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Men, manhood and manliness

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Svrtnsse, Feb 16, 2014.

  1. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I'm not sure whether this would go into Writing Questions or World Building, but I figured that characters are parts of the world so designing characters ought to be a part of designing the world.

    Either way, there's been quite a bit of talk about women in fantasy and how women are portrayed and so on and so forth. There's been a little bit less talk about how men are portrayed. I came across this TED Talk on the topic and found it quite interesting:
    Colin Stokes: How movies teach manhood | Video on TED.com

    What are your thoughts about this?
    My spontaneous reaction is that he raises some good points that are worthy of consideration.
     
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  2. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    A lot of that clip seemed like 'PC run amok' to me.

    Most interesting bit of that was the 'Bechdel Test'.

    1) Are there more than two female characters with lines?

    2) If the answer to 1 is yes, do the women speak to each other?

    3) If the answer to 2 is yes, do the women talk about something other than the male character they both like?

    Made me give a bit of thought to my own literary endeavors.

    Most of my tales are short stories, which makes it a bit hard to cram more than a few characters into them without creating a mess. Given the whole range of issues with short stories, I'm not certain if the Bechdel test is valid with them in all cases. Still:

    1) The Toki/Hock-Nar tales are centered about two males. Other characters, male or female, are usually secondary (though sometimes very powerful).

    2) 'Leave' has a large cast of female characters...who are often in sexual situations. I suppose it passes the Bechdel test.

    3) The 'Lysander' stories are a bit of a mix. One doesn't have any female characters at all, another has a number of women in minor roles, and the third is told from a female characters perspective.

    4) 'Labyrinth' features two principle male characters and one principle female character. The principle female character does meet and speak with other female characters about topics other than men...but these other women are all secondary characters.

    5) 'Empire' has a female character as the protagonist, and another (secondary) female character for an assistant. There are quite a few other characters, male (including two other major characters) and female alike, and the female MC exchanges words with many of them.

    6) 'Shadow Sea' is a male dominated tale, enough so to where it would have a good chance of flunking the Bechdel test.
     
  3. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I have a short story in my Mythic Scribes portfolio titled "Hunting for Womanhood", which is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl who must kill a dinosaur so she can graduate to womanhood among her people. That's the kind of plot most would probably expect for a boy's story. It doesn't have much conversation in it, but the one moment of dialogue it does have occurs between the heroine and her family and doesn't invoke romance, so I would think my story passes the Bechdel test.
     
  4. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

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    Again, some of my short stories do pass the Bechdel test. Others do not. But given the space constraints and focuses of many short stories, I doubt the Bechdel test should even be applied much of the time.
     
  5. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Now as you read this, understand that I am a sucker for love stories and I include some version of romance in almost every story. Sometimes I show it from the male POV, sometimes from the female. I think I probably show the female one more often in intimate scenes, but that's just personal perspective and where I believe the POV needs to be for emotional impact.
    Okay, now to talking about women in my books.

    My female characters are normal. Pretty normal, but partly unique. They are neither virgins nor beautiful... they are real women, ones who make mistakes or even cause ruin, but they do so for their own motivations rather than for plot reasons. My men aren't mighty warriors, nor ar they go-all-night studs who become somehow tamed from their wild, womanizing ways by my gorgeous heroines that have few actual talents but happen to be very good at cleaning the man's house. Why am I saying all that? Because I read more historical romance than I do fantasy with romance, so I try to aim as far from historical romance as I can with my love interests/ love stories.

    As far as characters: One MC is a young woman about to be married to a stranger. She's a rebellious person who leaves her home and lover, to move to a strange city, with the sole intention of being a good wife. But things never work out how she plans... Another MC is a middle-aged woman who's feeling past her prime and is being driven mad by paranoia and grief. She's certainly a huge part of the book. My third female character (a secondary character) is a prostitute who works as a spy for the other MC. She's a big part of the quirky interactions between the associates in the book. These three women are accompanied by three male leads too, one being the MC and two others being strong secondary characters.

    In another book, I tell the story completely through one woman's POV, while she's basically kidnapped, rescued, and later commandeered by two werewolves who need her help. Most of the cast is male, but only because in that particular story, it's a very small cast. In the house, where the story begins, the cast is 80/20 females/ males, but in the adventure portion, where soldiers are following the two male leads and their female companion, it's a mostly male world. You know... rethinking that might be a great idea. Why couldn't my conquering king be a queen? I'll think about that.

