Tag Archives: masculinity

Thinking outside of the masculine box

17 Apr

Media dictates gender roles.Last fall, I attended SkyWorks’ Real Change Boys Filmmaking Project to watch short documentaries about gender and identity by young men between the ages of 14 and 21. The films depicted issues around masculine identity, stereotypes, expectations, and the images of boys and men in media and popular culture.

One film spoke louder than the rest to me. In his film, Boxed In, Brandyn Pereira describes his realization that media portrays men and boys as one of a few narrow stereotypes. Brandyn was only 14 when he questioned gender portrayal and made his film. This outstanding young mind recognized the unnaturalness of gender stereotypes in media and started a conversation about it. I’m writing to continue that conversation.

Boxed In

Brandyn had a moment of recognition while watching television one day and noticed the stereotypical gender roles presented on TV.

“Almost every guy on these TV shows liked beer and sports, or they were the family man or the hero of the situation. Boys always liked video games, sports, and they rarely showed any emotion with their friends,” he says, “I’m wondering why the media depicts young men or boys like that.”

Media is enormously influential to us whether we like it or not; it tells us what to wear, how to smell, what music to listen to, what lifestyle to lead, and it doubles as an inadvertent guidebook to life. People—especially young people—look to television and the media to try to understand who they’re supposed to be. I remember looking to the TV for cues on how to be when I was a kid and sometimes I took on fabricated affectations because I wasn’t sure what else to do, and hey, if they did it on TV there must be some kind of truth to it, right?

Wrong.

Jeff Perera, Community Engagement Manager at the White Ribbon Campaign says in the film, “To be human is to be yourself; society is about trying to put you in a box.” It’s that gender box that Jeff is referring to and what Brandyn’s film is about.

When I met with Brandyn recently, we talked about the limitations of living in a gender-stereotyped box. “TV shows show only a few specific types of men: a) genius/smart guy, b) dim-witted, c) strong, or d) a wimp,” Brandyn says, “I noticed how the stereotypes don’t allow men and boys to be anything else.”

The men and boys in Brandyn’s film discuss the unreal masculine ideal presented in media, where males are always slim, fit, emotionless, macho, in control, and tough; good-looking, sports-obsessed, beer-drinking, video game-playing slices of the masculine ideal, out of touch with reality and their natural emotions.

These media stereotypes have the power to take us hostage and hold the dagger of social expectation to our throats. For some people like Brandyn, the media-generated masculine stereotype is not only confusing, “it is depressing for young people when they recognize they don’t fit the role and image of what is presented in the media.”

Contradiction, shame, insult

As a young person, Brandyn is quick to call out the media’s mixed messages. “I don’t know how I should act,” he says, “the message aimed at young people is to be yourself, but the next second we’re being told to conform. It’s confusing.”

Not only confusing but potentially damaging. We’ve had gender ideals pushed on us since birth, and some people believe so strongly in prescribed gender roles that they will cause trouble for people who fail to embody these expectations.

Calling someone “gay” as the go-to insult of childhood is sadly still holding its ground and it’s been around for a very long time. Brandyn told me about a time when one of his friends (a girl who has her own suite of gender expectations to deal with) accused him of being gay because he didn’t like all of the stereotypical masculine pastimes she learned about via media.

I’m quite sure that a child calling someone “gay” doesn’t understand what “gay” really means, though they do pick up on the term as an insult. Accusing someone of being “gay” really means that there is something “wrong” with that person because he doesn’t conform to the (white, str8, patriarchal) media-generated and socially sustained gender stereotype.

Brandyn says products “make kids cool” and explained that a few grades ago, he and his friends picked up on and adopted the gender stereotypes and products associated with it out of fear of not fitting in and the shame attached to that. Fear plays a strong role in motivation and retailers and marketers work this to their advantage.

Gender-differentiated products means more profit for retailers. Gendered colour is manufactured and nothing more than manipulation by the retail industry to get you to spend more money. Gender-specific products and marketing drive profits, and sexism in media sustains gendered ideals that are best left in the dark ages.

Deep down we know that no matter how much we shop and try to adopt these perfect lifestyles presented by the media, we never will truly become what we see and so we must settle on being ourselves. Jeff Perera believes that we need examples of diversity in media, to see men from different racial backgrounds, different sizes, shapes, tastes, and talents, to offer people more options to relate to.

