“Negative Portayal” of Men

When it comes to women in entertainment such as movies, books, and of course anime, it will sometimes be said that a work contains a “negative portrayal” of women. The finger of accusation can be pointed at many things, from having women who are too demure and helpless to women who are all too sexually promiscuous (or not promiscuous enough in some cases, a reaction against the idolization if virginity) to women who some would say are just “men with tits.” The specifics and whether or not something truly is a negative portrayal doesn’t matter here so much as the fact that the concept exists.

But what about the other side? What about “negative portrayal” of men? Personally, it’s something I never hear about. Sure, there’s “Shinji is a whiny baby,” or “Keitarou is completely lacking in any real personality,” but rarely do I see “This yaoi is offensive to men,” or “This is not how a man should be portrayed.” Keeping in mind that I’m talking about multiple cultures though primarily the one I live in (America), is this simply a product of a male-dominated society, that no matter the portrayal of a guy it never really leads back to how he stands up to men in the real world? Even my own thinking makes it difficult for me to really bring up any examples, while it would be much easier to do so on topics of race or class. Could it be that when it comes to gender, only one side has some goal to reach with their portrayal in media while the other perhaps already crossed that finishing line millennia ago? Or are there actually negative portrayals of men in entertainment and that finding them is even more difficult due to the way in which we were brought up?

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15 thoughts on ““Negative Portayal” of Men

  1. I think this comes up because

    1) women are objectified more often than men
    2) men are more likely to be able to speak for women than women are able to speak for themselves, representation-wise
    3) since men are more likely to be in power, they get the opportunity to play with losing their power

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  2. Maybe we’re not reading the same blogs, etc, but I have seen instances where there were a few guys complaining that certain representations of men were inaccurate and unfair. Granted, I think this was in relation to yaoi (as you brought up in your post) and how the person thought that yaoi itself didn’t reflect how gay men are… which is another post/comment entirely.

    JP’s points are all true, but I also want to add to the mix that men are still the standard in many facets of life are judged by. Often, the groups that protest about portrayals are those groups which have been oppressed and have experienced prejudice. With average guy, I don’t really feel that oppression is something that they have to go through a lot.

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  3. There are loads of poor portrayals of males — my pet peeve one is all the boys in Harry Potter. Apparently puberty makes all boys into complete jackasses, while girls, uh, don’t change in any way other than physically?

    Yeah… that’s not sexist.

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  4. Any fucking GOOD story is bound to portray everyone negatively because there are bad things to say about everyone. And sure enough, most character cliche are very negative. However, what we have is a matter of ashamedness. Men are portrayed negatively pretty often, but men don’t usually see it as negative. They are unashamed of their portrayal. I’m not saying that women are all ashamed, but those who are create the idea that women are always portrayed negatively, and then people start to look and see this is true and call it sexist when really their ignoring that men are just as unimpressive.

    Really, negative portrayals exist because so many people are just like that. I’m as much a defender of women as the next guy, but I can’t deny that 90% of the women I’ve encountered were fucking idiots as well as as many of the guys. Women just seem to be the ones with a complex about it. But I can’t fault a negative portrayal because it is, well, an HONEST one. Every time I hear ‘not every girl is some useless idiot’ I can’t help but think ‘it’s still a minority.’

    Anyway, though, there ARE things considered negative for men. Most men are homophobes. Gayness in men is pretty much unilaterally bashed amongst them. I’ve yet to hear of a gay character who was popular with a male fanbase.

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  5. “Negative portrayal” in this context doesn’t mean “this character acts like an ass”. The problem isn’t characters acting realistically bad, it’s characters acting unrealistically in a way that in some way speaks of stereotypes and prejudices related to a larger group.

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  6. I think it’s primarily because the default, “normal” individual in our culture tends to be male (straight white male in Western culture). Therefore bad things about men are rarely generalized out as a representation of the whole group, but bad things about women are. For example, white terrorists like Timothy McVeigh blow up buildings and nobody makes a jump to say that all white people must be terrorists but Muslim terrorists get all brown people searched at airports by default, or a man flunking out of military academy is just another dropout but a woman flunking out of military academy is proof that girls just can’t hack it.

    There certainly are negative portrayals of men in a larger, stereotypical sense. Sexism is a pervasive social system and no one is immune. But in terms of total social power there is still an imbalance in the favor of men. So for instance, while there are numerous male characters portrayed negatively (and many men who act badly in real life) the *overall trend* is that men have a wide variety of portrayals and there are tons of positive counterpoints to negatives. Whereas women and non-whites–or non-Japanese in the case of anime–may be less represented to begin with and tend to have a much larger percentage of negative, specifically stereotypical roles.

    I think it’s worth pointing out though that negative portrayals of men might not be *stereotypical* negative portrayals, but merely representations of flawed human characters. This is a distinction that some people miss; is a guy portrayed as stupid or weak because his personality is that way, or because he’s a man and therefore intrinsically wired that way? The second option probably occurs much less than it does for women, particularly where some negative characteristics like weakness are concerned.

    But yes, sexism does cut both ways even if people don’t notice it, possibly because those tropes are often used to excuse bad behavior by men. The entire post-feminist backlash rise of raunch/fratboy/douchebag “culture” as epitomized by magazines like Maxim or TV channels like Spike TV is one gigantic string of sexist ideas about men as well as women. Men are intrinsically immature, men are incapable of having good communication skills or healthy emotional interaction, men are big dumb animals who can’t control themselves, men always think with their penises (a favorite of rape apologists along with the lack of self-control).

