The Bro Code: Media, Masculinity & Misogynistic Misfires

Sept. 29, 2011 Last night, watching a tender adolescent scene from a new TV series, my teen narrowed her eyes to a cynical squint, “So, is he setting her up?” 

A natural sift and sort, if it weren’t part of an ongoing pattern of mistrust and reticence I’ve noted working with teen girls and millennial young women lately.

It zinged me to the core. Not just because of the powerful emotional armor revealed (and no doubt shaped on screen and off by similar characters) but because girls seem to to  almost ‘expect’ boys to be a louse these days, pleasantly surprised when the converse is true. “What does he want from me?” was the most common refrain among 20-somethings at a recent networking event.

It makes me wonder if there’s toxic ‘social norming’ setting in, with dysfunctional “predator and prey” depictions lobbing unhealthy sidewinders into our societal mix that foul up the works for both genders.

After all, when a culture commodifies human beings repeatedly and pummels self-worth in “gender wars,” there are bound to be outcomes that land with a psychic thud and leak into mind mapping as preconceived stereotypes. Despite amazingly positive change agents like anti-sexist social critic Jackson Katz and filmmaker Byron Hurt’s HipHop, Beyond Beats & Rhymes (more excellent  films on gender at MediaEd.org) or social movements like The Good Men Project or Men Can Stop Rape or XY Online, (Men, Masculinities & Gender  Politics) the billions spent on media and marketing, profiteering from positioning manhood with subhuman subtexts is astonishing.

According to The Bro Code, Thomas Keith’s new documentary film (trailer after the jump via MEF Media Education Foundation) there are some very clear connect the dots moments that boys are not only being cued, but saluted and applauded for portraying sexist, controlling, narrowcast role models of manhood that  seem to have emerged from primordial ooze.

Filmmaker Thomas Keith gives us a show-n-tell glimpse of the mass media and marketing machine lauding ‘permission’ upon males to act like thuggish jerks, cads, and misogynistic monsters, disrespecting women with ramped up, amped up buffoonery ranging from ‘rape jokes,’ to crass, coarse entitlement.

Why do boys feel they have the right to behave this way? Look no further than music videos, movies, ads and a pop culture of pornification, The Bro Code conveys. See for yourself…

(NOTE: CONTAINS VIOLENT & SEXUAL IMAGERY AND PROFANITY)

TRAILER: The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men from Media Education Foundation on Vimeo.

Frankly, if I were a guy I’d be ticked at the media manipulation of Neanderthal positioning…

And if I were a girl I’d be kickin’ up a storm on the pushback front, using the new GirlCaught campaign to lash out, take action, and spark change…

Why should boys be narrowcast into detached, desensitized subhumans with  performance-driven bravado while girls are dehumanized and humiliated in a meat market of media of sexualization?

Is this something we want youth to have to get used to and add to their ‘coping skills’ list of resiliency? For EITHER gender?

HOW did we even GET to this tipping point of toxicity fouling up the sexuality and sensuality of an entire generation with lewd, crude, desensitized,  Snookified humans as disposable objects complete with ‘expiration date’ slang?

Last thing we need is  entrails of youth, gutted of their sweet longing to be desired for who they are,  splattered over the media landscape with stolen childhoods concocted into pressure cooker sexual agendas plowing through every moment of adolescence…

Already boys AND girls both show signs of world-weary stress and identity conflict amidst contrived expectations and landmines buried in the commodification battlefield…

How do girls ‘deal’ with being groped at a public dance, or latched onto for ‘grinding’ necessitating their own skill sets for extrication? (Here’s Jenna Marbles’ anti-grinding video tips that went viral from teen girls saying e-n-o-u-g-h!)  To a parent’s point of view, “unprovoked assault” tumbles off the tongue, whereas today’s youth seem to shrug it off as just a frustrating annoyance of ‘growing up girl’ in today’s environs.

WHY should girls NOT go to a dance because they ‘don’t wanna deal with’ being molested? Nosh on the impact of that.

