The Making and Remaking of Men
11 Aug 2006
In traditional (pre-modern) societies, identities, along with roles and modes of behaviour, were largely prescribed by tradition, including myths and narratives handed down from previous generations. Philosophers, anthropologists and sociologists have concluded that when tradition dominates, individual roles and actions do not need to be analysed and thought about very much because choices are already prescribed (Gauntlett, 2002, p. 96).
Identity first appeared as a term during the Enlightenment around the sixteenth century, according to Davies (1993, p. 8). However, the concept of identity became important in modernist thinking and even more so with postmodernism. With modernism, tradition, myth and religion, while remaining influential in human identity and modes of living, were largely overtaken by science, technology, law and other disciplines based on rational thinking and reason as the basis of knowledge and ‘truth’.
Marxism further attacked beliefs and worldviews implanted by traditional institutions such as the Church and economic systems such as capitalism, labelling them ‘false consciousness’ and advocating new strategies for achieving self-consciousness.
With postmodernism, all established pillars of social identity, including traditions and modernism’s scientific ‘truths’, were questioned and cast aside. Lyotard (1979, p. 37) advocated ‘incredulity towards meta-narratives’. Master narratives or scripts for living provided by traditions, religion and science were replaced by a new cultural self-consciousness. In this environment, Giddens (1991, p. 53) says, ‘the self becomes a reflexive project’.
In modern societies (i.e. societies where modernity or postmodernism is established), Gauntlett (2002, p. 96) says self-identity is ‘an inescapable issue’, that through a self-discovery process ‘we create, maintain and revise a set of biographical narratives - the story of who we are, and how we came to be where we are now...’ (p. 99). Giddens (1991) refers to this process as constructing ‘narratives of the self. These narratives are not created once early in our lives, but are ongoing constructions. Gauntlett says: ‘To believe in oneself, and command the respect of others, we need a strong narrative’ and this ‘needs to be creatively and continuously maintained’ (2002, p. 100). Hall (1990) also sees identity as an ongoing ‘project of the self: ‘instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact... we should think, instead, of identity as a ‘production’ which is never complete, always in process...’ (1990, p. 222).
There are a number of ways individuals and groups construct and maintain their ‘narratives of the self. Marxist philosophy viewed class and economic factors as key determinants of identity. As shown by Faludi (2000) in her examination of working-class men, Stiffed: The Betrayal of Modern Man, work continues to be a key component in constructing the identities of men in late industrial and post-industrial societies.
In postmodern cultures, lifestyle has emerged as a key element of self-identity. Lull (2000, p. 157) says Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’, which he defined as ‘a system of socially learned cultural predispositions and activities that differentiate people by their lifestyles’, provides a lens through which we can view and understand modern communities. Bourdieu (1990, p. 110) argues that people, individually and collectively, ‘internalize their position in social space’. Giddens (1991) also sees lifestyle as significant in modern identity, asserting that everyone in modern society has to select a lifestyle. Lifestyles are described by Gauntlett (2002, p. 102) as ‘ready-made templates for a narrative of self. Movements such as hippies, punk, grunge, the ‘camp’ gay community and the back-to-nature eco-trend are examples of lifestyles that carry with them identities for individuals and groups. But, equally, corporate executives, warehouse-living inner-city dwellers, suburban quarter-acre block owners, farmers, rock stars, youth and retirees choose and closely conform to lifestyles. Modern marketers identify and target groups based on lifestyle factors such as Yuppies (Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals), DINKS (Double Income No Kids), Generation Xers and Generation Ys.
But identities are determined by more than class, economics and lifestyle. At a deeper level, identities are also derived from nationality, ethnicity, social class, community, gender and sexuality (Woodward, 1997, p. 1).
The important role of gender in human identity - for men and women
From the beginning of the twentieth century, sex and sexuality have been identified as fundamental elements of identity. Freud and the movement of psychoanalytic thinking that he spawned focused attention on sex and sexuality as key determinants in a wide range of human behaviour and perceptions (Connell, 1995a, pp. 8-21). ‘Sexual development and sexual satisfaction.. .became bound to the reflexive project of the self (Giddens, 1991, p. 164).
