ABRIDGED TRANSCRIPT : TOUGH GUISE – Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity

unnamedThe following is the edited transcript of a documentary  produced by the Media Education Foundation on the notion of Tough Guise, i.e. Violent, Media and the Crisis in Masculinities. It is produced by Sut Jhally, the Director of the Centre. The main contents of the documentary features an interview by Jackson Katz, an Anti-Violence educator who has worked on the problem of masculinities and violence in American society.
However, because a lot of what he says are very pertinent to Mauritian society as well, a society  at the crossroads of many discourses of  cultures, where we function in a  mould in refusing to address notions of violent masculinities as the very problem which in recent days, months, years has led to an innumerable spate of horrific violence against women, for all these reasons we have chosen to bring you the transcript of the documentary in order to make available the insights here provided so as to help us in this debate about construction of masculinities in Mauritian society, in which no one wants to enter.
The documentary is interspaced with many extracts from films. We will provide only such extracts as are relevant to push forward the argument of Jackson Katz:

This  mask of violent masculinities can take a lot of forms but one that’s really important for us to look at in our culture at the millennium is what I call the Tough Guise. The front that so many men put up that’s based on an extreme notion of masculinity that emphasizes toughness and physical  strength and gaining the respect and admiration of others through violence or the implicit threat of it.
Boys and young men learn early on that being a so-called “real man” means you have to take on the “tough guise,” in other words you have to show the world only certain parts of yourself that the dominant culture has defined as manly. You can find out what those qualities are if you just listen to young men themselves:

— A real man is physical.
— Strong.
— Independent.
— Intimidating.
— Powerful.
— Strong.
— Independent.
— In control.
— Rugged.
— Scares people.
— Powerful.
— Respected.
— Hard.
— A stud.
— Athletic.
— Muscular.
— A real man is tough.
— Tough.
— Tough.

JACKSON KATZ: And just as most young men know what our culture expects of a so called “real man,” they also know very well what you get called if you don’t measure up:

— You get a called a pussy.
— A bitch.
— A fag.
— Queer.
— Soft.
— You’re a little momma’s boy.
— Emotional.
— Girly.
— A wimp.
— Bitch.
— Queer.
— You get called weak.
— Wuss.
— Sissy.
— A fag.
— A fag.
— Fag.
— You’re a fag.

For boys, and this is true for every racial and ethnic background, and every socioeconomic group, to be a real man – to be tough, strong, independent, respected– means fitting into this narrow box that defines manhood. The terms that are the opposite of that: wuss, wimp, fag, sissy are insults that are used to keep boys boxed in, so if you’re a boy it’s pretty clear there’s a lot of pressure on you to conform, to put up the act, to be just one of the guys.
So the next question is, where do boys learn this? Obviously they learn it in many different places. They learn it from their families, their community, but one of the most important places they learn it is the powerful and pervasive media system, which provides a steady stream of images that define manhood as connected with dominance, power and control.
This is true across all racial and ethnic groups but it’s even more pronounced for men of
color because there’s so little diversity of images for them, to begin with – for example,
Latino men are almost always presented either as boxers, criminals, or tough guys in the barrio, and Asian-American men are disproportionately portrayed as martial artists and violent criminals.
But transcending race, what the media do is help to construct violent masculinity as a
cultural norm. In other words, violence isn’t so much a deviation, as it is an accepted part of masculinity. We have to start examining this system, and offering alternatives because one of the major consequences of all of this, is that there’s been a growing connection made in our society between being a man and being violent. In fact, some of the most serious problems in contemporary American society, especially those connected with violence, can be looked at as essentially problems in contemporary American masculinity.
For example, over 85% of the people who commit murder, are men, and the women that do, often do so as defense against men who are battering them. Ninety percent of people who commit violent physical assault are men. Ninety-five percent of serious domestic violence is perpetrated by males, and its been estimated that one in four men will use violence against a partner in their lifetime. Over 95% of dating violence is committed by men, and very often it’s young men in their teens. Studies have found that men are responsible for between 85% and 95% of child sexual abuse whether the victim is female or male. And 99.8% of people in prison convicted of rape, are men.
What this shows is that an awful lot of boys and men are inflicting an incredible level of pain and suffering, both on themselves and on others. And we know that much of the violence is cyclical, that many boys who are abused as children grow up and become  perpetrators themselves. So calling attention to the way that masculinity is connected to these problems is not anti-male – it’s just being honest about what’s going on in boys’ and men’s lives. And while women have been at the forefront of change and trying to talk about these issues in the culture, it’s not just women who will benefit if men’s lives are transformed. In fact, while men commit a shameful level of violence against women in our society, statistically speaking, the major victims of men’s violence are other males. There are millions of male trauma survivors walking around today, men who were bullied as adolescents, or abused physically or sexually as children. Thousands more men and boys are murdered or assaulted every year – usually by other men. So, men have a stake in dealing with these problems, and not just those of us who have been victims, but also those men who are violent, or who have taken on the tough guise, they do so also at the expense of their emotional and relational lives.
I deal with this front all the time in my own work as an anti-violence educator. I’ve worked with literally thousands of boys and men on high school, college, and professional sports teams, in the United States military, in juvenile detention centers. I’ve seen an awful lot of men and young men put on this tough guise. In many ways, they’re putting it on as a survival mechanism – they have to do it to survive in whatever peer culture they happen to be in. But putting on the tough guise comes with a cost and that is a cost in terms of damage to their psyches and their ability to be decent human beings. So it’s in everyone’s interest to examine masculinity, to pull back the curtain on the tough guy posing, and see what’s really going on underneath.

