Being a Man: The Useless Men

Originally posted on October 17, 2009

There has been a trend in Western culture of portraying males as completely stupid. Whether it be adult men or little boys, a great deal of the literature, TV shows, advertisements and films present males as idiots, cowards, weak, dumb, lazy and fundamentally useless.  Only occasionally are males  shown to have any redeeming qualities. Even in instances in which the male is the lead hero he is still played and treated as slightly buffoonish. Many men likely do not notice this because it has become the norm. The question is why, or better yet how, this became the norm. A recent article suggests that the normalcy of male uselessness likely begins in the stories we read to our sons and daughters:

And something else began to strike me as I looked at these stories – the stories I use to introduce my son to the ways of the world. Not only were they full of bad male stereotypes – deadbeat dads, absent fathers, idiots, wimps and fools – but I have been totally colluding with them. It didn’t bother me at all. Until I started to think about it, it had seemed normal to me.

‘Why does Duffy forget the brake?’ my son asked me. Why? Stories require fall-guys.
They need some people to be malign or foolish or weak. And it just so happens that these people, in these stories, are male. It just so happens that it wouldn’t seem right, to me, if these malign, foolish or weak people were female. Somehow, they have to be male. And symbols of male inadequacy are so deeply embedded in other parts of our culture. So much so, in fact, that nobody notices it any more.

Why had this never bothered me? Because it’s all around us, everywhere we look. For years, men in our stories – not just for children, but adults, too – have been losing their authority. Not just years – decades. It’s crept up on us and now it’s everywhere. Remember when movie stars were strong and decisive? That was a long time ago now: John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn.

So does this mean that there is something wrong with the way we portray men? Or – much more seriously – is there some deep trouble with men themselves? I can’t bear to have that thought. Can you?

The problem does not appear to be some deep trouble with men themselves, otherwise the sexist presentation would have occurred longer ago. The shift in the portrayal of men from strong and smart to weak and stupid directly coincides with Western society’s devaluing of masculinity. As the author notes several times in his article, females are never portrayed in this manner because it would be offensive. Of course, there are greedy, selfish, cowardly, weak, stupid, lazy, fat, lumbering, egotistical females in the world. However, it would be politically incorrect to treat women as the butt of the joke.

Like the author noted, the assumption is that men and boys can take it.

Unfortunately, that assumption is not true. Rather than taking it, it has had a very drastic impact on men and boys. At least two generations have grown up seeing the majority of the male figures in media portrayed as inept idiots. This view in turn informs their real world view of who men are and what they are capable of. This may be why the notion that men are little more than aggressive, animalistic brutes has become the norm. Pop science and psychology reinforces these beliefs, further stripping away anything remotely good, decent or even likable about maleness and masculinity.

The tragic result is that we are left with a view of males that hardly sends a good message to little boys. It is ironic particularly because society has shifted to mocking and vilifying masculinity and males while it acknowledges that such negative portrayals of femininity and females can have a horrible affect on girls. What is worse is that males are left with no real means of discussing their pain because it remains socially unacceptable for men to be vulnerable and there is the added pressure from feminists to avoid acknowledging the non-feminist male perspective.

The notion of the dumb male is not a new one. Thousands of ancient myths focus on characters like that. The difference, however, is that those characters were used as warnings for what boys and young men should not become, not what they were destined to become. Coincidentally, many of those old stories also condemned the brutish, anger-driven male as something no boy or man should aspire to. The older views of masculinity were much more complex than most people are inclined to believe. Those stories addressed the same issues boys and men face today, but without the politically correct need to prop women up at men’s expense. Perhaps it is time to take another look at those tales and present those to our children since those stories appeared to be very successful at creating balanced men for quite some time.

26 thoughts on “Being a Man: The Useless Men

  1. Why do you think people can’t sell children’s books made before 1984 because of the supposed “lead” in the ink?

    The real reason is the portrayal of men in books from the earlier era was better for men. Can’t have the old stories shoring up men, can we?

