Men as Archetype: Or, How Jordan Catalano Ruined Everything

Jordan Catalano

Are you a man? If so, do you know this man? I don’t mean Jared Leto, frontman for 30 Seconds to Mars, I mean THIS man, Jordan Catalano. If you don’t, you should. He ruined everything.

Maybe that’s too bold a statement. Jordan was (and remains in our hearts) the babe of short-lived ABC drama My So-Called Life. (Thanks to the miracle of the internet, you can watch it all on Hulu.) He was the bad boy, in a band, and brushed his hair out of his eyes a lot. Angela Chase, the show’s protagonist, was in love with him. When they got involved (yes, obviously this is television), we didn’t balk at the fact that he kept their meetings in the boiler room a secret, or that as it turned out his head was full of rocks. He was damaged, he was a puppy, we could rescue him and make him into who we thought he should be.

The thing about Jordan Catalano is that he might have been a babe, but he sure as hell sucked. What many of us saw as him being shy was just him being withdrawn and unable to communicate. When we were sure he was singing “Red” about Angela, he wasn’t, he was singing it about his car. And when he and Angela had broken up and he slept with her best friend? We danced right along to “Blister In The Sun” when Angela got over him.

And, in a perfect world, Jordan Catalano withered away and Angela moved on. But she didn’t. When Jordan, with the help of Brian (who had a thing for Angela for, like, ever) crafted a letter explaining his (and Brian’s) feelings, she took him back. He picked her up in the musically-praised car, and they drove off into the sunset, probably to the nearest boiler room. When the show was airing, I thought this was beautiful – they were together in the end, and that’s how it should be, right?

As an adult, I think it sucks. Angela made so many excuses for him, and gave Jordan so many chances that he blew every single time. I understand that we’re talking about adolescent men, here, but the character of Jordan set a precedent for that kind of guy, even in real life. In a way, the ending of the show validated his shitty behavior throughout the entire series, and made it acceptable to an impressionable me (and I’m certain, other women) to take someone like that back.

Jordan Catalano made the withdrawn, jerk boyfriend desirable. His character gave women the idea that if you just love someone damaged ENOUGH, they’ll write you a beautiful letter and change. But they don’t. And those dudes need counseling. And those dudes need to understand that no matter how many shearling jackets you don, no matter how many goofy, rare (and for that reason glorified) statements you utter about your car, or Tino, you are toxic to women.

And maybe women like me need to understand that just as much.

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Men in Film: Jackson Katz’s documentary “Tough Guise”

When first describing the mission of this blog to friends and colleagues, I often used the word “facade” to talk about the conformist masculine disguise men in Western society are encouraged to wear. My premise is that boys and men themselves are not aware of their dutiful following of this compulsory code of behavior and posing. Similar  to the way in which females are rewarded for performing the role of femininity ascribed to them by men, society, and other women to the point where they cannot tell their own identities apart from the cultural costume, males can also be blind to the their daily performances of manhood.

“One of the ways dominance functions is through being unexamined. . . We focus always on the subordinated group and not on the dominant group. And that is one of the ways that the power of dominant groups isn’t questioned–by remaining invisible. . .” -Jackson Katz, Ph.D

Jackson Katz, the filmmaker and educator behind the 1998 documentary Tough Guise: Violence, Media and the Crisis of Masculinity, attempts to lay bare the culture of toughness (impenetrability, a silent acceptance of physical and/or emotional pain, no outward expression of feeling, a cultural comfort and almost expectation of aggression, etc) that surrounds and defines men’s relationship to women, other men, and themselves.

While the pop culture references to characters in ’90s movies like Can’t Hardly Wait and Boyz in the Hood feel a bit dated, the issues that Katz discussed in 1998 are far from being just a part of our past. Katz brings our attention to the fact that when the media covers violence, there is almost never a focus on the gender of the alleged criminal. With the majority of violent crime being committed by men, there is a nefarious and detrimental effect in leaving this obvious and critical element out of the conversation.

Use of the passive voice when we talk about crimes against women tends to shift our focus off of the male perpetrators and onto female victims and survivors….the media de-genders the discussion of violence… When girls commit violence, that’s always the subject. The gendered nature of the crime is always part of the discussion. What’s happened is because violence has been gendered masculine, we think it’s unusual only when women do it. When men do it, its masculine character is so normal that it’s unremarkable. In fact, it’s invisible.

Making masculinity visible is the first step to understanding how it operates in the culture, to how manhood has been linked  to dominance and control.”

Earlier this week, the noble and inspired cultural crusade that is the Good Men Project Magazine published an article on America’s continued love affair with firearms and asked leading voices on both sides of the gun control issue to contribute. Among them was Jackson Katz, with the same plea he had 13 years ago in his documentary.

“Much of what needs to happen is an honest conversation about issues related to masculinity and violence. Many people have circled around this subject, especially in terms of the intensifying debate about guns. The Tucson massacre has revived debate (for the moment) about our country’s gun laws, and the astounding power of the NRA to block commonsense regulations. . . But few, if any, voices in mainstream media have discussed the connection between guns, violence, and American ideals of manhood.

Amazingly, this connection has not been part of the mainstream coverage of Tucson or any of the rampage killings in recent years. The trouble is, you can’t change a social phenomenon until you can at least identify and name it. Each time one of these horrific acts of violence occurs, commentators and editorial writers hone in on every relevant factor they can identify—mental illness, the availability of handguns, the vitriolic tone of talk radio and cable TV—and leave out what is arguably the most important factor: gender.”

