While much of the entertainment industry focuses on the accomplishments and character developments of men, few have paid attention to the ways in which masculinities negatively affect men, women, and society. However, over the past few months, films such as "American Male" and Goat have emphasized the dangers of patriarchal expectations. Both productions focus on similar subjects: young, hyper-masculine white men who hold positions of power in society. Sociologist Dr. Michael Kimmel believes that when analyzing masculinity, we must first consider that there are many different types of masculinity and that hegemonic values are further complicated by race, sexuality, and social standing.
In September of 2016, MTV released the short film "American Male," directed by Michael Rohrbaugh for the Look Different Creator Competition. The film, which spans just over six minutes, features a male protagonist who discusses various gender roles and exposes the vulnerability that comes with trying to obtain the hegemonic ideal. According to sociologist Raewyn Connell, hegemonic masculinity, which can be defined as your quintessential trope of masculinity, is one of the four distinct types of masculinity, however, all types of masculinity (including subordinate, complicit, and marginal) are striving to reach the top hegemonic level. While many different cultures have a different understanding of what is the “ideal man," generally speaking in the western world, the ideal man is seen as athletic, powerful, tough, dominant, and assertive — oh, and don’t forget white, cis-gender, and heterosexual. We see values of hegemony everywhere, from sports teams to politics, and as "American Male" illustrates: the college campus.
Not long after MTV debuted "American Male," Paramount Pictures delivered audiences the feature film Goat, which stars Nick Jonas and James Franco. The movie is based on the memoir of the same name by Brad Land, who attended Clemson University during the 1990s and pledged the Kappa Sigma fraternity. It also borrows from the 2014 murder case of Tucker Hipps, who pledged the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at Clemson. Both "American Male" and Goat focus in on masculinity through the lens of college fraternity men — exposing the pitfalls that come with entering an arena that thrives on intimidation, domination, and humiliation. They take viewers through the lives of men who give up their pride, dignity, and morality in order to be valued within a hyper-masculine setting — however, it is important to recognize that not everyone that is affected by “toxic” masculinity belongs to a fraternity.
Although the entertainment industry and the media have presented masculinity as a problem that primarily stems from white men in positions of power, it is important to recognize that the damages of masculinity can affect all men in a given society. Although we primarily see the ugly side of masculinity through political figures such as Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, Hollywood heavyweights like Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and Chris Brown, and the cases of Brock Turner and Steubenville — we tend to forget that traits of “toxic” masculinity can be seen from men across the board, not simply those who are wealthy and powerful.
Dr. Kimmel is an esteemed sociology professor at Stony Brook University and one of the world’s leading experts on men and masculinities. Kimmel has written several books approaching the importance of masculinity within the field of gender studies, including Angry White Men (2013), The Guy’s Guide to Feminism (2011), Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men (2008), and Manhood in America: A Cultural History (1996). Kimmel has studied different traits of masculinity for years and he believes that the issue of negative masculinity can be boiled down to one trait that has been displayed in men across the board. That’s right, we’re talking about entitlement.
Kimmel has discussed that entitlement is a trait that is ingrained through socialization into men of varying demographics since the beginning of time through his extensive research on masculinities and he believes that it has played a crucial role in many of the sexual assault, domestic violence, and mass shootings cases we encounter on a seemingly daily basis. Kimmel argues that “Men who have very high status believe that they are entitled to do whatever they want and that they will get away with it. And you know what, most of the time they’re right.” From sexual assault instances like the Brock Turner case and Steubenville to the scandals that centered around public figures such as Bill Clinton, Clarence Thomas, and Woody Allen — entitlement played a role in men committing crimes that they thought that they could get away with due to male privilege.
However, Kimmel also makes it clear that as a society we are making a huge mistake by reserving entitlement to men of high status, “As if this weren’t happening in dorms as if this weren’t happening with engineering students, computer science students, and philosophy majors.” In his book, Angry White Men, Kimmel goes into detail about how men of all power levels have acted out because of entitlement, explaining that entitlement manifests itself differently depending on the individual. While we may see entitlement in terms of “locker room talk” and political wrongdoing, entitlement also affects men who live at the bottom of the societal food chain.
Men from all backgrounds are affected by society's image of the “real man,” including those who do not meet "the standard" but who claim to be victims of the strict expectations set onto men and use their entitlement as men to avenge alpha male culture and in some cases, feminism.
Take, for example, Elliot Rodger, or as he was better known, the Isla Vista (Santa Barbara) shooter. In a video published right before he went on a killing rampage near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Rodger explains that he had been victimized by society and that he sought vengeance against the “cruel” social hierarchy that prevented him from having a beautiful girlfriend. “There are so many beautiful girls here, but none of them give me a chance,” states Rodger in the video, going on to explain that didn’t understand “why you girls are so repulsed by me.” He explains that he had done everything he could to seem attractive to women, from dressing in designer clothes to driving an expensive BMW, yet women were not able to appreciate how “sophisticated” and “magnificent” he was. Afterward, he goes on to say that as a twenty-two-year-old virgin, he has experienced a great injustice because he “deserves girls more than all of those slobs...who are somehow able to walk around with beautiful girls.”
Rodger was an individual who, like the characters in "American Male" and Goat, was striving to meet the quintessential ideals of masculinity. In the video he explains that he had “worked hard” by purchasing designer clothing and a designer car to obtain the masculine ideal, however, despite his efforts, he still did not have the attention of women that he believed that he was entitled to, therefore he took his frustration out on innocent civilians through a horrific mass shooting. It’s important to recognize that the values of masculinity we see through the "alpha males," those who emulate the totems of masculinity, are present among all men regardless of race, class, or social status — therefore, in order to address these issues with masculinity, we must acknowledge that entitlement and aspects of the toxic masculine identity affect all men.
To wrap things up, it is important for us as feminists to recognize the effects that toxic masculinity and entitlement have on men as a whole. We are not just talking about the fraternity brothers or the Donald Trumps of the world when it comes to the damaging effects of toxic masculinity. Entitlement trickles down the hierarchy and affects men of all types within our society, and feminism is a great way to teach men about privilege, entitlement, and how they can benefit from standing up to the harmful expectations of masculinity that our society puts onto men. Feminists have been striving for years to change the image of women and to alleviate some of the harmful expectations that society puts onto women — why can’t men do the same for themselves? As Michael Kimmel once said, “Feminism expects a man to be ethical, emotionally present, and accountable to his values in his actions with women — as well as with other men.” It is about time that men take a turn standing up to the patriarchy.
Photos Courtesy of MTV, Paramount Pictures, Daily News, Michael Kimmel, Who Needs Feminism?
Top photo: Goat
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