Common Stereotypes of Men in Media

Various media analysts and researchers argue that media portrayals of male characters fall within a range of stereotypes.

The report If He Can See It, Will He Be It? Representations of Masculinity in Boys’ Television identifies popular stereotypes – which some scholars call “the Man Box” – which limit men and boys’ identities and are reinforced and sometimes created by media tropes seen in film, advertisements and on television.[1]


According to masculinity scholar Michael Flood, this concept describes the stereotypes that limit how men and boys see themselves and how they behave:

Self-sufficiency: Men should take care of their own problems and talking about problems or fears will make others lose respect for you.

Acting tough: Men have to act strong, even if they’re scared, and refusing to fight back if someone pushes you around is a sign of weakness.

Rigid gender roles: Men should earn the higher income and shouldn’t do domestic chores at home; boys shouldn’t be taught or expected to do traditionally female tasks like cooking or cleaning.

Heterosexuality and homophobia: Only straight, cisgender men are “real” men.

Hypersexuality: Men should never say no to sex.

Physical attractiveness: A man should be physically attractive, but shouldn’t show concern about their attractiveness.

Aggression and control: Men deserve some control over their partners and should “have the final say” about anything in the home or the relationship.[2]

Male characters on television often fit within the “Man Box.” For instance, they’re less likely to show emotions compared to the female characters, including empathy; they’re more likely to be shown as unusually muscular; they’re less likely to be shown engaging in an active parenting role compared to female characters (4.5 percent compared with 7.7 percent); “taking no for an answer is rare in popular boys’ TV show,” and male characters also commit 62.5 percent of violent acts compared to 37.5 percent in female characters.[3]


The depiction of fatherhood in media is a good example of how reversing a stereotype may not improve it – and can even make things worse. While fathers in media have changed from being stern patriarchs to lovable dumbbells,[4] today’s media dads are actually less likely to be seen parenting their kids – and, when they do, more likely to be bad at it[5] and commonly appear “hilariously inept” at any household chore they try to do.[6] As author Liz Plank puts it, “these messages shape and impact the perceptions and treatment of fathers,”[7] but they may also have an intergenerational influence: the biggest predictor of kids’ gender-role views is how much time their fathers spend on housework.[8]

A still from the animated series Bluey showing Bluey's father reading to her and her sister.

Fortunately, there is evidence that media portrayals are changing. Films such as Bruiser and A Thousand and One show more complex pictures of fatherhood and male mentorship,[9] while popular TV series such as This is Us provide a range of depictions of male caregiving.[10] Perhaps the most prominent example in kids’ media is the animated series Bluey, in which the title character’s father Bandit “is a laid-back but resourceful dad who’s heavily involved in the day-to-day childcare.” Based heavily on series creator Joe Brumm’s own experiences with fatherhood, the series depicts Bandit as “every sort of caring dad these days… There’s a few echoes of longing from him, but there’s not a trace of regret. Bandit is happy with the trade he’s made. He’s accepted it. And it’s such a beautiful trade.”[11]

Media industries often hold stereotyped views of boys as media consumers, as well. Conventional wisdom in the publishing world, for instance, is that boys prefer non-fiction works and will only read books about “boy stuff.” But research has found not only that boys, like girls, actually rank fiction as their preferred genre,[12] but that efforts to appeal to what boys are assumed to like can actually backfire: “The very ways that we often try to engage boys with education are the ways that put them off education, because if you always give them books about football and snot, then that’s not saying reading is interesting.”[13]

Boys are less likely than girls to identify media stereotypes when they see them and may be more vulnerable to the third-person effect, in which people see media as having a greater influence on others than on themselves.[14] Similarly, research has found that boys have less awareness than girls of how images in advertising are manipulated.[15] This is reinforced by the commercial pressure felt by male actors because “getting a part in action and especially superhero movies is the way to become a star. With a few rare exceptions, that means your body has to look superheroic.”[16] Those who aren’t aware of the ways that images are manipulated – and the shortcuts, such as steroids and weight-loss drugs, that actors take to having those superheroic bodies – are more likely to believe that a “perfect” male body is attainable.[17] Boys are under pressure to achieve and maintain an idealized appearance and, simultaneously, to not seem as though they care about how they look.[18]

[1] If He Can See It, Will He Be It? Representations of Masculinity in Boys' Television (Rep.). (2020). Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

[2] The Men’s Project & Flood, M (2020), Unpacking the Man Box: What is the impact of the Man Box attitudes on young Australian men’s behaviours and wellbeing? Jesuit Social Services: Melbourne

[3] If He Can See It, Will He Be It? Representations of Masculinity in Boys' Television (Rep.). (2020). Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

[4] Cantor, M. G. (1990). Prime‐time fathers: A study in continuity and change. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 7(3), 275-285.

[5] Scharrer, E., Warren, S., Grimshaw, E., Kamau, G., Cho, S., Reijven, M., & Zhang, C. (2021). Disparaged dads? A content analysis of depictions of fathers in US sitcoms over time. Psychology of Popular Media, 10(2), 275.

[6] Common Sense Media (2017) Watching Gender: How stereotypes in Movies and on TV Impact Kids’ Development. Retrieved from

[7] Plank, L. (2019). For the love of men: From toxic to a more mindful masculinity. St. Martin's Press.

[8] Cano, T., & Hofmeister, H. (2023). The intergenerational transmission of gender: Paternal influences on children's gender attitudes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 85(1), 193-214.

[9] Weaver, J. (2023) A Thousand and One and the evolving depiction of masculinity on-screen. CBC News.

[10] Ashton, D., et al. (2022) This is Us? How TV Does and Doesn’t Get Men’s Caregiving. Geena David Institute on Gender in Media.

[11] Benedictus, L. (2016) Bluey: How a Cartoon Dog Became Your Ultimate Guide to Fatherhood. The Father Hood.

[12] Earp, J. (2021) Boys prefer non-fiction? Challenging the myth. Teacher Magazine.

[13] Equimundo. (2022). The State of UK Boys: Understanding and Transforming Gender in the Lives of UK Boys. Washington, DC: Equimundo

[14] Liu, H. (2020). Early adolescents' perceptions and attitudes towards gender representations in video games. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 12(2), 28-40.

[15] Credos. (2016) Picture of Health? (Rep.)

[16] Abad-Santos, A. (2021) The open secret to looking like a superhero. Vox.

[17] Credos. (2016) Picture of Health? (Rep.)

[18] Norman, Moss. Embodying the Double-Bind of Masculinity: Young Men and Discourses of Normalcy, Health, Heterosexuality, and Individualism. Men and Masculinities, Sept 17 2011