I saw a picture of Barbie and He-Man on Facebook this morning and it got me thinking. I grew up with influences like He-Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Conan in my life and I loved them. I wasn’t quite as much into He-Man, but the other two were definitely in the top two. Heavy influencers for me…so heavy that over 30 years later I can still pick up around 600lbs, yet my day job is that of a lead software developer and I’ve written over 70 books in fantasy, science fiction, and other genres, and I hold a masters, a bachelors, and an associates degree in varying fields.
Have I accomplished Is it because of those influences? I remember watching lessons about learning responsibility and taking control of my actions and behavior. I learned the value of hard work and self-discipline too. Not entirely from the television and books, of course, but it was a reinforcement of what I learned elsewhere. It certainly helped that I’ve got good genetics that makes me athletic and I had good parents that raised me (hi mom). Or at least I think they did a decent job, even if there are a few incidents involving wallpaper and earrings that just won’t be forgotten…
Inside jokes aside, I see what my kids watch today on TV and I have to wonder where they get their inspiration and role models from. A talking sponge? Goofie cartoons I can’t make any sense of with characteristic graphics? To be totally fair, I love where some cartoons like Sofia the First and the Barbie movies have gone for girls. Strong, intelligent, and capable young ladies. My daughter’s into Monster High too, and as bizarre as that can be, it has more of the same message.
So what about the strong male role models? Well, there’s Transformers…but wait, those are robots. The sponge and his idiot starfish friend Patrick? Phineas and Ferb is entertaining, but it teaches my son more about getting away with things than taking responsibility. Star Wars Rebels, a recent show, seems to have some legs to it, but I’m biased towards sci-fi. And in Star Wars the big and physically powerful men are aliens.
Why are we so afraid to show a large and muscular man? Why are they villainized and considered threatening? Today’s concept of a strong man is a metrosexual man that has leaned out to 7% bodyfat and weighs in around 135lbs. There’s no real strength there, just a desire to fit into fashionable skinny jeans and maybe get his chiseled 5 o clock shadow face on a magazine cover for 50 sexiest men in 2015.
What’s that teach? Abuse yourself for the masses. Seek happiness by trying to convince others to look up to you. Women these days can be strong and self-sufficient, as well as beautiful and well rounded. Men? Men take a back seat and have to atone for years of gender-bias. Hell, these days the media would have us believe that men need to be more feminized and softened.
If it hasn’t come across yet, I’m a huge proponent of equality and empowering women. My wife regularly busts my chops in every way she can (and she has found plenty, let me tell you!). However, making our wives, sisters, and daughters stronger does not have to come at the sacrifice of denigrating the male gender. The world is a diverse place, why can’t we embrace that and have all kinds portrayed so our children have more choices of what they want to become? Yes, our kids learn from us as parents, but we’re a constant in their life that they tend to ignore as much as possible. Cartoons and movies…now those are special. Those have impact, even if fleeting. I’m here to say that I still carry some of those fleeting moments with me, almost 4 decades later.