Tough Guys or Tough Guise?

On Monday, January 29, the Women’s and Gender Resource Center, Healthy Masculinities Initiative and Athletics screened Tough Guise II, the 2013 update of Jackson Katz’s acclaimed 1999 Tough Guise. This screening was the first in our 3-film series on Contemporary Masculinities. The other films to be screened are The Empathy Gap (Feb. 19 at 7 pm, Althouse 106) and Guyland (March 20 at 7 pm, Dana 110). Jason Brode, Healthy Masculinities Initiative, is facilitating the post-screening dialogues. We’re grateful to the advocates from the Carlisle YWCA and Domestic Violence Services for being present to provide support to audience members if needed.

Tough Guise II addresses gender norms and cultural constructions of masculinity in contemporary society and, in particular, the glorification of violence as a way to demonstrate masculinity. Katz uses the term “warrior masculinity,” which he uses to distinguish the difference between being a man and using violence to prove you’re a man. The film also discusses the concept of The Man Box. This box contains the appropriate ways to perform masculinity – i.e., don’t show emotions, be tough and aggressive. Any behavior outside of the confines of Man Box comes with consequences. Thus, boys and men “adopt the tough guise” to avoid being shunned, ridiculed, called sexist or homophobic names, or bullied.

Katz shows how boys are socialized into this particular version of masculinity by parents (especially fathers), teachers, peers, and cultural images and representations. Their behavior is influenced by a complex combination of biology and our social environment. It’s not nature versus nuture; it’s both, and the relationship and interaction of the two. Our culture tells men that the best way to respond to changes in society is to reassert notions of traditional masculinity. Men’s violence damages others, but it also harms them. Katz stresses the need to confront the problematic cultural messages about masculinity that are produced, sent, and reinforced. For example, the phrase “boys will be boys” excuses bad behavior and creates men’s violence as inevitable.

In the discussion that followed, Jason noted that the majority of victims are other men. He asked audience members to think about how we could change or challenge dominant notions of masculinity. Audience members talked about deconstructing gender norms and pointed out how many things are gendered unnecessarily – e.g., clothes, toys, greeting cards. How do we model the counterstory, or other versions of masculinity?

After the event, Jason shared his thoughts about working with men to create healthy masculinity:

My goal with this work is to engage men in ways that encourage and inspire them to work within their sphere of influence to create a healthier version of masculinity then our culture currently promotes and often defends.  It is in men’s interest to ally with others and work with historically marginalized people.  It is especially important for those of us in dominant groups to engage in our own personal work and more affectively partner with others to be agents of change.  We can only do this by having the courage to be authentic and open and also by understanding that diversity can be complex. I have found that men are sometimes reluctant to wade in there and embrace that there is ambiguity and turbulence that comes along with this work.  My hope is that by talking about these issues and welcoming open discussion in forums like we had last night that men will have the courage to be more vulnerable, the courage to “not know” and the inspiration to be more active and open in confronting dominant conceptions of masculinity.

Written by Donna M. Bickford, Ph.D., Director, Women’s and Gender Resource Center
February 1, 2018