1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

"Strong" men; gender roles in a fantasy culture and strength of character

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Alile, Oct 4, 2016.

  1. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

    361
    168
    43
    This might be true in some cases, but remember that (especially) men tend to form hierarchies, and showing vulnerability makes you, well, vulnerable.

    In something like war, if a soldier sees his general crying over a wound (no matter how grievous), he's not going to think that his general is strong. He's going to think that he can't count on his general anymore. And that maybe someone else should be taking over, since the general can't hold it together.

    I.e. Showing vulnerability in dangerous situations is most definitely not a strength. At least, not from another man's perspective, I don't think.
     
  2. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    True, but I was more referring to outside of war/battle/being around other men.
     
  3. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

    119
    27
    28
    The problem is these comments are after only a couple of chapters. There's no time for growth, as they don't really give him a chance.

    It's tough but I'm going to keep playing around with it to see if I can fashion something that the majority of readers don't dislike. There are plenty of unemotional barbarians in my story around the MC for people that like that sort of thing :)
     
    Netardapope likes this.
  4. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

    353
    91
    28
    Fantasy is a very escapist genre.
    You readers probably expected a larger than life mc. If your story contains a lot of fighting, they probably would expect that the hero is tough baddass fighter.
     
  5. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

    361
    168
    43
    This may or may not be applicable to your situation:
    I find that I often like characters who go from annoying to cool. I.e. I might dislike the character at the beginning, but the growth arc changes him (or her) into something else. E.g. whiny >> badass. And when this transformation takes place, I tend to like the character more, because he's overcome more than a badass character who's just like that from the beginning.

    On another note, what positive attributes have you given him? Perhaps giving him more (if you have any) attributes that make him likable will offset the negative attribute of him being seen as weak.
     
  6. KBA

    KBA Dreamer

    17
    7
    3
    When my son was young I wanted him to read fantasy fiction with a different kind of "strong male" hero. So I had him read, "The Forgotten Door." Sure, he also read the superheroes, but he read The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key over and over again. It's a kid's chapter book but maybe take a look to get another type of strong male -- a boy, who even outdoes the macho authority figures after him without dripping in sterodial magnitude testosterone.
     
  7. Alile

    Alile Scribe

    25
    16
    3
    I've let the debate go on a little bit now. My agenda? It wasn't trolling at all. I meant to put things out there, whip up a debate for our mutual benefit and make my point. Maybe I overdid it. But: I've seen way too many threads about the "so-called" "strong" female character. I was trying to over-do it in my description of the "strong" man, so you guys would know the sarcasm and interpret my post as sort of a comment to the hated "so-called" "strong" female character. However, I think the male gender role deserves it's own discussion. I wanted other people's viewpoint on this. When we can debate the strong women and hate them; we should be able to discuss the "stong" male character too. It has other challenges and issues. Maybe if we bring that to light, we can create some life to the Warrior type of guy. Maybe I or you get to think this through.

    I in all seriousness mean that women can be strong people just like men are. A woman can lift weights and be a lot stronger that those couch-potatoes or highborn plump ladies. So your heroine could be the strongest woman among all the other women. Maybe she's not stronger than a lot of men. But don't you see, she doesn't need to be. And a man could benchpress a car (?) ;-) and be stronger than any other man. But why compare the two champions to each other? Men and women don't really PHYSICALLY compete in the same league, but you have a lot of PHYSICALLY strong women out there. And men! Women who train in martial arts learn a lot of tricks to turn a big mans size against him for example. My point is, why does it have to be such a big deal? If a book talked about battle non-stop and physical strength and excersize and weightlifting... I for one would be bored to death. If I really fell for that, I could read any "Excersice and healthy foods" magazine.
    So I say, let them be strong. That type of strengh ony gets a story so far.

