Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Portrayal of Men in Media

What our culture defines as masculine hurts: If a man fails at being that perfect, invincible hero, he's a loser. Shouldn't we creative people help finding new heroes and role models?

A "real" man is the shining hero, the dragon slayer who never wavers,
always able to overcome even the hardest difficulties. This needs to change.

It is very common nowadays to see women as the misrepresented gender. And I can't argue with that. Being a woman myself, I do perceive issues with the portrayal of women in media.

However, having an egalitarian mindset, I can't look past the simple fact that patriarchy suppresses both genders. In different ways, yes, but both genders suffer. And while much has changed for women in the past decades little was done for men.

No, Men Do Not Have the Same Rights

Sure, the portrayal of women in media is still far from ideal. But we do talk about the issue. Much. We have a discussion. And sometimes we even have shitstorms.

But as for men ... With the old ideals being questioned nobody seems to even know what it means to be a man anymore. As a woman, you can choose how to live your life when it comes to career and family. On paper, men can choose, too. While in truth ...

Let me put it this way: A woman can choose whether she wants to wear a skirt or pants. In theory, a man can do so as well. But if a man actually does decide to wear a skirt instead of pants he will get wry looks.

Men aren't allowed to be old-fashioned machos anymore, but the majority doesn't want them to be too feminine either. So where is the middle ground?

The Dichotomy of Masculinity

For centuries women were portrayed either as Madonnas or as whores. This dichotomy is still very present with beautiful, good-hearted blonde virgins on one side and with evil, corrupted and sexy queens on the other. Often there is no real middle ground showing a more realistic picture of femininity that most real women could identify with.

Even though it isn't talked about very often, men also have an absurd dichotomy to endure. A "real" man is the shining hero, the dragon slayer who never wavers, always able to overcome even the hardest difficulties. If a man fails at being that perfect, invincible hero, he's a loser. Any fault, any little weakness can turn a man into a pathetic, worthless creature. This is the fatal consequence of all those strong, confident heroes we're constantly presented with by all kinds of media.

Men Need More Love

The suffering men experience in their lives is very well described by the journalist Norah Vincent in her book Self-Made Man: My Year Disguised as a Man. For 18 months she disguised herself as a guy called "Ned" and explored various aspects of men's lives. She joined a bowling league and went on dates with women. She visited strip clubs and infiltrated a monastery. She started a job and joined a men's support group. She made unique experiences and new friends, but also suffered a great deal of psychological pain. Overall, it was an interesting and insightful read.

Living as Ned has made Norah more sympathetic towards men and more understanding for their needs, especially the emotional ones. Men need love. They need love from women, but even more so, from each other. At the same time, showing love for another man while being a straight guy is still considered a no-go.

In Search for New Role Models

What our culture defines as masculine hurts. We need new ideals. No, we don't need men to become effeminate if they don't want to. We rather need another definition of masculinity. And since art has always been a part of cultural and social discourse, I believe that it is up to us creative people as well to look for new, more realistic and human role models for boys and men.

I stumbled across Norah's self-experiment while I did research on men, actually. I'm still working on the novel I mentioned in my article about planning and spontaneity and since I have many male characters in there, including the protagonist, I decided I have to learn what it "feels" like to be a man. My motivation was a realization that came to me in the past few years: The male characters in my stories often have female traits. Well, some are more believable than others, and I feel I handled some quite well while others are just women in male bodies. Yet since my current project isn't only home to many male characters, but is also very much about military in a patriarchal society, as a woman born into today's world, I simply had to start research on the inner life of men.

Researching men's feelings has been an interesting and fascinating journey so far. I'm having fun developing my male characters and their relationships with each other, how they interact and show affection. Some are effeminate, others are geysers of testosterone. Most are hurt in one way or another, but they show it differently. I wonder what the end result will be and what other discoveries I'll make about my characters on the way there.

And now it's your turn: What should the new role model for men be like? What kind of heroes should we portray in our art? Please share your thoughts. I'm really eager to know.

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