Masculinity in Films

Man, when portrayed on the silver screen, always has in his "possession" the perfect woman; Superman has his Lois Lane and Tarzan is in "possession" of his Jane. It has been demonstrated in the world of filmmaking that women are possessions and part of a man's belongings and wealth. In order to portray the male's sexual superiority or his masculinity, the woman must always be shown as conquered and is rarely shown to prove the weakness of man.

This rule, known as the Tarzan Syndrome, has not been questioned too often in cinema; it states that every man must have a woman. It is upheld and supported by nature itself: man and woman need each other so that mankind can survive. Yet the masculinity issue as an axiom has become very controversial: the extent to which the gender classifications are set and fixed and to what extent is they are influenced by popular culture. A good example is provided by Superman.

From the very beginning Superman's identity is questioned. He was an orphan who came from a faraway planet Krypton and was adopted by a sweet middle-aged couple who lived in middle America. He went on to become a superhero who possessed a secret identity. From early on, he tried to prove himself as a man. He started proving himself even as a little boy; he showed that he was able to lift trucks over his head with his bare hands. Shortly thereafter, he impressed a young Lois Lane that he can outrun a moving locomotive. Superman is always trying to explain his normal behavior along with his amazing powers, with the help of his adoptive father. It is his father who shelters him and boasts about young Clark's traditional American ethics.

When Clark begins to mature and his sexuality begins to emerge, we find that it is his mother who takes over and creates a gender identity division by making the Superman outfit for him. From now on, Superman is forced to have a double identity, one being his alter ego, the simple normal looking Clark with his spectacles who looks like an underweight weakling. However, he has the security of acknowledging his masculinity through his daily dress of the dark grey business suit. His other identity, his public figure, is one of a muscular, powerful, good looking and sexually desirable hero who is always seen dressed in blue lycra tights, red boots and red underwear.

It is due to cultural changes that have occurred since Superman came on the scene that he is not viewed in the same way and has become a victim of fashion. The outfit which was proper for an acrobat or strongman to be wearing in the 1930s is not acceptable in the 1980s. He is dressed more in line with the gay scene and would most likely be cursed and ridiculed for wearing underpants on the outside for all to see.

In reality Superman's very complex personality and character are perfectly in tune with the wants and longings of the majority of males who are his fans. These males are confronting conflict between the way their masculinity is emerging and the way it is representing itself and how to deal with it. Their divided hero presents many contradictions and dilemmas; on the one hand he is an underweight weakling and on the other hand he is a strong bodybuilder. Unlike the reality with other human beings, where there is the hope that a "strange" lad will grow up and perhaps become a hero, Superman remains split forever. He is frustrated as Clark Kent, although he can perform miracles as Superman. As Clark Kent the lonely stranger, he fails in the attempt to win the heart of the woman he loves, Lois Lane, because she is in love with the hero Superman. His masculinity on the one hand is ever so obvious and the other hand it is in question. He becomes the victim of his own rival.

Masculinity in films is here to stay and is in evidence every day. Even cartoon movies are not immune from the masculinity message.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush
David Greven.
University of Texas Press, 2009
Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era
Susan Jeffords.
Rutgers University Press, 1994
Masked Men: Masculinity and the Movies in the Fifties
Steven Cohan.
Indiana University Press, 1997
This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age
Gaylyn Studlar.
Columbia University Press, 1996
Armed Forces: Masculinity and Sexuality in the American War Film
Robert Eberwein.
Rutgers University Press, 2007
Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male Body
Peter Lehman.
Temple University Press, 1993
Straitjacket Sexualities: Unbinding Asian American Manhoods in the Movies
Celine Parreñas Shimizu.
Stanford University Press, 2012
Masculine Interests: Homoerotics in Hollywood Films
Robert Lang.
Columbia University Press, 2002
French Cinema in the 1980s: Nostalgia and the Crisis of Masculinity
Phil Powrie.
Clarendon Press, 1997
Myth and Masculinity in the Japanese Cinema: Towards a Political Reading of the 'Tragic Hero'
Isolde Standish.
Curzon Press, 2000
Movies, Masculinity, and Modernity: An Ethnography of Men's Filmgoing in India
Steve Derné; Dan A. Chekki.
Greenwood Press, 2000
Dragging It Out: Tales of Masculinity in Australian Cinema, from 'Crocodile Dundee' to 'Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.'(Australian Masculinities)
Lucas, Rose.
Journal of Australian Studies, No. 56, March 1998
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Masculinity in Contemporary Irish Cinema
Ging, Debbie.
Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, No. 1, Annual 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
The Aesthetics of Violence in Recent Serbian Cinema: Masculinity in Crisis
Kronja, Ivana.
Film Criticism, Vol. 30, No. 3, Spring 2006
Black and White Masculinity: In Three Steven Soderbergh Films
Roth, Elaine.
Genders, No. 43, June 2006
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Cecil B. DeMille: Hollywood Macho Man and the Theme of Masculinity within His Biblical (and Other) Cinema
Kozlovic, Anton Karl.
Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality, Vol. 2, No. 2, June 2008
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
John Mills and British Cinema: Masculinity, Identity and Nation
Gill Plain.
Edinburgh University Press, 2006
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