If you move to the 1960s with Sean Connery as 007 the gun gets bigger, right, then if you move into the 1970s with Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry for example the pose gets more menacing and the gun gets bigger. And if you move into the early eighties you have Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, not only is he  holding big guns and presenting himself as really tough, his body is now a spectacle, his body is not one of the sites of his projection of power. The epitome of this historical progression is Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator, so its not just that his holding a
big gun or has a big body but rather his whole body is literally a killing machine. There has been a ratcheting up of what it takes to be considered menacing and hyper masculine in the 1980s and nineties.
Anyone who’s worked with poor and working class boys over the past generation has seen this cool pose, this tough guise, over and over. Now one of the really interesting things that’s happened in the last decade, largely as a result of the popularity of rap and hip-hop music, is that this urban black street style has made its way into the mainstream culture, especially through places like MTV, and as that’s happened these images of the cool pose, the tough guise, have become glamorized and idealized so that at the present time one of the most powerful images of manhood that young men of all races and of all classes are looking to as an ideal or a model to emulate is the glamorized image of the hyper violent black male body and this urban street style.
Many people have commented on what seems to be a strange phenomena of white
suburban middle class kids “acting black” — but that shouldn’t surprise us at all if we
understand that there’s nothing natural or inherent about masculinity, that it’s largely about playing a role defined by broader structures. So that even if the lives of middle class white boys don’t reflect the inner city conditions out of which the black cool pose arose as a response, they live in a culture that tells them that being a real man means taking on this black urban hard guy pose.
What this phenomenon of posing shows us is that an important part of masculinity is the very performance of it and that these white kids are learning this from the pop culture images they’re exposed to every day of their lives. But we can take this back one vstep and ask if masculinity is a pose, where did urban blacks get the inspiration for their own performance? Of course people borrow from many places: their communities, their family histories, popular culture and many other places. And as the writer Nathan McCall has said, he and some of his African American male cohorts got some of their ideas of manhood from gangster films like The Godfather and other films that featured tough, ruthless, white Italian gangsters.
So we have this interesting phenomenon where we have white middle
class males emulating poor urban black males who in turn are getting part of their idea about manhood from gangster films featuring white Italian men.
This is a really clear illustration of this idea that masculinity is a pose, a performance. And its not just rap and hip-hop music and style that offers this story, but the culture in general that tells boys that you become real men through power and control, that respect is linked to physical strength and the threat of violence and the ability to scare people. We have to ask ourselves what is the effect on the society in general of training boys to become men in this really narrow and destructive way?