The terms sex, sexuality and gender are used in various ways throughout the extensive literature in this field, as are the terms masculinity and femininity. Their meanings will be discussed and clarified as far as possible in relation to specific usages in this book, rather than attempting to state definitions in advance, as there are no single, agreed interpretations. Some writers use the terms interchangeably, while others continue to dispute their meaning. Gauntlett (2002, p. 34) notes that the nature of sex and gender has been the subject of long debate among psychologists and sociologists.
Freud and Jung, while differing on a number of issues, both saw gender as ‘rooted in timeless truths about the human psyche’ - i.e. biologically determined or innate (Connell, 1995a, p. 13). This perception of gender dominated thinking about the sexes for the first half of the twentieth century.
Jean-Paul Sartre in Being and Nothingness (1958, originally published in 1943) saw the Freudian school of psychoanalysis as too rigid and overly focused on sexual desire as a principal factor influencing the human condition. His partner and noted feminist writer Simone de Beau-voir (1997) drew on Sartre’s existential psychoanalysis which moved beyond the static typologies of Freudian psychology in her landmark book The Second Sex (first published 1949) and explored gender as ‘an evolving engagement with situations and social structures’ (Connell, 1995a, p. 19).
Weatherall (2002) attempts to summarize thinking and draws a distinction between sex and gender based on the influential work of the anthropologist Gayle Rubin (1984) who proposed sexuality and gender as ‘two distinct systems’, although Weatherall also uses the terms in varying and somewhat contradictory contexts. She says, ‘Since around the 1960s an important distinction has been drawn between sex as biological and gender as social’ (Weatherall, 2002, p. 81). Then, on the next page, Weatherall states: ‘The simple belief in two and only two sexes can be understood, not as a biological given but as a normative social construction, a product of gender discourses’ (2002, p. 82).
Davies (1993, p. 10) notes sex/gender theory that claims ‘sex’ refers to biological characteristics while ‘gender’ denotes social characteristics, but says that ‘the boundary is now so blurry that the distinction is no longer a meaningful one’. In examining male and female identity, one has to negotiate both concepts, she concludes.
The nature of gender and its relationship to biology and social conditioning are explored in more detail in Chapter 3. For now, the important point is that philosophers, psychoanalysts and gender studies academics agree that sex and gender are important components of human identity and that we each have a gendered identity - an imprint made on us or a mould which shapes us by virtue of our being male or female. ‘Gender roles are like scripts’, Nathanson and Young (2001, p. 61) say. Grbich (2004) cites gender as the third dimension of social space, after race and class.
Feminism has applied considerable study to the relationship between gender and identity and concludes that gender is central to self-identities and identity of women as a class. In introducing a poststructuralist discussion of identity and subjectivity, Davies (1993, p. 7) writes: ‘The division of people into male and female is so fundamental to our talk... and to our understanding of identity’.
If it is true that gender is fundamental to the identities of women as more than half a century of feminist theory has argued, it is fair to conclude that gender is also an important element in the identities of men and boys both individually and collectively. Study of men and boys and how their identities are shaped by their gender and perceptions of their gender is, therefore, of social significance. But such research is seriously lacking in some respects, as we shall see.
By way of clarification, it is noted that poststructuralist theory questions the term ‘identity’.
Sarup (1988) points out that the preferred poststructuralist term for the individual is ‘subject’ and, emphasizing the non-fixed, fluid, ongoing, highly personal process of understanding one’s self and others, poststructuralist thinking replaces the term ‘identity’ with ‘subjectivity’. Notwithstanding, the poststructuralist concept of subjectivity is largely understood to be a parallel - albeit for some a preferred replacement - for what others term identity and is constructed and constituted in postmodern societies through the same processes and influences. In this book, references to the constitutive forces of identity can be read as applying to the poststructural notion of subjectivity. Reflecting the similarity of these concepts, Mac An Ghaill (1994, p. 9) uses both terms, referring to ‘subjective identities’.
Social scientists and feminists widely agree that self-identity, or subjective identity, are important to individuals’ self-esteem and their approach to life, as well as to society’s perceptions of individuals and groups.
The role of discourse in constructing identity - how we are made by ‘talk’
Discourse, in a simplistic sense, is what people are saying on a given subject. But it is more than random talk or unconnected fragments of speech or text. Discourse refers to dominant ideas and viewpoints that emerge and become worldviews and consensus of knowledge and, in turn, form groundswells and tides of opinion that influence social and political landscapes. Importantly, in addition to comprising discussion describing or reflecting existing conditions, discourse includes ideas and viewpoints that influence and create social, political and economic conditions - i.e. it can define what ought to be and exert influence in bringing that about. It is what poststructuralist thinkers call a ‘constitutive’ force in societies.
