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 or pillars that reflect culturally around the world how men are stereotypically supposed to act. These pillars are reinforced and sometimes created by media tropes seen in film, advertisements and on television.[i] The seven pillars are:

  1. Self Sufficiency: Men should figure things out on their own without the help of others.
  2. Acting Tough: “A man should always defend his reputation and be willing to use physical aggression to do so.”

    Men on television are less likely to show emotions compared to the female characters, including empathy.
  3. Physical Attractiveness: “A man should be physically attractive, but effortlessly so…”

    Male characters are likely to be shown as unusually muscular in media.
  4. Rigid masculine gender roles: “Men should engage in stereotypically masculine activities and embrace stereotypically masculine roles.”

    In media, men are less likely to be shown engaging in an active parenting role compared to female characters (4.5% compared with 7.7%).
  5. Heterosexuality and Homophobia: “…men should avoid being gay or perceived as being gay.”
  6. Hypersexuality: “Men should value sexual conquests over intimacy.”

    The majority of men in media are shown as being single (79.0%).
  7. Aggression and control: Men should use violence to get respect and should always have the final say about decisions in a relationship.
    • “Taking no for an answer is rare in popular boys’ TV shows.”
    • Male characters also commit 62.5 % percent of violent acts compared to 37.5% in female characters.

Gary Barker of Promundo identifies three “media models” for boys:

  1. The Fast and the Furious: Using aggression to solve problems.
  2. Star Trek: Repressing your emotions.
  3. The Dark Knight: Isolating yourself and becoming emotionally withdrawn.[ii]

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.[iii] Similarly, research has found that boys have less awareness than girls of how images in advertising are manipulated. Those who are not aware of this are more likely to believe that a “perfect” male body is attainable.[iv]


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

[ii] Breaking Free From Boyhood Stereotypes: Action Steps for Parents & Content Creators. (Rep.) (n.d.) Promundo.

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

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