Jackson Katz on Male Characters in Hollywood

Author, filmmaker, educator and social theorist Jackson Katz in an extra clip from the set of Miss Representation

This week, as we reflect on the first wave of Fall television premieres, it’s hard not to notice the disparity between representations of female characters and those of their male counterparts. Despite a number of new shows featuring female protagonists, the depiction of these women is, for the most part, sticking to tired old tropes. Yet while much has been written recently about the way women in Hollywood are objectified and demeaned, in this extra clip from Miss Representation pioneering anti-sexist activist and social theorist Jackson Katz brings up a less-covered facet of the limiting labels media imposes on us – the trivializing of men who stand up for women.

Katz discusses how rare it is to see a male character confronting sexism in contemporary film and television without being subsequently ostracized or ridiculed by other men (or women). In reality, these types of people actually do exist (Katz being an example himself), but just aren’t represented. Instead, this year we have a bevy of new shows centered on the “emasculation” of contemporary men struck by the “mancession.” New York Magazine describes these characters as men who ” want to believe it’s somehow admirable to be a curmudgeon or a brute, struggling to live up to some old-school ideal, while lamenting that women and less principled men are sneakily taking over the world.” Lacking, on both the male-centered or female-centered shows of the new Fall season are male characters who are actually happy that women might be “taking over the world” (Which, to be clear, isn’t actually happening. Less than 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only 17% of congress is female, but I digress).

Katz final point in this video, that an increase in women behind the camera and in positions of influence in media would give us more complete and realistic depictions of men, is actually a quite powerful idea. Advertisers and TV execs are constantly focused on the bottom line, and they often cite men ages 18-35 as their most prized and lucrative demographic. Why then are they giving these men such flat and unflattering depictions of themselves? (I would predict that many of these viewers, if asked whether they could identify with a man supporting the rights of women, would actually answer yes.) One could imagine finding success in trying new ways of targeted this demographic, but then again the imagination of the media seems pretty limited these days.

But the bigger question is: why are we, as men and women, continuing to watch these shows?

Join the Sexy or Sexism? campaign we’ve launched with Women’s Media Center and use #femTV on Twitter to monitor Fall TV and hold the media accountable!