A few weeks ago in my sex and gender roles class we were shown a movie called “Tough Guise”. The documentary was released in 1999 and is about contemporary American notions of masculinity; it explains the portrayal and enforcement of masculinity with the use of media examples throughout the 90s. The documentary credits this masculine posse to many factors, including families and communities but mostly emphasizes on how the media promotes it. Even though this documentary was released a little over a decade ago, its argument can be seen relevant to today’s society, especially with men around my same age(20). I personally grew up watching some of the shows and movies shown in the documentary and believe they have greatly influenced my generation.
The documentary discusses certain aspects of masculinity that many men can relate to, such as the “I don’t want to talk about it” claim showing emotional stoicism or the independency and physical toughness expected out of men. These three aspects of masculinity are labeled as the boy code and are constantly pounded into people’s heads through movies like “The Transporter” in where the main character barely talks, barely expresses emotions, lives independently and goes around beating on men; or sports like American football in where fear of being hit by a 250 pound linebacker is criticized negatively since it “prevents the team from winning.” But this also shows what is expected from males in society and as stated by Jackson Katz (when talking about backlash to progressive gender movements), “heterosexual males better not try on any style of manhood that breaks out of the accepted norm, because they too might become the victims of violence and abuse.”
The documentary argues that following this boy code brings serious repercussions in the psyche and relationships of males, especially since there is a correlation between being a man and violence. As shown in the documentary men are more likely to murder, assault, abuse a child and rape rather than women. This can be due to the violence, dominance and physical toughness men are supposed to portray. Emotional stoicism is taught to boys since an early age, for example by telling them “get up, boys don’t cry” after they have been hurt and also by images in the media portraying boys as heroic and non affected individuals. This makes boys hold in their emotions and causes unnecessary stress, depression, emotional insecurity and even makes them less likely to call for medical help when needed. Autonomy as presented in the media through characters like that of superman in Small Ville or the ever famous Marlboro man can cause loneliness, depression and isolation when followed by boys.
An article in Time magazine called “Being a Mama’s Boy: Good for Your Health?” makes a compelling argument on how boys and people in general need close emotional connections and relationships because they can provide a “sense of safety and emotional security that can reduce stress and foster good health.” They use a famous study as an example, in where “participants standing at the base of a hill judged the hill’s gradient to be considerably less severe when standing next to a close friend; the researchers concluded that humans find life’s challenges less daunting when they have close interpersonal relationships.” This is something boys are pressured into neglecting in order to be “a man,” starting severely around the age of 16.
An interesting point that this documentary brings up and that was asserted by my professor is that the darker you are in complexion the more the boy code is re-enforced globally. For those that are lighter skin, the code is still prevalent but not as re-enforced. As we can see race also relates to this masculine posse and the high use of it can correlate to the economic standing, upbringing and community influence of individuals. As stated by Jackson Katz this tough guy posse put on by minority inner city people can mostly be done for survival, as a defense mechanism. But it is also due to how minorities are shown in the media, (Blacks and Hispanics usually portray minor roles as gangsters, thieves or lower class workers) as opposed to people with lighter skin complexions. This examination of minorities following the boy code more than non minorities leads to answer a question that I always had, “Why do certain white kids in the suburbs act like they live in the hood?” This is due to the heavy entrance of rap and hip hop in mainstream during the 90s, which was emanated as this violent, urban, glamorized street tough, cool guy posse; and since masculinity is socially constructed, these white kids live in a culture where being a “real man” means taking on this urban, hard guy posse. They take on this posse even though their lives don’t reflect the inner city conditions out of which this posse arose as a response.
Now in a decade since this examination, style has changed music wise, fashion wise, and somewhat movie wise. But I think certain standards still stand when depicting a man in the media (even though some would argue, that men have become more metro sexual or more “hipster” ), popular reality shows like Jersey Shore, Real World or competition shows like UFC depict “real men” as muscular, protective and violent. While shows like Everybody Loves Raymond depicts males who are close to their family as a joke and unattractive. As one can see, mainstream ideals of what is considered masculine still persist in the majority of U.S. culture. This is only a brief summary of some examples and points that I could relate too and discuss in order to get you to watch this film. I believe everybody should watch the film, men and women alike, because it affects both sexes; plus there is a need to examine this dominant system in order to promote helpful modification.
They have the edited version of Tough Guise on You Tube, so it is not the full movie but it still grasps more than its essence. Part 1 starts here:
The Time magazine article referred to in my blog is more recent and relates to the topic through a psychological point of view. It can be found here: