Thoughts on gender: Manly Men Movies & male gender performance

Earlier tonight I was reading some articles on Huffington Post about sexist book covers, on which I saw a quote about chick lit and “whatever the guy equivalent of that is”, and it got me thinking. This thinking led to rant on Twitter which led to a rant on Tumblr which is now leading to this rant on WordPress.

So here`s what I have so far. Bear in mind that this is an ongoing thought process, and there`s no clear point to this blogpost. But I`d be very interested in hearing y`all`s thoughts about this!

Some disclaimers: I`ve written this from a fairly simplistic, cis straight men & cis straight women perspective, because it`s the easiest way to wrap my mind around it this late Sunday night I`m writing it. But speaking as a bisexual girl who might be genderqueer (it`s a thing I`m trying to work out in my mind lately), I`m fully aware of how heteronormative and cisnormative all of this is. This, obviously, goes for the movies, the gender performance, and for my own views on them. And trust me when I say that gender performance and the assumption that everyone is straight annoys me more and more.

But all that aside from now, let`s look at this issue:

I was just thinking about chicklit/chickflicks and the male equivalent of these (haven`t found one yet), and it led me on the path of “real men movies”. Now, “real men movies” usually implies either espionage like James Bond, or a Bruce Willis movie.

Which is interesting, because arguably the average Bruce Willis-esque action movie should, by all stereotypical accounts, be more interesting for women: shirtless, sweaty, muscled men arguing, looking cool and confident, and often fighting to ensure the safety & wellbeing of Their Beloved Woman.

Yet for some reason, all the muscled sweaty shirtless men walking around throwing out smart one-liners is considered a Manly Man thing? Because to be honest that sounds pretty gay to me.

Okay, so, I get it: the Manly Man thing is also a male fantasy. It`s their “you have to be like this” thing, their “remember that this is the Ideal Male” like how the confident, beautiful (conventionally attractive, fashionable and most importantly: thin) women in chickflicks are something women are supposed to aspire to. It`s also their “this is totally what the women want” thing, which is kind of ridiculous, since most straight women I know actually like their men less bulky and big and definitely a whole lot less impulsive and they especially don`t like their carelessness and the way they risk their own and everyone else`s lives and livelihoods.

It still strikes me as pretty odd that gender is portrayed in these different ways. Especially since probably the last thing I ever hear the Manly Men say is “you know what I would love to watch tonight? A movie where the bulky main guy really shows off his muscles and walks around without a shirt while he tries to save his lady”. (Generally the more interesting point seems to be the explosions.)

You might be wondering why I put so much thought into this, and that`s a very valid question. Part of it is that I`m just having fun with really digging into a topic. Another part of it is that this is important.

Many people say movies don`t influence us, they`re “just movies”, like books are just books and tv is just tv and none of it has any bearing on how we behave in real life. But the simple truth is that media has an enormous influence on our day-to-day life. From trying to get us to buy certain products to getting us to feel a certain way about our bodies and lives, even right down to giving us opinions on war and politics, media always, always has an extra agenda. And they do a great job at it, too. So great, that most of us don`t even realise we see more than 3000 ads each day, or that Coca Cola has stopped trying to sell us their product and is selling a feeling instead.

But media isn`t just the bad guy, they don`t just show us what we`re supposed to want. They also portray society and reflect the time period they`re made in. It`s give and take: media tells us what we want to be, but media is also shaped by what we want. Which means that there`s an image of typical masculinity in society that men are expected to adhere to. Men are expected to be fit, strong, logical, leaders. It`s a very damaging image, one that many men succumb to in very destructive ways, ranging from “I can`t cry” to downright violence and the rejection of all things considered feminine.

It`s very easy to put all the blame on media, because this is how the media portrays men. But remember that media also responds to society, at the same time it`s shaping it. We, the consumers, are the ones expecting men to behave and look like this, we`re the ones raising our sons to not show any emotions, and we`re the ones who need to change it in order for there to be a change in media as well.

So do men actually want to see muscular men walk around without shirts, blowing up buildings? Maybe it`s the escapism of it, the “you don`t have to be your loser self this next 2 hours, you could be a really fit guy saving his girlfriend/wife/daughter/random-female-person from evil!”. Maybe it`s the media telling us men should like this and be like this so they can sell more gym visits and protein shakes and cinema tickets. Maybe it`s a combination of society expectations, gender performance & media influence.

Either way, I, for one, get very annoyed with all this hypermasculinity.

It`s all kinds of messed up. And I still don`t have a good answer to “is there a guy equivalent of `chick lit`.”Though I did see the suggestion of “dick lit” on Facebook earlier, which is a suggestion I`m 100% keeping in mind in case I ever open my own bookshop.

I have more thoughts on this, but I`m also aware that I`m ranting and need to somehow make sense of it all. Either way, feel free to jump into the discussion in the comments! And there`s a good chance there`ll be more posts on this topic, when I can look into it a bit more. I will keep you all updated!

For now, take care, and I`ll see you guys soon 🙂

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