Definitions of discourse in social sciences literature, ranging from the complex to the simple, include:
- Discourses are ‘practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak... discourses are not about objects; they do not identify objects, they constitute them and in the practice of doing so conceal their own invention. (Foucault, 1972, p. 49)
- Discourse is a language or system of representation that has developed socially in order to make and circulate a coherent set of meanings about an important topic area. These meanings serve the interests of that section of society within which the discourse originates and which works ideologically to naturalize meanings into common sense. (Fiske, 1995, p. 14)
- Discourse is a body of ideas, concepts and beliefs which become established as knowledge or as an accepted world view. These ideas become a powerful framework for understanding and action in social life. (Bilton etal., 1996, p. 657)
- Discourses are not just ‘a bunch of words’ - they determine our social responses. A discourse does not represent what is ‘real’ - it actually produces what we come to understand as real. It determines what can be said and even what can be thought. (Woods, 1999)
- A discourse is the way objects or ideas are talked about publicly that gives rise to widespread perceptions and understandings. (Lull, 2000, p. 173)
- Discourse is variously used in the gender and language field. It may be used in a linguistic sense to refer to language beyond that of words. Or it may be used in a poststructural sense to refer to broad systems of meaning... discourse is not restricted to spoken language but also refers to written language, (Weatherall, 2002, pp. 76-7)
- Discourse is, in fact, the story of reality as it is presented to us through media or other cultural texts. (Newbold etal., 2002, p. 85)
Foucault made a major contribution to understanding the relationship between identity and discourse with his concept of the ‘technologies of the self. Foucault supported the view that identities are constructed from the materials available to people and advanced the idea that one of the key ‘technologies of the self is discourse. He proposed that discourses shape the way we perceive the world and our own selves (Gauntlett, 2002, p. 133).
In his earlier writing, Foucault suggested that discourses constrain people (i.e. prevent them from saying or doing things they otherwise might do), while in his later work he proposed that discourses act more subtly by causing people to ‘police themselves’ (Gauntlett, 2002, pp. 116, 125). In simple terms, Foucault suggested that discourse does not exercise a direct, overt influence on members of a society, but has a hegemonic power that causes them to conform to certain modes of thinking and behaviour.
Conventional social psychological research viewed language as a medium or mode of expression related to, but existing independently of, identity. It was assumed in this view that language and interaction reflect gender identities. However, poststructuralist thinking has led to a starkly contrasting view. Discursive psychology follows what Weatherall (2002, p. 75) calls ‘the discursive turn’ in the humanities and social sciences, moving away from earlier essentialist and structuralist approaches to focus on language and discourse as a constitutive or creative forces. In a discursive psychology view:
- identities are produced and negotiated in the ongoing business of social interaction.
- In this view, identities do not have predefined, essential characteristics.
- Rather, identities emerge from the actions of local conversations...
- Thus, identity is not viewed in essentialist terms as something that people ‘are’.
- Rather, identities are progressively and dynamically achieved through the discursive practices that individuals engage in. (Weatherall, 2002, p. 138)
As well as considering its role in shaping identity, discourse is also important in noting the Foucauldian focus on the power effects of discourses - i.e. the effects that various discourses have in society in shaping social and political agendas and even government policy. The types of knowledge discourses produce and institutionalize ‘shape the creation and sustenance of political decisions, policies, social norms, practices and institutions’, Woods (1999) notes.
Constructionist views of gender in particular cite discourse as a central element in the process of creating gender identity. Weatherall (2002, p. 82) states that construction of gender is ‘a product of gender discourses’. Davies (1993) says ‘gender is constituted through the discourses with which we speak and write ourselves into existence’.
within poststructuralist theory, it is possible to see human subjects as not fixedbut constantly in process, being constituted and reconstituted through the discursive practices they have access to in their daily lives. The tensions and instabilities in each person’s subjectivity become visible... through an examination of the discourses and practices through which our subjectivities are constituted. (1993, p. 11)
Mass media as primary sites and propagators of discourse
In modern and postmodern societies, mass media are considered to play a key role in discourse, although precisely what part and effects they have are subjects of some debate and will be reviewed in detail in Chapter 4. Media representations - some call them re-presentations -refer to more than the physical presentation of information to readers, viewers and listeners.