The question that really comes out of this is “why are boys behaving in
this way?” “Why is 90% of violence committed by boys and men?” There’s been a lot of
discussion of this recently where people have blamed violent video games, or Hollywood films, or even rock stars like Marylyn Manson. But that’s such a narrow and wrong way to look at this. Sure video games and movies play a role, but they do it within a much largercultural and social context where the constant message is that manhood is connected to power, control and violence. That is, it’s not just in these few places (like video games or movies) but it’s in what passes for normal culture. It is part of the normal training and conditioning and socializing of boys and men. That’s a point that a lot of people don’t want to hear, but if you look at the culture these kids are immersed in, violence is a normal, natural part, not just of the world, but of being masculine or being a male person in the world.
One important part of the culture that teaches boys and men how to be men is the sports culture. Sports is an incredibly important institution, it’s pervasive in our society and young boys and girls learn a whole lot from an early age about life, about teamwork. There’s some positive lessons, certainly that young people playing sports learn from an early age. Some of the ways that the sports culture has grown increasingly aggressive and violent and we see that in hockey fights and baseball fights. We’d be naïve to think that the way grown men act
on the field or off has no impact on how boys learn to think of themselves as men. But its important to remember that what’s being taught in a lot of modern sports is not just violence and aggression, but the even more powerful idea that being a real man in connected with being intimidating and controlling. Just look at what happens when a basketball player does an “in your face” dunk over his opponent, and then rubs it in. The lesson about manhood is clear. You gain respect by disrespecting another person.
The same thing is the essence of professional wrestling, which is incredibly popular among boys and men. Look at the phenomenal growth in the popularity of pro wrestling. People can argue back and forth about whether its sports or just pure theatrics but one point that’s hard to argue with is that what takes place both within the ring and outside of it is a celebration of dominance and the projection of power in a way that links being a man with being abusive and violent.
So boys are being taught over and over again that real manhood is connected to size and strength and muscularity.
I think a lot of violence is as a result of men and boys compensating for
not being big and strong and muscular. So in other words, if you’re a young guy, sixteen or seventeen years old, but you don’t look like Arnold Schwarzenegger and you want people to respect you on a bodily level and your definition of respect involves physical strength and physical respect, what can you do? Well one thing you can do is you can pack a Glock and all of a sudden your friends are backing up from you. All of a sudden you’re a man.
So if we take this broader view of media violence, we can see that significantly reducing violence involves much more than simply stopping young boys from playing violent video games or watching violent movies. Because the messages that link being a man with being violent, controlling and intimidating are everywhere in the culture –
such as sports and wrestling – as well as the more obvious places like video games and
films. If we want to deal seriously with reducing violence, we have to turn away from thinkin about it as kids imitating violence and focus instead on all the different ways that we as a society are constructing violent masculinity as a cultural norm, not as something unusual or unexpected, but as one of the ways that boys become men.

Another aspect of violent masculinity and violence that kids are subject to on a daily basis really, is the really popular genre of films, the Slasher film. One of the things that happens in Slasher films typically, the violence is not just violent it’s also sexualized violence. So you often have scenes for example of girls undressing or taking a shower or wearing sexy low cut dresses, sometimes even removing clothing at opportune moments, or being positioned in sexually provocative camera angles, deliberately designed to sexually arouse straight boys, and at the moment when the boys are aroused is when the girls are assaulted.
So what’s happening is that boys are being sexually charged and turned on and then the murder takes place. So the sexualization of violence might be one of the areas we need to look at, when we talk about why are so many boys and men sexually assaulting girls and women. Because the rates of rape and sexual abuse and sexual assault perpetrated by men against girls and women as well as against boys, are just out of sight in our society.
Even though crime rates in general have been coming down in recent years, the rape rate hasn’t, the sexual abuse rate hasn’t. We have to ask ourselves why not?
This normalization of sexual violence is the essence for example of a lot of pornography, which plays a really important role in male culture. Most of the critical discussion about pornography focuses rightly on the objectification and degradation of women, but because the massive pornography industry is overwhelmingly controlled by men, and the vast majority of consumers are men, we should also look at it for what it tells us about masculinity. And if we did, we’d see that the flip side of submissive femininity is a masculinity that is defined by power, control, dominance and sometimes violence.

