Fantastic Masculinity in Pop Culture

I’ll be honest, I did not see the first movie to come out in the Harry Potter Expanded Universe, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I haven’t had time to see many movies lately, and I’ve only really made time to be a Marvel completionist for the last couple of years (along with a few other movies here and there).

However, since watching the video below, discussing Eddie Redmayne’s nuanced and emotional portrayal of the wizard protagonist Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts, I’m really eager to watch this movie in its entirety.

I love a good action movie, and the first 8 Harry Potter movies rarely failed to deliver at least some compelling action and story. I enjoy superhero movies for the same reason, but most of them are missing a certain something you don’t see very often, if at all, in popular culture.

Masculinity is a narrowly defined set of personality traits that are defined in popular culture mostly in stereotypes and shallow characters. There are male characters who are able to break out of these moulds, but in general, men in the TV and movies are tough, strong, and unemotional. Departure from those traits is considered a departure from the masculine.

The same idea, with a separate set of traits, exists for female characters in the same way. I consider both stereotypical depictions, male and female, to be generally unfair, but for very different reasons.

In Fantastic Beasts, at least as far as I can tell from the Pop Culture Detective video above, Newt is allowed MUCH more emotional and physical leeway in his ‘masculinity’ than male protagonists are normally afforded. He’s not shown as physically strong, and he shows compassion and avoids confrontation where possible. I’m only going to go into a small portion of what the video discusses, but I think a lot of the same reasoning applies.

In the same vein as with Fantastic Beasts, one of the reasons I think 2017’s Wonder Woman was such a refreshing departure from the normal superhero fare is Gal Godot’s incredible portrayal of Diana Prince. She is a fearless warrior who doesn’t back away from a fight, and she’s strong but she deeply cares about and values life and peace. She’s not your typical woman, instead she’s somewhere in the grey area between ‘male’ and ‘female’ archetypes.

Personally, I believe the reason these characters both resonate so strongly with me is that I have always found the ‘male’ archetype wholly unsatisfying to draw aspects of my personality from. There’s nothing wrong with being a beer-swilling, weight-lifting, punch-throwing dude, but that has never been me.

I want to watch chick flicks, I have a good cry when I feel bad, and I’m happier supporting my team from a distance in a fight than engaging in battle directly (whether metaphorically or literally, like in sports). I’m not embarrassed or emasculated if challenged or proven wrong, but I really do enjoy watching sports and showing off my mental or physical strengths.

I’ve met a large enough sample of people in my life to realize that it’s very rare to find somebody who fits entirely in to the ‘male’ or ‘female’ type, and that’s the way I would expect it to be. Life is full of gradients, and most people don’t live in the extremes.

It’s extremely satisfying to see characters in popular culture defying stereotypes and living in grey areas, because it gives people who see them ‘permission’ to behave in non-typical ways, and shows other people that there is more to the human experience than black or white, male or female, and red or blue. Life is full of nuance, and the more people see it that way, the better off we’ll all be.


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