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The "Real Man" Stereotype
A study of war-time behaviour (Ashworth, 1968) showed what "real men" are like. Only 2% of men in thetrenches shot to kill. Or, to put it another way, 98% of men shot to miss. Put a gun in a man's hand, givehim total permission to maim and kill without retribution and 49 out of every 50 will turn down the chanceeven though they risk a court-martial for cowardice, and death by firing squad, if their behaviour isdiscovered by their own commanders. Seen another way, in all male environments (i.e. when there areno women present) face to face male-on-male violence virtually disappears, even when the context iswar. This calls into question the "real man" ideal that is portrayed on cinema and TV screens. It would bemore accurate to assert that the media portrays images of "unreal man".The argument (or culturally held belief) that men are the violent sex is now known to be untrue. Fiebert(2005) discusses over 200 scholarly investigations of studies that include reports of both male andfemale violence in relationships. In complete contrast to gender stereotypes, women are consistentlyreported to initiate violence more often (although this should not obscure that most violence is reciprocal,infrequent, and that women are injured slightly more often than men).Contemporary thinking, however, is gradually shifting focus to understanding the impact of entering thecompetitive world of wealth creation and courtship in its search for a deeper understanding of what a"real man" is. Success, it is now believed, is needed not just to survive personally, but also to attract amate (Buss, 1994; Farrell, 1994; Ridley-Duff, 2007). Why, then, do we insist on believing that men are'naturally' more violent? Why is the idea propagated that men control women (and other men) throughtheir potential for violence? Is it because there is a hidden consensus that men should be responsible forviolence?
Cultural Images of Violence During Courtship
The nature and representation of "real men" in films is particularly enlightening. There are legions of filmsthat celebrate violent men who protect women and who berate violent men who harm women. The filmGladiator was a favourite amongst women because the hero (Russell Crowe) was considered "sex onlegs" by popular women's magazines. The film, however, consists of him routinely and repeatedlylopping the heads off (and sticking swords into) men in order to get a chance to avenge his wife's death.Another favourite amongst women was Cold Mountain, where a man (Jude Law) a deserter from thearmy walking home at the request of his lover during the American civil war - ruthlessly and efficientlykills men in defence of vulnerable women before returning home to impregnate his lover (NicoleKidman). Male violence, is contemporary entertainment - erotic entertainment even - for women (so longas the violence is directed towards their safety).How are these modern Hollywood heroes rewarded for their unselfish protection of women at theconclusion of the film? They are killed saving the woman they love the most. Russell Crowe lies dying inthe gladiatorial arena having avenged both his wife and saved his earthly sweetheart from a corruptemperor. Jude Law lies dying after arriving home to shoot dead the men who had been sexually pursuinghis lover. Just as in the box-office record setter Titanic, the death of the male hero increases theromantic climax of the film. Modern movies still play heavily on "real men" violently saving women, and inthe biggest box-office successes dying for the women they love the most. Male death, in a romanticcontext, sells. And it sells particularly well to women.In popular culture, "real men" (i.e. unreal men) are presented as part of a romantic fantasy, but onlywhen the purpose is to protect (beautiful) women or family members from other violent men. While thishas been articulated as the preservation of "male dominance", it is actually the women who survive andthe men who die as a result of this "dominance". In the most romantic films, the real man dies. So, is itmen who are empowered or women? Have we been conned for nearly half a century by a false (or one-