Unexpected Social Pressures in Males | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
University of Pittsburgh

Unexpected Social Pressures in Males


We often times hear that women are victims of media pressures.  From the advertisements on television, to the super models on the covers of magazines, women feel as though they have a particular stereotype to live up to.  However in “Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity” by Jackson Katz, he attempts to prove that women are not alone in feeling pressured by the media to fit a certain gender mold.  While women are forced to believe that being skinny and feminine are the keys to happiness, men similarly have stereotypes to fulfill.  Men’s magazines and advertisements often contain images of what the media defines as “masculine.” From an early age, boys are taught to be tough and physical.  Harry Brod describes the “real man” as being “physically strong, aggressive, and in control of their work.”  Along with being in control and powerful, male driven advertisements depict “violent male icons.”  Male role models are strong athletes and superheroes, but also are war heroes who have gained their infamy through violent actions. Describing ads portraying heroes and icons from medieval battlefields as well as the Trojan condom adds, allows Katz to further explain, “that men have always been aggressive and brutal and that their dominance over women is biologically based.”

                This article was extremely interesting to me because it showed a man’s perspective on how they are influenced by media. Growing up with brothers I always felt as though they never experienced any social pressures being a boy. It always seemed like I was the only one living up to a stereotype. However, in this article it clearly states that men also feel a similar pressure. Men do feel pressure to be physically big, have strength, and the ability to use violence if necessary to gain power.  Advertisements are common places where violence is depicted to show masculinity.  Many advertisements are geared toward the white working class men. These men have less access to more abstract forms of masculine validating power, like economic power or workplace authority, so the physical body and its potential for violence provide a concrete means of achieving and asserting man hood. The “real man” that Brod talks about, which is seen throughout several male icons in advertisements, is almost impossible to fully achieve. So why do males strive so hard to achieve this physically strong aggressive masculine persona? Is it the feeling of dissatisfaction and insecurity that make men so compelled to grasp tightly onto these violent male icons? According to Katz, males seem to think that they can find their masculine identity through “the use of their body as an instrument of power, dominance, and control,” especially for working class males. This is embedded in boys at an early age.  While girls are playing with skinny perfect Barbie dolls, young boys want the newest Transformers and G.I. Joe dolls, all characters who play violent roles and are abnormally muscular.

Think of who is on the cover of sports magazines or the stars of male driven advertisements; it is always an aggressive male icon such as a football player or extremely toned actor. Men feel pressured to be masculine and advertisements show that masculinity can be obtained through violent or aggressive actions.  This idea became very prevalent back in the mid to late 1970s during the women’s movement, which challenged male hegemony. Males turned to movies such Action Adventure models and examples of how to overcome these challenges and maintain masculinity. Artists like Eminem and heavy rock bands are the violent masculine icons of the 21st  century. Eminem is one of the most well-known “angry white males” of the contemporary age. He is almost always pictured with a scowl on his face and through his lyrics alone he is portrayed as a very angry and violent person. In one of his songs  “Cleanin Out My Closet” he sings about his life and says “You selfish bitch; I hope you fuckin burn in hell for this shit” Just in that one line alone it is obvious that he is a very angry and violent person.  Click here to watch the music video. Eminem is just one of so many rap artists that are portrayed as violent angry male icons. Lil Wayne, one of the most famous music artists of our time, is always pictured with a scowl on his face or commonly portrayed holding up a gun sign. Chris Brown, another popular music star, is most famous for his violent acts towards his girlfriend as well as his behavior one Good Morning America when he violently punched a glass window off stage. Lastly, former Chicago Bull, Michael Jordan, one of the greatest and most famous NBA players of all times, and a huge role model for so many is known for his outstanding athletic ability and physical strength. 

It seems as though every male icon is pictured as violent, aggressive, and/or a muscular person. Males of all ages and races are influenced by advertisements that portray these icons. The more advertisements they see the more pressure they feel to fulfill this idea of masculinity. I like how Katz questions the rebelliousness of boys going out at purchasing CDs like Eminem’s or Lil Waynes that are supposed to be bad and violent but it begs the question, are boys really rebelling or are the just conforming to the masculine imagine that a CD like that puts forth? This shows that men are just as susceptible as women are to feel the pressure to fit a certain gender mold. Muscles and violence representing masculine power are shown throughout sports and their players. It shows that size and strength are valued by men across class and racial cultures.  In one of our other readings from class “ X Large and X small” it talks about boys and their want to be physically big. It mentions boys’ eagerness to leave behind the scrawny boy body and become a “well packaged  man”. Specifically, it mentions that in the 1980’s Calvin Klein advertisement campaign, including huge billboards displaying built models flaunting in just underwear to promote perfume. Advertisements such as this have helped to shape the male’s idea of perfect physical appearances.

                Although I enjoyed the majority of Katz’s article I thought that it was very generalized to all males. Just like how not all women want to be skinny  and feminine, not all males strive to be this violent and masculine person that Katz suggests. For some males, they are happiest being a stay at home dad and providing for their families by taking care of the kids and doing chores around the house. And who are we to question those males’ masculinity just because they do not fit the stereotype of a male? Katz also mentions how males are born with violence and it is almost like violence is a gene that can be found in their DNA. I would have to disagree with Katz. I feel as though violence is something that is nurtured. It is taught and observed throughout life; it is definitely not something that is pre-determined before birth.

                Katz did a really good job analyzing the male stereotype and the pressures that media puts on men to fit this idea. It is one of the few articles that we have read in class that show a males’ perspective and although class is centered on women’s studies, it is important to see that women are not alone in our struggles. It opened my eyes to see that males feel just as much pressure to fit a specific set of gender roles as women do. Now, when I think back to my brothers I feel bad that they have suffered with the same external pressures that I have. Although it might not be the pressure to be skinny or act feminine, their struggling just as much as I am to fit into society and are influenced just as strongly by media.  


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