Have you heard of the “tough guise” pose? It’s been around for millennia, but only recently been recognized as problematic. The tough guise pose is an identity that, thanks to the generalized idea of manhood, men are expected to be tough and assertive, and if they deviate from this, they are shamed and bullied. Educator Jonathan Katz says this is an ongoing problem because societies are rooted in tough male stereotypes. The question is, is it getting better?
I think while Katz’s argument deserves to still be taken seriously, media-culture is slightly beginning to shift and include more complex identities of men and their masculinity.
For an example, I’m looking back on “Love, Simon”, in my view tied with The Death Cure for Best Movie of 2018. That movie, based on a young-adult novel under a different name, is the first movie in history to be centred around a gay protagonist with a wide Hollywood release.
The titular character, Simon Spier, is played by Nick Robinson, and his character manages to come across as shy, sensitive, and compassionate towards his friends. He’s hiding his sexuality but he doesn’t disguise it with masculine tropes. He dresses differently from other boys in his school, not to the point of awkwardness but just not as cool. And by the end of the movie, he is embraced and cheered on by most of his school for him having a boyfriend.
I’ve noticed recent movies like Peppermint and The Glass Castle where there were mean and tough male characters, but those characters were the antagonists. Even the horrendous Fifty Shades movies involved how Christian Grey grew up to be toxic in his assertiveness, and that became the main antagonist of his life.
So what about in Love, Simon? Are there males we root against? Yep. Simon’s sexuality is exposed after a kid finds out, blackmails him over it, and then eventually reveals it on the school’s blog. Two boys the next day make fun of him at lunch – and are scorned pretty badly by their drama teacher before being sent to the office. As for the blackmailer, Martin, despite the fact he’s also an antagonist, he actually doesn’t exhibit the tough guise. He’s socially awkward, takes swimming lessons instead of a head-on sport, and plays the school mascot.
While the “tough guise” still exists, I think the media is looking towards other guises more now.