    I think it's the other strength that is important, strength of character. Different people are different in this too. Some are wise, some are clever and smart, some have passions or willpower, some have something worth defending, some believe in something. I guess it could be anything, big and small, if it works in a story... They have a cause, don't they, there is a reason why you write about them, right? Any woman or man worth reading about should perhaps be a little bigger than life, something interesting, be somebody, and at the same time be believable. Men and women alike, come on, their physical bodies isn't why we read the book!!!! Doesn't a story have to bring something more to the table to be worth reading?

    I think any person alive is a complex being. They have memories, they have skills, they have lived, they like things and hate things, they have strengths and weaknesses. They have done good things, but also wrong, there has been a time when they were scared and times they showed courage. If you think about all the things that make a person, they are all unique. So should our characters be. Even if you write a coming of age story for young adults you owe it to your readers to challenge them and intrigue them. By using cardboard characters (two-sided people) you underestimate your audience.

    Now, yes, a lot of fantasy litterature is set in a medieval world. But don't you see my point? If you write about OUR middle ages, you are simply writing a historical novel, set in OUR history. My fantasy world is created by ME. And I decide how life is there. They have magic, for example, so it's fantasy. It's not a realistic historical novel, set in OUR world. You decide how your fantasy world is, and who says it has to be just like our middle ages were, get my point?

    Steven Erikson is a great writer who has written a bloody, war-torn amazing fantasy series, called "A Tale of the Malazian Book of the Fallen". In his Malazan armies, men and women fight side by side, he describes the Empires wars and any soldier might be a man, or it might be a woman. It's a great tale, I encourage you to read it. Corporal Picker is a woman, and the second-in-command of a God is a woman. Yeah, let's just say that his Gods are busy fighting both humans and themselves, just as the humans fight for gods and plot against them too. He deals so easily with this issue of men and women, it's simply not an issue in his books.

    Maybe men have to "become" men, maybe they need to be strong and so on. Yes, maybe their strength is a different one than in a woman. A man needs to protect his family, but every single mom I know would die to save her child, every single one of them would die in a heartbeat if it meant their child would live on instead. Call them mommies and housewives all you want. If you had a child, it gives you a family you actually do need to protect and care for and provide for, be it man or woman. A lot of women get to become women by giving birth and it's still a dangerous thing to give birth. That for many is their rite of passage into womanhood. I guess we two sexes do have biological differences. Maybe the way we see strength and experience strength is different in between us. My point is that we are both strong, we, all of us, are human beings. So should or charaters be.

    I feel like all that is debated is within biological sociology. Biological differences. The whole point is that my university syllabus in social psychology mentions biology; social biology, in one chapter in a 300 page long book, quite frankly saying that it's not really even an issue anymore. They just brush off that kind of talk these days. Remember that gender roles are created by the society you live in. It's what's normal, what is expected, what is acceptable. These words make you fit in, they make you accepted, these things make you a normal man or woman. These norms, these social rules, have changed over time and are not the same in all societies in this world. And you are going to make a fantasy world.... you get to decide this yourself.

    What good is it to make women lesser humans, I mean, all oppression ends because people get to tired of it. Don't they? And how interesting will your women be if they never get to speak their voice and tell their story? Well. I'm just saying, these made-up women who say "Yes, my liege" or "As you will, my lord". I'm not buying that. I just don't believe in it. We women are humans too. We have our opionions too. We are made lesser by this world's history and society. "Men can't cry" because of the same history and society. Thankfully, I don't read nor write about that silly world. I create my own worlds.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
    Steerpike likes this.
  8. I think it comes down to how ridiculously simplistic and ambiguous a description "strong" is. What does it even mean? Furthermore, why is it even important? Why must a character be 'strong'?

    Characters can't be summed up in the descriptor 'strong.' They're people. They're COMPLICATED. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. And strength can come in an incredible variety of forms.

    It's not a helpful description, I don't think, and I wish it weren't so prevalent.
     
