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Saturday, March 24, 2012

It's not your imagination

Most of the portrayals of men in the media are heavily weighted towards the negative:
Until recently, gender theorists and media researchers have argued or assumed that media representations of men are predominantly positive, or at least unproblematic. Men have allegedly been shown in mass media as powerful, dominant, heroic, successful, respected, independent and in other positive ways conducive to men and boys maintaining a healthy self-identity and self-esteem.

However, this view has come under challenge over the past few years. John Beynon, a Welsh cultural studies academic, examined how masculinity was portrayed in the British quality press including The Times, The Guardian and The Sunday Times over a three-year period from 1999-2001 and in books such as Susan Faludi’s 2000 best-seller Stiffed: The Betrayal of Modern Man. Beynon concluded in his 2002 book, Masculinities and Culture, that men and masculinity were overwhelmingly presented negatively and as “something dangerous to be contained, attacked, denigrated or ridiculed, little else”.

Canadian authors, Paul Nathanson and Katherine Young in a controversial 2001 book, Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture reported widespread examples of “laughing at men, looking down on men, blaming men, de-humanising men, and demonising men” in modern mass media. They concluded: “… the worldview of our society has become increasingly both gynocentric (focused on the needs and problems of women) and misandric (focused on the evils and inadequacies of men)”.

The role of mass media in creating and or reflecting identity has long been debated and the findings of some studies have been questioned. Nathanson and Young admitted in their foreword that their findings were based on a small sample. Also, most analysis of media content has focused on movies, TV drama and advertising: mass media genre which are fiction and, therefore, not representative of reality and ostensibly “taken with a grain of salt” by audiences.

However, an extensive content analysis of mass media portrayals of men and male identity undertaken for a PhD completed in 2005 through the University of Western Sydney focusing on news, features, current affairs, talk shows and lifestyle media found that men are widely demonised, marginalised, trivialised and objectified in non-fiction media content that allegedly presents facts, reality and “truth”.

The study involved collection of all editorial content referring to or portraying men from 650 newspaper editions (450 broadsheets and 200 tabloids), 130 magazines, 125 TV news bulletins, 147 TV current affairs programs, 125 talk show episodes, and 108 TV lifestyle program episodes from 20 of the highest circulation and rating newspapers, magazines and TV programs over a six-month period. Media articles were examined using in-depth quantitative and qualitative content analysis methodology.

The research found that, by volume, 69 per cent of mass media reporting and commentary on men was unfavourable compared with just 12 per cent favourable and 19 per cent neutral or balanced. Men were predominately reported or portrayed in mass media as villains, aggressors, perverts and philanderers, with more than 75 per cent of all mass media representations of men and male identities showing men in one of these four ways. More than 80 per cent of media mentions of men, in total, were negative, compared with 18.4 per cent of mentions which showed men in a positive role.
Now, I don't have any problem with negative portrayals of men per se. Men do commit most of the violent crimes. Men are responsible for starting most of the wars in history. Men do beat up women and rape them. I have no problem with men being portrayed in roles that are consistent with their actual behavior.

Where I have a huge problem with the media is when their portrayals of men are totally antithetical to observable reality. Due to hypergamy, most women marry men who are smarter than they are. So, how can it be possible that in Commercial World, men are inevitably drooling idiots who must be corrected and lectured by their smart, but ever-so-patient wives? And what is the point of this obvious social programming anyhow?

All the commercials in the world aren't going to convince me or my children that Spacebunny knows more about computers than I do when I'm the one who gets her laptop talking to the printer over the network, just as a bunch of commercials that portray women as being cretins totally unable to prepare food aren't suddenly going to have my family looking to me for dinner... not unless they want fried eggs and toast that evening.

The alarming thing is that if there isn't any serious social programming intended in this particular regard - whereas there quite clearly is an amount of programming intended in the inclusion of a stock African character in every party or group of friends - then it is simply meant to appeal to existing female prejudices. And that is arguably more alarming, as it suggests that many women are adhering to such concepts in spite of all the easily observable evidence to the contrary.

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