The Lost Boys? Has the Media-Created Image of Men Who Never Grow Up Spawned a New Generation of Males Eager to Prove Their Worth?
Just a few years ago, a minivan commercial showed a father, so eager to shut out the sounds of his children, he couldn’t wait to get them in the car to turn on the DVD players. Dr. Richard Horowitz was so enraged he wrote the automaker who soon removed the commercial.
Jason Hundley, an X-ray Tech in Radcliffe, Kentucky, continually avoids the pack of women at work who constantly refer to men as children, dogs and ‘just like the men on tv’. Incensed even more by the “we know you’re not like that” comments, he’s searched for ways to fight for male rights.
Affected by the omnipresent definition of happily every after being limited to the woman’s determination of the meaning, John Wilder, a marriage coach, has seen the build up of anger in men over the years. He attributes the demeaning media perception of men to misandry and reeducates couples on roles in their relationships.
Dr. David Power, who abhors the Tim the Tool Man stereotype portrayed through various television shows and commercials, routinely does the laundry and cooks for himself. With a baby in the house, his two sons know when he calls a code brown, to get diapers, wipes and help daddy change the baby’s diaper. He’s started a fight club.
While the media continues to portray men as grown kids who need to be coddled and directed by the strong hand of their mother-like spouses, men throughout America are fighting back. Men are growing weary of this characterization, even in a limited tongue and cheek manner.
“Men who are more mature and have families, those men are somewhat confused about the world,” said Dr. Horowitz, who now runs GrowingGreatRelationships.com with his wife.
The appreciation for the everyday male has seemed to wane in recent history. It seems as if a male simply takes care of his home, he’s still doing something wrong. If he does dress well, then he still may not be metrosexual enough. If he is a good guy, he doesn’t possess enough raw aggression to spark the chemistry of a bad boy. And if he is a bad boy, well, of course he’s a project that can be fixed.
But a large amount of confusion seems to be attributed to the power of the feminist movement and the confusion that era has brought to men in America.
Women’s rights began in 1913 but didn’t end in 1920 when women received the right to vote. In her book, Stiffed, Susan Faludi attributes much of the change of women’s gender roles to WWII when many women were needed to work in support of the war effort and take care of both gender roles at home.
This period sparked an undercurrent of misandry as men returned home and attempted to reinsert themselves into their traditional gender roles, roles women now knew they could perform.
However, John Wilder, author of the soon to be published Sex Education for Adults, Secrets to Amazing Sex and Happily Ever After Too, states rearing of women during this period did not significantly change. Many women were not, and still are not, raised in a critique-friendly environment similar to young men.
As women learned to openly analyze men’s actions, there was no education on how receiving it. Even worst, men learned never to say anything.
“The number one complaint I get from men is women do not make it safe to critique women,” said John. “Women say they want equality, but they want absolute dominance. Most [men] had coaches and grew up accepting critique where women take it personally.”
John states that while women sought equality socially, they didn’t accept it within their interpersonal relationships.
Dr. Powers knows too well the application of this thought. Gathering with his church fight club, men often tell stories of intentionally doing some type of chore or assignment wrong. Feeling there is no way to do the task right without being criticized, or being able to make any critical comment, why even try?
Passive aggressive men give in recognizing they’ll eventually lose the fight and she’ll correct whatever he did anyway, John added. Women who feel they’ve been critiqued go through fanatic efforts to teach their male partner to never critique them again.
As female writers, advertisers, marketers and others in media continue to increase their influence, and men who either stay silent or help push the stereotype continue using the perception in the name of ‘what sells’, men continue to see the media images of them grow in ways that are uncomfortable.
“I remember watching the Simpson’s. Homer was this stupid guy and Marge cleaned up after him. I didn’t think much of it because it was a cartoon. Then I saw Home Improvement. I thought it was just fiction TV and then it started to translate into society. And because media determines society, I starting noticing more women in my life saying, ‘Yeah, that’s how they are, ” said Jason, who is one of the two guys in his group of 23 x-ray technicians in Kentucky.
In a business where studios celebrate 100 episodes like winning the Super Bowl, the Simpsons have made over 500 episodes. Home Improvement was on top of the sitcom ratings for several years. Each show featured a marquis father who could provide for the family but was more likely to expose himself to nuclear poison or shoot himself with a nail gun, even though it was his profession. In comes the wife who cleans up after all his messes at home.
There were shows with competent fathers during the 90’s to somewhat balance the male idiot perception. At least we saw the loving fathers of Cliff Huxtable, Dan Conner and Danny Tanner. But even then, media had significantly chipped away at the perception of males in America. Just decades before, movies and television began painting men with broad strokes. Men were super macho. But as time advanced, shows highlighting loving fathers were anomalies, with commercial breaks that usually reinforced the movie stereotype of manliness and directly contradicted the show.
Then there’s the whole confusion about whether guys talk to each other.
“We’ve been taught the false image by John Wayne and the westerns of how men got together,” said Dr. Horowitz, Dr. of Education, Rutgers University.
Males cannot talk to each other. It’s an elusive man card rule that requires men avoid doing anything that could be considered homosexual in nature. Disclaimers such as ‘no homo’ or declaring heterosexuality before anything that can be considered emotional is seen as common. Men are even uncomfortable just being alone, shown in commercials such as Nationwide where a male has to rent a car because the conversation got too uncomfortable or the recent Verizon Wireless commercial where a father can only tell his son he loves him through an elbow bump. Of course, if you need an exception, talking sports or women is always allowed over a cold beer.