There is more to masculinity of course than just violence. Boys are also being taught, by the popular culture, that a real man is not only strong physically, but emotionally as well and that “real men” don’t need other people, that they should make it on their own. This ideal is represented in popular culture by characters like John Wayne, and in
the modern era by someone like Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. But perhaps no figure better tells this story of the Rugged Individualist than the Marlboro Man.
[TV ad: Marlboro] Morning is forty miles behind you and tomorrow is forty miles up ahead.
This is Marlboro country.
The Marlboro Man is the most common advertising symbol in the world.
The Marlboro Man embodies the idea of a real man as a quiet, stoic, rugged individual who doesn’t do much talking or relating to other people. The message of the Marlboro Man is clear: interdependence, connection, and relationships are forms of weakness; that stuff’s for women. A real man makes it on his own, and if he doesn’t make it, it’s his own fault.
The rugged individualist ideal that men are being taught to live up to has enormous
emotional and psychological costs because we are not rocks unto ourselves. We are in
relation to other human beings.
[Movie: The Godfather] You can act like a man! What’s the matter with you? Is this how
you turned out? A Hollywood finocchio that cries like a woman? (Mocking) What could I do?
If at any given time young men forget that part of being a man means being invulnerable, not acknowledging weakness, it seems like there’s always an adult man
there to tell them how to act. You see this in Little League coaches screaming at kids, or
young football players who want to cry cause they got hurt, being told that “big boys don’t cry.” Young boys learn this from an early age. In the film Varsity Blues there’s a scene that’s been played out in thousands of locker rooms around the country, where a coach tells his players that showing pain or suffering is weak.
[Movie: Varsity Blues]
Pretty good running the ball, Wendell. Really not bad, boy. How are you feeling?
— Dog tired. It’s my knee.
Never show weakness. Never show weakness. The only pain that matters is the pain you

This idea that “I am invulnerable” or that manhood means reckless disregard for personal health and safety, is often behind the kind of risky behaviors that boys
and men take on as a way of proving their toughness. For example, look at the phenomenon of binge drinking that many young males in college and high school engage in because they think that’s what real men do. While we know that many girls and young women have serious alcohol and drug problems, and that these are often linked to their gender in both obvious and complex ways, boys far outnumber girls in suffering from serious alcohol problems, at least in part because popular culture often glamorizes men’s use of alcohol.
[TV beer ad] This is not gonna be your run of the mill, laundry doing, pizza eating kind of night. I will not be exercising tonight. Or philosophizing. Or organizing. What I am gonna do is look for women who look like trouble, and I’m going to flirt with them heavily. Because tonight, I’m not just drinking beer, I’m gulping life.
Or take driving accidents – again males far outnumber females in terms
of reckless driving incidents and we have to ask ourselves why that is. What’s going in the broader cultural environment that suggests that driving recklessly and dangerously is cool and manly? The notion of invulnerability gets a lot of young men killed. There’s a lot of young men in graves and a lot of mourning families because young boys and young men have bought into this idea of manliness and not backing down and all this kind of stuff.
The unhealthy and risk-taking behaviors of young males, the damage they are doing to themselves, to others and to society, has led many people to label masculinity itself as a public health problem. One way of dealing with this is to intervene in the cultural environment that connects masculinity with invulnerability, we have to show that vulnerability, compassion and caring are also part of what it means to become a real man.
Many men today are searching for new, healthier, self-respecting ways of being men in a rapidly changing world. We need to hear their stories too, and learn from them. In different ways all of us have to struggle for real cultural and structural changes in the society if we want our sons and their sons to have a chance of being “better men.”
The full documentary can be accessed at:

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