintentionally.

With the final image, does much even need to be said? It is blatantly showing the man as the breadwinner and professional, while the woman is expected to learn cooking skills to please her man and wear nice dresses to impress him. I’m pretty sure everything about this is wrong and it actually disgusts me. It also denies both women and men the expression of their personal identity and individualism by telling them what not to wear. Again, the traditional world men live expect them to get a good job, be a professional, provide for a wife (which assumes that every male identifies as) heterosexual, and be dominating over women. By showing an image saying that women should learn how to cook and get dolled up for their man, it basically shows that women are not capable of doing a “man’s” job and that their place is in the home, at the service of the man.

To put this in my own perspective, I definitely grew up hearing things like this all the time in school and with my friends. Women were very objectified and we were expected to “man up” in order to provide for them and win them over. From a young age, this taught me what I thought I was supposed to do as a man. I basically saw almost every man and woman around me buy into these stereotypes. If the male culture holds that women are meant to be objects and be at the service of men at all times, what hope does this give young girls for the future? It shows them from an early age that they exist to please men and that the best thing they can hope for is a good husband that they live to serve. As student affairs professionals, we must help to get women into roles of power, especially ones that break gender stereotypes. We do not necessarily want to deny a qualified male a position of leadership in a student organization, but we want to make sure we recruit women to our organizations and encourage them to run for offices within them. For men, a thing that would be helpful would be going on “All-Male” retreats, where we redefine what it means to be a “real man”. We must reeducate these young men to show them that women do not exist for their sexual conquest and service, and instead that women are just as capable (if not more capable) as men with almost everything in life. Breaking down gender stereotypes and having “real” conversations with students about gender are essential to our service to students.

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10 Responses to the Phrase “Man Up”

For those of you who took Dr. Benn and Clint Michael’s class, you will be familiar with this video. Nevertheless, I felt the need to share it because it moves me every time I watch it. Guante does a great job of exposing masculinity and calling those out who subscribe to it. As he points out, you can’t just solve problems by “growing a pair”. What does that even mean? Does it mean to just suppress your feelings and suck it up? If so, there is no way that this is healthy for the men of America. I also love how he asks why you never hear the phrase “Woman Up”. It is as though “Man Up” is implying that characteristics of being a man are superior to women and that you should not be a woman with all of your “feelings”. It suggests that there are traits that are inherently masculine. Instead, we cannot just be ourselves. We are forced to put on a mask and façade 24/7, careful not to let our guard down for fear of exposure of being less masculine. As Guante also points out, this culture drives many boys and men to take their life, as they may feel that they can never be a true “man” or are bullied to the point that they cannot take it anymore. These are all inherent in man culture. Just as he states, how many more boys and men have to die before we finally get the message that the culture of masculinity is poisonous, dangerous, and detrimental?

For me, this video explains my life growing up. I was constantly told by my friends to “Man Up” and to hide my emotions. It was detrimental to me in retrospect, as I always felt I had no one to talk to when I wanted help emotionally. I guess man culture just taught me that it was normal to “Man Up” and “suck it up.” Now, I wish someone had told me that I am great the way I was and that I did not have to conform to be accepted by the people that truly matter in my life. As student affairs professionals, we have to be cognizant that men grow up in this culture and must reach out to these men, because it is often that no one else will. Suicides in college are unfortunately not too uncommon. We can try to help and prevent these unfortunate events by being there for our male students and making sure they are able to freely express themselves and that they do not get swallowed up by male culture and Guyland.

“Masculine” in the Thesaurus

Okay, so first thing’s first. Let’s take a look at the antonyms and synonyms Thesaurus.com lists for the word “masculine”. Well, what do you know? The thesaurus itself helps to perpetuate the masculine stereotype as well!

For example, one of the first words that is listed is “muscular”. This plays to the social construction of masculinity very well, as men are expected to be strong, both physically and mentally. Indeed, an antonym listed below is “weak”. A man has to consistently be diligent in being “muscular” and “strong” in every aspect of his life. The message, of course, is that men must continually work on improving their strength. Any man that comes across as “frail” or “weak” is immediately chastised by other males. I can relate to this strongly, as I have often been seen as too “skinny” and not strong enough my whole life. Indeed, there was a time in my collegiate career where I was overly obsessed with working out so that I would maintain the image of being “ripped”. I spent way too many hours in the gym and destroyed my liver by drinking all of the muscle and protein supplements because I was trying to fit into Guyland, all to my detriment. Man culture holds that we are working out to impress women so that we may conquer them in our sexual exploits, but it is more often that we are just trying to gain the approval of other men so that we will not be seen as weak.

Other words listed here are “ape”, “beefcake”, “stud”, and “stallion”. Wait, what? Aren’t these all characteristics and names of animals? Oh, that’s right. Playing into the “muscular” part of guy culture, we are expected to be as strong as the animals listed here. This also strangely plays to the stereotypes men are often ridiculed for – being a brute, animal-like creature, who lacks intellectual capacity and is only good for physical strength and sexual conquest. It is strange how the masculine culture perpetuates this image. Another strange word listed is “caveman”, but again, this plays to men as the stereotypical “strong” person with brute strength and low intellectual ability.

