shadow of muscle man
Image courtesy of pneedham/Flickr.

“Strength is about adapting to change, not about retreating from it and lashing back with violence out of fear. And it’s high time we had a definition of manhood capable of meeting that challenge.” ~ Jackson Katz, anti-violence educator

Look at films, video games, sports, the news, music, ads, politics and pretty much anywhere in U.S. culture, and we often see a very particular definition of what it means to be “a man.” That definition usually involves violence, aggression and power.

As anti-violence educator Jackson Katz says:

“When it comes to violence, it’s almost like there are two Americas. There’s the America that recoils in horror whenever a brutal mass shooting erupts onto our television screens, shocked by the level of destruction and suffering …. And then there’s the America that can’t seem to get enough of violence as a form of entertainment and ritual, a seemingly endless appetite for ever intensifying spectacles of all out brutality and carnage.

The question is what sort of relationship, if any, these two Americas have to one another.

And if we’re serious about answering that question, we need to stop chasing symptoms and take a good look at a truth that’s been hiding in plain sight all along: that when we talk about violence in America, whether it’s real or imaginary, we’re almost always talking about violent masculinity.”

Conversations about the influence of culture on women and girls are beginning to grow, but there’s a frightening lack of discussion about the cultural messages that our society surrounds men and boys with.

Here are three films valuable for launching such a conversation (all come from the Media Education Foundation). Note that they all contain mature content.

1.  The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men (2011, 58 min.)
The film looks at the cultural forces that help shape young men to dehumanize and disrespect women. Filmmaker Thomas Keith dissects a range of media that glamorize and promote sexism, violence against women, and certain very specific definitions of “American manhood.”

2.  Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood & American Culture (2013, 80 min.)
This updated film explores the ongoing and escalating epidemic of men’s violence in America and how it’s “rooted in our inability as a society to move beyond outmoded ideals of manhood.” Using numerous examples from gun violence, violence against women, bullying, video games and other popular culture formats, sports culture, politics and more, anti-violence educator Jackson Katz illuminates a culture “that has normalized violent and regressive forms of masculinity in the face of challenges to traditional male power and authority.”

3.  Hip Hop: Beats and Rhymes (2006, 60 min.)
In his exploration of hip-hop music and culture, Byron Hurt raises questions about several issues, from perceptions of masculinity, to the prevalence of sexism, misogyny and the objectification of women, to the existence of homophobia and homoeroticism in lyrics and images. He also explores the roots of hip-hop and the exploitation and domination of hip-hop by the major music industry, which is primarily controlled by white men.

Films like these offer an important opportunity for exploring an often-ignored issue that globally affects people, animals, and the earth, as well as to hone critical thinking skills and to seek solutions for transforming systems and the ways we think about and interact with boys and young men. They also help empower both young men and women to take more control of what they do with the messages that inundate them about what it means to be a “man” or “woman.”