Monday, August 11, 2014

Action Man!

College classes, if they are any good, should make you think twice about your every day experiences. Video production changed how I watch TV shows and movies, and gave me an appreciation for how much work they are. And now my intro to masculinities class is changing it again.

Comedy Central was playing Tropic Thunder back-to-back yesterday, and I couldn't help but watch some of it with my husband. However, a few things stood out to me that hadn't before and I felt a better appreciation for the satirical comedy and underling commentary on war/action movies, the Vietnam War and masculinity. The degree of over-the-top action and violence exposes just how ridiculous and unrealistic action movies truly are, yet many young boys re-enact this genre when they are playing with other boys.

Action drama tropes also show boys that there are only a few acceptable times to cry, such as when a close friend has died and you are completely alone. Sometimes, the characters endure extreme pain and even torture without shedding a tear. This reinforces stereotypical masculine gender roles, which "often encourage men to resist the awareness of affect, avoid emotional vulnerability, and disguise their feelings" (Kilmartin, 2009, 157). Something I appreciated about this movie is that there is a moment when Tugg character finally "learns" how to cry, and that throughout this traumatic experience, each man has a moment of self-disclosure, revealing something personal about themselves to the group. For example, Jeff reveals his drug addiction and Alpa is becomes comfortable enough to be open about his homosexuality after the experience.

Kirk also has an interesting journey in learning to embrace his true (white) self. There is an interesting parallel between Kilmartin's description of normative male alexithymia, where men have become to used to suppressing their emotions that they cannot properly identify or express them (170). Kirk has become so obsessed with "becoming" his character Sergeant Lincoln Osiris, who was black, that he has undergone surgery and constantly imitate the speech and behaviors of a black man. Alpa finds his behavior offensive and constantly calls him out on it, until Kirk finally has a breakthrough and returns to his real personality and appearance. This parallels the other male character's emotional breakthroughs during the film.

The character of John/Four Leaf is also interesting in his development through the film, which is based on a book he wrote about his experiences in Vietnam. He has described a clearly traumatic experience of war, watching everyone in his troop die and facing his own mortality, and plays the role of a tough old vet. However, Four Leaf later reveals that he made the entire book up and was never actually involved in combat, which highlights the pressure to appear hyper-masculine to live up to gender role expectations. There seems to be a sense of relief that comes from the moment of self-disclosure about his real experience during Vietnam, and the others seem disappointed that Four Leaf lied to them, not that he isn't as "tough" or damaged as he pretended to be.

All of these situations are presented in such a funny way that it is easy to miss the positive message beneath. However, showing how utterly ridiculous situations and characters in war/action movies are can hopefully help male viewers apply this to their own lives, and feel that they don't have to fear the consequences of being their true selves.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The "No" Code

How I Met Your Mother is one of my favorite shows; it is funny without being crude, and the characters push the boundaries of being comically over-the-top without venturing too far outside of plausibility. I especially liked how Neal Patrick Harris' character Barney was a total womanizer and one of the highlights of the show, while in reality Harris is gay; it made it 'okay' for some guys I knew to really like a character regardless of the actor's sexual orientation and even made one of them a little more open-minded.

However, Barney had major issues in his treatment of women and the elaborate lengths he was willing to go to just to find another one-night stand. His character also went to extremes to portray himself as 100 percent "real man," never emotional, only interested in sex not relationships, independent and focused on his job and making a lot of money. Barney also acted as the masculinity police of the group, enforcing the so-called "bro code," quickly pointing out any time another guy was acting too emotional or making fun of their committed relationships. However, this outer behavior is revealed to only be a "mask" for Barney's insecurities due to being abandoned by his father, and cheated on, dumped and abandoned by his first love. This has created a considerable amount of gender role strain because "cultural gender demands conflict with naturally occurring tendencies" which "creates a discrepancy between the "real self" and the "ideal self concept" (Kimmel 145). Barney's behavior highlights several of the six areas Kimmel outlines on pages 148-149 as being most evident of gender role strain for men:

