Masculine identity and the projection of ‘male images’ in mass media: towards a pastoral hermeneutics in theory formation

  • Stephan Van der Watt


Human identities in general - including gender and sexual identities – have recently become more diverse and malleable. This is to a great extent because of the pervasive influence of the mass media and popular culture, which proposes to offer important tools to help men (and women) adjust to contemporary life. Some parts of popular culture are reasserting traditional forms of masculinity, whilst others are challenging them - telling men what they are now ‘supposed to’ look like, act like, be like.Media representations can be viewed as influencing our socialised schemata of interpretation for gender identities. This is also applicable to theological schemata of interpretation concerning commercialised men and masculinities. We drew upon work in variety of disciplines, such as cultural and media studies, sociology, theology and psychology, in order to examine issues concerning masculinities within this information era, influenced by the prescriptive role of mass media. In this way more insight was gained in terms of the dominating discourses reflected by images of men and masculinities in the global mass media, and how this can be investigated critically, from a pastoral hermeneutical perspective.Magazines were also viewed as crucial media to analyse in order to understand male identity in a more comprehensive way. Therefore we chose our own South African cultural context within which we suggest the critical assessment of the influence of certain mass media representations – particularly displayed in magazines - on various expressions of masculinity. This was suggested in order to promote and co-create men and masculinities that focus on life-giving intimacy, vitality and human dignity.