We have seen these same six guys over and over and over, and we are tired of them.
There’s been a lot of legitimate criticism of the lazy, insulting stereotypes of women that too many movies and TV shows rely on, and the harmful effects those stereotypes have on impressionable viewers. There’s not, in my opinion, enough criticism of the godawful stereotypes of men that are doing just as much harm. Here’s six particularly egregious ones.
The Strong Silent Type
He doesn’t talk much; words aren’t really his thing. He never asks questions and he doesn’t answer many, either. Nobody knows what’s going on inside his head… until it’s violence o’clock. Then he’s expressive, all right; he’ll express a dozen people to death, never saying a word except for a trenchant quip here and there.
Wait, bad verbal communication skills and a penchant for solving problems with violence? Isn’t that every domestic abuser ever?
It is a serious problem that this stereotype is so popular; it encourages boys to hone their imagined ninja skills rather than their ability to express themselves. And while I’d never disparage the noble art of ninjutsu, I personally have solved way fewer problems in my life by assassinating them than by asking someone to clarify their point. Honestly, anyone who can’t say the same should probably reexamine their life choices.
The Romantic Stalker
There’s no dissuading true love, not for this guy. No matter how many times she tells him it’s over, she’s not interested, or she’s actually involved with someone else, he knows that “no” just means “try harder.” He follows his intended around to learn her habits. He shows up at her house or workplace unexpectedly. He breaks into buildings and assumes disguises just to get closer to her. He likes to surprise her unexpectedly. In the movies, this ends with her realizing that anyone so devoted must be the perfect boyfriend. In real life, the best-case outcome is a restraining order. The worst-case is a cluster of scenarios, mostly involving the phrase “murder/suicide”.
Even when society has mostly accepted that stalking is bad, movies and TV continue to champion it. There was a film out last year about two dudes using CIA surveillance equipment to invade Reese Witherspoon’s privacy without her consent. My personal favorite is from Aaron Sorkin’s disastrous Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, where Bradley Whitford’s character is directly told “This is stalking, it’s really making me uncomfortable, and you need to stop.” He responds “No, I’m not going to stop” and sure enough, a couple episodes later she’s madly in love with him.
This isn’t a fanciful connection, either; real-life stalkers often cite movies as justification for how their inappropriate actions are really romantic gestures. Stop, stop, stop teaching people that this behavior is normal or acceptable. It is not.
The Unsuitable Suitor
This guy is often found in the same movies as the Romantic Stalker. Greg Kinnear and James Marsden have both played a lot of him. He’s the guy the girl should not be with, the boyfriend that’s not as good for her as the stalker would be, the relationship the hero has to rescue her from. He’s always superficially handsome, he’s almost always rich, and he’s just there to be a foil for the hero’s free-spirited stalking.
I’m not saying the heroine should stay with the smarmy rich pain in the ass; that happened in Pretty In Pink and it was awful. (If you liked the ending of Pretty In Pink, you are a bad human being. I’m sorry you had to find out this way.) It just dismays me that every time I see this guy pop up onscreen, I know every single thing he’s going to say and do. If that’s not a sign that a stereotype needs to be retired, what is?
The Sitcom Husband
He’s dumb, he’s crude, he’s filthy, he’s horny, he has the interpersonal skills of a child and the emotional depth of a staph infection. And yet he’s married to a woman so much more attractive than him that if you met this couple in real life, you’d do a double take.
Enough. Please. We have seen this guy every day in syndication for decades. It’s a brutally ugly stereotype of men, and it comes paired with a painfully irritating stereotype of women as well: Sitcom Husband’s wife is always a nagging, humorless killjoy, a sexy pseudomom to a fat, balding adolescent. That is not a normal, relatable marriage dynamic, that is an Oedipal nightmare. I watch sitcoms for laughs; when I want weirdly incestuous relationships I’ll watch Game of Thrones like a normal person.
The Badass Loner
He rides into town out of nowhere, his past mysterious, his manner tough and aloof. There’s a touch of violence to him, but his effortless aura of cool makes him irresistible to the ladies.
This is one of those things that people keep doing because it worked really well once. So every time someone tries to write (or god forbid, actually be) the Badass Loner, they think they’re going to get this:
But in practice, they usually end up with this:
There is a noun in German, backpfeifengesicht, which translates as “a face that needs a fist in it”. The above picture is why that word exists.