    Mostly, since I write romance into my stories, my women and men are fleshed out. Really deep and tortured souls, each searching for something or shoting for something, and maybe using each other to help support them on their goal. Maybe not... maybe instead, they stand in each other's ways and cause problems. I like to keep it interesting.
     
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  6. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

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    As much as I love feminist fantasy, it does hurt the worldbuilder in me to see some very poorly defined gender roles in so much of the subgenre. It takes women, and basically gives them the exact same roles as the men of their world... without really considering what happens to all of the equally necessary jobs that women would have. That's not to say a clean split to a matriarchy works either - having men take care of children from birth isn't practical, given the necessity of nursing in a pre-industrial society. It's something a lot of fantasy that tries to be equal just neglects.

    Even in more traditional, male-driven fantasy series there is still a certain lack of responsibility that is in stark contrast to the realities of medieval life. Men who abandon their wives to go on quests should be sending gold back home. Do they run farms? Can their wife and children feasibly run it in his absence (particularly if they are bringing their oldest son with them)? Even these orphan farm boys, if they have any living family, are abandoning duties and property. And men, particularly upper class ones, can just as easily be trapped in an arranged marriage as a woman, though you rarely see it from their perspective. Men can be responsible for their widowed mothers and unmarried sisters and they need to raise dowries for their daughters. I'd like to see more men who have to deal with the realities of being responsible adults.

    @ThinkerX, Quite true. I mean, a story could be overtly feminist and still only have one female character (in a short story, having only one character of any gender isn't uncommon). I think the test was originally created for (feature-lenghth) movies, anyway.
     
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  7. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    Okay so I watched the video and I have just one question. What the heck was his POINT? He seemed to just keep meandering and rambling about the Wizard of Oz and Star Wars and the Bechdel Test animated animals and action girls and somewhere in there he forgot to actually stop and analyze any of it. He makes a lot of hay out of the violence of modern heroes but he never gives examples or examines the context or explains why the violence is a problem. He never presents any evidence. He just says modern heroes are violent and that their movies lack women. He doesn't even bother to explain why this is an issue. It's just kind of assumed that everyone thinks it is. And then the non-sequitur of "we need to teach boys to be nice" is tacked onto the end without following logically from anything that was said beforehand.
     
  8. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I take the under-lieing point that too often the only male role offered in film and TV is the worst of the Alpha male cliché.

    All genders need complex role models for their real and imaginary lives. If boys only have the Star Athlete Jock and girls only the Barbie Princess, then there will be a problem.

    [and don't get me started on the utter non existence of lesbian, gay, transgendered or even none of the above role models]

    I'm not a fan of the Bechdel test. It is too easy a box to tick, write a small meaning less scene were character A hand something to character B and as long as they are female and say please and thank you or discuss the weather, you're done... I don't want token women, just here to fill a quota on some marketing chart, just like I don't want token [add in almost any minority grouping] characters.
    That said if the Bechdel test is an easy box to tick - why do so many films still fail it...
     
  9. buyjupiter

    buyjupiter Maester

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    I would personally love to see examples of how to write menfolk who aren't the epitome of GI Joe. I'd love to see examples of men talking to other men in world about what it means to be a man. As a woman, I don't get to be around when men have their man-to-man chats about how societal definitions of manhood suck and they really just want to be dancers or whatever it is that society doesn't accept men doing. (I've had the same kind of conversation with my girl pals about how societal definitions of femininity really suck and I presume men have the same kinds of conversations--correct me if I'm wrong.)

    Conversely, I don't want to see fictional conversations devolve into what it means to be a "real" man...or only defining manhood by what kind of status symbols the guy can achieve or how much money he brings home. I see those messages far too often as it is now, usually in advertising.

    I'd love to see fiction where this issue is tackled. Where there isn't "one twue way" to be masculine. That default masculinity isn't blow stuff up until problems get solved. (Usually by some other party, as violence generally speaking doesn't tend to do much but solve a very immediate problem and usually causes 10 new problems along the way.)

    (For reference, I don't write men who are the epitome of GI Joe, but I would like to see how other people approach the idea of realistic human men.)
     
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  10. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I feel like there's a limit to how much I can handle at once. I do write the occasional male protagonist, so I guess I could put some effort into making good male role models, but I'm already putting so much time and energy into writing a wide variety of female protagonists. (And I'm not always aiming for role models, either--I'm just trying to create interesting, multifaceted characters. I think having models of all the different kinds of people men and women can be is just as important as having models of what they should be.)
     