  • Power, control and competition - his constant need for competition, frequently saying "Challenge accepted!"
  • Achievement, success and money - Barney's exact job title is unknown, but he doesn't seem to care about the illegal or morally questionable things done at his job because he makes a lot of money 
  • Femiphobia - Barney rarely expresses any emotions considered to be feminine, such as attachment to others, sadness or guilt
  • Sexual initiative and performance - Barney is all about one-night stands without attachment; he has an entire playbook of ways to trick women into sleeping with him

The concept of the bro code is both frustrating and confusing from a female perspective; there is no unofficial "girl code" limiting our behavior or degrading men. While it would be nice to feel more sense of community with other women and be united in something, I mostly see a bro code as being very limiting and a way of men reinforcing "acceptable" behavior in the same way that boys and teens may use homophobic slurs toward another boy who "is labeled for failing to live up to masculine role norms" (Kimmel 134). So, maybe instead of a "girl code" or "bro code," we should have a human code where we stop limiting what people can or cannot do, feel or express because of their sex or gender.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Sports - not all fun and games

The recent World Cup highlighted how traditional masculinity is still highly valued in the sports world, especially in Latin America. While researching to write this blog, I was surprised to find that many articles regarding an incidence of violence failed to criticize the player or delve deeper into the topic. During a game against Italy, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez bit another player and was suspended from soccer for four months. He has been in trouble for similar incidents before but still attempted to appeal the decision.

Sports matches seem to bring out the most stereotypical of masculine behaviors in both spectators and players, from aggression, anger and yelling to violent behavior. Suarez’s behavior highlights what is often referred to in the US as machismo, which Kilmartin describes as a “stereotype of the Latino male” that is “the display of strong and aggressive masculinity” (117). Machismo consists of both positive qualities such as courage and respect for others, and negative qualities such as strength and superiority over women. There is no way of knowing what the real motivation behind Suarez’s actions, whether conscious or unconscious, but it highlights an issue about acceptable behavior in the machismo mindset and sports in general.

While the Uruguay football club complained that ban was too harsh, another former player named Mark Lawrenson felt differently, as he stated in an interview with BBC sport.
"Say my boy was about 11 or 12, how do you explain to your lad who's a football fan exactly what Luis Suarez keeps doing?" he told BBC Sport. "He is now a persistent offender and I thought actually the ban would have been much harsher."

Lawrenson makes an interesting point about how violent behavior is portrayed as being positive and acceptable in sports, which can be very influential on boys. I believe that we should be more concerned about kids participating in sports involving physical contact at a young age and carefully explain how acts of violence seen in sports games are not acceptable forms of behavior, emphasizing consequences players face for such actions.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Russia vs. America: The masculinity Olympics

Last Thursday, a controversial tweet highlighted the cultural differences between American and Russia yet again. After President Obama announced economic sanctions against the country, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin posted a picture of President Obama with a small, white dog next to a picture of Vladimir Putin holding a leopard. The caption stated "We have different values and allies," which was apparently intended to be an insult to Obama's masculinity.

Although America is far from perfect in gender role expectations, this recent debacle is another highlight of just how restrictive Russian gender roles are. This follows previous controversy over the government actively enforcing anti-gay laws. Although attempting to insult the president by showing a photo of him with a puppy seems ridiculous, the pressure for men in Russia must be overwhelming if such a minor act is a threat to their manhood. I can only imagine what they would think of my husband, who is 6’7” and often has our little white Maltese mix on his lap and a 4 lb. Yorkie mix perched on his shoulder.

Like other societal norms and values, “cultural rules regarding sex, gender, and sexuality are no exception to the phenomenon of cultural variation” (Kimmel p. 100). To many Americans, the subliminal pedagogy of our society does not become obvious until we are presented with one that is so drastically different than ours. However, Russian culture shares many of the same values that are associated with a stereotypical “real man” in the US. Kimmel states that “the content of masculine gender ideology in mainstream US culture is not a static entity” and is continuously evolving, just as I hope they will continue to evolve in Russia as Soviet Union-era values becomes a part of the past (113). 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Real men...have feelings

I haven't watched the 'The Bachelorette' since the first season years ago, but has been hard to avoid the news stories about the reunion episode lately.

 On the reunion episode, rejected contestant Nick Viall confronted bachelorette Andi Dorfman about why she slept with him if she didn't want to have a relationship with him after. "I didn't have any expectations of that night...but that night, that was like fiancee-type of stuff" said Nick through watery eyes. I am not sure whether the headlines celebrating that Andi was not "slut-shamed" or comments calling Nick a "wimp" or "crazy" are more disturbing.

