In documentary style, ”Tough Guise” addresses the issue of masculinity represented as being tough, macho, and violent in western culture. Host and presenter Jackson Katz shares video clips from movies, interviews with young men, and statistics, in addition to his own view based on his experience working with American young men in an anti-violence education capacity.
“Tough Guise” begins with young men sharing words they feel describe what it means to be a “true man,” as well as words that are the opposite—what, as a male, you’re called if you aren’t “manly” enough. Manly words include: tough, strong, independent, respected. Insult words include: wuss, wimp, sissy, fag.
They learn these concepts from family, community, and media. For example, in movies, Asian men
A particular group of men Katz addressed was black men (whom he referred to as ‘men of color’ since this film was made in 1999). He pointed out that black men don’t have opportunities for privileges and education like middle class men because the resources they need have been systematically taken from them.
“This is not their fault, it’s reality,” says Katz. “But one thing that hasn’t been taken from them is the ability to use their bodies to instill fear and respect in other people.”
Katz continued by explaining where black men got their inspiration for what we know as “gangsta culture” today: Gangster films. Stories about violent white Italian men. It comes full circle, because young white men began copying black “gangsta” men for the image that comes with it: power and respect.
He also explained that school shootings (which were obviously nowhere near the level they are now when this film was made) are not a result of video games, satanic rock stars, or violent movies. It’s about boys feeling that they don’t fit into the jock culture that idolizes muscles and toughness. Guns are “the great equalizer,” says Katz.
He continues by pointing out that violence on this scale has been happening in black neighbourhoods for decades, and the media simply reports it as fact. But now that it’s happening in white middle class neighbourhoods it’s a problem, because suddenly it’s happening to “normal kids.”
While Katz admits that video games and films play a role in perpetuating the idea that ‘manhood’ is represented by toughness, cruelty, and violence, he also says that they do so “within a bigger cultural and social context where the constant message is that manhood is connected to power, control, and violence—it’s what passes for ‘normal’ culture.”
Katz wrapped up his presentation by saying the world needs more honest portrayals of male vulnerability, to define courage in a way that doesn’t include violence and disrespect, and to break “the monopoly of the media system we’ve been looking at where rich white men dictate the kinds of stories and examples of manhood that surround us.”
His final plea is that we will all struggle to enact real cultural and structural change in our society.
“It’s the only way our sons and their sons will have a chance at being better men,” says Katz.
This film was incredible. It may be 15 years old, but it still speaks to today’s pervasively violent culture, especially as it relates to men, manhood, and masculinity. I really appreciated this new perspective that the typical scapegoats (video games, movies, inner city influence) are not the cause of the problem, but perpetuations of a problem we’ve created for ourselves. In particular, Katz mentioned Columbine and how the reports surrounding that event left out a very important and crucial point: that school shootings are always done by males. While one New York Times article mentioned it parenthetically, no one else did, and even the NYT did not unpack that worldview-changing statement.
Another aspect of perpetuating violence in our society that I had not considered was the films that portray extreme violence against women. Katz pointed out that in those types of films, women are shown getting undressed, taking a shower, being in provocative poses, and at that moment, when the straight male viewers are sexually aroused, the women are violently assaulted. This perpetuates the idea that violence and sexual experiences can and should be connected.
This film solidified some things I had been thinking already, and put into words feelings I’d had but couldn’t define surrounding this topic. It was informative, educational, and enlightening. I am so glad I chose to watch this documentary and I may watch the second one if I get a chance to, as well.