Monday, February 9, 2009

Does Media Create Unrealistic Expectations of Men?

Over in the Robert Augustus Masters pod at Gaiam, there is an interesting discussion going on about the unrealistic standards being set for men in contemporary media. Women have been facing this for years, so I guess it's our turn.

The discussion started with an article about the recent movie, Twilight, which I suspect few men have actually seen.
To be Edward
Does Twilight set an unreasonable standard for men?
By Ted Cox

As much as it pains me, I admit I have seen the Twilight movie. [view trailer] In my defense, I didn’t want to see it, but my four younger teenage sisters were bugging me to go for family bonding time (that, and I was still in trouble for picking Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for the last family-movie outing).

In case you have been living in a hole for the past months, Twilight is based [on] author Stephenie Meyer’s novel of the same name. The story follows Bella, a clumsy, unpopular teenage girl who tries to manage an awkward relationship with her mustachioed father while she adjusts to life in a new town. Soon after starting at her new high school, Bella falls madly in love with Edward, a vampire who has been undead for “a while.” (The poor guy. Life must get pretty monotonous after a few hundred years.)

My sisters, like so many teenage girls, went gaga whenever the hunky, pasty Edward and his male-model coif appeared on-screen. Edward is inhumanly gorgeous, inhumanly strong, holds several medical degrees, plays concert piano, drives a shiny car, is filthy rich and, most importantly, is instantly and uncontrollably attracted to Bella.

It’s not hard to see why Twilight has become so popular. The story probably resonates with young women who feel they aren’t particularly pretty, smart, talented or loveable. Twilight is the movie version of a common teenage fantasy: The hot, rich guy falls madly in love with the unpopular klutz.

I guess that means Twilight is pornography for young women. While porn for men takes normal, everyday guys and pairs them with idealized women, Twilight flips the formula around: Bella is the everyday teenage girl who ends up with the idealized man.

When women are idealized in the media, it’s called sexism, objectification or misogyny. But when men are idealized, it’s called a blockbuster. One blogger at cried foul over Bella needing a man to fulfill her life. The same writer didn’t mention anything about the story holding men up to impossible standards.

Science is only recently exploring how films negatively impact the perceptions of women. Last month, scientists at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, released a study suggesting that romantic comedies can “spoil your love life.” Fans of movies like You’ve Got Mail and Runaway Bride were more likely to believe in unhealthy ideas like predestined love, fate and destiny, and that it’s not necessary for partners to verbally express love for each other.

It seems that just as pornography can fill men with unrealistic expectations about women, films like Twilight can give women unrealistic expectations about men.

Unhealthy, unrealistic expectations in the media affect all of us. To achieve true gender equality, unfair portrayals of men need to receive attention and criticism.

After all, if my sisters are hoping for an Edward to come along and sweep them off of their feet, they’re going to be sorely disappointed.
The discussion has kind of been here and there regarding the original point, in the above article, but it's still interesting to see how people respond to men dealing with faulty or inflated images that they can never (or never want to) live up to.

One astute member of the pod, Liz, mentions her situation when she was reading Diana Gabaldon novels (the series beginning with Outlander) in a previous relationship:
I read the bulk of the Gabaldon novels when I was with my last partner, and I can tell you, it wasn’t just harmless fun. I pined for someone like Jamie, somewhat desperately, while I had really given up on my relationship. My girlfriends and I sure had fun reading that stuff. Fast-forward several years, and I’m in a different relationship when the last novel came out. I read it, mostly out of curiosity, but it had no juice for me at all. In fact, it felt a little silly. I believe the difference is that now I know what it is, and I no longer want to numb myself out with a sexual fantasy. Real life is where my heart (and sexual desire) resides.
When media can make us dissatisfied with our lives, we need to be able to question whether there is something real to be dealing with there. D we really want something other than what our partner offers us? Or are we becoming attached to an unrealistic ideal that can lead us away from the person we love?

These are tough questions that a young woman watching a film such as Twilight will not likely ask. So they will end up with unreal expectations for young men, just as young men have been seeking unreal women after growing up with Playboy or, more recently, internet porn.

This is one time when media is destructive unless we have the self-awareness to see through the images it offers us.


Anonymous said...

"This is one time when media is destructive unless we have the self-awareness to see through the images it offers us."

One time? So, you are worried about women ending up with unreal expectations, while this 1 film is nothing compared to the crushing mountain of media giving men unreal expectations.

If girls are expected to just put up with the male attitude, you men with have to just accept the change in girls as well.

Hopefully, Edward fans will be able to laugh at the porn-fanatics that try to force unrealistic sex acts on girls. These disgusting men say "hey, the girls of porn love this".

Guys, the girls of porn are video prostitutes, real girls don't like most of that behavior, so get over yourselves.

Anonymous said...

what women have learned about unrealistic expectations and how to deal with them - is that communication and clarity are important in all relationships. As is communication and the ability to stay centered.

