Sexism as entertainment
A couple of years ago we used to watch a show called MANswers. Not because it was smart, funny or interesting but because it was incredibly sexist. It was truly hypermasculinity on steroids. The show stopped airing a few years back but is still available online and when we stumbled upon it again a while ago we felt like we needed to bring it up to discussion once again because the show is ridiculous.
Each season of MANswers contains brief episodes that talk about the sort of things that men are supposedly interested in, such as beer, boobs, weapons, violence, and technology. In every episode a few different questions are asked and answered such as: “How much is semen worth?”, “How did a guy have sex while flying a helicopter”, “How can you take a bullet out yourself?” and “How have guys gotten a happy ending at high-class massage parlors?”. Experts are brought in to answer the questions and bring clarity.
We were interested in looking at the show from a feminist perspective with content analysis. How can a show such as MANswers affect how men view women and what does the content imply about men and imply about women? In a previous post at XY-online we concluded that MANswers promote depictions of men and women that suggest:
- That men only enjoy brief sexual encounters with women, not long-term relationships or deeper connections.
- That men need to control and hide their emotions rather than being emotionally connected and open.
- That real men need to be aggressive, tough and ready to fight. Violence is viewed as an integral part of men’s lives.
- That binge drinking alcohol and using various illegal drugs is the norm.
- That men’s health is not an important issue.
- That same-sex friendships (foremost among men) are valued more than any other type of relationship.
- That heterosexuality is the norm to the extent that homosexuality is never even mentioned. “Real guys” are therefore not homosexual.
- That women are mainly viewed as objects of men’s sexual desire.
- That women are confined to a few gender role portrayals, especially those that explicitly highlight their bodies and sexuality.
- That women, in order to be attractive, should be of below average weight.
- That older women, women above average body weight, and women below average height are not deemed attractive (derogatory descriptions of such women include the use of words such as “fatty” and “midget hooker”).
- That women enjoy, approve of and take pride in men’s sexualization of women’s bodies.
- That physical attractiveness is more important than any other characteristic.
Further we wanted to look further at several issues and therefor aimed to examine the following assumptions based on the previous piece that discussed what the show suggested about how men and women should act and be like.
We hypothesized that in MANswers:
1: The great majority of professionals/experts depicted would be male.
2: Race would be significant in the depiction of women, where white women would be portrayed more often than other ethnicities.
3: The majority of women depicted would be below average weight, while a smaller number of women would be of average weight.
4: The women depicted would be portrayed mainly as “sex objects”.
Methods and results:
By employing various previously used and recognized scales we made use of content analysis to literally count the number of professionals/experts, women, and so on, and categorizing them. In doing that we found the following: that the great majority of experts/professionals were in fact male. 78% of the sample of experts/professionals were male and 22% of the experts/professionals were female.
We also found that race was a significant factor in the depiction of women in MANswers. White women were believed to be portrayed more often than other ethnicities. The results showed that, where the sample was 517 women recorded in 10 episodes of three seasons of MANswers, 335 women were deemed white (65%). 152 women were believed to constitute other ethnicities (29%) while the authors believed only 30 women to be black (6%).
The third assumption, that the majority of women depicted in MANswers would be below average weight, while a smaller number of women would be of average weight and an even smaller percentage would be above average weight was confirmed by the fact that the great majority of women (77%, n=399) were below average weight. Women of average weight and body shape only amounted to 22.5% (n=116) of the total sample, while only two women (0.5%) of above average weight were depicted in MANswers when the total sample of women recorded were 517.
The forth hypothesis, that the women depicted in MANswers would be portrayed mainly as sex objects was confirmed due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of women depicted in MANswers were most suitably coded under the category of “sex object” and due to the fact that 93.5% of the women portrayed in MANswers were represented in either moderate (58%) or maximum (35.5%) body exposure.
Although MAnswers no longer airs, you can still purchase the episodes and view them on youtube and other sites. We find it interesting that a show such as MANswers, which caters to men, needs to include rampant sexist depictions of women to “stay interesting”. In this case, the depiction of “real men” is tied intimately to the depiction of women as sex objects and that is worrying. The show provided narrow depictions of gender roles and basically makes the case that in order to be a “real man”, derogatory views of women are a vital part of “real manhood”. Not only does MANswers depict women in a negative an objectifying way, but the show also implies that men are by nature sexist and that they gladly view women as objects of their own sexual desire. Is the show just fun and games, a comical depiction of what it is like being a man today, with the viewer understanding that this show is simply satire (which the show is self-described as), or does it contribute to an already problematic view of women that has real-life consequences?
→ Hennie Weiss has a Master’s Degree in Sociology. Elin Weiss has a Master’s degree in Women’s Studies. Their interests include feminism, gender stereotypes, the sexualization of women and the portrayal of women and men in media. More of their work can be found here.