“Men have relatively few role models who are both gentle and competent, not because such men don’t exist but because they are not idealized in our speedy, hypermasculine culture.” Rita M. Gross
There are a few dominant ideals governing our everyday behavior. The dominance of those ideals polices our desires and ability to communicate effectively, therefore creating dissonance in communities and disturbances in societal progression.
Hegemonic masculinity is one of those prevailing ideals. It is a gender theory introduced by Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell and describes a construct that “legitimizes the dominance of men in society and justifies the subordination of women, and other marginalized ways of being a man.” This construct is often reproduced in various media outlets, from films and TV shows to video games and social media accounts. The concept of hegemonic masculinity seeks to define the attributes of a ‘real man’. The effects of this construct are detrimental not only to women but to men as well. Research has found that men who adhere to the norms of hegemonic masculinity have worse mental health and general well-being.
According to Connell, there are four types of masculinity:
1. Hegemonic Masculinity: It is the dominant form of masculinity in our society as well as the most culturally valued. It includes heterosexuality, appeals to whiteness, emotional and physical toughness.
2.Complicit Masculinity: It describes attributes that don’t necessarily fit into the hegemonic model but don’t challenge it and often admire it.
3. Marginalized Masculinity: This margin cannot fit into the hegemonic model because of certain characteristics like race yet still subscribes to norms of hegemonic masculinity like physical strength and aggression.
4. Subordinate Masculinity: It exhibits qualities that oppose the values of hegemonic masculinity, such as physical weakness, sexual orientation or emotional openness.
In order to demonstrate the evasive nature of hegemonic masculinity in new media, I drew a parallel analysis between a video game hero, Kratos, from God of War, and real-life personality Dan Bilzerian.
- God of War is a third-person action-adventure video game loosely based on Greek mythology, where Kratos plays the main protagonist on a mission to avenge his loved ones.
- Dan Bilzerian is an ex-Navy Seal trainee and current venture capitalist. He has been dubbed the ‘King of Instagram’, where he is known for being a professional poker player and possessing an adventurous spirit.
Representation of Character
When we examine images taken from Bilzerian’s public Instagram handle and promotional shots of the video game (GoW), we notice similarities in their physical appearance. The bodies adhere to hegemonic masculinity by exhibiting pronounced muscular strength. The postures and poses of both personas showcase an essence of toughness, alertness, and potential for aggression. The body becomes a physical protector by transforming into a weapon within itself.
This hypermasculine image is then complete via extensions of weaponry. Guns or swords, in this case, symbolize a willingness or need to battle. Research supports that guns are used to uphold hegemonic masculinity. To maintain this ‘tough guy’ persona, the characters are rarely seen in moments of emotional fluidity or vulnerability, as it breaks the ‘real man’ ideal.
Representation of women
In both outlets, most women are objectified and represented as one-dimensional entities. They are often depicted in revealing outfits, stripped of narrative or depth. They are shown as nothing more than interchangeable bodies, existing explicitly for the man’s personal pleasure.
In God of War, Kratos often engages in sexual relations with more than one woman at a time. This idea of having multiple female partners is mirrored in Dan’s account as well. Being surrounded by nearly nude women relates to vitality and ability for sexual conquests, ultimately gaining status along the hierarchy of masculine constructs. The repetitive perpetuation of this imagery reinforces the subordination of women in the hegemonic construct.
The attributes we deduce from both accounts are heterosexuality, objectification of women, emotional and physical toughness. Those attributes fall in line with the hegemonic model and do not conform to any of the other constructs, i.e complicit, marginalized or subordinate.
Bilzerian has an estimated 23.2 million followers on Instagram, while one of the God of War installments has sold more than 4.6 million copies worldwide, making them both very successful media productions. The problem that arises from such success is when the recipients of those images, who are usually, but not exclusively, adolescent boys and young men, cultivate and act out this understanding of masculinity—one which is exaggerated into hyper lengths; one that not only teaches the subordination of women, but coerces young minds to conform to unhealthy gender stereotypes. The reinforcement of the ‘real man’ ideal through those media platforms acts as a mental barrier preventing many from communicating on an emotional level and in healthy ways.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the site administration and/or other contributors to this site.