This story highlights gender inequality; despite the 'sexual revolution' described by Kimmel, it is still unusual for women to openly talk about enjoying sex or engaging in sex outside of marriage due to the fear of being attacked in the media. It is also painful for me to see how Nick is hurt and desperately searching for closure in the failed relationship, a situation that many people have been in. Having emotions is part of being a human, not just being a woman. Nick is violating gender roles by being open with his feelings and admitting that spending the night with Andi was an expression of his feelings, not just pleasure-seeking behavior that is "ingrained" in men.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Pink: The most controversial color?

My mom used to tell me "There are two kinds of guys: car guys or sports guys." There weren't categories for different "kinds" of girls.

Blue was my favorite color when I was a little girl, but even by age six it was firmly implanted that I should have to like pink (which was probably why I hated it) and that boys were not allowed to.

Our society does not confine women to such narrow definitions as far as what it is acceptable to be interested in or enjoy doing in the same way that men are. They can be interested in fishing, hunting, cars or sports, and the worst that could happen is that they are called a "tomboy," which is not really an insult. To be completely honest, I find myself thinking along the same narrow lines at times when I see a man wearing a light pink shirt and think "Wow! He is brave to be wearing pink...I wonder if his wife picked that shirt." My next thought is usually "Well why is it 'okay' for women to like and wear pink and not men?" It is just part of a constructed idea of gender, which Christopher Kilmartin defines as "a social pressure to behave and experience the self in ways that the culture considers appropriate for one's sex" (from The Masculine Self, p. 9).

These gender constructs are present everywhere in society, beginning at the moment we are born and swaddled in the "appropriate" blanket. However, there is a recent campaign that makes it acceptable for men to wear pink to promote breast cancer awareness. While I fully support cancer awareness and the idea behind "real men wear pink" campaign, I think it is unfortunate that it still limits men to liking one traditionally feminine color and it can only be worn in the context of supporting the cause.

Do you think that this campaign is positive? And why does breast cancer as a health issue for women receive so much support across genders while prostate and testicular cancer are rarely discussed?

Monday, July 28, 2014

TIMEs are changing...

I recently took a college course at UW Tacoma criticizing media, where one of our discussions was about the invisible battle going on in our society for transgendered individuals. Watching the film "Boys Don't Cry" for a sex & gender in film class opened my eyes to the disturbing attitude our society has towards people who have done nothing wrong, and you would be hard pressed to find any individual, gay or straight, who feels completely comfortable in their own skin.

Time magazine recently featured the very first transgender person on their cover, Laverne Cox, with the headline The Transgender Tipping Point. Although this is a great step forward for understanding and accepting transgender individuals in society, it barely grazes the surface of the issue.

My husband is not ignorant. He considers himself to be open-minded when it comes to gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, etc. But when a story about a person undergoing a sex-change operation, his mind closes right up. He is quick to judge if the man "makes an ugly chick" or "how weird/gross" the whole thing is. He also continued to call the individual "he" even though she was living as a woman and had undergone surgery to become one.

A woman who becomes a man is entertaining on television, but a man who becomes a woman is a deep threat to masculinity. It seems that as a straight man, being attracted to someone without knowing that they were not born female was a humiliating experience. A friend of my husband had something similar happen on an online dating site and is still being teased about it at work; it comes too close to the line of being homosexual, especially in a workplace that is entirely male in the department they work at.

I was quick to correct my husband and remind him that it is politically correct, and more respectful, to use the gendered pronoun that the person is living by, regardless of the gender they were born. . I referenced what I had learned in my UWT course, explaining that ‘sex’ referred to the biological gender we were born with but ‘gender’ was how we identified with. Most newspapers and magazines, including Time, follow this format as well.

What the media often fails to pick up on are the hate crimes aimed toward transgender people often by heterosexual males who feel threatened by this gray area between what is male or female. Although our society has made wonderful advancements in the LGB portion of LGBT, we have a long way to go before transgender individuals are accepted. Maybe a Time magazine cover will someday feature a transgender man or woman with a headline announcing their accomplishments as a person, not because of their sex/gender/lifestyle choices.