Monday, June 13, 2011

Media misconception- western societal gender roles

I've noticed recently, coincidentally or otherwise, an increase in the number of television or movie scenes which confront typical male gander roles with modern 'metrosexual' conceptions of what it means to be a man. The debate is initiated, there is some talk (on either side) about whether or not metrosexualism is 'right', and the confrontation usually ends with the supporter of metrosexualism, or of a person exuding said characteristics, posing the question "do you feel threatened by this?" to the supporter of the more traditional Western male gender role. On television, and in movies, the latter supporter normally responds with anger, defensiveness, and aggression- some of the classics of traditional male hubris.

I want to comment on the basis of this question, as it may be misinterpreted, generally, by the audience due to the central/main character status that the respondent tends to hold. To discuss this, and to most sociologist's diapproval, I will have to use both modern conflict theory and structural functionalism- lets start with some lay definitions.

Modern conflict theory, the father of which is Charles Wright Mills, argues that social structures are created out of conflict- that is, a constant unequal distribution of resources between groups/individuals in society who have different interests creates unequal power distribution, and thus, creates structures like class systems, such as the old English class system of 1st class, 2nd class, and 3rd class citizens, or the North American (U.S.) system of upper, middle, working, and lower class. Conflict theory forms the basis for most class conflict theories, such as traditional feminism- the notion that men have more resources, thus have more power, and thus create, deliberately or otherwise, a class system where men tend to hold power, directly or indirectly, over women.

Structural functionalism deals with just that- the function of structures in society. This theory defines society as a series of inter-related and artificially created 'structures' and attempts to understand the function of their constituents, such as values, norms, traditions, customs, etc. To put this into context (as difficult as this may be), where conflict theory will suggest that the upper 'class', or richer groups of people, wear expensive clothing to reinforce to subordinate groups that they have more power, structural functionalism may point out that clothing is simply a structure within society that has a traditional basis in attracting a mate, or protecting oneself from the environment. Structural functionalism may also suggest that people wear clothing to uphold the social norm of not walking around naked...simple, too bad the theory isn't really used anymore...


The idea of being threatened by metrosexualism has nothing to do with physical threatening- people surely don't believe that they will be beat up by the idea of metrosexualism. The idea of the threat comes from the conflict between the two structures, or constructs (a gender role is a structure as defined by structural functionalism). If the construct of metrosexualism replaces the traditional gender role as the dominant gender structure in society, this would mean that the traditional male gender role would no longer be the dominant construct of the two (as judged by popular belief). A new norm that challenges an old norm almost always makes those who follow the old norm feel threatened. If the metrosexual construct becomes the dominant of the two, this re-defines the meaning of what it means to be a man in society, as the traditional gender role would no longer be accepted as dominant. This is the threat- if this new norm becomes the dominant of the two, the traditional male will no longer be defined as a male within society.

The point is, it is all about how a man defines himself as a man- it has nothing to do with the hatred of metrosexualism (or homosexualism for that matter). It has nothing to do with homophobia, which, by the way, is another misinterpreted concept- a phobia is a genuine fear of something based on the belief that this 'thing' can harm the person who fears it, either physically or emotionally, simply by experiencing a sensation related to this thing, ie/ touch, taste, smell, etc. A phobia is not simply a dislike, disgust for, or preference against something, it is a genuine fear. The threat is nothing more than a desire to have one's own definition fit the societal definition of what it means to be a man.

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