In this series, “The Textures of Sexuality,” we have undergraduate students from two schools considering how the body is implicated in the storytelling devices used in popular media. Elizabethtown College student Chandler McLaren also considers 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.
On October 12th, Dr. Stewart Hoover presented a lecture based on his book, Does God Make the Man: Media, Religion and Gendered Identity (NYU 2015, co-edited with Curtis D. Coates). Hoover’s book focuses on “…how American Protestant Christianity and media influence white, middle-class, heterosexual men’s ideas about masculinity and their roles in their families and in public life.”  The television shows that were used for the study were from different decades. By having this span of different eras, Hoover was able to show the ways the idea of masculinity has changed over the years. Hoover states in his book that “religion is thought by some to exert a positive influence on men and masculinity, encouraging positive roles in family life and even in broader civic spheres. Media, on the other hand, are thought by many to be a negative influence.” One major point from the lecture was how the men being studied would list the media figures they believed showed masculine traits that should be practiced.
Masculinity is an ever-changing idea. When television was first invented, male characters were portrayed as the breadwinners of the family while women stayed at home and took care of their children. Over the past few decades, the media has evolved its portrayal of men. One recent example that has stood out was a Tide Commercial that showed a stay at home dad doing the laundry.
By doing a task that in the ‘50s and ‘60s would have been seen as a wife’s job, the commercial shows how home life has developed to allow either spouse to now perform what was seen originally as gender specific roles. I think one contribution to this change is that women are no longer limited to specific majors or professions. Although this change has been occurring for a while, the media has not fully caught up. An explanation would be that because many forms of media are dramatizations of everyday life, their stereotypes shape what gets seen as normal behaviors. Men must decide which influences they should focus on and which ones they should see simply as a caricature of masculinity.
Hoover mentioned in his focus group that most of the men weren’t able to find a figure that embodied all the characteristics they believed a man should possess. The closest masculine figure the focus groups could determine was Mr. Rogers, who was seen as a good balance of masculine and feminine qualities.
However, men would attempt to exaggerate a character or a person’s accomplishments. For example, Hoover noticed that once men in the focus groups started to talk amongst themselves, they would relay details about Mr. Rogers that were not true—that he had been a Navy Seal even though it is documented that he never served in the military. Even after these men identified a person they see as masculine and explained the reasons why, they will continue to list traits—even if false—until it is the portrayal of the perfect man in their eyes. Hoover also found it interesting that none of the men mentioned Jesus as a masculine figure that they could look up to.
The media’s portrayal of men not only affects how they see themselves, their self-confidence, and esteem, but also how others see them. Most people start to gain ideas of how others should act at a very young age in order to fit into cultural norms. If a man doesn’t fit the idea of masculinity for others, this can affect how they interact with him even if he believes he demonstrates the right amount. Most people do not think there is an issue with how men see themselves as there has not been as much of a focus on how media portrayals affect men. One reason for this is would be from a key idea of being masculine, which is to show little to no emotion. So for a man to become outspoken with how the media portrays men would most likely not receive good reception. It can be compared to how women have started to speak out against how the media portrays them and what needs to change (e.g. feminism).
Men won’t be able to change these ideas of masculinity until they can get a large enough group to do so. As Hoover’s study only focuses on one demographic; it will be interesting to see him expand these ideas to include what other demographics’ idea of masculinity is.
 Stewart M. Hoover and Curtis D. Coats, eds. Does God Make the Man?: Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Masculinity (New York: NYU Press, 2015), 1.
 Stewart M. Hoover and Curtis D. Coats, Does God Make the Man?: Media, Religion, and the Crisis of Masculinity.
Chandler MacLaren ’17, is an Engineering major at Elizabethtown College. Her intellectual interests also include the study of gender in Islam.