Men, Masculinity, and the Media

Steve Craig

Many scholars have examined the relations between gender and the media, yet there are surprisingly few studies available which address the social construction of masculinity. Steve Craig's edited volume fills this gap by providing readers with an analysis of the primary cultural sites in which masculinity and manhood are reproduced.

The collection opens with two articles outlining past research in this domain. Most of these studies draw on sex-role theory, in which attention is paid to the kinds of cultural images of gender available, as well as how these representations influence the gendered positions people take up. While such a perspective can provide insights into the construction of gender, it remains limited to the extent that it only investigates the differences between men and women, eliding contradictions within these categories. Moreover, sex-role theory assumes that consumers simply mirror the images of men and women they see in the media. The reception practices of different individuals and communities is not a focus point.

The essays in Men, Masculinity, and the Media depart from this paradigm. Drawing on feminist theory, they distinguish between sex, one's biological constitution, and gender, the social meanings which are embellished on the body. By emphasizing the sphere of social meaning, the contributors explore the interplay among the body, social role, and the semiotic.

The case studies in the book examine the reproduction and contestation of masculinity in a variety of sites: beer commercials, heavy metal music, television sitcoms, television media, comics, and advertising. Aligning themselves within a Gramscian analysis of hegemony, in which consent is viewed as something which is continually reproduced, these essays show the necessity of attending to contradictions in the construction of masculinities. Although the media may offer images of men which defy sexist stereotypes, they may uphold paradoxically the social structures which underlie these representations. In the words of contributor Robert Hanke, "[a]pparent modifications of hegemonic masculinity may represent some shift in the cultural meaning of masculinity without an accompanying shift in dominant social structural arrangements, thereby recuperating patriarchal ideology by making it more adaptable to contemporary social conditions and more able to accommodate counter-hegemonic forces" (p. 197).

In addition to these kinds of contradictions, scholars in this edited collection attempt to account for the different kinds of masculinities which are constructed across racial, class, and age boundaries. Individual essays address the representation of black men, the working class, and youth.

Although these efforts are to be applauded, the collection provides little analysis of masculinity in relation to urban and rural spaces. Furthermore, almost all of the articles deal with forms of the mainstream media--news broadcasts, advertising, television sitcoms, etc. Research on subcultural and countercultural resistance to these images would have been useful, given the commitment to exploring the difficulties involved in contesting hegemonic masculinities. What kinds of images do black men, transsexual men, and /or rural men create for themselves? How do these representations negotiate hegemonic sex/gender relations? This kind of research would continue the practice of cultural studies popularized by the Birmingham school of the 1970s.

Despite these absences, Craig's volume offers a comprehensive overview of recent research on masculinity and the media. It is accessible for both undergraduate and graduate students, and lends itself well to classroom teaching. The book also includes an extensive bibliography. Located at the intersection of communications and gender studies, Men, Masculinity, and the Media will further our understandings of the ways in which gender is both reproduced and contested. The collection also will stimulate further research in the field.