  2. Really good post. This puts me in mind of the talk in some of the media a few years back about the phenomenon of sitcoms featuring attractive, intelligent, responsible women married to fat, homely, brutish, incompetent buffoons. There were a lot of complaints about how this was demeaning to women, since it supposedly encouraged the idea that it was good and proper for women to tolerate obnoxious male behavior and settle for losers, jerks, and idiots.

    The mainstream criticisms almost completely ignored the rather obvious fact that in order for the standard pattern in sitcoms to be admirable women somehow matched up with contemptible men, you had to portray lots of admirable women and lots of contemptible men. And yet, the attitude towards males that you describe is so normal and taken for granted that when people finally took note of how frequently men are portrayed as stupid, irresponsible, ugly, or malicious, it was interpreted as an attack on women! Questioning whether such portrayals might give men a reason to object just didn’t occur to people.

  3. Reminds me of something I read a few months ago about how males today, myself included, have no real clear picture of what it means to be a man. Not to say that there are not role-models but in society as a whole, it is so ambiguous that one needs to define it for one’s self versus having a sort of mold to be filled. Good on some levels but mainly negative.

  4. Your use of the word “useless” in the title ties in with something that occurred to me recently. The women I work with are forever complaining about their “useless” husbands, and I realised I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man say his wife was useless.

    Your piece is about the portrayal of men as stupid, inept, lazy or malicious – but the word you use to sum that up with is “useless”.

    The implication is that, to be admirable, a man must be useful. But nobody is useful to themselves. You can only be useful to someone else, to whom you are subordinate. And once you have outlived your usefulness, you are no longer necessary.

    We, as men, are allowing ourselves to be defined by how useful we are to women, and not by our own essential human dignity.

  5. virtually every single sitcom now follows this premise: buffoon husband and intellectually, more rational mother, who even if she works at home, is smarter, more respectable than the father who has some intellectually non-demanding job. this is repeated AD NAUSEUM throughout TV and film. It’s the Ray Romano, Peter Griffin, Homer Simpson, Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor, infinite list of simpleton husbands on TV that has re-molded the notion of a father/man in millions of Americans lives.

  6. I agree that we should not define ourselves by how useful we are to women. However, to exist in a social group requires that we each play a role or a part that has meaning. What has changed in the last decades has been the shift from thinking men had great social value to thinking men have no social value. What makes it so dire is that not only is being male in and of itself considered negative, but anything men try to do is by default still treated as second-best. So even when men try to fit into the roles women want, they are still regarded as useless (in that instance for not sticking up for themselves).

    It is a fundamental part of being human to want to be wanted or to at least be of some value to someone. Even people who prefer to be alone still have pets. So while I think defining oneself by one’s human dignity is a good thing that should be done, I also think that men should make a more active effort to demonstrate that we are not just things to be thrown away. The way I think this would be best done is by ignoring the modern concepts of masculinity and throwing out the crap men adopted post WWII and looking at older models of manhood for guidance.

  7. What I think is odd is when men speak up about such portrayals of idiocy they are shouted down with cries of they only have their fellow males to blame. As if I have Seth McFarlands personal cell phone number and call him up and tell him to stop portraying men in such an offensive manner.

  8. “The way I think this would be best done is by ignoring the modern concepts of masculinity and throwing out the crap men adopted post WWII and looking at older models of manhood for guidance.”

    Well, I’ve been getting disillusioned with the manosphere lately….

    It’s a common theme that many guys either want to go back to the 1950’s or think all their problems will be solved if prostitution becomes legal…..

    Anyways, I don’t think the “old” version of masculinity will work in a more modern world….

    I think the answer lies more in the direction of giving men more freedom in how they live–ie pursuing “artistic” goals should be seen as just a noble path as getting a degree in a STEM field or trying to climb the corporate ladder to become a CEO…..

  9. I watch very little TV-Family Guy is one of the few shows I can sit through….

    I think it was Bones where the women are portrayed as competent and the men as nincompoops….

    I really enjoyed the cooking show where Chef Ramsey yells at everyone-reminded me of Full Metal Jacket….

