The word masculinity is defined by the oxford dictionary as "the qualities typical of a man." Mass media has stereotyped this statement creating characters based on only what they see as manly and what is societally accepted as "masculine". Masculinity is defined in a very typical structure of constant stereotyping that has sadly lasted the test of time. A social pattern that we see mainly is the term hegemonic masculinity which refers to a societal pattern in which stereotypical male traits are idealized as the masculine cultural ideal, explaining how and why men maintain dominant social roles over women and other groups are considered to be feminine.
In mass media, there are a few main stereotypes that reinforce the hegemonic masculinity standards. In the late 1990s, Children now researched the type of roles that men are mostly given and found six common types.
- 1st, THE JOKER. May it be Jack Nicholson or Jared Leto playing the iconic character, one thing that is common in the character is its laughter and that is exactly what it uses to hide any kind of emotion.
- 2nd, we have the jock who is a constant in teen chick flicks and all high school series from Archie Andrews in Riverdale to Steve Harrington in Stranger Things. These characters mainly use their physical strength to impress others; tough and strong being their main qualities.
- 3rd is the strong, silent type, and oh, boy! we have seen this type of character too many times. These men are portrayed as the ones who are always in charge, are great at controlling their emotions, and succeeding with women, as if it was all that easy.
- 4th, we have the big shots and these men hold power because of either their professional status and high work position or their family name, status, and political power. This idea can be seen very well in the character of Mir Hadi played by Feroze Khan in the sensational drama "Khaani".
- On number 5 we have the action hero, these are the superheroes, the spies, the police officers, and even criminals. These men show aggression and are constantly shown in fights depicting violence. At times these men are also shown as the saviors of women.
- Finally, last on the list, there are the buffoons and these are typically portrayed by the jolly father figures who are lighthearted, well-intentioned and almost always shown as clumsy and bad at domestic affairs.
While there are a wide array of characters here, the main characters are always one of the first five while the buffoons are only added there for some light-hearted comedy. As a result of this research, there have been 6 stereotypical roles identified, but I would like to add one more which is the trope of the loser. This is the character who is constantly bullied, is weird on outcast, and is considered a misfit. Now as all the tropes and stereotypes have been covered, I think we can look into what is causing these and why the media feels the need to use these portrayals so frequently?
When it comes to the misinterpretation of women in media, one of the main causes identified is the lack of women holding positions of power, but that makes me question: there are abundant of men both on and behind the big screen so what it is that causes misinterpretation of men? I believe the rooted problem goes beyond just the amount of people in power, but more concerning society. There are two main root causes of this problem. First is the fact that media and society affect each other in the way that they operate. The main keywords used in media when describing men include tough, powerful, in control, decisive, leaders, etc. All these terms in some way or other give off the idea that men are far from human weakness and vulnerable situations which are considered feminine.
These ideas didn't just come out of nowhere. These are societal norms being reflected on screen. In our society men are supposed to be insanely strong both physically and mentally, be saviors, breadwinners, and leaders. From a young age, boys are told statements like LARKE ROTE NAHI HAIN or MARD KO DARD NAHI HOTA. These statements depict the idea that men are supposed to be non-human-like and never vulnerable as vulnerability is considered to be a feminine trait. All the stereotypes we see are part of a structure of toxic ideas woven into our society ranging from violence to the lack of caring emotions.
The second root cause is what I like to call the audience factor and this term refers to how we, as the audience, perceive media and react to it. It's no secret that the media wants to make money and keeps profit in mind when doing anything so it's obvious that all these stereotypes and characters are made so frequently because they provide them with the profits they fancy. So when you think about it, there is a reason toxic male characters such as Kabir Singh gained such a high box office rating as well as such a cult following even though he was a very bad role model and the examples of these loved toxic men include Jordan Belfort from the Wolf of Wallstreet, Edward Cullen from the cult classic Twilight and even Ross Geller from Friends. All these characters are well-loved to the point where their toxic traits are ignored, but when we look at them they are worse than we thought.
Now the question is raised how do we fix this? There are a lot of steps being taken to change these stereotypes, including more vulnerable and more human male characters such as Newt Scamander from the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Jesse from Pitch-Perfect, Neil Perry in Dead Poets Society, and Charlie Kelmeckis from Perks of Being a Wallflower. These characters are like a breath of fresh air; they are unproblematic, supportive, and most importantly human-like. For example, Neil Perry loved and cared for his best friends and was shown as vulnerable on more than one occasion, more than anything he was a human-like character who had his struggles, problems, and joys.
Even in advertisements, there is a change in how things are being marketed. Some brands, like Dove MenCare, are embracing men as caregivers in their advertising. MenCare, a global fatherhood campaign that uses images of fathers showing affection and care, has expanded to over 35 countries in only four years. These differences might seem small, but they are the right step towards change, but that doesn't mean we are there, at least not yet.
To bring in change, we need to look at men and women as in the real world, as humans and not just as characters. It should also be realized that some things like stereotyped roles are shock factors and made solely for gaining a reaction, but change is important and to initiate it, we must first train media professionals to create and market programs that provide pro-gender-equality and non-violent messaging, and that portrays both women and men in non-stereotypical roles. We need images of strong women in leadership roles who are valued for more than their sexuality, just as we need images of compassionate men in caregiving roles who reject all forms of violence.
We also need to invest in media literacy programs that teach all young people to be critical consumers of stereotyped perspectives and representations of gender in media, including film and television, because as I said, we are all part of the problem. Change in anything takes time, work, and unity. That is exactly what we need in this matter. Society and media are interlinked and to bring in change, we first have to educate ourselves better, understand where the change has to take place and what we have to do to create change. Media is a powerful tool and we hold its key and even with this article, I am turning that key to start a movement towards a better path.