Get used to it, I guess :) Use it as a tool to learn from...

my 2 cents

Michelle said...

what's unrealistic is how PERFECT edward is. if you love someone for how "perfect" they are, it's not love. & perfect ppl don't exist anyways, so either you're deluding yourself or the person you're w/ is pretending to be someone they're not.
but i don't think the girls who love twilight are really concerned w/ how perfect edward is. i think what they really swoon over is the nature of edward's love for bella. edward starts out thinking bella is plain. when he starts to love her, she becomes beautiful in his eyes. he also accepts & loves her for her "flaws" & doesn't want or try to change her(being human, clumsy, etc) he is obviously dedicated to her (doesn't care about other girls - keeping this clear, not that it's wrong to LOOK, other girls pale in comparison to Bella) & he has her best interests at heart (meets her emotional needs & wants her to remain human). & they have problems in their relationship (difference in opinion, control issues, intimacy vs. distance). so i would say their relationship is fairly realistic of a LOVE relationship. (very rare to be loved this purely)
so i think the idea of how bella is loved by edward is what the girls are swooning over, not how "perfect" he is. most women are known for loving a man despite his "flaws"

D-Jam said...

I the end, it still comes down to reality.

Men or women wanting unrealistic things because of what they saw in a book or on TV? This is nothing new. Look how many men get an unrealistic view of women when they open any porn source or even "Lad Mags" like Maxim. Look how many guys now think anal sex is a normal thing.

Women get the same with romance novels and chick flicks. Twilight is nothing new.

So we're worried that loads of women will keep themselves single forever, believing an Edward is waiting for them? They walk their own path then, and have to suffer the consequences for those choices.

Man or woman, if they spend their lives passing up every decent average Joe/Jane in hopes of a character or image that isn't real, then the consequence is they wake up at age 40 and wonder why they're alone. Many will instantly pass guilt to the opposite sex for not producing them a model-esque dream mate, but deep inside they know the reality...especially every time friends tell them how unrealistic they are.

I've always believed that standards are only good to hold on to when you can ATTAIN THEM. So if you're an Average Joe or Plain Jane thinking some above-average looking exciting romantic perfect wealthy mate will one day find might want to look at the real world. Especially if the examples of those people in the real world are passing you up for better looking and/or wealthier folk.

However, if the real life Giselles and Edwards are stepping up and showing you real interest, then carry on, because you're then attaining the standards you set.

MissMysterics said...

I doubt that the 'Twilight' series could actually do that much damage,it's so unrealistic that even the most unadept of people will not mistake the character's behavior as expectations of their own behavior or mistake the Edward/Bella relationship for a realistic approach.

That's probebly actually why Twilight is so popular, the sheer obsurdity of it.

I have one litle issue with your article

"Unhealthy ideas like predestined love, fate and destiny, and that it’s not necessary for partners to verbally express love for each other" It's that last one...

Why is it neccisary for people to verbally express love for each other? Let people express their feelings their own way!

Anonymous said...

It's not just Twilight giving women unrealistic expectations of men but also pornographic pictures of men, romance novel hunks, Cosmopolitan magazine, Glamour, Marie Claire, Playgirl, male models (sometimes naked) in billboards and other public ads, Justin Bieber, The Jonas Brothers, etc. give women unrealistic expectations of men, making them think that this is what their husband or boyfriend should look like. It's no wonder a lot of women cheat on their husbands and boyfriends with hunky men, especially ones with 'a nice package in between'. A lot of them even imagine having sex with some other fit-looking hunk, especially if their husbands or boyfriends, are out of shape, don't work out, nor dress properly. In other words, women are very visual creatures and they even objectify men. Whereas men are actually more jealous than women, especially if they see a good-looking, fit and well-dressed man, even with a woman they like. It's no wonder guys are becoming more and more insecure than women and women are mainly looking for one thing.

Anonymous said...

No one here has mentionned it and I guess it's another issue but related.

I have very high, probably "unrealistic" expectations of men. But I'm not looking for gorgeous and wealthy, I'm not looking for Edward. I'm looking for a hero, a King Arthur of sorts. I want a man who has that strong a character, entirely decent, intelligent, who sets high standards for himself...

I'm looking for all the moral qualities that we can imagine and find in fiction but so few men want to bother reaching for. I couldn't care less what you look like, what car you drive or what your job is. I want the sort of man that doesn't seem to exist anymore. And I don't think I want to settle for anything less. If it means I'll die a spinster, so be it. Being single is good too! Certainly better than being always disapointed...

I think having unrealistic expectations of the superficial aspects of men or women is ridiculous but asking people to lower their expectations when it comes to character or passion is just saying "I'm too lazy to try to be more".

Anonymous said...

I realize this is a couple of years old but I had a comment pertaining to your line:

"When women are idealized in the media, it’s called sexism, objectification or misogyny. But when men are idealized, it’s called a blockbuster."

I would argue that there are plenty of blockbusters that objectify and idealize women that are not recognized. Stereotypically male movies (i.e. action movies) almost always have a lone gorgeous female character who there for the sole purpose of being won over by the male lead as a sort of sexual conquest. I think that covert type of sexism is more comparable to Twilight than porn (which is also an issue).

On the other hand, thanks so much for breaching the topic of unrealistic expectations placed on men by the media as well! It's definately an issue for both men and women.

Anonymous said...

I think both genders are at fault for this whole issue. Rationally speaking, unrealistic expectations are set for people of all varieties. The female mentality that it only happens to them or the male mentality that it only happens to them is unbelievably narrow-minded. Each side has their issues and it is a struggle to assure yourself that these expectations shouldn't be what we should strive to become. We should be proud of this author for doing something that not many have the courage to do, and that is taking the perspective on a different side. In no way is this article saying that it doesn't happen to women or it happens more to men. What we should really take away from this article is that instead of conforming to this utopian expectations, we should be insightful and try to grasp the aspects of people that truly define them.