According to the media researchers Newbold etal. (2002, p. 261), media representations refer to ‘the media’s construction of reality... the relationship between the ideological and the real’.
In discussing how identity is produced, Stuart Hall (1990, p. 222) says identity is ‘always constituted within, not outside representation’ -in other words, we cannot escape the representations of our gender and form our gendered identity framed within representations of it. De Lauretis (1987, p. 5) agrees, saying ‘the construction of gender is both the product and the process of its representation’. Saco (1992) makes similar observations.
Representation is defined by various media researchers and feminist writers.
Two examples highlight the key elements pertinent to this study.
Representation refers to the process by which signs and symbols are made to convey certain meanings. Importantly, this term refers to the signs and symbols that claim to stand for, or re-present, some aspect of‘reality’, such as objects, people, groups, places, events, social norms, cultural identities and so on. (Newbold et al., 2002, p. 260)
The feminist writer Judith Butler (1999, p. 3) says there are two meanings or uses of the term ‘representation’ - one denoting an operative or functional process, the other suggesting a normative function:
Representation... serves as the operative term within a political process to extend visibility and legitimacy... on the other hand, representation is the normative function of a language which is said either to reveal or to distort what is assumed to be true.
Mass media and their impact on societies have been studied intensively since the 1920s. In public debate on racism, mass media were cited as ‘a central means of creating, reproducing and sustaining racial ideologies’, Newbold etal. (2002, p. 311) say.
Psychologists, criminologists and others continue to be concerned about such matters as the implications of exposure of children and adults to programmes containing scenes of violence; educationalists are concerned with the potential of the media for education; social anthropologists, who are most foremost among those staking out new questions in audience research, are interested in the ways in which people use, experience, relate to, live around and take meaning from the media. (2002, p. 15)
Many researchers point to the key role and effects of mass media in contemporary societies. Some examples are cited in the following:
• ‘Without communication there can be no such thing as society. How communication is mediated is therefore a matter of singular social importance’ (Beavis, 2002, p. 10).
• ‘Media remain central to most people’s lives... next to sleep and work, our next most time-consuming activity is attending to media’ (Barr, 2000, p. 16).
• ‘Today, popular media are obviously primary channels for the dissemination of prevailing discourses... The news and factual media inform us about the findings of lifestyle research and actual social change... Information and ideas from the media do not merely reflect the social world, then, but contribute to its shape, and are central to modern reflexivity’ (Gauntlett, 2002, p. 98). Media are key to ‘propagating modern lifestyles which are templates for narratives of the self (Gauntlett, 2002, p. 103).
• ‘In a contemporary society, the media are probably the most important producers of meaning, when they make claims about the way the world is, they become powerful ideological institutions’ (Grossberg etal., 1998, p. 182).
• Specifically in relation to identity, Grossberg etal. say: ‘The media’s ability to produce people’s social identities, in terms of both a sense of unity and difference [is] their most powerful and important effect’ (1998, p. 206).
• Baudrillard claims that mass media generate what he calls ‘hyper-reality’ which dominates people’s primary consciousness. He says
that in postmodern societies much of what audiences experience is defined for them by mass media and what is ‘real life’ is indistinguishable from its ‘simulation... some fictional simulacrum of the real conjured up by the media’ (Windschuttle, 1998; 2000).
• Gauntlet (2002) comments further: ‘with the decline of traditions inherent in modernism and postmodernism, identities in general - including gender and sexual identities - have become more diverse and malleable... mass media suggest lifestyles, forms of self-presentation, and ways to find happiness (which may or may not be illusory)... individuals construct a narrative of the self which gives some order to our complex lives. This narrative will also be influenced by perspectives which we have adopted from the media. Our relationships with our bodies, our sexual partners, and our own emotional needs, will all also be influenced by media representations’ (Gaunt-lett, 2002, p. 113).
It is sometimes claimed that mass media content is ‘simply entertainment’ and that, by implication, socially significant meanings cannot be read from it and significant effects on individuals or society are unlikely. However, Marxists, feminists and social researchers argue and present considerable evidence that media content is never ‘just entertainment’, that it is never politically or ideologically ‘innocent’; rather mass media send ‘messages’ to viewers about the way things are, can be or should be (Nathanson and Young, 2001, p. 189). Nathanson and Young conclude: ‘The [mass media] productions... cannot be dismissed by anyone with moral and intellectual integrity as ‘nothing more than entertainment’ (2001, p. 136). And further: ‘there is nothing trivial about popular culture. It is the folklore, the conventional wisdom, of an urban, industrial society’ (2001, p. 81).