  11. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    The most common version of this seems to be "masculinity isn't about physical strength, it's about standing up for what you believe in." Gravity Falls did this one straight in the episode where Dipper meets the Manotaurs--they provide a ludicrously exaggerated model of conventional manliness ("I have six Y chromosomes, three Adam's apples, pecs on my abs, and fists for nipples!"), and he provides an alternative model by recognizing them as bullies and standing up to them. Dexter's Laboratory, on the other hand, goes straight for the parody ("It's not the beard on the outside that counts; it's the beard on the inside!")
     
  12. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I'm not a fan of "ticking boxes" to make sure my fiction passes some kind of test. I feel like every character that has ever existed in fiction can be analyzed by someone to be not satisfying some kind of criteria. That said, I have a lot of women in my current novel. I decided to do this because I wanted to show all kinds of women in my world: gruff ones, pampered ones, motherly ones, hateful ones, compassionate ones, sometimes all of these attributes rolled up into one character. I didn't do this to tick a box, I just did it because I liked what each of these characters brings to my story.

    I tried to imagine each character at their lowest point and each character at their highest point. Then I kind of fudged the middle. That's how people pretty much are. A mother may be a wonderful, smiling person, but the moment you mess with her kids, she becomes a raging hell-beast. A jerk who is always cursing and yelling, may break down and say he really just wants someone to talk to him. I think about how would they react in one situation vs. how they would react to another opposite situation.

    On the other hand, my men characters have been pretty much the same. I wanted to bring a balance to the story by showing that my men and women characters could be not only equally strong in some regards, but equally smart, equally disturbing, equally loving, equally devilish, equally quirky, equally weird, and equally redeemable. I've met so many people in life that don't fit into neat little boxes. I've met women who scare the living hell out of me and I've met men who I'm surprised can even tie their shoelaces. I've met some women who are the kindest, most compassionate people I know, while I've met men who make me want vomit. And vice versa.

    I feel the only way to really paint convincing characters is to look around you. Go outside and meet people. Observe people on the bus or train. Talk to you grandparents. Sometimes the answers aren't always going to be in books, videos, or internet forums. Sometimes they are though, if you look closely enough.

    Checking boxes was never my thing anyway.
     
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  13. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I have to be honest, most of my heroes and heroines tend to be what many would call "alpha" types. My male characters are big, strong, and tough while my female characters are lithe, agile, and cunning, and both sexes are usually good-looking. What can I say, those are the heroic archetypes who inspire me the most as an artist and a writer.

    I submit that the main reason "alpha" archetypes bother some people nowadays is symptomatic of modern civilization. Among the most interesting tidbits of information I've picked up from my biological anthropology studies is that prehistoric Homo sapiens tended to be taller, more muscular, and more physically robust than modern people as shown by analyses of their skeletal remains. Even their braincases could exceed our own in dimension (one of the Herto skulls found in Ethiopia, which is ~160,000 years old, has a cranial capacity of 1450 cubic centimeters, bigger than most people alive today. And that wasn't even the largest skull found at the site). By modern standards, these people would have probably ranked as "alphas".

    With the advent of agriculture and the ensuing social stratification came a worldwide deterioration in human health and stature, which would have made it harder for everyone to reach an ideal physique. Ergo, a larger proportion of the human population found themselves limited to "beta" status and unable to realize their full potential. While modern technology and affluence have reversed some of those trends in certain parts of the world, they've also encouraged widespread obesity and sloth. It's not necessarily the case that the "alpha" ideal is inherently unrealistic or impossible to obtain. It's that our current civilization has thrown in obstacles to reaching that ideal.

    The point I mean to make here is that we as writers shouldn't feel bad about writing "alpha" characters if they're whom we really want to write about. Of course there is a place for stories about "betas" too, but then most "beta" people live humdrum lives with unrealized potential anyway.
     
  14. Nagash

    Nagash Sage

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    Having introduced many cultures throughout my WIP, i did realized upon second look, that different conceptions of manliness came out. Of course, the stereotypical strong willed warrior occurs very often, which seemed as rather logical, seeing as a world at war forges people in a very specific way : tough, brutish, insensitive, rough... Of course, i'm not saying all characters incorporate these values, but such archetypes had to come out given the setting. Basically, this "model" of manhood can be found in every culture, since most of them experienced war recently, if not currently (when the story takes place anyway). However, personalities were tweaked here and there according to some relevant elements, which shape more often than not those who are exposed to them. In one unisex race's society, the concept of opposite sexes is actually extremely vague and confusing, hence the absolute lack of difference in their way to interact with other race's individuals of different sex. In a rather typical human society however, loosely inspired, ideologically speaking, by Sparta, manhood is defined in contrast with womanhood, and there is a fair share of sexism on a daily basis. Finally, manliness is also defined, according to a specific culture, by faith, skills as a magi, as a merchant, a number of normative virtues, merit, or skills as a political leader...