The Dumb Foil
This is one of those awful characters that’s just a prop in someone else’s story. His job is to doubt, criticize, argue with, or compete with a female character on the basis of her gender, and lose. You’ve seen him saying things like “You sure a little lady like you can handle that?” or “This is why women don’t belong in this profession!” or “No way am I going to lose to a girl.” He is literally just there to be wrong.
The Dumb Foil is an amazing artifact, really. He’s a time capsule of how hack writers thought feminism worked for five minutes in 1972. He comes down to us perfectly preserved, an atavistic living fossil, always ready to reduce gender relations down to men against women, and be perpetually astonished at the revolutionary idea that sometimes women can win.
Meanwhile, real feminism has been doing a good job breaking down the cheap stereotypes, clichés, and ill-drawn characters that have too often been women’s lot in TV and movies. It’s past time we started doing the same for men.
One night, before bed, the child begs their parent, “Tell me a story!” and the parent says “What do you want to hear?” And the child says “Goldilocks!” and the parent says, “We read Golidlocks every night! Let’s read something else.” And the child says, “I want to hear Goldilocks!” And the parent says, “Fine. I’ll read Goldilocks.” The parent cracks the well-worn book and begins. “Once upon a time, there were three bears. “What were they called?” asked the child. The parent replies, “Mama Bear, Papa Bear, and Grampa Bear.” “No!” shrieks the child. “It’s Baby Bear!” The parent… Read more »
I was just complaining today about the dumb sitcom husband stereotype, how demeaning it is and how unbelievably, tediously over-worked. I consider my husband a genius, mostly because he is one. 😀
But yeah, all of these are long past due for the trash can.
here ‘are’ six, not here ‘is’ six
“more attractive than he [is]*
1. means no more Batman or Bond. Nertz to that.
2. means no more Pepe LePew. Nertz to that.
3.. means no more Ralph Kramden. You must be joking.
4. means no more Gary Cooper. No more Man-with-No-Name Clint Eastwood. No more Bruce Lee. No more Lemmy Caution. Get a grip, yo.
5. means no more Viggo Mortensen in GI Jane, no more Aquaman in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, no more Hudson in Aliens, no more Dabney Coleman in 9 to 5. Nertz, nertz, be serious, I mean it about that grip.
I like your article. Can we please leave Ryan Gossling there? One exception? 😉
Who did not like The Notebook?
NO ONE LIKES RYAN GOSLING
OMG, I see comments here that are longer than the article. Who has time to read them? Noah, you did forget one male category in Hollywood: The smart-ass know-it-all. Hee, hee
Problem – all these programmes (and adverts) are designed for the female audience. Because they watch more and they spend more. The people who make them would be out of a job if they changed, because they would lose market share.
The female stereotypes were easy to get rid of because females did not mind & many actually agreed.
The male stereotypes will not be so easy to remove.
One part of me says, “yup, gotta do something about these stereotypes.” But then another side of me says, “It’s TV, mostly sitcoms … get over it.” One part of me says, “Women fought to have these stereotypes removed and men should be doing the same.” But another part of me says, “it’s TV, mostly sitcoms … get over it.” It’s kind of like someone bringing home a portrait and hating it because it’s a caricature of the person. Many of these roles are no more then caricatures of people and not intended to depict reality or the norm. They’re… Read more »
This is a great list! And I think these stereotypes do have an effect on men. I know I’ve personally been pursued by the romantic stalker in a couple of different forms. One of them because he thought I had the unsuitable suitor. He also thought of himself as the “nice guy” which means that if he’s nice to me I should, by rights, fall into his arms. This often goes hand in hand with the romantic stalker. Thanks for opening up the dialogue about this. It’s important for people to look at these characters and think about what they… Read more »
“If you liked the ending of Pretty In Pink, you are a bad human being.”
IMHO you’ve missed out the most important: The Subject of Gratuitous Violence. I’d say “The Victim” but that word implies that people are expected to care about the violence or death of the men in question, which they rarely are. 9/10 of deaths in films, which do not result in a tear being shed by other characters, are of men. (I pulled that figure out of my arse but you know it’s plausible). The worst portrayals those where the men “deserve it” because they did something ever so slightly contemptible earlier in the film, such as make a suggestive comment… Read more »
I agree with all of them except for the Bad ass Loner type. Seriously, I’m not Ryan Gosling fan, but after watching him play the bad ass loner on drive, I became a fan. The Bad Ass Loner is the coolest male stereotypes on movies
Actually Dr House is wrong WAY more than half the time. Think of a typical episode, he is wrong probably 5 or 6 times until the last minute.
