This week Lee finds some things are just a little too below the belt.
If you’ve ever watched an action film, a romantic comedy, a horror flick, or even a Pixar animation, it’s almost certain you’ve seen a man get hit in the groin. It could be a stray football, a chair pulled out at speed, or an unsuccessful attempt to scale a fence. The male in question crumbles, usually accompanied but a yelp or groan, and the audience are encouraged to laugh and point. It’s the modern-day equivalent of getting a custard pie in the face.
And there’s the sexual politics aspect to it too. The average man is taller, heavier and stronger and the average woman. That’s just an evolutionary fact (nobody ever claimed evolution was a feminist). But female characters can always do that. It’s the great equaliser – both practically and symbolically.
But it’s not really an injury, is it? Like being winded or stubbing your toe – it’s not something you actively seek out, but ultimately harmless. Well, no… not really. Forceful impact with the testes can result in ruptions, contusions, torsions, haematoceles, dislocations, epididymites and infections. Every year thousands of men experience physical, psychological and fertility problems as a result of injuries comedy writers make a living from.
Imagine you’re a young boy watching this. The character is hit in the groin, laughter and humiliation ensues. What lessons are you taking from this? What synaptic links are being forged in your hyper receptive young mind? What associations and cultural norms are being ingrained in you? That showing pain only results in laughter and embarrassment. The bits that make you different are source of vulnerability.
The mindset – that we aren’t supposed to treat the contents of men’s slacks with any sort of seriousness or respect – extends to the language we use with medical treatment. Women undergo a ‘procedure’ for ‘sterilisation’; men get ‘the snip’. Women ‘suffer infertility’, men ‘fire blanks’.
And this has real world effects. Men are atrocious at seeking medical advice. Testicular cancer is one the easiest to treat and one of the easiest to spot, but it’s not picked nearly as often or early as it should. One in eight men will get prostate cancer but there’s no mandatory screening for it on the NHS because, unlike women with breast and cervical cancer, we don’t lobby for it. And we shouldn’t be surprised at this. From our earliest days, we’re conditioned to jealously guard what’s between our legs from a world that’s not going to take it seriously.
But it’s just a bit of fun, isn’t it? No need to overthink it.
Slapping women on the arse to say well-done was just a bit of fun. No need to overthink it. Casting every Asian character as bespeckled nerds was just a bit of fun. No need to overthink it. Making animals act out painful and distressing performances was just a bit of fun. No need to overthink it. Making every gay character flamboyant and perpetually horny was just a bit of fun. No need to overthink it.
We’ve reached a point where we acknowledge that what happens on screen doesn’t stay on screen. It bleeds out and influences how we see and value things, doubly so among impressionable children. If we want men to be comfortable showing vulnerability, if we want me to take their health seriously and not hide behind humour, if we want boys to grow up less guarded about their sexual selves, we can start by not making the thing that most obviously makes them men a painful joke.