  10. Very interesting and well thought out TS, but I wonder if it isnt a bit of a generalization of the media’s portrayal of men.
    You said, “females are never portrayed in this manner because it would be offensive.”, please explain this to me because it cant be true. Ive seen plenty of television or literature with ditzy female characters along with wimpy male characters.
    There are only two sexes so a whole series cant be filled with dead beat dads, many older male leads in a story act as a mentor figure to the younger leads male or female, and women haven’t been spared these positive or negative roles either.
    Maybe there are more dead beat dads than dead beat moms in the media, but is that because they are trying to push down men, or play up female stereotypes like nurturing and innocent?

  11. @Neal
    TV drama is somewhat different. TS appears to be referring to what is more of a sitcom phenomenon. TV drama is antimale in many other ways. The vast majority of villains are men. Female villains are frequently sympathetic or their treachery is somehow excusable or understandable. Male heroes almost always require support from female characters to become heroes. Female heroes almost always accomplish their goals inspite of males, even those who are supposedly on their side. Violence against men is tolerated, especially when committed by women. Violence against women (while depicted) is never tolerated or acceptable.

    I recall watching an episode of Criminal MInds where a male villain had kidnapped a young woman. After being captured and subdues by a female FBI agent, he refused to say where the woman was being held. To get him to talk, she pressed her foot into his groin. The sexual torture of a defenseless male criminal was intentionally overlooked by the other agents (men) and excused. In another episode, a female agent was able to get away with murdering a male suspect who could not be arrested because of the female agent’s mistake. In nearly every episode, the female agents make 1-2 very antimale, misandrous comments directed towards men in general. While this is one of the few shows I watch regularly, it is not atypical.


  12. You said, “females are never portrayed in this manner because it would be offensive.”, please explain this to me because it cant be true. Ive seen plenty of television or literature with ditzy female characters along with wimpy male characters.

    Occasionally you may see ditsy female characters, but it is uncommon for them to be portrayed as ditsy because they are female, let alone to see the majority of female characters portrayed that way.

  13. If more advertising revenue can be generated from portraying ditzy women, then that is what will happen. Television will proudly display women as numbskulls. If more revenue comes from men being portrayed as useless idiots, then that is what will happen. Just remember who really holds the purse strings in our economy; it isn’t men.

    All the more evidence that women are not the gentle, caring creatures they pretend to be. They can only laugh when a man is denigrated, scorned, and injured. Their hearts are reserved for kids and puppies. Everyone else is ground under foot.

  14. Alot of women are sluts, have you been to Cardiff or Liverpool or Brighton City centre’s on a typical weekend night, you cant tell the difference between prostitutes & girls just our for a good time anymore. (No insults – TS) Also there are 2 main reasons men get portrayed as idiots, firstly men are less like to make a fuss about their portrayal than women would, secondly alot of men, particularly dumb men use putting other men down as a way of making themselves look better to a women & getting a better chance of being with the popular girl, although you have to question the wisdom of any women who is impressed by that.
    Secondly although their are plenty of dumb guy’s out there are also plenty of smart guy’s out there as look at all the technology that we have today 99% of which is designed by males not females.
    Equaly how many females think in the real world their only purpose in life is to look sexy, thats down to women not men, when your sexing your self up, it’s to look better than your friends more so than impress a man.
    Also the daily mail newspaper did a poll in the UK of about 20,000 youg girls asking them if they had a choice between big breast or a high IQ which would they choose, 95% said the breasts, go figure.

  15. Also to be fair women watch more tv generaly than men particularly day time tv so it tends to be framed for them in mind, but I once heard someone ask why are there less super hero films based on women, the answer is simple, men & women go to see films such as Batman or Superman or Spiderman, most men ar’nt interested in watching super female films by contrast unless they really fancy the actress, hence they get fewer roles in that respect, just check the amount of money the super hero girls films make in contrast to the male super hero films & your see my point.

