Masculinity: A Depiction of White Manhood vs. Black Manhood | Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
University of Pittsburgh

Masculinity: A Depiction of White Manhood vs. Black Manhood

Jackson Katz article “Advertising and the Construction of Violent White Masculinity” defines the role that mass media plays to reproduce and legitimatize white masculinity through violence. Katz notes that masculinity is the privileged gender like white is the privileged race so the hegemonic constructs due to these categories normalizes white male violence in mainstream advertising and mass media. Media has produced a genre of violent men icons in which seems more than normal. People like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, and Chuck Norris all have been idolized for their position in “action-adventure” films where they take down bad guys and enhance their masculinity through their violent demeanor. The idea of “masculinity identity validation” is done “through the use of their body as an instrument  of power, dominance and control” (351). Masculinity identity validation is seen throughout media today by stressing this idea of what is masculine by creating this opposition femininity. The man as a natural violent being has been inserted in many advertising to appeal to the public as what is masculine by either using these iconic roles to insert masculinity or taking on this aggressive, built figure to exploit men of who they should be. The article names some advertisements that try to assert this masculinity through what is technically viewed as an archetype for is masculine like sports. It is known the more violent the sport, the more popular it is and thus the more manly it appears. Abercrombie was mentioned in the ad as having male models pose with football gear while in turn the store does not sell football gear, this goes along with the image of the “masculinity identity validation. While looking at ads for stores I came across these two from Abercrombie, they both inserts this’ violence as masculine’ ideal by using wrestling as the basis of the ad. The ad says “Wrestling: Guys get hurt, Guys get Bloody, and Guys get in fights,” this is appealing to the men because it is telling you this is what men do and if you do this than you are a real man.


The manly men are used throughout history and have been seen in such figure such as Vikings, Cowboys, Trojan Warriors, and Gladiators. All of these figures have donned a physiques and an action that constitutes them as manly men, which makes them prominent figures in products that promotes masculinity. Katz writes that although men across different races and socioeconomic classes might feel insecure of their masculinity due to societal definition and presentation of masculinity, masculinity as a whole, especially this idea of violence as a warrant for masculinity, can be translated across race and class due to the image system of power and masculine qualities such as size, strength and an advantage over women. But Bryant Keith Alexander’s article “Performing Black Masculinity: Race, Culture and Queer Identity” shows us that this is not completely true.

Alexander’s article explains this notion of the ‘passing’. Passing is an act in which a person “assumes the identity and the specific benefits of being the other within a particular context” (73). Explains of passing include a very light-skinned Black person who “passes” for white to gain the societal privileges associated with the white race. Although this among other scenarios of homosexuals passing for heterosexuals, are the most common acts of passing, Alexander brings another to the forefront of society; the idea of the “Good Man—Bad Man”. Black Man, unlike the image of the violent white man that enhances masculinity, has been socially and historically constricted in depicting such negative characteristics. The “Good-Man” is a contrast to the problematized and media-produced images of men of the Black race. The “Good Man” is seen as a Black man who is trying to pass as White, not by appearance but by intellect, “linguistic performance and wearing the garments of academic accomplishment” (74). Although in one regards he is perceived as being “good” this is also seen as being the “Bad Black Man” because he is not performing the expected societal roles of a black man. This in turn becomes problematic in depicting masculinity amongst Black males. They cannot be these overtly violent men due to the historical overtone of Black men and violence. Historically black men are expected to be violent, aggressive menaces to society, so to insert their masculinity as an acceptable part of society, they must take up a role that contrasts the image of the Brute or Nat. The Brute is defined as an angry, physically strong, animalistic, Black man who is prone to sexual violence (against white women). Although looking back at Katz’s article, those were many of the things that confirmed masculinity among White men, the racial factor applied with these characteristics make them problematic. This YouTube video talks about how Black Men view their Masculinity in America

Black Masculinity is used as opposition to White masculinity due to the racism in which this country was built upon. Black Masculinity has to be instated to a higher degree than White Masculinity because of the slavery and the Jim Crow era. Within these time periods, Black Men were not allowed to perform the duties of what is considered masculine because it would allot power to the Black Race. The controlling images of the Coon, Brute, Tom, and the Picaninny were all ways to degrade and hold Black men to a lower esteem. Although stereotypes of being lazy, ignorant, child-like, angry, overly strong, over sexed, crazed, animalistic were constructed out of the Jim Crow era, these stereotypes are still commonly used when depicting Black Men in media. One recent example was the cover of Vogue when LeBron James was pictured with Supermodel Gisele. He’s depiction is the same as King Kong, which was seen as a Brute.

  Even when they tried to act within White Masculine standards, it is not enough to define Black Masculinity. Although these articles only address masculinity, they can in turn be used to discuss femininity amongst White women and Black women. The historical racial construct of America makes defining masculinity across races difficulty. The struggle of Black men because of their race cannot be discounted when describing their struggles of a man.

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