(A Sociological Reflection on “Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood, and American Culture”)
The social construction of a “real man” is evident in different cultures, ethnicities, and civilizations, wherein being masculine is attributed to violence. Undoubtedly, violence, which entails deviant behaviours, is a part of the ever-changing social dynamics. Men, then, are always deemed to be the main actors in any scene of violence. Jackson Katz, in the documentary “Tough Guise 2: Violence, Manhood, and American Culture,” argues that violence is an issue of manhood and other factors, such as mental health, substance abuse, and coming from dysfunctional families, are just secondary.
In the documentary, I see that violence is both learned and taught, making it a part of masculinity or manhood as a social construct. In light of this argument, I culled out three forces from the documentary that drive men to use violence as a redeeming grace of their manhood: the patriarchal force, cultural force, and the social environment forces. These forces play a significant role in their interaction in their social world.
First, the patriarchal force refers to the family’s influence, demonstrating male dominance in the family system. In particular, the father teaches or serves as a model for acting like a man indicating the foundation of his boys’ masculinity. The family enforces each member’s given roles, by which the head of the family, the father, and other male members serve as role models. These role models teach the boys male characters at a very young age while also acquiring the underlying and implied violent behaviours.
For instance, in the film, the father teaches his young boys the proper punching and stances on fighting. This situation illustrates that the father does not merely teach his boys accurate punching; instead, he is conditioning his children to fight and protect themselves. Since the boys learned those skills, so in their minds, no turning away in times of trouble, they have to use those skills to defend themselves. Fighting is a way of settling a dispute that portrays power as a characteristic of a man. In the same way, anger is the only display of emotion lauded by a father, and crying is an intolerable sign of weakness. The film vividly demonstrates those kinds of manly behaviour and their social relations.
Secondly, cultural practices are potent tools to instill the character of individuals. These practices dictate what you need to be in the perception or expectations of your group or cluster. The documentary shows representations of how a man must be in a different perspective of a group. Let us take the military culture’s case; training reinforces physical and emotional toughness and instills mercilessness, cold-bloodedness and skills to kill. Another example is the gender cops, as the documentary portrayed, check their peers to conform or breach masculine norms. Sexual aggressiveness is a specific male character projected in the scene between two brothers arguing that caring for girls is not lame but unmanly or gay. “That is so gay” is an undesirable remark to adolescents that goes to the core of their identity, which connotes stupidity or failure (Stephanie Ehret, 2020). The two Indian young men’s scene, where the older one teaches the young one to act appropriately to gain respect from the white people, shows a motivation to conform to violent masculinity by being mean. As Katz sees it, violent masculinity is an ideal cultural theme across racial, ethnic, and class groups.
Finally, our modern-day social environment is indeed a hub of violence where men are the leading actors; hence the film argues that violence is a men’s issue. The social climate that strongly influences men’s violent behaviour includes the immediate physical environment like the direct neighbourhood and the power relations between gender, class, and racial groups. The immediate physical environment, the ghettos, for instance, is a hot spot of men’s violent masculinity to demonstrate dominance, power and control. Most likely, engaging in violence, such as rampages or street fights, in which men’s involvement is expected, establishes or determines male character. Without a doubt, men’s violence is a part of cultural practices, for example, the duel of the gladiators and the bullfighting of the ancient Roman Empire.
Early cultural practices, such as killing animals in hunting activities, a duel, and warriors’ training, are manly traditions handed down to generations through apprenticeship. However, these cultural practices entail a collective purpose for subsistence and protection of the group.
The relationship between gender, class, and race is a powerful force to form violent masculinity. Men’s physical sports, like boxing, kickboxing, martial arts, basketball, hockey, and football, among other physical contact sports, explicitly normalize violence. In our time, the media have a significant role in reinforcing the social construction of vicious manhood. Movies, television shows, and video games for young and old alike represent man’s violence as a normal behaviour a man should possess. Exploring the boys’ toys like guns, war trucks, race cars, superheroes figurines, and the like have the normative meaning of masculinity and concealed violence.
Furthermore, lethal weapons such as guns and knives are symbols of both violence and masculinity, which give the impression of normalcy in a given class group like gangsters and hoodlums in ghettos or slum areas. Katz featured gang rape in New Delhi, India and Cairo, Egypt, representing rape as a culture that reflects sexual violence and dehumanizing women. Rape culture describes how rape and sexual violence are common and prevalent attitudes, norms and practices while media normalizes, tolerates, or even condones this act (Stephanie Ehret, 2020). This kind of culture happens, Katz explains, because it relates to the patriarchal ideology of power, aggression, domination and control.
