In an interview earlier this year, actor Chris Pratt stated that to fight the objectification of women in the film industry we must “Not objectify women less, but objectify men just as often as we objectify women.” However, Pratt may have not realized that male characters in film, amongst other public role models, have been objectified for a very long time through the use of masculine gender stereotypes. And there have been no benefits.
From the womb, boys are told what an ideal man is. For example, take the Disney films which use characters such as Hercules that teach boys the strongest and most masculine of them will be able to achieve their dreams, be respected, get the girl, etc. These ideas are reinforced throughout the film industry. In Man of Steel, Superman is told by his surrogate father to conceal his powers which creates an unfortunate parallel with gender and having vulnerable emotions. However when he decides to save Metropolis from his nemesis General Zod, he needlessly smashes him into countless buildings, resulting in the death of hundreds of innocents.
This theme of recklessness continues into The Avengers which is regarded as one of the most popular film series for boys in today’s society. In Age of Ultron, the Hulk and Iron Man have an extensive, city-based battle which has similar results as Man of Steel’s battle. The Avengers can be blamed further for gender stereo types, as Captain America is at first weak and put-upon, but once he is injected with a super serum and becomes stronger and muscular, he starts to become a hero. It’s incredibly demoralising for bullied or less masculine boys, and moreover teaches them that collateral damage is acceptable. More problems within the superhero genre lie with the Dark Knight himself, Batman, who uses fear, intimidation and brutal violence to punish criminals. This is hardly a good message for a predominantly young male audience.
Moving away from the superhero genre, some of the most popular films of recent times have appalling portrayals of male characters and what constitutes success in a man. The Expendables, Taken and 300 are all examples of films with central characters who achieve success through ultraviolent methods, with the latter film featuring a scene in which Leonidas, the lead actor, tells a disabled man that he is unable to serve the Spartan army because of his disability. Once again, the message that masculinity and strength puts you above other men remains strong in addition to being an affront to disabled people.
Additionally one of the longest-running film characters of all time, James Bond, is an aggressive and intensely strong womanizer. His lifestyle has been widely criticized throughout his lifespan, with Judi Dench’s character, M, declaring him “a sexist misogynist dinosaur.” Even Daniel Craig, the actor who plays Bond, labels him misogynistic.
These are all worrying displays of how these negative messages affect male behaviour, particularly young men. A separate problem is the portrayal of men as hapless idiots. At a time when strong female characters such as Katniss and Khaleesi are on the rise, men do not fare so well. Characters such as Joey from Friends and Mr Bean are written as unintelligible and accident-prone, with Peter Griffin and Homer Simpson acting as the stupid foil to a more intelligent female. It’s a stereotype that’s hugely offensive and must stop being reinforced.
After examining the state of male characters I’ve reached the conclusion that no character should be perfect, because people should be taught our flaws are what make us human. But constantly exposing certain characteristics and violent tendencies, and in turn making young people feel like they must act or be a certain way is a problem. I urge Hollywood to make amends by deconstructing the idea of a ‘perfect male’ and teaching men that they can be whoever they want to be.