    Actually one of the hardest things about feminist and gender critique is convincing men that it’s at all relevant to them. Guys have the luxury of largely not thinking about gender (like white people like me have the luxury of just not thinking about race) and it’s much trickier to actually convince them that these sorts of attitudes are demeaning to them. Especially when those demeaning ideas can be used to get them what they want.

    All of this, naturally, is incredibly complicated by the fact that we know very little about what is biologically determined about gender and what is developed and transmitted through culture. There are a lot of scientific studies, some good and some junk that is too hasty to ascribe causation to mere correlation; sometimes we just can’t tell what brain wiring is genetically pre-mapped and what develops over time in response to environment (both do happen). Comparative anthropology, biology and psychology tell us a lot, but it’s far from complete.

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  7. When it comes to gender (and racial) relations, I’ve noticed some rather odd things. For instance, as a white male, if I hold the door open for a woman, am I:
    a) being a chivalrous man
    b) insulting the woman by implying that she’s too weak to open the door for herself
    c) treating the woman with the same deference and respect I’d afford any human being, as I’d hold the door open for a man just the same

    The answer is (d) all of the above, it seems, because it would seem to be largely the personality of the person who I am holding the door open for that would determine what they thought of my act, despite that my perception is (c).

    In a (somewhat) similar way, the representation of gender and race in the media is seemingly just as downright open-ended. For instance, depending on the person, Sex and the City can be seen as a liberating or oppressive image of women. Modern knitting hobbyists, too, are “reclaiming” the “domestic art” of knitting for the empowered female, giving rise to knitting books with titles like domiKNITrix and Stitch&Bitch, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee titles herself “The Yarn Harlot”; yet others balk at them and say they are simply glamorizing and sexualizing domesticity. One person’s liberating, progressive image is frequently someone else’s restrictive, demeaning portrayal.

    As a male, though, I can tell you that I take offense at the notion that men are dull, diminutive klutzes who only think about sex, beer, and sports (in that order); the notion that men will always be jerks to women unless a woman “tames” him; the notion that men have to be emotionless, callous action heroes; the notion that a man needs to be a caring, sensitive individual and devote all his energy towards ensuring his female significant other’s personal happiness. The same societal structure that forces women to feel they need to conform to a normalized ideal they don’t agree with forces men to feel they need to conform to a normalized ideal they might not agree with. Both are equally bad…and both seem to be expressed in vastly different ways in fiction and in reality.

    I don’t pretend to have the solution (or even the problem, honestly), but I can only offer this observation: if you insult a broad societal “group” (gender, race, religion, hobby, literary taste, musical taste, etc.) that your audience perceives themselves as belonging or related to, they are going to be understandably upset, whether or not they fit your broad insulting stereotype–and whether or not you think they fit your broad insulting stereotype.

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  8. A lot of good discussion so far. Not much to add but I guess I will throw in my 2 cents.

    1. What triggers someone being a sexist or racist character differs with every person as most people have either stated or implied. I generally feel that bad charters or characters we don’t like are going to more likely to be called out as being offensive characters. If you don’t like a character you will usually find every reason why you don’t like them. Most people will gloss over things that are more offensive about characters they like. This is not always the case. I recently wrote about Kagura from Gintama. While she was my favorite character from the series in what little I saw she is also obviously a character that makes fun of the Chinese.

    2. People are usually much more tolerant of making fun of anyone in a position of power. If I make fun of a celebrity or a politician most people don’t care because they have more power than the normal person unless I get downright nasty. Even then I will definitely have a good deal of supporters. If I said the same thing about about some random person we tend to tolerate it less becuase they are less allowed to be a target. Men generally being in more places of power can be made fun without notice becuase we generally don’t feel bad about it.

    Ah well. Such is life. One day hopefully this will be a point of history but until then all you can do is try to be as tolerant as possible and not judge people unfairly yourself.

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  9. The answer is (d) all of the above, it seems, because it would seem to be largely the personality of the person who I am holding the door open for that would determine what they thought of my act, despite that my perception is (c).

    Yep, pretty much. Members of minority groups are individuals just like anyone else, and so they’ll have widely differing opinions about social issues, politics, etc. People talk about feminists as if we’re some sort of monolithic hive-vagina and all think the same things, but actually there’s quite a lot of disagreement among feminists about major issues (for example, porn).

    It also depends heavily on their personal experience. The kinds of negative/bigoted attitudes they’ve been exposed to repeatedly are going to create specific “buttons” that they’ll have strong reactions to.

    Of course, the degree that they know you also makes a difference, since it gives them context to evaluate your actions. If they know you hold doors open for anybody, regardless of gender, that’s probably going to make a difference as opposed to if they knew that you’re big into chivalry and traditional gender roles.

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  10. I think Clarissa is totally spot on but it’s also important to remember sometimes people are just horrible human beings and are ungrateful no matter what your motivation. Or sometimes people are just in a bad mood when you do something for them. Human psychology says that in general if we are going to be rude to someone we need some sort of justification for our rudeness. Some people will pick doubting your motivations as their justification. Heck I even do it from time to time.

    The best way to do some selfless act like opening a door for someone else is to always go in expecting no thanks and even outright hostility. You will go in any acts of kindness better that way.

    This also might be my innate paranoia and feeling that no one even cares about anything I do talking as well. Take my worldview with a grain of salt.

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