In “Good Guys With Guns: Hegemonic Masculinity and Concealed Handguns,” Angela Stroud (2012) perceives that toughness and capability to engage in violence are essential qualities of a man. She also realizes from a man’s perspective that “real” men can defend themselves and their families while recouping the sense of dominance and asserting hegemonic masculinity in times of disputes (Stroud, 2012). Similarly, Katz (2013) says that John Wayne, the ultimate icon of white American masculinity, who just used intimidating stare, few words, fists, and guns to defend himself and others, influences the real man’s American ideal.
Possession of guns, knives, among other deadly weapons, expresses a normative message of masculinity. However, those weapons that symbolize and signify violence and protection will most likely have different meanings when analyzed through the lens of intersectionality: race, class, and gender (Stroud 2012). Stroud (2012) examines that having a gun is a way of defending the family, compensating for the loss of physical strength as men aged, and feeling secure in places, for example, a slum area dangerous neighbourhood they feel vulnerable. She argues further that those themes relate to fantasies of violence and heroic defence concerning hegemonic masculinity.
In the sense of all the earlier accounts, men’s violence occurs because of shame, humiliation, and disrespect for manhood, a piercing attack to their ego that goes beyond toleration (Katz, 2013). The youth crimes that are overrepresented and portrayed by the media, like the mass shooting or school shooting incidents in the United States, are examples of moral panic. The press usually sensationalizes and bring out excessive concern overthis kind of violence. Bereska (2018) defined moral panic as an exaggerated concern of a social phenomenon and usually sensationalized by the media (160). Moral panic quickly fades; however, it involves a complete cycle of heightened public fear and media awareness together with social and institutional interventions such as legislation and changes in organizational procedures (Stephanie Ehret, 2020). An excellent example of the institutional or governmental intervention is the pronouncement of the former US president Barack Obama for immediate possible legislative interventions on the school shooting involving the troubling or troubled youths. The troublesome youth, gangs, for example, is primarily a threat to others and society, while a troubled child is a threat to themselves like substance use (Stephanie Ehret, 2020).
If manhood projects an image of menace and toughness that instill fears in others, manhood is positively associated and synonymous with violence. Men’s engagement in ferocious activities like bullying, physical assault, and gang riots, among other unruly doings, resonate with masculinity. Such attention to violence is constructively embedded in culture, either learned or taught aside from a challenging social environment’s influence. The documentary’s major underlying issue is about men’s domination, power, and control. Hence, as men feel treated indifferently, violence is their last resort to resolving disputes, winning or regaining respect, and re-establishing masculine credibility.
Violence is indeed a men’s issue. Nevertheless, aside from the problems presented in the film, it is also an intersectionality issue that shows men against men either of the same or different race, class, and gender. Violent masculinity also implicates that victims of violence are usually innocents and not only the offender or domineering party. We have to look at both the devastating harms of manhood and masculinity to others and the men themselves.
The construction of the term “tough guise” is sensibly conceptualized, which embraces the documentary’s whole story. In reality, men also have many weaknesses and fears, just the same as women, yet culture taught men to appear tough and strong. It is fascinating that Katz (2013) challenges everyone to change the meaning of manhood or masculinity in the context of strength, which does not mean to prove something but bravely face any danger and hold our fears by serving others. Indeed, it is a complete change of mindset and a significant challenge in the social construct of manhood and masculinity. Indeed, I profoundly understand how social deviance acts and deviant behaviours appear, in men’s violence in particular, and how society controls them.
Bereska, Tami. (2018). Deviance, Conformity, and Social Control in Canada. 5th Edition. Toronto: Pearson Canada
Ehret, Stephanie (4 November 2020). “Deviant and Normal Sexuality.” SOCI 2610: Deviance and Social Control [lecture]. Trent University.
Ehret, Stephanie (11 November 2020). “Social Control and the Troubled World of Youth.” SOCI 2610: Deviance and Social Control [lecture]. Trent University.
Katz, J. Young, J. Earp, J. Jhally, S. (Director). (2013). Tough Guise 2 (Clean Version) [Video file]. Media Education Foundation. Retrieved 14 November 2020, from Kanopy.
Stroud, Angela. (2012). GOOD GUYS WITH GUNS: Hegemonic Masculinity and Concealed Handguns. Gender & Society, 26(2), 216–238. https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243211434612