Several recent references to masculinity in the media are worthy of comment. An article on girl boy friendship stated that, ” Children have an often overlooked conservative streak, one that’s most easily identifiable in their attitudes toward gender. Even as more grown-ups come around to the idea that gender is a spectrum, children continue to draw a bold line between “boy” and “girl” and police these categories with a great fervor.” The author clearly believes that the gender spectrum perspective should outweigh the conservative streak among children. However, what about the notion that the children are acting more closely to a degree of biological determinism and that gender fluidity is more of a socially ascribed construct. How revolutionary, beyond anatomy boys and girls are not the same. In the same article the author does make a case against same sex schools. Her point is that boys and girls need to learn how to get along and work together in order to prepare them for the world of work where men and women should be treated equally. No disagreement but a reminder that we do not have to be gender neutral to be gender equal.
Laura Ingraham on Fox News started an interview with Dr. Ed Adams, a psychologist who was there to explain the new American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines on masculinity, by commenting on his clothing and what message his choice of clothes signified. Not only was the comment inane but illustrated a double standard. If a male commentator had started a conversation with a female professional by discussing her outfit the cyber universe would have erupted with a call for the interviewer to be fired for obvious sexism. Did not hear a peep resulting from Ingraham’s behavior.
I have tried to pay attention to how men are portrayed in television commercials since the vast majority of ads make men out to be simpletons needing help and correction from their female companions. Some of the latest examples. In a Turbo Tax ad a man is sitting in an office talking to the tax person and pretending to be on a yacht. His intention was to show the tax person that he was actually wealthy and this year’s income was not representative of his true financial status. A female office mate then tells him that the tax person can’t really see his pretend yacht props and that he was being foolish. The take away, it takes a women to shame a man with his reality. An H& R commercial showed a man and his wife leaving their tax consultation with the knowledge that they didn’t have to wait for their anticipated tax refund. The guy joyously says they can use the money to buy a pool table for the family room. His wife then reminds him that the only room in the house for the table is the dining room and how ridiculous his idea is. The message is that men make grandiose plans and need a women to ground them in reality.
I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge at least one advertisement that portrayed men in a positive light. A commercial for the Amazon Echo Share device showed a young women who just ruined a recipe while preparing a meal for a boyfriend remotely getting advice from her father on what she could prepare quickly to serve her guest. The interaction between father and daughter was respectful, natural and illustrated a strong positive relationship between a father and adult daughter. Fathering is a life long journey and Dad’s can continue to be important in the lives of their grown kids.
The most effective way to push back on the media which tends to put men into either the toxic or inept basket is for those of us who represent the vast majority of men who live a life of positive masculinity to be outspoken about who we are and what we do every day to lower the temperature of the gender war.