    Since my WIP seems close to medieval ages socially speaking, woman are most of the time disregarded as mere trophies and sex-object in many societies. However, in a few other, mostly martial ones, they have as much rights as any man, and are considered as being capable to fulfill the role a man can, in every field of society, may it be the army, political spheres, trade, what have you... However, given the "main" ideology, not to mention the fact that an entire race (and a predominant one) is unisex and strongly resembles the archetype of the warrior, women are much more faded than men on the main scene of the novel. It does however pass the test, with at least five women MC's, most of which are soldiers and have plenty of other concerns than procreation. It should be pointed out that there is almost thrice as much men MC's, which is a little out of balance. Yet, then again, how can you expect gender equality in a novel focusing on medieval-ish war, and building a society according to archaic systems, customs and beliefs ?
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2014
  15. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I agree with some other posts here that the video seemed to be more about women and women's roles than about men. And I agree with those here who would like to see authors tackle the topic of manliness, as the topic is not well explored. When it is, it's often done in reference to a female context (men being more sensitive, less violent). It merely turns the stereotype on its head rather than actually examine it.

    We write fantasy here. I do think fantasy, particularly epic fantasy, can have something to say here. Such novels often have violence, not to say epic violence, and a life-or-death situation can bring out all sorts of interesting angles on a personality. It can also show fascinating glimpses into friendship and values. War stories, especially 20thc onward, do this.

    But there are also opportunities to be explored in the journey, for example. Lots of fantasy tales involve getting from Here to There, with various secondary adventures along the way, sometimes with chances for comic relief, sometimes with minor tragedy. Often with some sort of learning. All of this provides an opportunity to explore how the male characters respond, how the female characters respond, and how they respond to each other.

    My own stories are set in an alternate Middle Ages. I happen to know a bit about the knightly ethic and about chivalry, and it's a good opportunity to explore those values (which were rather different from most people's understanding). It's also a change to show how women dealt with that world. But, being fantasy, I also get to explore unknown territory, such as how would being able to wield magic modify the knightly ethic, or what sort of value system would gnomes or dwarves or elves have. Sometimes holding a mirror up to society can be revealing, but sometimes it's just as revealing to hold up a crystal or a prism. Fantasy lets us view from angles realistic fiction simply cannot do.
     
  16. Shasjas

    Shasjas Scribe

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    While I quite like this notion of "its not about physical strength, it's about standing up for what you believe in" I find it strange to call it masculine. Isn't this something we should all aspire to, male and female?



    The problem I have with this whole alpha-beta thing is when we have our definition of alpha, in your case one at prime physical condition, and then we start start adding other assumed qualities like most beta people living humdrum lives. People might dedicate themselves to reaching their mental potential rather than their physical one, etc. etc.
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2014
  17. ascanius

    ascanius Inkling

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    I would define alpha as the type of person who is looked to for leadership or saftey due to natural abilities be they strength, intelligence, or charisma.
     
  18. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    It's one thing to open all your world's occupations up to both sexes, but that may not necessarily mean each occupation has a 50/50 sex ratio in practice. For example, you could have an army that accepts both men and women, but men could still predominate since they're less likely to have children weighing them down.

    Going back to the topic of masculinity, one aspect of manhood that frustrates me to no end is the whole process of courting women. Whenever we see women who attract us, we must undergo the long and arduous task of persuading those women to reciprocate our desire for them. This is where the whole "woman as reward" trope probably comes from. Feminists may not appreciate it much for understandable reasons, but it's a trope I can relate to since in real life it does feel like a woman's interest is something I must earn.
     
  19. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    You just pointed out why so many feminists took issue with that episode. I'm not sure I agree with all of the complaints, but it does seem to me that the positive aspects of "masculinity" are things that don't really need to be framed as male.

    Are you saying that women don't have to do anything for you to be attracted to them?
     
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  20. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    No. Obviously they have to look good and have compatible personalities. However, I can more easily relate to narratives about men's struggles to win women over than the reverse simply by virtue of being a man. That would not be the case if I were a woman.
     
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