men, masculinities and gender politics


Society’s message to men: Thou shalt not love. (And you should only care about sex.)

I am a straight guy who likes “chick flicks.” According to the media, I don’t exist.

The media sucks.

(Or, to be grammatically correct, the media – a term that, like data, is actually plural – suck.)

Media messages worse for women. I have many women friends who tell me that after looking at women’s magazines, they start to feel like there is something wrong with them. Suddenly these women feel that they are simply not enough. Not thin enough. Not fit enough. Not buxom enough. Not tan enough. Not Caucasian enough. Not sexy enough. Not cellulite-free enough…


After engaging with media, I too also often feel like there is something wrong with me. But as a man, the negative messages are not often around body image – an area where us straight guys still have a pass (for a while at least). Sure, we have fitness magazines that encourage us to get six-pack abs, but in general the world’s advertisers have yet to find a way to profit off of making us men feel inadequate physically. Our male entitlement probably serves to protect us here – if you make us feel bad about who we are, chances are we will just change the channel or stop reading your magazine. And our patriarchal culture still supports us on this: men are allowed to age gracefully, simply becoming ever more “sophisticated.” And, as Cindy Lee Berryhill once sang, men get to be “sexy with a belly like Jack Nicholson.” (See the antique video here:

But still a pain in the ass. As a straight guy, the negative media messages that I encounter are far less intense and far less poisonous than what my women friends get. But these messages still annoy me. They annoy me on a personal level, and, more than that, they frustrate me on philosophical and political levels. Because the media messages about men promote the vision of a universal heterosexual masculine identity that is limiting, insulting, and false.

So while I do not experience these messages as especially toxic, I still think that they are a pain in the ass. And they make me feel very, very alone. For example: while I do in fact like some typical “guy” stuff (like watching that reality t.v. show about people who drive big trucks across Canada’s ice roads, downing an occasional shot of whiskey, or taking in a gripping action movie) I also really enjoyed the series Sex in the City. And I also like the fruity “chick drinks” they sell in bars. And I also really like romantic comedies. So, according to the mainstream media, for this last set of sins, I simply don’t exist.

Only one way to be a man. An example of the media assertion that there is only one acceptable way of being for us hetero guys is the recent posting on aimed at women that was called “10 Rom-Coms that Won’t Put Your Guy to Sleep.” (For the uninitiated, “Rom-Com” means “romantic comedy.”) You can find the post here: The piece takes the form of a slide show (which I am increasingly convinced has been adopted as an internet format simply because it exposes the viewer to more ads than a regular webpage would have). So there are a lot of pictures and little text. Each rom-com’s movie poster is featured, and then there is a brief synopsis of the plot, a brief message to women (called “for you”), and a brief message about what the men in their lives will like about the film (called “for him”).

Taken together, the slides paint a pretty bleak picture of straight male masculinity.

False Assertion 1: Guys only care about sex.

Movie: “Lars and the Real Girl”

Synopsis: “Adorably delusional Lars treats a blow-up sex doll as his girlfriend.”
For You: “Ryan Gosling. 'Nuff said.”
For Him: “There's a blow-up doll in practically every scene.”

What this says about straight men: that we are supposed to be idiots who are only entertained by seeing a sex doll constantly.

False Assertion 2: Guys only like male comedians.

Movie: “Date Night”

Synopsis: “Bored married couple Phil and Claire Foster decide to mix things up…and end up on the run from criminals.”
For You: “Tina Fey.”
For Him: “Steve Carell.”

What this says about straight men: that we are not supposed to appreciate brilliant female comedians like Tina Fey.

False Assertion 3: Guys only care about sex. (see False Assertion 1) And straight guys can’t appreciate another man’s beauty.

Movie: “Friends with Benefits”Synopsis: “Best friends decide to have emotion-free sex with each other during a dry spell.”
For You: “Justin Timberlake, shirtless.”
For Him: “A plotline that revolves around sex.”