  16. Also one last point is this, the irony of feminism & womens right to work is that in most cases it just means 21st century women just have more to do than ever before, after all alot of men(except the so called modern men) basicly say, well you may have won the rights to work but we men did’nt fight for the rights to be stay at home dads or doing the house work dad’s so a large portion of women end up having to do both much to their disgust, & accuse guys of being selfish but they should also ask themselves this one question, ‘Am I being selfish in demanding that a man helps because you, the women want’s a career?’, as basicly your saying ‘I want my own way so your gonna have to fit in or else’.

  17. If you think I was insulting, & if you are American & ever come to the UK, go to those City’s I mentioned on the weekend after about 10pm to 2am & your see what I mean, I personaly saw 2 tototaly drunks girls walking down the high street,knickers down by the ankles Mooning all the guys that passed & showing them their breast’s, & that kinda thing is the norm Particularly in Crdif Brighton & Liverpool so tell me moderator what would you call them as I would be very interested to know.

  18. Men rule the world; if they are portrayed as useless, they are behind the depiction. They want to be useless and lazy, its easier for them, and women have been stupid enough to support this paradigm, thinking it puts them “in charge”, when in reality they are being “used” so men can lay back and be “useless”. Wake up, people.

  19. Chris, it is unlikely that men want to be seen as useless, let alone that they want to be useless. The idea of the useless male comes from the notion that men have nothing positive to offer society.

  20. And who dreamed up and perpetrated that myth, if it is a myth? Are you going to say women? If so, then that very concept cries out “weakness” and “useless”. If not women, then who? The “media”? The concept is certainly pervasive throughout media; actually media portrays men as killers (courageous or serial, depending on the mood of the writers) or fools. Who started this, and who is driving it? And more to the point, why aren’t men fighting it? If men actually cared about being portrayed as useless, they have the power in sheer numbers to do something about it. They aren’t. The only ones who even notice it will actually whine. Men do not have to be weak and useless, they can change that, they have the capacity to do great things and turn this all around. But they don’t. No one can expect to be respected if they aren’t willing to work for it. And as soon as anyone, male or female, starts living the role of victim, they become weak and useless. I would love to see that change, but we have in general become a soft, spoiled narcissistic culture. Change would require hard work, sacrifice and a passion for what is right that sees you through to getting back up to keep fighting after you get knocked down. Moping in a corner, whining, self-pity and self-centeredness are the order of the day, however. The dark, brooding destructive (useless) James Dean prototype has been admired for decades, and so has the hapless, helpless (weak) Walter Mitty types. This is nothing new. Who wrote those characters into being? Men. Who published/filmed/promoted these types? Men. Why? Because they wanted pity, they wanted a pass on maturity, responsibility, and consequences for selfish behaviors. This goes way back, and I don’t see men lining up to change it. I do know some strong men, very few are around, but they get no support from their adult child brothers, they are avoided, even looked down on, by men who want to remain perennial infants. So they quietly go about their work, doing good jobs, protecting their families, and building a legacy within their families of love and maturity. But to most men this sounds so boring, so “whipped”. Today, men think manliness is violence, selfishness, and honing the skill of taking advantage of others. Its up to them to change that, if they could stop whining and licking their wounds long enough. I don’t see that happening. True men are saying no to this culture and this system and forging new roads and connections. Soon this whole society will be one stinking play pen that no man will take any responsibility for. This is hard to hear, but each of us has a choice.

  21. This sounds nuts but I’m starting to think this is social engineering of the last 50 years. Governments by now know they have a shelf life and eventually young males will overthrow a country. Rockefellers figured out, put a thumb on the young male and stay in power. That thumb being their moms/wives…female suffrage.

  22. m a boy, i hate being it,yes m useless n worthless cause i want that way i don want to contribute to this wombcentric feminist society n i dont want to kill myself because of them either,there will be a day when they need us n i want to loose the sensitivity towards these bitches when they need us the most,except i love nature,i love innocence n that might be the reason i hate bitches to the core.

  23. Only boys hate, and it weakens them and makes them small-hate is based in fear. A strong, mature man does not waste his energy on hatred. I hope you get healed from whatever wounded you-we need more good men.

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