The Problem with ‘Iron Men’

Why are we surprised when we hear about school shootings, domestic abuse and rape? Jackson Katz, an anti-sexist male speaker, writer and film producer, says that considering how we socialize people according to gender, we should expect these problems. These problems are not problems with our kids, and they are not cases of insanity. They are men’s problems. Katz, in a lecture on the UC Irvine campus on May 8, said that our society glorifies male violence and sexualizes women, which promotes violence.
The problem is we don’t address the gender aspect of violence. When men shoot each other in East Los Angeles, we call it gang wars, without mentioning that the violence is gender-specific. The majority of violence is from male perpetrators, yet we say that these are problems with our poor minorities. However, when a group of cheerleaders beat up another cheerleader, it is all over the news. The problem, Katz said, is that we give white males power over minorities and females. An aspect of that power is invisibility. Therefore, when we hear the term “gender,” we think women, and for “race” we think black, Latino, etc. However, male is a gender and white is a race, too.
White males control the media, and the images they produce through that media exemplify the violent male and the sexualized, vulnerable female. “James Bond,” “Rambo,” “Iron Man” and “Transformers” are movies we love that prize male violence. When I went to see “Iron Man” with my friends, I noticed that people described Iron Man as a “badass.” I also noticed that Iron Man saved Gwyneth Paltrow because she was vulnerable and otherwise would have been killed. James Bond has the world at his fingertips. He can kill anyone in a second and have any girl he wants. The women in James Bond films are sexualized and vulnerable. He does them, leaves them and sometimes, in the case of “Casino Royale,” they’re dead the next day.
Katz examines how media has changed over the years in his film, “Tough Guise.” As women’s rights progresses, they become physically smaller in the media. They went from large and curvy, like Marilyn Monroe, to stick-thin and starving, like Alessandra Ambrosia.
Pornography and “strip culture,” as Katz calls it, is directly related to “rape culture.” Most strip clubs are set up to have women take their clothes off in front of men. Some clubs have a ladies’ night one night a week. However, when women strip for men, they put themselves in vulnerable positions where men can fantasize about penetrating their bodies. When men strip for women, it is the exact opposite. They strut their “stuff” and show how powerful and strong they are. This is because we eroticize men’s power and women’s vulnerability. Both men and women eroticize men dominating women.
Directly related to this is the culture of men’s magazines. These magazines portray women in their underwear and in sexual positions, looking like they want sex. Sometimes they show women gradually taking off their clothes, or naked and wrapped in bed sheets. It’s like strip culture in a book.
Men externalize this and sexualize women. They look at a woman, talk with the guys about things they would do to her, talk about her body, etc. Some men disrespect women. A man can rape a woman or commit abuse against her, whether it is emotional or physical. He can cheat, can control her and then can claim to love her. This society tells men that they need to be tough. Women may be entering the workforce, but they can never be “guys.” They can’t play football with the “guys.” Men want control and power because society and the media tells them that they should have control and power, whether this means they have control and power over women or over other men. This is what leads to violence. We are participating in a culture that is producing men who act out in this way. It needs to end now.
Women internalize this. They pick apart their bodies and sexualize themselves to be “attractive.” They think of ways to protect themselves from men as the vulnerable group. They have to check their backseats before they get in the car and never accept drinks from other guys. When girls don’t successfully accomplish this, they are blamed. People ask them, “Why do you keep going back to him when he is a jerk?” “You knew better than to walk alone at night,” and “Why were you hanging out with that group of guys? Of course something was going to happen.” News headlines sound like “Woman raped.” When we talk about a woman with an abusive husband, we say she is a “battered woman.” We lose the subject in all of these cases, which is the male perpetrator. What would happen if we changed every one of these phrases to “Man rapes,” “Male rapist,” etc.? We would freak out. All of a sudden, we would be identifying the male, invisible perpetrator. Suddenly, we would be addressing the real problem.
It is time for change. Yes, most men are good and don’t want to be a part of this system of abuse and rape, but most men don’t say anything because they don’t want to get involved. However, this is just as bad. Men need to break their complicit silence. They need to speak up when someone says a sexist joke, or even talks about taking advantage of a drunken girl. Men need to say something when other men sexualize women. Yes, this sounds scary. Who wants to be the party pooper? Who wants to be called “gay” or “pussy” by other guys?
Trust me. Once you do it, it gets easier. We need to take a stand. Men and women need to change society together. We need help not just from people, but also from institutions. Women need to show that they are looking for something more than just that masculine “bad boy.” They need to show that they value men who reject the “tough guise.” Finally, we need to break the monopoly of the media, where mostly rich, white men dictate the meaning of masculinity and its association with violence and sex.

Resham Parikh is a first-year international studies major. She can be reached at parikhr@uci.edu.