From Barney Stinson to Ted Lasso — The Evolution of Modern Masculinity in Media

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Living in today’s society can be tough. More than ever, we have access to each other's lives, with our social media feeds filled with perfectly curated moments from the best-looking angles. There are many expectations flung upon us and avenues we can take. This is true for women, and these weighty expectations are also present for men.

Media Used To Celebrate Toxic Masculinity

Less than a decade ago, the epitome of masculinity was depicted as a man who slept with as many women as possible. This often involved blurring the lines of consent, as demonstrated by characters like How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris), whose playbook was filled with ways to con women into sleeping with him. The show ended less than 10 years ago, and it’s heartening to see how far we’ve come in under a decade. Characters like Barney, who would treat women horribly, are no longer the norm in mainstream media regarding depictions of the male ideal. In addition, overall, we as a society are no longer charmed by the old trope of men trying to sleep with women by any means necessary. These same situations that used to be fodder for jokes are now seen for what they are — sexual assault.

Reality TV Wasn’t Much Better.

This evolution is also evident not just in fictional depictions of men but in reality TV as well. When Jersey Shore premiered on MTV in 2009, the men in the house were obsessed with being the bro-iest bros who ever bro-ed. They were constantly performing their ideas of masculinity, which involved working out at the gym and — you guessed it — sleeping with as many women as possible. This pursuit amounted to an old-school idea of women as conquests and often involved misogyny. No one represented this toxic masculinity ideal more than Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino.

We Are Beginning To See An ‘Evolved Masculine Ideal’

However, when Jersey Shore Family Vacation premiered on MTV almost 10 years later in 2018, “The Situation” wholly changed. Mike has turned his life around after getting into trouble with the federal government and spending multiple stints in rehab. In addition to living a completely sober lifestyle, he is now a devoted husband, father, and — dare I say — a good role model. His roommates often turn to him for advice and comfort, referring to him lovingly as “The Inspiration.” 

When he speaks about his previous self, he is well aware of his flaws and has even apologized for some of the misogynistic behaviors he had exhibited. When his roommates are out talking to women at clubs, he makes sure to stay as respectful to his wife as possible — you won’t even see him entertain a mild flirtation. Whereas in the past, men who were respectful and faithful to their wives were often made fun of for being “whipped.” “The Situation” is respected by his roommates for holding to his values and caring about his relationship. Mike now represents an evolved masculine ideal for a more enlightened age.

‘Ted Lasso’ Encapsulates Modern Masculinity Best

To find a depiction of this newly evolved idea of masculinity in modern entertainment, look no further than Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso, played to perfection by Jason Sudeikis. On the surface, Ted Lasso seems like it’s going to be a show filled with the antiquated ideas of masculinity — Ted is a college football coach from Kansas who has been chosen as the new head coach for a British soccer team in the English Premier League. A show set in the sports world would allow for ample depictions of toxic masculinity, especially with locker rooms being notorious havens for misogyny and male aggression. However, Ted Lasso completely subverts that expectation by centering on a male character who infuses all of his interactions with kindness and respect above all else. Ted is mild-mannered, gentle, and caring, yet he is shown to be one of the strongest characters in the series. He can maintain his kind demeanor even when faced with extreme hardships to express his vulnerability which is depicted as brave and powerful. The other male characters, even the more old-school toxic males, are greatly influenced by Ted’s presence and begin to grow. 

The Bottom Line

Ted Lasso is an excellent depiction of our society’s changing views on masculinity and what it means to be strong. In the past, society told men they needed to be indestructible, to show no vulnerability, and that “boys don’t cry.” Men weren’t supposed to have emotions or even strong feelings toward, well, anything. As a result, generations of men were raised to suppress as much of themselves as possible, lest they be considered unmanly and chided for showing vulnerability. Nowadays, the same is not valid. We are beginning to see an acceptance and appreciation for vulnerable men, acknowledging that it takes a lot of strength to be vulnerable. Because, let’s face it — showing vulnerability, feeling emotions, and letting down your guard makes you the strongest of all.

Tags: Social Media

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Written By

Allie Nelson

Allie is a TV producer and writer with credits on Netflix, NBC, CBS, FOX, CNN, TBS, E!, & HGTV. See Full Bio

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