Gah. It’s no wonder my media literacy refrain “What About the Boys?” is often drowned out by a cacophony of “puhleeeeze” dismissals from forward thinking femmes who can cite chapter and verse the quantifiable harm of hyper-sexualization with girls being “merchandised” as consumable, expendable ‘boy toys.’

My point is that gender stereotypes of any kind (especially guys only out for one thing, girls only good for one thing) do a disservice to humanity in general with societal repercussions yet to come.

As I recently wrote about ‘mean girls, media mythbusting’ (depicted ten times more than girls’ friendships in real life) it’s important to deconstruct ‘what’s real’ in terms of damage too. It’s not JUST the girls and social constructs of our culture. I agree with The Bro Code premise that a plethora of music videos, ads, and real life scenarios are impacting kids from high school hallways to how they choose to walk through the world, but there’s also damage to males at both a granular and societal level too. (see ‘buffed boys and the hottie factor’ to see a snapshot of sexualization’s harm to guys’ sense of self as well)  

What I’m MORE interested in is the ‘what are we gonna do about it’ solutions-based thinking to this Molotov media cocktail.

When we serve up imagery in surround sound depicting males as either a macho stereotyped blend of testosterone-laden party hearty frat boys or ‘couldn’t help myself’ infantilized, emotionally stunted babies who love their toys and gizmos, (see Packaging Boyhood.com series and Shaping Youth’s post about Klondike Bar’s “man cave” which appears to be replicating in a new Ikea Australia “manland” play pen for bored shoppers  per Humane Education’s post below) the mono-dimensional framing seems like one of the most preventable pieces of the puzzle.

Am I right? As I keep saying time and again, there needs to be a “DO NO HARM” clause in worldwide policy and practices…

Otherwise we’re ALL destined to be in a constant battle for hearts and minds in media and marketing…

…Raising kids in a challenging real life board game of “Chutes & Ladders” as this excellent post describes in metaphorical infographic on “Mommyish” about parenting girls.

(I’d love to see a similar graphic for boys, as I’m firmly convinced males out there are getting a bum rap with pack mentality/predatory wolf hunt depictions in “first world” media messages…Worse yet, they can do some alarming damage in developing countries reinforcing stereotypes where violence against females and expendable worth is all too common)

The “what are we going to do about it” portion starts with media literacy and films like The Bro Code, moving on to dialogue, action, policy, and counter-marketing the ‘powers that be’ to create a more humane, balanced world.

See Shaping Youth’s tips at the end for some campaigns you can sink your teeth into RIGHT NOW, like contacting advertisers of fall season sexploitation through Parents Television Council’s Playboy Club campaign marketed under the guise of retro regalia. As well as some related resources to amp up critical thinking when it comes to how we’re “Packaging Boyhood” to the masses. Connect the dots, folks. Meanwhile, here’s Marsha from Humane Education with more about The Bro Code media literacy film…

 

Why We Need Humane Education: Manipulating Masculinity

by Marsha

Recently I came across a couple of great resources that highlight another reason humane education is so important: the messages our culture sends men (especially young men) about what it means to be men.

The first I found on the great blog Marketing, Media and Childhood, which posted the trailer from a new film from the fabulous Media Education Foundation called The Bro Code: How Contemporary Culture Creates Sexist Men.

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.”

The film is divided into four steps:

Step 1 Train men to womanize.
Step 2 Immerse men in porn.
Step 3: Make rape jokes.
Step 4: Obey the masculinity cops.

The Media Education Foundation has several other great films exploring media, culture and masculinity, such as Tough Guise, Hip Hop: Beats and Rhymes, Dreamworlds 3, and Generation M.The other resource is a news story posted on Sociological Images(and other sites) about IKEA’s new “Manland” — a pilot program providing a separate area of the store for men to watch TV, play video and other games, and hang out in manly ways while the women do their shopping thing.

