By Brianna T.
Our cultural background, as well as the media, influence the way we behave and think, to the point where we tend to forget that gender roles are not universal, rather they are social constructs that were created by past societies. For this reason, gender ideologies are composed of anti-feminist ideas that have a lot to do with male privilege and patriarchal views that assert male dominance over women.
Being a "real" man in 2021 is difficult, and it is partly to do with media standards and expectations. Due to societal rules, “consequences, and the policing of masculinity, the idea that men have to perform and defend” their masculinity is constantly being reinforced (Vinopal). The media is constantly guiding men to make decisions about how they should dress, how they should present themselves to the world, and how they should deal with conflict and express their emotions.
“Media standards create images based on assumptions, helping to shape men's views about how they should act and how successful they are as men.” Boys are taught from a young age that acting tough and suppressing their emotions is the natural state of being male. These ideals are reinforced by all the gender roles in the media portraying men as dominant, aggressive, and unemotional. “This subsequently affects women's expectations of men in relationships and men's expectations of other men in work settings or friendships'' (Femiano and Nickerson). The ideal standard of being a masculine man is always expected by society, but unattainable since it is based on unrealistic expectations and assumptions.
The most common form of toxic masculinity in the media is seen in the casting of roles for television shows or movies. The man playing the lead role is always portrayed as the source of power and dominance. Along with assuming this authoritative role, the character is most often seen insulting others, and engaging in violent and aggressive actions, predominantly in comedies, crimes, and dramas.
It is common for children to have a digital footprint before they even begin attending middle school. They are being exposed to toxic masculinity and the expectations it sets for young men in the form of hate comments, ads, and videos in every aspect of the media. Social media is no longer a safe place, in fact it is where most toxic masculinity engagement comes from. It is where men express competitiveness, sexist, homophobic, and other toxic tendencies.
This is especially harmful because it is common for adolescents to turn to the media to learn about their gender and to find ways to express their gender identity as well as to learn how to behave sexually and in romantic relationships. The common message of sex depicted in the media is that sex is an important, desirable, and necessary form of masculinity. This is harmful to their future romantic and sexual encounters because it places unattainable expectations on men to act and perform certain ways.
Before social media, boys didn't have to constantly prove their manliness to the world. But now, “there is a pressure to never stop performing the hard man role, and to keep curating and recreating online, a public image of masculinity that is associated with violence and aggression” (Stratford). Toxic masculinity teaches men that their identity is dependent on their ability to exert dominance over women, and a common way for men to do this is through sexual assault and harassment. The media has normalized the common phrase “boys will be boys'' to excuse and normalize harmful male behavior. The toxic culture that is being forced onto them creates men who can’t take no for an answer, who can’t engage in healthy communication, and who become the subjects of #MeToo posts.
This leads us to wonder if masculinity itself is bad? The simple answer is no. It's not the masculinity alone that is bad or at the root of all gender inequality, but rather the version of masculinity that we see in the media that is particularly toxic. Toxic masculinity has harmful consequences for men who support these ideals. “The very premise of hegemonic masculinity is based on the idea of isolation because it’s about being autonomous and not showing a lot of emotion.” (Brooks). Instead of teaching our boys that aggression and violence are correlated to normal male development as it is portrayed in the media, we should teach them how to effectively communicate, and express their emotions in healthier ways.
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