Some of the antonyms listed include “weak”, “afraid”, “cowardly”, “fearful”, and “feminine”. Indeed, men must never show signs of weakness. In doing so would label them as “feminine”. Men cannot show any emotion of weakness or that they are afraid, yet anyone with common sense knows that men, just like any other human, has emotions and gets afraid from time to time. Yet we are taught to suppress these emotions. Repercussions often tend to be disastrous, as we are taught to “man up” and “deal with it”. Sometimes, all of these emotions build up on the inside, and since man culture holds that men are not supposed to get help, men end up becoming self-destructive and a danger to themselves.

So how can this apply to higher education professionals when working with students at college? For one, we must show that it is acceptable and celebrated for men to be who they are on the inside and not who society wants them to be. In a sense, we are in charge of breaking down male stereotypes and reeducating our men. One way to go about this is to create dialogue discussions in safe environments. A safe environment would include a secluded place with only males present. The facilitators would be male student leaders and male student affairs professionals knowledgeable on the subject. We would then discuss societal constructs of what it means to be a man. Student leaders and staff could give testimonials on what being a man means to them, and how they redefined themselves once they realized what the male culture was imposing on them. This vulnerability would hopefully encourage open dialogue and break down emotional walls. Men would hopefully share instances in which they deviated from the male norm, and then other men would be able to relate. We could discuss how there is no single form of masculinity and that all forms are acceptable in society. Again, this is just an example. But we, as student affairs professionals, must be able to have “real” discussions with men on campuses nationwide. We have to be trained to identify men at risk for harm or failure, as man culture holds that they are not supposed to receive any help or ever be vulnerable. After identifying and talking with these students, we must find organizations and communities that they could get involved in that would accept them for who they are. Connecting male students with other males similar to them helps to show that there are others out there like them and they may not feel as isolated on campus.

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Masculinity in Today’s Society

Masculinity, as defined today by pop culture and general society, is something that continually shapes the lives of men from the day they are born until the day that they die. In doing so, women’s lives are also tremendously affected, as the male culture perpetuates male dominance and privilege, thus systematically oppressing women. From day one, we are taught to “be a man”, meaning that being a man is just that – an act, not something that is inherent in our nature. In a popular blog by Harris O’Malley (also known as Dr. Nerdlove) that can be found here (http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2013/10/masculinity-fails-men/), it is cited that the definition of manhood is defined by “violence, social dominance, anti-intellectualism and aggressive, even uncontrollable, sexuality.”

While I may be generalizing a bit here, most men are taught by mainstream society to solve their problems through fighting or violence instead of talking things out, for example. Men are taught to be dominating over women, and that women are to be seen as objects for sexual conquest, but not necessarily love. The more women a man can sleep with, the more credibility he gets in the figurative “Guyland”. Men are expected to be the masters of all sports, and if one is not athletic, he is immediately cast aside. A good example of this (and one I can relate to) is when men choose to do band or theater in grade school instead of athletics. Words get thrown around for men like these, including “band nerd”, “faggot”, “queer”, “gay”, etc. These words can be very detrimental to men at a young age, because, as popular consensus holds, being called anything that is in the “homosexual” realm, is, in a sense, taking away the manhood or “man card” of that man. It is not necessarily claiming that the man is literally homosexual when these words are thrown around. Instead, it is emasculating them and labeling them as “feminine” – the last thing you want to be labeled as a man in Guyland. 

Living in Guyland is cut throat. You are expected to appease and please your male peers at all times, for fear of ridicule and mockery. You are expected to dress manly (basically anything that is not feminine) and treat girls with respect yet use them as objects for sexual conquest at the same time. Anything that goes against this culture is subject to the rejection of your “man card” by your peers. Because of this, a culture is created where men cannot really trust each other, even their closest friends. They know that one little slip can lead to the dismissal of their masculinity. Emotions are never to be expressed – this is a sign of weakness. Weakness = femininity in guy culture. Instead, everything must be bottled up and suppressed. We are just supposed to “man up” and “deal with it”.

For an idea of what it is like to live in Guyland, I encourage you to watch this trailer for “The Mask You Live In” (http://www.upworthy.com/the-problem-facing-young-men-that-needs-to-become-a-household-conversation) What is described in this video describes atypical Guyland to a “T”. While I acknowledge that not every male experiences all of this growing up, I know that it is very accurate of the masculine culture I grew up in. These are the expectations that are generally held of all males despite their sexual identity. Again, these are the expectations that society tends to hold, and not every male may experience these things, nor may they be met with all these expectations. I am just trying to describe it the best way I know how – through Guyland as I experienced it.

References:

http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2013/10/masculinity-fails-men/

http://www.upworthy.com/the-problem-facing-young-men-that-needs-to-become-a-household-conversation