Media messages about bodies & violence

It is clear from the research that the media present powerful messages about ideal body types for men and women, and that such messages can shape our attitudes and behaviors. But images of ideal bodies also carry meanings about the kinds of roles and traits that are desirable for men and women. There is a growing awareness of the ways media representations of masculinity and femininity contribute to patterns of violence in the United States today.

Jackson Katz, in his films Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis of Masculinity(2000) and Wrestling with Manhood: Boys, Bullying and Battering (2002) and his book The Macho Paradox (2006), argues that the mass media in the US construct violent masculinity as the norm. Through exposure to the media, he suggests, boys learn that “real” men are physically dominant, tough, aggressive, and willing to use violence to achieve their goals. He notes that violence is one of the nation’s most serious epidemics, and most of that violence is committed by men. 85% of murders are committed by men; 90% of physical assaults, 95% of domestic assaults, and 99% of rapes are committed by men. And, he reminds us that pointing out such statistics is not anti-male. After all, most victims of male violence—76% of victims—are other men. So trying to break the association between masculinity and violence promises to benefit both men and women.

Media depictions of large, heavily muscled male bodies emphasize male power and dominance. Although little systematic research has been conducted to test the effect of such media representations on the body image and health practices of boys and men, based on similar studies among women, we would expect an increasing number of men to suffer from body image disturbances (such as the “muscle dysmorphia” described in The Adonis Complex), along with disordered eating and extreme exercise regimens and even steroid abuse to achieve masculine body ideals.