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.