Instead of ridiculous and unnatural gender codes, let’s celebrate and appreciate men and boys as wonderful unique creatures who can enjoy sports and video games if they want to, but may also like to sing, cook, and write short stories.

Guys like Brandyn.

 

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Black History Month: Another side of Hip-Hop

14 Feb

A-golliwog.-Illustration--001

Click me.

Negative stereotypes of Blacks are a staple of Black music videos that glorify gangsterism. In Rap music and videos, the minstrel-show plantation has been born again as the “hood.” While the setting has changed from an idyllic plantation to the mean streets of urban America, the process is the same: a black culture is being marketed for profit, with black performers portraying negative stereotypes. Performers claim that they represent authentic black America, while critics decry the glorification of ugly caricatures and its effects on Black youth.

Black-face.com

I’ve had some things on my mind lately, Black History Month (BHM), and a lecture I attended a few weeks ago, by masculinities author and sociologist, Michael Kimmel. By fortunate chance, I recently came across  The Black Man Can, an initiative to actively promote a positive black male image by Brandon Frame, who has helped immensely with this year’s BHM articles.

I read a couple of posts on Brandon’s site that really grabbed my interest: Is Commercial Hip-Hop the New Blackface? by Sharif Rasheed, who suggests Hip-Hop culture as a caricature of African-American youth, and the fabrication and absorption of the Hip-Hop stereotype in black youth culture in When Posing Goes Wrong: Ricky Rozay is not about that life. 

Now, as a white, Canadian woman of European descent with a love for Sam Cooke, but no understanding of Soulja Boy let alone Jay-Z, I was gobsmacked at what I read in Rasheed’s article: “Commercial Hip-Hop has become the blueprint for the streets for many of today’s youth. The lyrics tell them what to wear, how to talk, what to like and dislike. These ignorant lyricists are the slave masters that abuse young minds by whipping the oppression into them and hanging the glorification right on them.”

Glen Palmer, of The Gentlemen’s Standard, a site for distinctive men of colour, does not believe that the younger generation understands blackface, let alone black American history.

“The blackface concept still remains,” he says,“artists play to the lowest, stereotypical denominator and project an imagery that mainstream, white America believes people of color to be. The stereotypes have changed a little, as “bling” has been introduced into the equation, but the foundation is still there. Ignorant. Hyper-sexualized. Violent.”

It is alarming that young black men allow themselves to be molded into an antiquated stereotype via Hip-Hop, as is their frenzy to prove their manhood – the brand of masculinity devised by white, Judeo-Christian men.

Masculinity

In Michael Kimmel’s lecture, he explains the traditional pillars of manhood that originated in the mid-20th century that has left millions of men unable to feel, positively express themselves, and be genuine.

  1. “No sissy stuff.” In western patriarchal culture, anything associated with the feminine is a sign of weakness (an apparent cardinal sin). In Hip-Hop, rap artists often call each other out and accuse each other of weakness in their rhymes, using offensive language like “bitch nigga”,  keeping rivalries and feuds alive, and feeding the aggression that hip hop demands.
  2. “Be a big wheel.” Wealth, power, and status equals money, ice (bling), and sex in Hip-Hop culture – the spoils of white patriarchy.
  3. “Be a sturdy oak. Be reliable in a crisis/become an unfeeling inanimate object”. Glen suggested I watch Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, an excellent documentary by Byron Hurt. Hurt discusses the projected hardness in Hip-Hop that is ego-driven and encourages men to assert themselves. This  hardness “denies men their own frailty”, and exposes their masculine insecurities, camouflaged by violence, dominance, misogyny, and homophobia.
  4. “Give ‘em hell.”  Be daring, be aggressive, be violent. The projected Hip-Hop image encourages men to threaten and kill each other, abuse women, and endanger and intimidate those around them.

The way Hip-Hop has nestled into these dated (and very unnatural) masculine expectations is startling, but as Brandon says, young black men “lack positive self-identity or  positive identity development, and look for it in other forms like commercial Hip-Hop music. The images created by these artists is merely for entertainment but Black Boys do not see it that way. They see these images as reality…a reality they want to live and embody.”

Little white lies

The scariest concept around all of this stuff is that the Hip-Hop image is false.

The caricature of the rough, tough, dangerous gangsta rapper is projected by profit-generating record labels, run by white men in suits who decide who gets signed, and who they can peddle the blackface image to (largely young white men – 70% of Hip-Hop is consumed by this group).