Women are given a buzzer that goes off after 30 minutes to remind them to pick up their men. Manland not only perpetuates stereotypes about men, women, gay couples, and consumers, but insults men and frames them simultaneously as too macho to shop and as so infantalized that they must be constantly distracted and entertained.

The media has picked up on IKEA’s new plan and is happily trying out new labels, calling it a “playpen for men,” “daddy daycare,” a “nursery for men,” and “a holding pen for bored male shoppers.”

Both resources offer important opportunities to explore the messages we send men (and women) about what it means to be masculine — to be a man.

Wow. A tad speechless here.

Before I sign off with resources and tips, I just wanted to add the new research that just came out from Plan International State of the World’s Girls 2011 (6pp pdf summary here) which poignantly speaks to a GLOBAL imperative to not only halt the gender wars and violent abuse, neglect, enslaved sex trafficking of females but offers an “8-point plan” to redefine manhood through education, legislation, and information debunking stereotypes and creating gender equity at the PRESCHOOL level.

I’m including this not only because I’m a research wonk that thinks ‘macro/global’  rather than just micro/first world, but because it calls upon us all to do our part in cyclebreaking to upend any ‘norming’ being amplified in the media and marketing mix.

As The Bro Code’s film blurb aptly sums:

“…In virtually every corner of our entertainment culture it’s clear: It’s not only normal — but cool — for boys and men to control and humiliate women.

…”By showing how there’s nothing natural or inevitable about this mentality, and by setting it against the terrible reality of men’s violence against women in the real world, The Bro Code challenges young people to step up and fight back against the idea that being a real man means disrespecting women.”


Now it’s your turn.

What will YOU do to champion change? Show the film?

Talk with your son? Partner? Take action with like-minded social media movements?

Read and reflect? Speak, uplift, inspire? Blog, tweet and share?

Counter-market the stereotypes?

Sound off to advertisers?

The choices are yours and the options are endless…

Here are a few  related resources on Shaping Youth to get you started so we can quell this ‘predator/prey’ dynamic and instill critical thinking skills and healthier worldviews for children throughout the planet…

p.s. Update Feb 7, 2012: EXC related article on pop culture’s “bro code” influence by my colleague Audrey Brashich, titled “The Language of Rape Becomes Mainstream” on About-Face.org

Boys/Gender Articles By Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

Predatory Practices As Sport? Boys to Men & Swaggerfests

Man Down? Girl Up, Rihanna. Own Your Influence.

Turning Boys Into Monsters: Energy Drink/A Foul Taste

Attention KMart Shoppers, Dating Violence on Aisle 3

Depravity Gone Viral: A Thin Line For Humanity

What Does A 13-Year Old Boy Know About Dating Violence? Plenty.

Backdraft: DV=Differing Views on Dating/Domestic Violence

Gender, Race & Sexism: Shaping Youth Through Pop Culture Cues

Girls As Boy Toys Takes an Even More Toxic Turn

Packaging Boyhood Authors/Interview: What ABOUT the Boys?

Packaging Boyhood: Corporate Pirates Raid Boys’ Souls

Buffed Boy, Body Image and Tween Scene ‘Hottie’ Factor Girl

GirlCaught! New Moon Girls Slams Sexualization!

Using Media With Mindfulness: Tell SnoopDogg NO to Alcopops!

Dear Media, Please Change Your Channel of Influence

Get Boys to Participate in GirlCaught to Dial Down Disrespect

A Few Related Gender/Research Resources

Marketing Media Violence: CCFC Fact Sheet/pdf

Communities Against Violence Network: (CAVnet)

True Child: Masculinity, Bullying & Aggression

True Child: Fast Facts: Stats on Masculinity, Bullying & Violence

GuyLand: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men

Byron Hurt’s site for his film: Hip-Hop, Beyond Beats & Rhymes

Jackson Katz.com: The Macho Paradox, Tough Guise-Violence, Media & the Crisis of Masculinity & media literacy galore!