Lull (2000, p. 171) cites empirical studies conducted by two American communication researchers which ‘show that it certainly does matter what people see at the movies and watch on television and that people do not, perhaps cannot, maintain much distance from their mediated communicative interactions’.
Feminists have extensively cited the role of mass media representations in shaping gender identity in relation to women. For example:
• Weatherall, in her studies of gender in language and discourse, concludes: ‘A context where sexist discourse is rife is in linguistic representations of women in the media’ (2002, p. 76).
• Tuchman examined portrayals of women in mass media and concluded that women are ‘symbolically annihilated by the media through absence, condemnation or trivialisation’ (1978, pp. 3-17).
• Humm, in Feminism and Film, begins with the assertion: ‘Film... often and anxiously envisions women stereotypically as “good” mothers or “bad” hysterical careerists... today, every Hollywood woman is someone else’s Other’ (1997, p. 3).
• Seger (2004) reports from her studies of women in film and television in the 1970s that ‘many women featured in movies and TV programs were usually flat, shadowy figures, someone’s wife or girlfriend. Or they were stock figures of fun: the mother-in-law, the kid sister, the old maid... most of the images of women are not just restricted, but negative’.
• Nathanson and Young observe: ‘Feminists have long pointed out that the way women are represented in movies or on television can have profound effects on the way men see women in real life and - even more important - on the way women see themselves in real life’ (2001, p. 18). They also comment: ‘Feminists... have made popular culture one of the chief battlegrounds in their struggle for women’ (2001, p. 244).
• Newbold etal. report from their studies of mass media: ‘From very early on, feminist analysis attempts to uncover the constructed messages behind the representations of women in the media, attributing to these images a crucial role in the perception of real-life women and thus the maintaining of a social status quo’ (2002, p. 269). They also comment that ‘hegemonic discourses on women have been reinforced by mass media as a prime instrument’ (2002, p. 85).
Feminist concern with the mass media continues in the so-called Third Wave of feminism. Baumgardner and Richards (2000, p. 93), in reviewing modern feminism, comment: ‘It’s clear that women get a bum deal in the mainstream media’, and argue that this affects women’s identity and position in societies.
A number of researchers contend that the role and effects of the mass media are increasing. According to Chaney (1994, p. 58), ‘traditionally, social institutions such as family and religion have been seen as the primary media of [cultural] continuity. More recently... the role of ensuring continuity has increasingly been taken over by... forms of communication and entertainment’. Beck (2002, p. 26) says that in modern societies ‘inherited recipes for living and role stereotypes fail to function... we have to make our own patterns of being and... it seems clear that the media plays an important role here’. Gauntlett (2002, p. 1) states in the introduction to Media, Gender and Identity: ‘Media and communications are a central element of modern life, whilst gender and sexuality remain at the core of how we think about our identities. With the media containing so many images of women and men, and messages about men, women and sexuality today, it is highly unlikely that these ideas would have no impact on our own sense of identity’.
As well as representing female gender identity in various ways, mass media also extensively represent men and male identity. Connell (2000, p. 151) notes that ‘mass media are crammed with representations of masculinities - from rock music, beer commercials, sitcoms, action movies and war films to news programs - which circulate on a vast scale’. Schirato and Yell (1999, p. 84), in a discussion of men’s lifestyle magazines, comment: ‘It is interesting to consider how this change in the profile of men’s magazines impacts on discourses of masculine subjectivity. Magazines certainly constitute a significant site within the culture for the discursive production of subjectivity... changes in the market and profile of magazines indicate shifts in the “available discourses” ... for constructing identities’.
Nathanson and Young (2001, p. 295) conclude:
It is true that adults should be able to read books or see movies without feeling threatened enough to fall apart. It is true also, however, that adults should be able to acknowledge the link between their own feelings and the cultural forces that induce them. Women are not merely childish for doing so. And men are not merely childish or (unduly) threatened for doing exactly the same thing.