  9. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    553
    88
    28
    There's also no need for the strongest women to be significantly weaker than the strongest men in a fantasy setting, even if they are in real life. I don't usually make a definitive strength comparison between the strongest males and females in my stories, but they tend to match up well in battle and it's really clear in many cases that the strongest women would be quite superhuman by the standards of real life men (or humans in general).
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2016
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    2,298
    1,341
    163
    Whilst trying to stifle a yawn over the topic... if men and women fight side by side, rule side by side, with pure equality the writer eliminates a potential cultural/personal tension often desirable in fiction... yes it's fantasy, but it's a reflection. And seriously, I suspect everyone writing fantasy knows they can make the sexes equal, they can make women physically stronger than men, the men could all be 4'6" while the women are 6'6" and do backflips to jam basketballs without an assist from trampolines, the women can spit and BBQ the men after copulating if they like, the writer can do whatever. But fiction is more dramatic and effective (in most cases) when it is a reflection of reality rather than a departure.

    One can also have humans and klingons, elves and orcs, all sitting around the campfire singing kumbaya (or the Back Speech equivalent) but what does it achieve?

    I won't even go into picking on Erikson.
     
  11. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    553
    88
    28
    I have it both ways, average women are weaker than average men which accounts for the newbie female warriors often being underestimated, but top tier warriors are monstrous beings who transcend normal standards by... a lot.

    The very strongest male warrior might still be a bit stronger than the strongest female but when the strongest female can already beat up kaiju sized monsters in pure melee combat, there isn't enough of a functional difference for it to matter to most XD And that's talking pure strength, overall formidability is a little different (the girls tend to be ridiculously durable)

    I do both stories with top tier warriors and non-top tier ones which allows for both styles to be explored. My current WIP is split between a merchant girl MC and a demigod-like princess, the merchant acknowledges she is weaker than many men and has strategies/fighting style to mitigate that while the princess is an absolute destroyer who can wreck men, monsters, and the very angels of 'God' XD.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2016
  12. Saying that women are physically weaker than men is kind of ambiguous anyway. Men tend to be larger, yes, and thus have more muscle mass...I suppose.

    In Krav Maga, I was told that a woman's legs are stronger than a man's, whereas men have more upper body strength. So...how are we measuring the strength of the whole person? Total muscle mass, I guess?

    Does strength even equate to being a better fighter, though...?
     
  13. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    553
    88
    28
    Speaking in terms of real life, men have significantly greater upper body strength proportionally while only slightly greater lower body strength proportionally. But men are also larger on average so the average man also has greater lower body strength than the average woman.

    Strength is VERY important in a fight if skill is equal or near equal. Size is also a big factor assuming both are similarly skilled.
     
  14. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

    361
    168
    43
    If we don't have a solid definition for 'strong', then it's probably not a useful term to use. I.e. if I say 'strong male character' and some people point to definition A and others to B, maybe we need to come up with better, more descriptive terms?

    If men have a different kind of strong than women, what exactly is the problem?

    Biological differences create social conventions. Women going to war alongside men is perfectly plausible in this age. But if your fantasy world is created with the scarcity of our middle ages, then I'd wager the social norms would tend towards the same thing. I mean, I can't think of a single civilisation that would send out the same amount of men and women to fight in wars. That's not a smart move. You're essentially cutting your population growth in half. And that will most likely end up in your town/civilisation getting murdered/assimilated.

    I don't think any authors (these days) are making women lesser humans. Maybe they're making fictional societies that oppress women. Is that what you mean?

    And again, in the middle ages (or a fantasy version of that), assuming there are no other ways (e.g. magic), violence is the determinant of power. I.e. because men biologically have more physical strength than women, they will, by and large, be able to overpower women. Ergo, men will take a dominant role, simply because they have the physical strength to fight off other men etc. There are countless examples of women making use of other methods to achieve power; and those are perfectly valid (and interesting). But the majority of people will fall into these roles simply because the situation forces it (on both men and women).
     
  15. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

    119
    27
    28
    That's interesting, in fact I can think of a character like Tony Stark that I really disliked when I first watched Iron Man but that has grown on me.

