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Tough Guise: Violence and Masculinity in the Media

March 8, 2013
Tough Guise

Tough GuiseThis last week I was part of a panel for Gordon’s Faculty Film Series for the film Tough Guise: Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity. Narrator and anti-violence educator Jackson Katz talks about the construction of masculinity through the media, particularly a masculinity where men are defined as tough, not “soft,” aggressive, etc. Here’s the summary of the film (from the study guide referenced below):

The idea that manhood or masculinity represents a fixed, inevitable, natural state of being is a myth. What a culture embraces as “masculine” can be better understood as an ideal or a standard – a projection, a pose, or a guise that boys and men often adopt to shield their vulnerability and adapt to the local values and expectations of their immediate and more abstract social environments. This projection or pose can take myriad forms, but one that’s crucial to examine is the “tough guise”: a persona based on an extreme notion of masculinity that links the credibility of males to toughness, physical strength, and the threat or use of violence.

There is a substantial study guide that goes with the film, which notes:

The central argument of Tough Guise is that violence in America is overwhelmingly a gendered phenomenon, and that any attempt to understand violence therefore requires that we understand its relationship to cultural codes and ideals of masculinity and manhood. Central to the video’s argument are the following:

» Masculinity is made, not given – as opposed to one’s biological sex;

» Media are the primary narrative and pedagogical forces of our time;

» Media images of manhood therefore play a pivotal role in making, shaping and privileging certain
cultural and personal attitudes about manhood;

» A critical examination of privileged media images of manhood reveals a widespread and disturbing equation of masculinity with pathological control and violence;

» Looking critically at constructed ideals of manhood – at how, why and in whose interests they are  constructed differently in different historical, social and cultural contexts – denaturalizes and diminishes the potential of these imagined ideals to shape our perceptions of ourselves, our world and each other.

The film was difficult to watch, not just because I have young boys, but because how masculinity is so often constructed in this society (have to be in control, must be physically overpowering, can’t cry or show emotion, etc.) causes damage to both men and women.

There’s quite a bit to digest in the study guide, which could be beneficial even without the movie. You can watch the whole film here. More about it is here.

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