If he was an auto mechanic, he would change 6 or 7 parts on your car before finally finding the part that was actually broken. And btw, you would be charged fees and costs for each part changed, pretty sure you would never go back to him or recommend him.
While we’re retiring male stereotypes, can we get rid of the Perfect Daddy Dom characters? You know, Dr. Cox from Scrubs, Dr. Gregory House from House, Jack Bauer from 24. The gruff, rude, but-never-quite-being-mean guy who is always in power, is always the best, and is always, always, always right.
Given how many women have told me how incredibly sexy they find these characters, its reasonable to say they exist as porn for women. Problem is, when men actually try to emulate these characters, you end up with snarky assholes who are dead wrong half the time.
House IS dead wrong half the time, don’t even need to go for his emulators.
It was nice in that one episode where he told an AIS girl that she had testicle, so this made her male, and her father sexually assaulting her made him gay so he would stop to not be gay.
Great treatment of intersex people!
Hollywood copies the men and women we see everyday. Perhaps men and women should start acting proper and stop looking at women as the weaker sex. “Downton Abby” is an excellent show about propriety and moral character with ethical behavior. Being English and working in the film world, I feel more shows need to reinforce the Kings and Queens within each of us. Then, we won’t have our little ones growing up watching more dribble thinking the role models they see on TV is acceptable moral behavior. There are few shows that I like (excellent lists above). I’m tired of… Read more »
“The Strong Silent Type He doesn’t talk much; words aren’t really his thing. He never asks questions and he doesn’t answer many, either. Nobody knows what’s going on inside his head… until it’s violence o’clock.” As much as anything else, it needs to go just so the shy guy types aren’t automatically labelled as creeps when they’re not. Also note the similarities between this one and bad-ass loner – and the sexyness of the latter. “The Sitcom Husband He’s dumb” – So? “he’s crude” – So? “he’s horny” – So? “he has the interpersonal skills of a child and the… Read more »
While I generally agree with the article it does raise the topic of whether life is imitating art or if its the other way around. For example, I grew up around a lot of strong, silent types, especially my grandfather’s and uncle’s military buddies. A lot of men are that way, so is it bad that hollywood reflects this? Likewise as a black man I get somewhat angry at certain black stereotypes that I see in movies and yet all I have to do is walk outside and I see those very stereotypes reflected in the people all around me.… Read more »
The fat husband/hot wife trope is interesting to me, in that I’ve seen so many complaints about it, even though it’s a direct reflection of almost any discussion about gendered attraction that you’ve ever read or heard, including on this site. That is, those dumb fat husbands are almost invariably funny, and quite often sweet and devoted, all of which women consistently rank as more important (in these discussions) than being at least as good looking or better than they are. [sarcasm]Men, we all know, only care about hotness.[/sarcasm] So what is it about that trope that’s so offensive? I… Read more »
What I hate most about this trope is that the husband is always a dumb, crude, oaf, whose problems could usually be avoided if he would just listen to his smart, pretty wife, who wins nearly every argument. It makes men seem like sub humans, while putting women on these pedestals as these attractive and smart people who need to drag these dumb men along in the right direction. Those husbands are also often portrayed as being terrible parents, especially compared to their wives.
I’m not saying that combo never happens, but what I find interesting is that when I try to think of examples, I find it much easier to think of examples that don’t fit that trope, than examples than do, and I’m not even dipping into other genres. From sit-coms that are long gone, to the current crop, I think of example after example that doesn’t fit that description, which seems to me like an argument that it’s not as pervasive and inescapable as some people think. Maybe my own taste has steered me clear of the worst offenders, but here… Read more »
The main ones I was thinking of were The Simpsons, Family Guy, King of Queens, Home Improvement, Still Standing, Malcolm in the Middle, According to Jim, Married with Children, Everybody Loves Raymond. Now granted not all of those men are fat, but like I said its more the bumbling, oafish, man child nature of them especially compared with their wives that bothers me. With Raymond, from what I remember Ray was usually portrayed as immature, lazy, and somewhat dumb or slow witted. I dont remember Debra usually being that way in fact she was often as much of a mother… Read more »
I’ve seen most of the shows on your list except Still Standing and According to Jim, so I can’t offer an informed opinion about those. As for the rest, the only ones that seem to have a big physical attractiveness gap are Family Guy and King of Queens, but that might be a case of my subjective impression of attractiveness increasing if it’s a character I really like. You’re right that the gap is also more evident in Simpsons flashbacks, where Marge was hotter but Homer was always looked like either a dork or slob. On the spectrum of parental… Read more »
That was my reaction too: art imitating life, life imitating art? Some of these are archetypical ideals (strong, silent, powerful type). Others, I think, are the result of men adapting to a changing culture yet maintaining their power (e.g. laughing at how we have been “emasculated”).