Study of mass media representations of gender is also important as they provide a window to examine identities in a community and even global sense, rather than only on an individual basis or in small groups as occurs with social research such as ethnographic and other types of in-depth qualitative studies. Feminist writers and researchers have increasingly focused on the global position of women and the gender implications stemming from international trade, politics and the ‘culture industry’. Connell (2000) says ‘we must think about how masculinities are constructed by global forces and how men, in all their diversity, are positioned by global society’ (p. 33). Mass media provide an opportunity to identify some of the global forces and global dimensions of men and masculinities.
‘The growth of global mass media, especially electronic media, is an obvious vector for the globalisation of gender’ (2000, p. 44).
Why more study of gender and mass media?
While there have been numerous studies of mass media representations of gender, as with gender studies generally these have focused predominantly on women. Mass media representations of men and male identities have been comparatively little studied and some research that has been conducted, while valuable, is dated (e.g. Busby, 1975).
Nathanson and Young’s Spreading Misandry: The Teaching of Contempt for Men in Popular Culture was a controversial attempt to examine how men are portrayed in mass media today. The authors comment in their introduction: ‘By the 1980s, the word “gender” was routinely used as a synonym for “women”. To study gender is still, by implication, to study women’ (2001, p. 8).
our society was androcentric until recently (focussed on men), at least to the extent that it focussed on gender - although we do not agree with many feminists on how or why androcentrism came to prevail. But conditions have changed... by the 1990s, androcentrism was increasingly being replaced by gynocentrism in popular culture. (2001, p. 5)
As reflected in the title of their book Nathanson and Young identify misandry - contempt for males - and note in their preface that ‘no systematic study of misandry in popular culture has been produced’ (2001, p. x).
Kimmel (2002) savagely criticizes Nathanson and Young, describing the book as ‘astonishingly selective, simplistic and deeply shallow’ (oxymoron intended) and labelling it a work of ‘their fevered imaginations’. There are limitations to the study of mass media portrayals of men by the two Canadians in relation to sample size and depth of analysis as acknowledged in this text and by the authors themselves, but these do not, as Kimmel suggests, warrant dismissing their text outright. The outraged and emotional tone of Kimmel’s criticism itself departs from academic objectivity and his suggested readings of media texts are themselves questionable.
A number of scholars have cited how dominant groups are often ignored in societies and comment that men fall in this category.
Katz (1995, p. 133) refers to the lack of scholarly attention paid to men and masculinities as consistent with the ‘lack of attention paid to other dominant groups’. Newbold etal. (2002, p. 287) note that this was the case in discussion of race which, for a long time, did not deal with whites and whiteness. Winter and Robert (1980, p. 250) observe that ‘ruling groups are often the last to be scientifically studied, and men appear to be no exception’. An assumption is inherent in many public discourses that allegedly dominant or pre-eminent groups do not have issues worthy of consideration.
Brod (1987, p. 19) makes a telling and highly relevant observation in relation to men and women: ‘While women have been obscured from our vision by being too much in the background, men have been obscured by being too much in the foreground’.
Seidler (1994, p. 113) argues for attention to men and men’s issues saying:
‘While it is crucial for men to recognize what women have been obliged to put up with for years, this should not discount what men have to share about their experience’.
Newbold etal. (2002, p. 287) comment specifically in relation to mass media portrayals of men and male identity: ‘media representations of men and masculinity (or, more precisely, masculinities) should not be perceived as unproblematic... as might have been implied by early feminist writing’.
When men have been studied, often there has been an assumption that feminism provides the only valid framework and approach to study gender, including male gender identity.
In reviewing a number of texts on men and gender, Bankart (2005) notes that ‘the scholarship in these books rests on a number of assumptions that may or may not withstand close scrutiny’. He says: ‘Foremost among these is that academic feminism has identified pretty much all the vital core issues, questions and challenges that confront men and the study of men in the twenty-first century’ 2005, p. 434).
Bankart challenges this view, as does this author.
A further factor supporting the need for more research is that in the limited studies of mass media representations of men and male identity that have been conducted, as in studies of mass media portrayals of women, the focus has been primarily on advertising and entertainment media such as movies and TV drama.
Newbold etal. (2002, p. 272) say:
‘it is worth noting that one of the most widely studied areas of women’s representations has been and still is advertising’.Van Zoonen (1994) comments that advertising has an ‘obsession’ with gender and sexuality - and gender studies seem to have an obsession with advertising.
