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The issue with hyper-masculinity

“Man, Image, Idea: Photographs of Men” from the Mark Rice Collection is an exhibition of about 75 photographs donated to the Special Collections at the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery at UMBC in 1998. The beautifully composed photographs display the male form in a vulnerable context that most people are not accustomed to.

Men, especially in America, have to display a strong sense of masculinity to avoid being labeled as “effeminate” or “gay.” Meanwhile, female expression of sexuality is so normalized in almost every form of media. From television, movies and advertisements, it is not shocking to see nude female bodies hanging off of the magazine racks at the grocery store. However, nude male bodies create unease.

Rice’s exhibit is important because it takes steps to portray men as something other than stoic and unemotional beings. Most photographs utilize foggy backgrounds so that the man is the central focus with nothing else to distract from his nakedness. The viewer’s eye is then forced to rest for longer than it usually would on the subject which results in the revelation that there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place.

Since male bodies are not typically displayed in galleries as beautiful things to look at, it seems wrong to linger for too long. However, it is simply the unfamiliarity that is scary for most people. More representations of men in media that do not follow the format of hyper-masculinity is desperately needed.

Hyper-masculinity can be defined as a gross exaggeration of male stereotypical behaviors such as aggression and physical strength. Chidi Ede, a junior computer science major, says “I grew up in a place where it was swing first and ask questions later. I would get into fights over the most stupid things but if I had just talked about it I wouldn’t have had to fight.”

Being raised on hyper-masculinity can have a far more detrimental effect than childhood fights. Douglas Kellner is the George F. Kneller Chair of Philosophy of Education at UCLA and author of the recently published book, “Guys and Guns Amok.” In his work, he explains this statistic: 98 percent of mass shooters in America are men.

He argues that men are taught to embrace their violent feelings because violence is a sign of strength. “The crisis in masculinity is grounded in deteriorating socio-economic possibilities for men and is aggravated by our current economic crisis,” he says. “It is also produced in part by a media which shows violence as a way of solving problems.”

Boys who grow up believing that being a man equates to never crying are the same men who end up associating emotion with weakness.  If men in media are allowed to be soft and vulnerable, the next generation of boys will be able to feel secure in whatever ways they choose to express themselves.

The collection will be on display until December 12, 2017.