What this says about straight men: that we are only supposed to want sex. And as heterosexuals, we are not supposed to appreciate the beauty of another man. Hetero women are allowed to appreciate each other’s beauty. But hetero men? No way! Because society mistakenly tells us that for us to admit to appreciating the beauty of another man would mean that we were gay. And we can’t have people thinking we’re gay, now can we?

(Just for the record: there are a lot worse things than having people think you’re gay! Like, for example, having them think that you’re a homophobic jerk!)

False Assertion 4: Guys don’t like compelling love stories.

Movie: “Love and Other Drugs”

Synopsis: “A woman with Parkinson's disease falls in love with a drug rep.”
For You: “A sweet-yet-tragic love story.”
For Him: “Tips on how to up his game, courtesy of Jake Gyllenhaal.”

What this says about straight men: that we aren’t supposed to like sweet-yet-tragic love stories.

False Assertion 5: Guys only care about the tunes, not the story.

Movie: “High Fidelity”

Synopsis: “A record store owner recaps the significant breakups in his life in an attempt to figure out why he's so unlucky in love.”
For You: “The bumbling-yet-cute John Cusack.”
For Him: “An amazing soundtrack.”

What this says about straight men: that we are not supposed to find meaning in a movie about a man who is examining his life. No, we are only supposed to groove on the music that’s being played!

False Assertion 6: Guys only like crass humour and hot chicks.

Movie: “There’s Something About Mary”

Synopsis: “A guy gets a second chance with a girl he was obsessed with in high school.”
For You: “Several guys worshipping one woman.”
For Him: “Total dude jokes…and Cameron Diaz.”

What this says about straight men: that we are still supposed to laugh uproariously at the same sort of crass things that we likely laughed about in middle school. For instance, there is an extensive scene (theme?) in this movie where the Cameron Diaz character thinks that Ben Stiller’s ejaculate is actually hair gel… so she threads it through her hair, which then stands up very stiffly.

Get it? She thinks it’s hair gel, when it’s actually semen!

(Just to clarify: that is supposed to be a very funny joke in the movie.)

False Assertion 7: Heterosexual guys do not like the t.v. show Glee.

Movie: “(500) Days of Summer”

Synopsis: “For more than a year, a guy pursues a girl who says she doesn't believe in love.”
For You: “A Glee-esque musical scene.”
For Him: “Zooey Deschanel.”

What this says about straight men: that we straight guys are not allowed to like the television show Glee. Screw that! Glee is a great show! Oh yeah, and all hetero men are supposed to find Zooey Deschanel attractive – and hetero women aren’t.

False Assertion 8: Guys only like one-liners, and not stories about one’s heart.

Movie: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”

Synopsis: “A self-centred TV star dumps her sweet boyfriend for a rock star.”
For You: “The hopeful story of finding love after a crushing breakup.”
For Him: “Jason Segel's hilarious one-liners.”

What this says about straight men: that us straight guys only have the capacity to appreciate one-liners. And that stories about heartbreak and moving on are not supposed to appeal to us. (This is especially ironic because the movie is all about the man’s process of moving on!)

False Assertion 9: Bros before ho’s.

Movie: “Going the Distance”

Synopsis: “A new couple tries to keep their love going when they live across the country from each other.”
For You: “Tips on how to make an LDR work.”
For Him: “Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, and Justin Long.”

What this says about straight men: that male bonding is supposed to be more important to us than are our relationships with women. Which makes me wonder, if it’s always “bros before ho’s,” then maybe us straight guys should seriously consider marrying our guy friends instead of marrying women. Just sayin’….

False Assertion 10: The number of movies in the article!

The title to this web article is (and I quote): “10 Rom-Coms that Won’t Put Your Guy to Sleep.” But the slideshow only includes 9 slides! 9 movies! Where the hell is the 10th movie? It’s just not there. But perhaps this is yet another sign of the kind of deep thought and careful attention to detail that went into creating this train wreck in the first place.

Maybe that’s why it gets things about us hetero guys so damn wrong – because the author can’t even count to 10