Have the guises and facades really changed since then? Or is the language that describes the entanglement of masculinity and aggression just another kind of cloak? And who does it really protect and shield? My answer: certainly not women, but also not men.


Quick Hit: What does this tell you?

A review of The Male Brain is forthcoming, but until then, think about the stereotypes these covers represent.


Men/Redemption: How Crying at Awards Shows Doesn’t Heal All Wounds

The Good Old Days

Chris Brown has been on my mind for a long time. You know when it started – the night he and Rihanna didn’t appear at the Grammys because he was assaulting her in a car. When all the photos of her bruised face leaked, it seemed surprising (yet, not totally) that a person who had spoken about his own experience with his mother’s battering publicly would be guilty of the same disturbing acts himself.

But oh, it was true. And oh, Chris Brown was sorry. It unleashed a firestorm of MTV specials about abuse, fans defending him, fans disowning him, and his retreat out of the mainstream to get help, or whatever it is you do when you’re under 21 and you brutally beat your own girlfriend. He plea bargained out of jail time, and participated in a year long domestic violence course that, from all reports til recently, seemed successful.

In that year, two things happened that still rattle. The first was his appearance on the BET Awards, participating in a Michael Jackson tribute. While there are very few entertainers who had what MJ did, Chris Brown has some of the moves.

And if he had come out, danced, and gotten offstage, it probably wouldn’t have bothered me in the slightest. It’s when we get to ‘Man in the Mirror’ that I bristle. It’s the crying. It’s the crying and the panning to the women in the audience who are obviously feeling empathetic toward someone who hasn’t shown any true remorse about the crime he committed, but is relieved that there is still a way to salvage his career.

Then “Deuces” leaked. Written by Brown himself, Tyga, and Kevin McCall, the song talks about breaking off a relationship after failed attempts to make it work. On the surface, it seems like myriad other pop songs.

Then I listened to the lyrics. Hearing someone paint themselves as some kind of victim, calling a partner “nothing but a vulture” and demanding things be “drama-free” in light of his own personal life was nothing if not messed up. No, dude, the person who should be getting deuces chucked at them by a partner is YOU.

So, here we are, a year later, and news breaks that while Brown’s DV counseling has been going well, he can’t seem to keep his anger in check. I don’t think there are enough awards shows for him to cry this all away. On top of that incident, he is now allowed to meet and talk with Rihanna, after the court order barring both was lifted due to his progression through counseling. While the lift required Rihanna’s consent, I can’t imagine that his overall mental health has improved to the point of a stable relationship. Redemption for Chris Brown is going to require intensive counseling, and I don’t know if a 21 year old man is capable of that kind of commitment.


Molly Lambert on Masculinity

“Masculinity” is as damaging to men as “Femininity” is to women. Neither is something to aspire to. Women who understand this are called feminists. Men who understand this aren’t called anything yet, but maybe they can just be called feminists too.” – from In Which We Teach You How To Be a Woman in Any Boys Club

preach it.


Extended Adolesence: Two Views

Wall Street Journal has two articles on its website that deal with something that has fascinated me and a lot of my female friends for some time – the notion that most women our age seem to be extremely driven and ambitious, but the men we surround ourselves with, less so.

The first piece is an adaptation from Kay S. Hymowitz’s forthcoming book Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, taking a deep dive into the social and cultural influences which possibly gave birth to this breed of men.

The second is a defense of the 27 year old slacker, written by the Onion A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin, making the point that some of these apparent slackers are really Mark Zuckerbergs in disguise.

Both make interesting and sometimes confluent points. Do I really want my 20 something year old friends who can barely take care of themselves raising kids? Probably not.


The Anti mStud

Ergo, the idea of having a “male studies” program in college is inane. It doesn’t solve the problem, but instead is simply a side-show that distracts from the main issues. It’s a means to profit off of the naive feelings and emotions of kids who lack the intellectual rigor to study a real discipline in college, but enough of their parents money they can afford not to (just like women’s studies, or any hyphenated American studies). It does nothing to help its participants. from Captain Capitalism: Why You Should Be Against Male Studies

I’ve heard this argument about gender-based studies before, and frankly I think it’s boring (and untrue.) When I took classes such as Womens Studies and LGBT Studies and African-American Studies in college, I did it to both understand myself and those that would be an “other” for me. I am a straight, white woman but in order to try and expand my view, get my head around things that I couldn’t inherently, and also make myself a more understanding, compassionate person, I took these classes. They made me better.

On my first day in womens studies, my professor made the point that the reason womens studies exists, in part, is because women are not equal to men. The day that black women (the most subjugated of all minorities) are no longer oppressed, the work of womens studies will be complete and its programs in college can be discontinued. Do I see that ever happening? To be honest, no, but I fight for that anyway. In what I am beginning to believe, the way men are socialized now is in response to the power women have gained since the Sexual Revolution and the second and third waves of feminism. Something is there to be explored.

Men’s Studies is not a discipline to reaffirm the patriarchy, or over-teach the presence of men, specifically white men, in history. It is a place where socialization, behavior, and hierarchies can be explored in the same way they are within a women’s studies discipline. By turning a critical and curious lens on themselves, I have no doubt men would be liberated by what they would find.