    Part of the problem is he has a sort of amnesia, so he's not got a lot of character to start with. His positive attributes are that I try to make him sarcastic with himself for a bit of humour, as I'm quite like that. Beyond that he does have a panther companion and I try to get his interaction with the pet to show a compassionate side and it is where his bravery first starts coming through when he wants to protect his pet.
     
  16. glutton

    glutton Inkling

    553
    88
    28
    On another note I think the strength difference issue is compounded by many writers wanting to have strong female fighters who keep up with men in a semi-'realistic' world yet also keep them a 'standard'/conventionally aesthetic size. I think most readers would accept it fairly easily if a work of fiction depicted say a 6' 200 lb female warrior hanging in battle with men... like Brienne who is even bigger than that... but more often you have a 120 lb woman doing the same alongside a buff male hero which stretches suspension of disbelief more.

    While I write blatantly unrealistic fiction I also often make my accomplished female warriors heavier for their height to sell their 'epic destroyer' image better and make them look clearly imposing instead of the usual waif fu, some examples of the MCs' height/weight are 6' 240 lbs, 6'2 190 lbs, 5'9 170 lbs, 5'1 160 lbs (super squat tank lol), and for some of the supporting characters 6'2 280 lbs (fat but also HUGE), 7' 300 lbs, 5'10 220 lbs, 5'11 185 lbs etc. I do have some less bulky ones too but at least more than half of them look the part XD The princess in my current WIP is only 5'4 150 lbs - still beefy for her height - but has trouble fitting into non-custom made fashionable clothes due to her well developed arms and shoulders, and so on.

    And then of course they are often covered in scars and/or carry around massive weapons to sell it further. They don't let the male characters have a monopoly on looking beastly lol
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2016
  17. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

    361
    168
    43
    Is he making decisions? I.e. does he want something and does he go to great lengths to achieve it? I think having a kind of determination can go a long way in alleviating the annoyance of "weak" or "whiny" traits.

    Bravery is also a good contender, probably. E.g. having him make a rash decision to put himself in bodily danger to protect his pet, even though he's scared of getting hurt, and cries about it afterwards.

    But I think you'll have to put it into practice to see if it'll work.
     
  18. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    827
    507
    93
    In my WIP, the main male character is clinically depressed, even though he's not been diagnosed as such. He isn't particularly strong physically. In fact, he could be (and is at least once) described as gangly by an observer. The only fighting he's done in his life was as a youngster, protecting the cattle on his father's ranch from predators. As an adult, he finds himself the target of the affections of more than one female character, which makes him considerably uncomfortable, especially since he's married. He does occasionally demonstrate that he has it in him to care about others. His struggle is in caring about himself.
     
  19. Holoman

    Holoman Troubadour

    119
    27
    28
    To start with its a mixture of him choosing where to go and his friends telling him what they need to do to fix him. They also have a lot of conflict between them and at first he just gets pushed around, but a few chapters in finally stands up to them and starts to drive the plot forward himself.

    But yes I think what I've done so far may not have enough of him driving the plot and too much following the others that know what they're doing. I may end up adding another POV character from the start that is separated from them and that really is a strong character to give those readers someone to like at least. For now I'm just going to keep reworking to see if I can find a good balance.
     
  20. Russ

    Russ Istar

    2,162
    1,134
    163
    Biological conditions are only one factor, often a small one, in creating social conditions or biases. In the case of many of the social conditions or biases against women, most of the ones I can think of were not based on biology.

    While I can't think of a society that sent the same number of men and women into combat, I can think of lots, including in the middle ages, where women did participate in fighting quite directly in many roles. And for a work of fiction you don't need a whole society of women warriors, just the one or the few whose story you want to tell.

    Oddly enough I did a presentation on this a few years back at the Ad Astra Spec fic convention entitled "Fighting Women of the Middle Ages." It was well received.
     
Loading...

Share This Page