What about race-specific and gay-specific examples. The intersectionality there is interesting too.
I think the slouch/hottie stereotype often gets filled when an average-looking stand-up comic gets a sit-com, but then the producers don’t want an average-looking woman starring in the show. Many of the examples given are shows that star a stand-up comic. Men have much more permission to be average-looking or even slouchy. I know this doesn’t fully account for the stereotype, but I think it’s part of it.
Liked the piece, Noah, and agreed with the points in general. I guess I take tone issue. There are a few of those characters I’d like to see evolved instead of retired. I think the reason we stuck with Jason Bourne for three movies worth of neck-snapping and head-shots was because he was a “Strong Silent Type” who was in the process of becoming something else… or at least realizing he could be something else. Ditto the Sit-Com husband. We’re seeing it with Ed O’Neill, who played the ULTIMATE sit-com husband for more than a decade, now playing a far… Read more »
good list, but how about adding the Useless Dad. you know the one, who puts nappies on upside down and invariably creates snowballing domestic disasters that can only be solved when Competent Mum gets back? time he went … xt
I think he’s covered under “Sitcom Husband,” but yeah, him too.
There’s not, in my opinion, enough criticism of the godawful stereotypes of men that are doing just as much harm. Here’s six particularly egregious ones. That’s because when we do we are told we are wasting time that could be better spent on doing something about the stereotypes that harm women. Or that the ones that affect men aren’t that bad. I’m personally all for getting rid of them. And to be exact I don’t want to swing the pendulum in the other direction and try to eradicate those types of characters as if they are representative of no real… Read more »
@Danny, I’m up for a variety of enjoyable male and female “types” on the Big Screen. But as a woman, while I can appreciate that Hollywood may not have the bucks (or the smarts?) to paint multidimensional characters, I can’t help but worry that they’re pandering to the lowest common denominator in all of us. I would be inclined to say these male stereotypes are harmful to women as well as men. They seep into our collective consciousness and influence how we raise our children, how we perceive potential friends and partners, and what we expect in both personal and… Read more »
I’m up for a variety of enjoyable male and female “types” on the Big Screen. But as a woman, while I can appreciate that Hollywood may not have the bucks (or the smarts?) to paint multidimensional characters, I can’t help but worry that they’re pandering to the lowest common denominator in all of us. I can agree with that. Which is why I’m up for making sure people actually examine why they enjoy those types of entertainment as well as pushing for more diversity. I would be inclined to say these male stereotypes are harmful to women as well as… Read more »
I’m still waiting for ‘The Robust Heterosexual’ to disappear from popular US TV shows. It would be nice for an American show to have a Torchwood-style Captain Jack character, or even just a guy who wasn’t a ‘Maverick cop/federal agent/plumber with a troubled personal life (an ex-wife/wife murdered by serial killer/ex he can’t let go of/rebellious child)’, inevitably paired with a ‘feisty’ (god how I hate that word) female partner who’s only there to provide witty banter, ‘sexual tension’ and a plunging cleavage. So sick of that crap.
Amen! And could we get rid of the gay guy played by a straight guy who thinks you act like a gay guy by adding a few femenized traits like a speech affectation and a slightly limp wrist who’s only their to support the female lead or to make the straight male lead uncomfortable, but who never has a true romantic interest? Thanks.
And while I’d never disparage the noble art of ninjutsu, I personally have solved way fewer problems in my life by assassinating them than by asking someone to clarify their point. Honestly, anyone who can’t say the same should probably reexamine their life choices. … There is a noun in German, backpfeifengesicht, which translates as “a face that needs a fist in it”. The above picture is why that word exists. Based on the first quote, I thought “bakpfeifengesicht” was going to mean “Stop, collaborate and listen,” but I can see how you might not consider Vanilla Ice a solvable… Read more »
I normally don’t comment just to say I laughed out loud at something. But LOL, sir. LOL.
The Unsuitable Suitor can also be known as The Baxter, which is also a great film void of these stereotypes (in my person option)