Additionally, there a references to Lincoln sharing a bed with other men in Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. The allusion alone creates debate regarding Lincoln’s homosexuality while Dr. Horowitz and others see this as the miseducation of how men related to one during that period in history.
But when men do talk, the tone is misunderstood. Conversations, through seemingly lighthearted banter, are often portrayed by media as lacking any depth. Those same conversations, from a women’s perspective, may be labeled immature according to Jason.
“It’s weird, we both do it. But the guys opinion of the girls doing the same thing was always more positive,” he added.
The Metrosexual Explosion
The metrosexual label identifies the crossroad of media perception and the confusion of men and their gender role. This new man ushered in the era of ‘Who the hell am I supposed to be now?’
Media has been saying for years men should be bumbling, childish, dangerous to themselves and everybody else and a poor decision-maker who needed to be saved by women. But the metrosexual guy could dress and was more like a women, but with all the masculine qualities. Except, that confused most males and incited pushback.
Even more confusing, John notes that while the media and women helped grow the metrosexual tag, the complaints of men being too metrosexual weren’t quiet either. Then adding terms such as mancation and bromance muddies the water of what women want.
“You could have two guys that are awesome friends but now that has to be a bromance,” quipped Dr. Powers who says the terms are an example of what he sees as a caveman versus the metrosexual battle.
Added John, “Men are confused, they don’t know what end is up. Everbody is telling them what they are doing isn’t right.”
Fighting Back - The First Rule of Fight Club
Men may be reaching the tipping point. Unlike the men’s movement (different from the men’s right movement), today’s male is seeking daily actions that allow him to fight the stereotype. While no singular action has emerged, several lines of thoughts have. Citing that women’s equal rights movement has actually overcorrected to the point where males now feel disenfranchised themselves, many are seeking ways to navigate this new ground.
While away from work, Jason is active on Change.org and noted there are women’s rights, animal rights, human rights and immigrant rights sections. There is no section for male rights. On top of that, there is only one petition geared towards stopping violence against men. A topic of increasing importance as a California State study showed in 2011 that almost four of 10 domestic violence incidents are against men.
With the world progressing, the old masculine attributes of having great upper body strength, being task-oriented and just getting the job done doesn’t work in today’s team and communication-oriented society. Dr. Horowitz uses Moore and Gillette’s archetypes with his New Jersey-based Men Mentoring Men group sessions.
The Warrior archetype fights and dies for causes. There isn’t a place for such fanaticism, so becoming a community leader is a great real world application. With the prevalence of bullying, modeling how to stand up for yourself and be assertive to resolve issues can be taught by the warrior. These skills learned best from fathering, but if that training wasn’t available, getting mentored in this area can help dispel the myth.
The King is the ambitious side of a male. Seeking purpose will help determine where you fit in and it will drive daily actions. Media perception often focuses on this area.
“Knocked Up is a perfect example, a bumbling guy who was living with friends. He finds this ambitious girl and she fixes him up,” said Dr. Horowitz of the lacking king archetype.
The Lover is often seen as a Casanova, but the definition of this role is much different. It is more about compassion and giving of your self. This can be done with gifts, but is truly speaking about taking time to help others. Being a coach, troop leader, going to spelling bees, helping with the neighborhood block party and being involved in church are all indicative of this archetype’s application to real life.
The Magician makes it happen. Pulling a rabbit out of a hat and using great problem-solving skill, a man can use this everyday to resolve smaller issues.
In South Carolina, Dr. Powers went in a different direction and helped start a fight club…at his church. He wanted to provide a place where men could be guys. This fight club, in which even the pastor participates, is not filled with shirtless Brad Pitts and Ed Nortons duking it out to first blood. They box, sword fight, go to the gun range, curse openly and talk about sex if they need to. According to Dr. Powers, it’s a place for men to feel comfortable and safe. But they do something even more important than the fighting. They express themselves, they share fears, they share concerns and struggles. Then they help each other overcome them.
“It’s something better than bar, drugs or sex as an escape,” said Dr. Powers who thinks his fight club concept could work with a small group of males who are willing to trust one another.
John Wilder thought the marriage was the place for change. Far beyond the one-hour counseling appointment many professionals offer, John provides a four-hour session. With the idea of trying to get women and men to appreciate each other fully, John says 60 minutes is only enough time to send couples home upset with each other and media perceptions reinforced. Trying to work through the clutter along with the male’s passive aggressive backlog of anger takes time.
“If she won’t give him that quality, it’s bound for failure,” said John about women being open to critique. “Part of that quality is having enough respect to hear his issues.”
John also added, “Happy wife, happy life should be thrown out the door. You have a lot of pissed-off men that are very resentful.”
Call it a men’s rights movement, male equality or fatigue, but men are developing their own ways to combat the pejorative media perception of them. With the social aspect, group meetings, group support and couple-geared actions being taken, it seems as though men are beginning to right a ship many feel has been over corrected. Longevity and expanding opinions by men may create an environment in which media notices and portrays men differently. Then fathers can be appreciated for doing the small things and husbands who simply do the day-to-day boring tasks to take care of their family can truly be recognized for who they are; groundbreaking, earth-shattering, powerful men.