Gauntlett (2002, p. 77) also questions the preoccupation with advertising in media research: ‘Sometimes it is unclear why gendered messages in advertising are singled out for particular attention by researchers... when TV series take up more of our time and attention than ads’. As noted by the Third Wave feminists Baumgardner and Richards (2000, p. 103): ‘critiquing ads is not critiquing the media but only going after something that is already ‘reader beware’, because it is labelled ‘advertising’. It is the editorial content that needs to be read and analysed with a gender lens, they argue.
In the case of media advertising, its presentation within designated TV programme ‘commercial breaks’ and print media layouts separated from editorial, and production techniques such as voiceover, provide clear signals that the content is not reality reported and photographed. Similarly, with TV and radio comedy and drama, devices such as ‘canned’ laughter and music interspersed within dialogue signal that the presentation is a media product and not reality - although ‘suspension of disbelief can often circumvent these signals.
Conversely, news, current affairs, talk shows and non-fiction articles in newspapers and magazines are presented as if they are ‘real’ and ‘true’. In fact, many programmes and publications in these genre make explicit claims to present the ‘truth’ and reality with slogans such as ‘the one you can trust’ and ‘the way it is’.
Media researchers point out that all media representations are selective, limited or framed, and ‘mediated’ (Grossberg, Wartella and Whitney, 1998; McQueen, 1998; Newbold etal., 2002). Newbold etal. (2002, p. 264) state: ‘news, current affairs programs, documentaries and similar seemingly ‘real’ representations of reality can represent but a version of ‘reality’... news is just as mediated and constructed as any other content...’.
However, as Newbold etal. warn: ‘when it comes to non-fiction programs, like documentaries and news, it is more likely that audiences believe the information they are getting is ‘true’ and are less aware of these programmes being mediated’ (2002, p. 262).
In studying media portrayals of racial minorities, Gilens (1996) notes that ‘because consumers of news look to this source for accurate information and knowledge about the social world, the types of images... that are highlighted are consequential’. However, news and news-related media, which are often consumed uncritically as ‘reality’, have been comparatively little studied in relation to gender and warrant close attention.
A third reason that more study needs to done of mass media portrayals of gender, and men in particular, is that many of the studies, while making valuable contributions to understanding, have been based on small samples and sometimes flawed methodology; as a consequence, their findings are questionable.
Gauntlett (2002, p. 31) refers to ‘reckless abuse of research procedures’ which ‘seems to be acceptable when people are pinning blame on “media effects”’. Details of the weaknesses in some media research, and how they were avoided as far as possible in research reported in this book, are outlined in Chapter 6.
In summary, this book contributes to understanding of how mass media represent men and male identity in contemporary societies in three important ways:
- While numerous studies of the role of mass media representations in discourse on gender and alleged effects have been conducted, most gender-related media research has focused on women. Comparatively few studies have examined the treatment and representations of men in the mass media. There is a gap in gender studies in this regard which this book seeks to help fill. Seidler (1994, p. 112) argues that ‘intellectual issues about the place of men’s studies cannot be settled by saying it is for feminism to set the agenda while it is for men to work out their response’. Limited recent studies that have been conducted, such as research by Nathanson and Young (2001) and Faludi (2000) show that men and masculinity are often presented in highly negative ways in mass media. Given the impact of mass media as discussed in this study, these emergent findings and their possible implications warrant further exploration.
- Some analyses of mass media content, particularly in relation to gender, have been based on small samples and unscientific methodology. Nathanson and Young (2001, p. x) acknowledge in the preface to their study that their method was ‘not scientific’. To draw conclusions that are ‘generalizable, objective and summarizing’, an aim of formal quantitative and qualitative research as opposed to more subjective idiographic investigation, requires a sufficiently large and representative sample and rigorous methodology (Neuendorf, 2002, p. 11). Research reported in this book studied an extensive sample of mass media using research methods designed to achieve a high level of reliability and validity in its conclusions, as well as qualitative methodology for in-depth insights into likely interpretations and meanings.
- Most media content studies that have been conducted in relation to gender have focused on movies, entertainment programmes and advertising. As noted by Newbold etal. (2002) and others, few studies have focused on news, current affairs and other media genre purporting to present ‘facts’ and ‘truth’ such as talk shows and lifestyle magazines and programmes. Research presented here analyses these less studied genre, an important step as a number of researchers suggest that these genre may have a greater impact than obviously mediated content such as films, TV drama, comedy and advertising.