In When Posing Goes Wrong: Ricky Rozay is not about that life, the author outs rap artist, Rick Ross, about the lies he’s been living. Black youth hears music about drug dealing, though many of them “have never even sold candy”, toting guns and murdering, though “a good number of us have never even fired a gun and for sure never killed anyone.

“Our youth listen to these lyrics from these beloved entertainers and take it as gospel. Many take the glorified side of street life as reality and they do not see the dangerous reality until it is too late.”

A new code of masculinity

In researching and writing for this post,  I’ve processed a lot of information and believe I have witnessed the ultimate in insult – the diminishing of human potential. We desperately need a new, healthy, positive definition of masculinity for young men and boys that promotes among other things, self-respect and respect for others.

What is and was needed is a vision of masculinity where self-esteem and self-love of one’s unique being forms the basis of identity. Cultures of domination attack self-esteem, replacing it with a notion that we derive our sense of being from dominion over another. Patriarchal masculinity teaches men that their sense of self and identity, their reason for being, resides in their capacity to dominate others.

– bell hooks, African-American feminist

Confidence

28 Oct

When the weather cools, my hands can get dry and nasty-looking and I know this is not a good reflection on my person, so  on Tuesday I decided it was time for a manicure.

I walked into a local nail shop and sat chatting happily with Alecia who worked on my hands. There was one other customer there having her feet done. A few minutes later, a man came in and made himself at home as his foot bath was prepared.

He knew the woman in the pedicure chair. They chatted a bit then I heard him talking about the NFL players wearing pink shoes and gloves (but he didn’t seem to know that the pink accessories are an NFL breast cancer awareness promotion… interestingly, the CFL isn’t into it – read the CFL commissioner’s reasons here). Anyway, he decided it looked cool and he was going to go out and find himself something hot pink to wear.

“Men should feel comfortable wearing any colour they want,” the feisty older woman in the pedicure chair exclaimed, “and if people don’t like it, tell them to shove it.”

Words of wisdom.

Now, I know many of you are expecting me to write about the pink-blue gender thing here, but I’m saving that for another day. Today it is about masculinity, decisiveness, openness, and belief in oneself because indeed, men should feel comfortable making their own conscious choices for their own selves. They just need some guidance sometimes.

In 2007, I began Canada’s first men’s image quarterly, image inc., where  I conducted a poll asking men the simple question, what is masculinity? I included the most poignant answers in the first issue and share my three favourites with you below:

  • Masculinity is an inner confidence that speaks, I am what I am. (Bobby)
  • Masculinity is fearlessness and the willingness to try new things. (Doug)
  • Masculinity is being secure in the knowledge of who I am without feeling the need to prove it to anyone. (Steve)

Lovely. To the point. Brilliant in quiet strength and contemplation, all. That these men even considered the question let alone answer it is a thing unto itself, I think, and it’s interesting to note that they’re all speaking of the same thing: confidence.

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So what is confidence all about? Being self-assured, knowing that you know? I think that part of being confident comes from having knowledge, awareness, and the skills to do stuff. When my clients want to know something (i.e. how to sew on buttons),  I explain as best as I can because I know this knowledge is empowering and it will increase their confidence and make them more competent and self-reliant. (In 2010, there are more single people in the world than there ever have been in history, so knowing how to take care of yourself is definitely a bonus. Also, men who know how to take care of themselves are impressive, no doubt about that.)

Confident and attractive men often take time and thought to put themselves together, and a well-dressed man must be self-assured enough to be able to handle the attention he’ll attract – women feel very strongly about a sharp dressed man, you know.

Confident people are decided and they don’t care what other people think of them – they are their own person, they are deliberate, and they make their own rules.  A confident man doesn’t doubt who he is, he knows who he is.

Guys with confidence can rock anything. People love a confident man – an authentically confident man, not a puffed-up-because-I-have-more-stuff sort of man. A man with that quiet inner pride like Bobby and Steve mentioned, a man aware of his distinctions, and a man who respects himself.

So if a man is confident, he knows who he is and what he stands for, why wouldn’t he wear pink gloves and pink shoes? Or an ascot? Even a skirt? If a man is confident, he’ll wear whatever he dang-well wants to wear without apology, thank you very much (as in, “Tell them to shove it.”), which I think deserves some respect.

Now that’s confidence.