Artistic tropes expose danger of stereotyping

The ‘male manipulator’ trope encourages problematic assumptions and typecasting based on tastes


Courtesy of Pitchfork

Those who listen to Radiohead may be labeled “male manipulators”.

Adam Coil, Life Editor

“Male manipulator” is a term that people love to throw around on the Internet because it is a quick and convenient way to simplify a person into an easily-digestible category. It is a great way for one to feel as though they understand a complete stranger, as it allows them to choose from an array of stereotypes to pin on to someone.

But where, exactly, did the term come from? What does it even mean? 

The “male manipulator” is someone who listens to a specific kind of music, like The Smiths, Neutral Milk Hotel, Radiohead, Elliot Smith or even artists outside of the indie genre like Kanye West. They might wear Dr. Martens, rings, Dickie’s pants, Carhartt beanies — you get the picture — but the conversation mainly revolves around the music.

When you look at the music itself, though, the stereotype does not quite make sense. Oftentimes, the songs are just about men who are dealing with loneliness, depression, anxiety, loss, growing up and intense nostalgia — or they might even just sing about nonsense — the kinds of topics that art tends to cover.

The last thing that I want to do is discredit the experiences of those who are victims of gaslighters — and men, in general — who manipulate women. Those people are out there and plenty of them do fit the “male manipulator” stereotype. But when I talk to women about these musicians, directors or authors that constitute the “male manipulator” biome, most of them really enjoy these artists, too. 

Sure, Morrissey is a horrible person, but does listening to “How Soon is Now?” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out” make me misogynistic or racist? I don’t think so. After all, I was put on to The Smiths by a woman. It’s clear that there is not some inherently misogynistic aspect to this kind of music — at the very least, it is heavily debatable.

Even if a person or their art does have something problematic about it, that doesn’t mean it should never see the light of day. Life would get pretty boring pretty quickly if that were the case.

The blame here falls on the individual men — this is not a systemic issue like policing in the United States or Greek Life at universities. Attributing problematic male tendencies concerning power dynamics in relation to the media they digest somewhat downplays the issue at hand because there are so many people who consume “male manipulator” content and do not look down on or traumatize women. 

While most look at the “male manipulator” stereotype as a fun, light-hearted joke on the Internet, the truth is that many others do take it quite seriously. What is especially concerning is how quick people are to allow themselves to be defined or reduced down to the media that they consume. 

In the fast-paced internet culture of today, creators — or people trying to become creators — do not have the luxury of time to introduce themselves to their audience. Instead, shortcuts are taken — and one of the best ways to do that is to visually show what kind of media you are into. 

It may sound silly, but a lot of relationships on the internet are formed entirely out of common interests. Someone is scrolling through TikTok and sees a video talking about how “Little Women” is a wonderful movie and how Greta Gerwig is the best director of all time. They follow that person because “Little Women” is their favorite movie. They feel a connection with the person that makes the video, even though they know nothing about them. 

Art helps to mold and shape us — but it does not define us. We are more than the songs we listen to and the movies we rewatch again and again. When we allow ourselves to judge others — both positively and negatively — based on that person’s taste, we do ourselves a disservice and fool ourselves.

Humans are fascinatingly complex, and we should give them the chance to surprise us.