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Masculinity in crisis: why brands must do more to challenge stereotypes

A new report from global creative agency Amplify reveals that young men feel portrayals of masculinity in the media are increasingly out of step with real life. Here, Amplify’s Yasmin Arrigo examines its findings...

Toxic masculinity dominated headlines across the world last week, following the Academy Awards and the shock altercation that threatened to derail the ceremony. But irrespective of that particular incident, the crisis in modern masculinity is never far from the headlines, with young men being fed damaging clichés around masculinity on a daily basis by the media and entertainment world.

Traditional male stereotypes abound, from those encouraging men to suppress their emotions through to rigidity around gender roles, with men portrayed as tough, aggressive and the dominant financial providers for the family. These lazy stereotypes persist in everything from films to video games and across advertising.

Brands have a crucial role to play in addressing how men are perceived in society, yet despite the ASA’s ban on gender stereotyping in 2019, many young men in the UK do not see themselves represented.

Amplify recently surveyed more than 2,000 men aged 16 to 24 across the UK on all aspects of masculinity. Our Young Men on Masculinity research showed that 61% believe that brands have a responsibility in shaping modern masculinity, but only 54% of young men we questioned said they feel seen in advertising. The majority (70%) of respondents to our survey felt that masculinity, or parts of it, are toxic while a quarter said that “society’s expectations of my gender” negatively impact their mental health.

Brands Getting It Right

Some brands are making progress, however. When asked which brand best represents modern masculinity, the respondents to our survey placed Nike first, followed by Lynx, JD Sports, YouTube and PlayStation. It’s no surprise to see Nike topping the list – the brand is a powerful cultural force that has leveraged its platform to try to change the narrative around gender in sport. Its recent Play New campaign explores masculinity, with a talking football rattling off a series of macho clichés including ‘nice guys finish last’, until Manchester United player and activist Marcus Rashford appears and the ball is kicked away.