I feel like a lot of the discourse in the class tends to look at how women are the oppressed in society and men are the oppressors. In a lot of situations we discuss, it’s hard not to see that line. However, I do like the discussions we have about how men can be victims of media objectification and stereotyping too.
One particular article of interest was about the Israeli combat soldiers and in general how society targets men to take on predominantly physical and taxing endeavors.
In class we discussed how men are subject to images in the media and society in general as far as their need to maintain an authoritative status by way of their physical strength. This has also been paired with wealth, sexual exploits and power in careers, but a main thread is that a man’s image is anchored by his body and strength. In the western world, physical strength is associated with masculinity.
I’ve noticed several of my male friends throughout college becoming more and more of that view as well. During my freshman year, I dated a guy who seemed confident in every way — he did well in academics, he took on ambitious leadership positions, he was attractive and knew it. But then a couple months into semester, he began to talk to me about his plans to “bulk up” and “get back into shape.” I understand the initial anxieties about the so-called Freshman 15 (or god forbid, the Mizzou 22), but I didn’t see what he was getting so worked up about. To me, his physical nature hadn’t changed and was fine as is. Despite this, I continued to listen to him increasingly talk about his body image and necessity to hit the gym.
Several years later, I now have another male friend who, in the few months that I’ve known him, has become increasingly consumed in his body image. I will admit that when I met him last summer, I considered him to have a tall and slender build. What I didn’t realize was how much he despised his “lankiness,” and he too began to discuss with me his eating and workout regimen, along with explaining his daily calorie count and vitamin supplements. He’s confided in me that he doesn’t feel he can be successful in his career if he doesn’t have the presence (in his case, the athletic build) to show it.
And just when I thought that was as far into the world of muscle gaining routines as I could get, I soon began to realize another group of male friends who now train and monitor their exercise and eating habits together to “get swole.”
Am I the only one who has realized this? Is this some kind of transformation that happens to college-aged men at some point in their university career? I seriously hadn’t even heard as much talk about eating and food choices from any of my female friends as I have from these three examples of male individuals and groups.
It just further proves society’s perspective about what a man should look like — athletic and powerful. These attributes are generally positive and promote healthiness, but when it comes to a point of obsession, it just goes to show that even positive stereotypes can have a huge impact. The key in these situations is that none of these guys were really unhealthy, but their main goal in exercising is to increase their muscle mass, which subsequently means their masculinity and manhood in America.