U.S.: Mens Anti-Violence Resources/Organizations (Men Can Stop Rape List: Including Athletes for Sexual Responsibility, MVP)

The Good Men Project: Gender & Sexuality Articles

Blogs: AchillesEffect.com  (Deconstructing Male Stereotypes)

 

Comments

  1. Wonderful article, as always! This is exactly why I think media literacy education is vital for both boys and girls. Girls get objectified constantly and boys get consistent messages that their value is linked to being with “hot” girls. They aren’t shown examples of men who are caring, nurturing, and real. Our children deserve better than this and we MUST work to change the garbage that is coming into their lives while also arming them with knowledge and skills to respond to it effectively.

  2. My email to Ikea:

    I just saw a youtube video about “man land”. Is this for real or is it some kind of joke? Is Ikea actually behind something like this?

    I am praying, praying, that this is someone’s–unrelated to Ikea–idea of a joke. This infantalizes men, and supports the stereotype that men are irresponsible and women can’t rely on them, and that household tasks–such as shopping–are divided by gender.

    I’ve always enjoyed shopping at Ikea. Not only do you have reasonable prices and mostly good quality items, I enjoy the little touches that remind me of the values of my Swedish heritage… the family friendly features, the practicality, functionality, and frugality of your selection.

    BUT, between your labor relations issues in Virgina, and now this… this is not the values of Sweden or of your customers.

    We want safe working conditions, a living wage for employees, and respect shown towards both genders equally. I am absolutely disgusted at your company’s recent performance.

    (If you’re wondering about the labor issues I referenced, more info here: http://progressivetoo.com/2011/06/29/ikeas-labor-relations-dilemma/)

  3. I can’t tell which Amy this is (even on the back channel) but must say I echo your sentiments about loving Ikea and usually am standing with them 200%. Even were on my ‘short list’ for potential ‘sponsors I’d consider’ sigh…See why I can’t seem to ever find a ‘safe sponsor’ that supports our mission/goal/ideas? (Last time it was HonestTea, and they sold out to Coke, dangit! Ideas anyone of a squeaky clean corp social responsibility connex to help fund our programs?)

    Anyway, yes, Ikea STILL has the most reasonable/healthy food around and sleek design perfect for collegiate and family affordability so yes, you’re right, I hope they see what may be ‘amusing’ to some at first blush is really a patterned gender stereotyping path and none of us wanna ‘go there’—

    Thanks for the link to the labor issues too, do you have the corp. cadre of media/mktg/pr peeps to circulate this to both in Australia and at the global/int’l level? I’ll post ‘em if you do? (for er..uh…’one stop shopping’ on the actionist front) ;-)

    Appreciate you taking the time to comment. Rare these days in short form microblogging social media! TY!

  4. Haven’t seen the videos yet but I will get to that in a while. I would like to comment first on what you have said because I find it so true. The youth nowadays have somehow established in their subconscious how men are the predators and how women are the prey. I can’t blame them considering how situations like these are becoming so rampant. I do blame the social media which is gradually becoming most influential nowadays. We, the adults, are also to blame since we have not been able to control it early on to prevent this from happening. I have nothing against advancement and technology so long as it does not corrupt innocence and promote stereotyping which eventually causes discord between man and woman. Something must be done about this immediately. I fear that this matter have already taken a turn for the worse.

  5. Darren—Which is why we need to keep talking about it, reframing it, educating the kids, deconstructing the messages, and using media as a ‘show and tell’ device to exemplify! The other film that I use in my work a lot with young males particularly is “HipHop-Beyond Beats & Rhymes” by Byron Hurt…an excellent analysis and social critique to turn this tanker around…Thanks for taking the time to comment…agree with you that it’s an “all inclusive” challenge to come at this from multiple levels.

  6. Jaime Klun says:

    I don’t comment about the articles I read online, but this one is so interesting, I have to say something. It’s very original and different. Your viewpoints are easily understood.

  7. Well thanks, normally I just delete kudos/comments because they’re spam linking to sites or selling something, but I see that you’re not, and you’re ‘real’ not an auto-bot…so thanks. Keeps me goin! ;-)

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