American Masculinity and Media Crisis

In this series, “The Textures of Sexuality,” we have undergraduate students from two schools considering how the body is implicated in storytelling devices used in popular media. Elizabethtown College student Hannah Ciocco begins with a discussion of Stewart M. Hoover and Curtis D. Coats’  Does God Make the Man: Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Masculinity, (New York: New York University Press, 2015). She brings her own analysis of how the meaning of concepts such as protection, provision, and purpose are in flux for men in both in American Christianity and US sitcoms.

“The new American man doesn’t look like his father.”[1] Whether or not Americans agree with this statement, they cannot disagree with the fact that the idea of American masculinity has changed drastically throughout history. Dr. Stewart M. Hoover recently visited Elizabethtown College and gave a lecture on his new book, Does God Make the Man? : Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Masculinity, that concentrates on the effect that media and religion have had on the idea of masculinity. Hoover is a professor of Media Studies and Religious Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder. He is also the director of the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture and has authored or edited 12 books and written numerous articles. I attended Dr. Hoover’s lecture on October 12, 2016, and found his topic and research thought provoking and very relevant to today’s society. The lecture provided ample evidence of the contexts of discourse about masculinity in religion, specifically Christianity, along with media. Therefore, within the domestic dynamic, the idea of masculinity has changed over time through media as a result of increased roles of women in society.

Hoover and his co-researcher, Curtis D. Coats interviewed men from two religious groups, Evangelicalism and Ecumenical Protestantism, in which the men in both groups were white and heterosexual. Dr. Hoover said that he asked the subjects to give an example of masculinity, and every person gave an example that was based on someone in the media. Dr. Hoover observed that “no one could talk about masculinity without talking about the media. Men and women had a hard time describing male characteristics or roles without referring to classic film or television.”[2] He received many different answers, including John Wayne, James Bond, Andy Griffith, and Fred Rogers. The group of Ecumenical men identified Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life as examples of masculinity, while Evangelical men saw masculinity in Mel Gibson in Braveheart and The Patriot, Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie, and Matthew Fox in Lost.[3] Interestingly, biblical references were rarely made throughout the research.

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 11.31.01 PM
Independentman, “WELCOME TO THE LAND OF MASCULINITY,” Flickr , May 27, 2005. Used under Creative Commons 
Because of these results, it was evident to Dr. Hoover that media has the ability to communicate relevant themes, symbols, and mindsets in culture. Media, he argued, is a part of common culture and is always around to influence one’s mindset and views, especially in this day and age where it is acceptable for women to have an equal function in the domestic setting. All of the examples of masculinity that the men had picked out had qualities that include provision, protection, and purpose, which also relate to the beliefs regarding domestic settings.

Provision is the idea that it is the man’s basic responsibility to provide for the family monetarily. The provision of material for the family came up over and over again in the interviews.[4] The idea of providing for one’s family was very important to both subject groups, but the domestic ideal has changed throughout time so the provider of the house is split equally between the wife and husband. However, even with the changes in contemporary life, many men still insist they feel that they need to be the provider for their family.

Protection is the idea that it is the man’s responsibility to keep the family safe. This notion has been embedded into our culture for centuries. Compared to the past, risks have certainly changed, yet men still feel responsible for their family’s safety from physical harm and risqué media.[5]  This dynamic in today’s domestic ideal is still relevant, even with the cultural advancements of a women’s role in the household.

Lastly, purpose is an ideal of masculinity which can be understood as a “calling”, and some might even consider their purpose to be a calling from God. This is the idea that a man has some sort of duty in life that revolves around a job which can give purpose to his life. Dr. Hoover wrote that “This [purpose] can be a metaphor for contemporary men’s own sense of identity, their resolution in their own lives of the sense of purpose over domestic responsibilities, which again, has been the dominant model of masculine purpose for centuries.”[6] 

While media and cultural norms have allowed for the idea of purpose to be distinct to each individual, Hoover also mentioned in his lecture that feminism is problematic to the definition of masculinity because some of the subjects believed that they are not needed anymore, which is why there is such an emphasis on the purpose of a man. For example, in the television show Modern Family, there is a mother of one family who is the manager of almost everything and the father is just there to simply have fun and cause problems. These qualities of masculinity are important to men because of the central role of media and the effect they have on the domestic and public life of men.

In conclusion, Dr. Hoover’s lecture was an excellent insight into the role that media and religion have on men’s definition and ideas of masculinity. The “crisis” of masculinity in America, in which Dr. Hoover concluded by quoting Fox News correspondent Brit Home, “is a result of ‘feminization’ of American culture”[7]. This crisis for many men is not being able to obtain and succeed in the ideals of provision, protection, and purpose. In American society today, the definition of masculinity seen in the media is constantly fluctuating because more women are taking active roles in the household due to the equalization of gender roles.


[1] Stewart M. Hoover and Curtis D. Coats, Does God Make the Man: Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Masculinity, (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 1.

[2] Hoover and Coats, 105.

[3] Ibid., 103.

[4] Ibid., 131.

[5] Ibid., 138.

[6] Ibid., 151.

[7] Ibid., 153.


hanna ciocco head shot.jpgHannah Ciocco’19 is a sophomore at Elizabethtown College. She is majoring in History while pursuing minors in Art History and Religious Studies. Follow her on Merit.

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