Hypermasculinity in television: the case of “MANswers”
In a previous post we discussed the policing of gender roles in television advertisements. We then wrote about how recent advertisements police masculinity by implementing rules concerning masculine behavior and what is deemed manly. In those advertisements some of the catch phrases and key words were: “Man Up”, “Stuff Guys Need” and “It’s Not for Women”. Gender role policing is however not only present in advertisements aimed at selling products, but can also be found in television series and programs. One such example is the television program “MANswers” (a word play on men and answers).
“MANswers” has been aired on Spike TV since 2007 and is currently on its fourth season. On Spike’s website it is stated that: “Spike TV answers all of the burning questions men have been dying to ask, but never found socially acceptable in the comedic late-night series, MANswers”. (Spike TV Website, 2012). On “MANswers” Facebook page the aim of the program is explained: “MANswers is a satire aimed at predominately male audiences with a wide age range, primarily 18–40. Questions of a comical nature are asked and answered which usually relate to women and tips on how to get them to date you, sex-related questions and trivia, and defense mechanisms in deadly & harmful situations, and also firearms. Specialists with Masters and PhD degrees are brought in and give information from which the viewer can learn”.
Just like television advertisements, “MANswers” also has its own catch phrase: “Get ready for the toughest, coolest, most bodaciously sexy stories, the ones only real guys care about. They’re MANswers!” A typical “MANswers” episode is approximately 20 minutes in length. Every episode consists of a number of questions such as “How have guys gotten a happy ending at high-class massage parlors?”, “How can you take a bullet out yourself?”, “Where are America’s most kick-ass whore houses?” and “How much is your semen worth”. Every episode devotes a few minutes to answer each question and these are illustrated and acted out by men and women. Diverse ranges of professionals such as biologists, urologists, anthropologists or wild life experts are utilized for their opinions and advice.
Even though the program is constructed as a “satire” the occurrence of gender stereotypes and sexism is not comical for women or men and may have social implications and repercussions.
What “MANswers” implies about men:
What “MANswers” implies about women:
“MANswers” is a rather extreme case in terms of gender stereotyping. At the same time, the views described in “MANswers” must come from somewhere, and are based on gender stereotypes that exist in society. “MANswers” not only encourage certain gender behaviors and expectations, but simultaneously and actively discourage any behavioral side stepping that stray from the expected roles of men and women. This is a complicated and serious issue since the adherence to strict gender roles can negatively affect both women and men.
Here are some of the consequences of the implementation of strict and traditional gender stereotypes:
“MANswers” is only one example of adherence to strict gender roles (often based on and mitigated through the belief in underlying evolutionary differences between men and women that dictate assumptions concerning gender). As noted above, men and women are influenced by stereotypical media depictions of gender. These influences spill over to the way that we act, socialize and view each other. We cannot state for certain just how strong the influences of gender stereotypes in media are and to what extent they change and affect people. But, what we do know is that they affect us in various ways, and that this is true for both children as well as adults. On a daily basis, we are bombarded with messages on how to act, what to eat, what to wear, and how to look, displayed through sassy advertisements, thirty-second commercials, depicted on flashy, huge billboards and in magazines aimed at fulfilling the needs of certain audiences and age groups. As adults, we have the cognitive ability to grapple with the notions of gender stereotypes in a more effective way than most children. At the same time, children are aware and greatly affected by the gendered behavior and gender roles enacted around them. As part of growing up, children quickly learn the ways of gender, especially so through play and the policing of others (McGuffey and Rich, 1999).
What if these media depictions left more room for women and men to take on their daily activities without rules and restrictions, without battling stereotypes and feelings of not fitting in or not living up to standards of hegemonic masculinity and emphasized femininity? Would the way we interact with each other be different? Would we be more accepting and approving of various lifestyles? Would we notice a shift in how we perceive gender roles and how we relate to those who do not fit the predetermined mould of the “right way” to enact gender? Would we do our children justice by letting them be who they want to be without suffering the consequences of teasing and bullying? These are questions to consider as various forms of advertisements and propaganda become even more common and pronounced in our lives.
Hennie Weiss is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Sociology. Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Their interests include feminism, gender stereotypes, the sexualization of women and the portrayal of women and men in media.
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