Manly Men Tales, Swingin’ Dick Stories, And Hairy-Chested Histories

Paul S. Kemp wrote a thing the other day — “Why I Write Masculine Stories” — and it’s been kind of a fingernail clipping stuck in the bottom of my foot.

For the record, I think Paul is a fine writer and the best compliment I can pay to Hammer and the Blade is that it made me want to play D&D like, right then and there. And Paul is a progressive guy, so I don’t mean this as some sort of takedown or effigy-burning.

He says he writes masculine stories which to him means for his character:

“As a rule they’re men. They drink a lot. They sometimes womanize. They answer violence with violence. They’re courageous in the face of danger. They’re stoic in the face of challenges/pain. They have their emotions mostly in check. And they act in accordance with a code of honor of some kind. Thematic elements in a lot of my work that square with this involve the obligations of fatherhood, the depths of friendship between men who’ve faced death together, the bonds of brotherhood (figuratively). Hell, there are even damsels in distress sometimes (though I like to play with that notion and things aren’t always what they seem; see, e.g., The Hammer and the Blade). The price of faith and the difficulties of redemption appear in a lot of my work, too, but that’s neither here nor there…”

(For a variant on this: Neil Gaiman’s “All Books Have Genders.”)

I’m a guy who writes a lot of female characters (sometimes called “strong” female characters though I’d rather they just be characters who are both strong and weak who are also women because once you say “strong female character” if you find you have a frail or flawed one it becomes a point of contention instead of a point of character). Two of my favorite characters of all time are Miriam Black (everybody’s favorite “psychotic psychic,” to quote Jenn Northington of WORD Bookstore) and Atlanta Burns, my Veronica-Mars-on-Adderall character.

Miriam: drinks, sexualizes men and women, answers violence with violence, is courageous, faces issues of motherhood, and faces issues of bonding with other people. She is also bound up with issues of redemption (what her power has made her versus who she really is).

Atlanta: drinks (and takes pharmaceuticals), answers violence with violence, is courageous, is stoic, has her emotions in check (unlike Miriam, whose emotional state is described in her books as being a “garage full of cats, on fire”), deals with issues around her own mother, etc.

It’s interesting, because with Miriam in particular I’ve heard charges that she’s just a girl with a dick — meaning, she’s a man with the serial numbers filed off, written by a man, not at all resembling a woman. (Aka, “masculine,” I guess you’d say?) Those reviews always worried me because first that loose assertion that men cannot write women but moreover the fact I’ve known women like Miriam. Hell, they come to my book signings. Women who respond to Miriam, who sound like her, who curse like her.

Now, on the other hand, I’ve written Mookie Pearl, a thug enforcer who’s been a bad dude, a bad dad, and is again wrestling with that notion of redemption — and for him all those presumed “masculine” traits have been more than a little bit negative in his life. They’ve led him to the starting point of The Blue Blazes where he’s a guy whose own daughter wants to kill him, who set family aside for work, who has gone so far down the anti-hero hole he’s a pube’s width from being a straight-up antagonist. Masculinity has gotten him to this place, to some degree, and part of the third act of the book — okay, in addition to all that fighty violent apocalyptic supernatural-throwdown underneath the streets of Manhattan — is about him coming to terms with the wreckage of his life and actually acknowledging all of it. It’s about opening up and seeing his daughter and realizing what he’s made of her life and his. Is that thereby “feminine?”

If the traits that Paul lists are “masculine,” do we list their opposite as “feminine?”

Femininity: doesn’t drink, no sexualizations, no violence, cowardly in the face of danger, soft versus challenges and pain, emotions out of check, no code of honor, etc. –?

Again, I don’t think Paul is actually saying these things. But, this is why I get weird about trying to define masculinity, particularly as it relates to characters in a narrative.

Once you say: “THIS is masculine,” it’s hard not to say, “THAT is feminine.”

That can get toxic pretty quick. Particularly for those folks — a lot of us, really — who don’t fit really nicely into one slot or the other. Fiction can teach us things and if it teaches us that masculinity is XYZ and we’re a man who fits X but maybe not Y and Z, where does that leave us?

How should we feel?

No surprise then to learn that masculinity is a loaded word in my own life. My father very strongly subscribed to ideas about masculinity  which was troublesome when he had a son who didn’t fit that mode quite as cleanly as everyone maybe would’ve liked. (“Be a man!”) I still liked guns and I liked girls and all that but I also liked poetry and writing stories and tinkering with computers and I had male friends who sometimes showed up wearing skirts because, you know, that’s just how they rolled. I still got sad when sad things happened (and sometimes when sad things didn’t happen because yay teenagers), but my father came from a time and a place where men didn’t get sad. Men got angry! Men were stoic. They gritted their teeth and dealt with it.

Which also made my Dad kind of a stoppered-up bottle sometimes.

It was always weird to see my father get emotional. Our one dog died and he was sad about it. It was like watching the weather do something you’ve never seen before (“That tornado just went from vertical to horizontal CALL THE NEWS”). He would get sad at Christmas when we visited the grave of his own father. (Not that we talked about it much because he’d kinda stand there and try not to cry.) And it’s easy to be kinda mad about that until you wind that empathic thread from your heart to his and see that his ideas about masculinity weren’t something he just invented. His own father passed them down. Society gave them over to him. And it made him a harder man because of it. (His later years, before his death, this softened somewhat considerably, thankfully. Though he might not approve of that word — “softened.” Maybe let’s say he “eased off the throttle a little bit.” Or in his own parlance, “took his finger off the trigger.”)

So, obviously, I’ve got thoughts and feelings on this subject. Which is why for me masculinity may exist as a thing a character believes about himself but it isn’t a thing I believe about a character, if that makes sense (and that’s probably where Paul and I differ on that point). I don’t consider those traits — in fiction or out of it — particularly masculine. I’m more interested in getting to know a character from beyond gender-based assertions — not to say it’s not interesting to have a character dealing with those assertions inside the storyworld…

…but it just doesn’t have to be something I believe about them.

(For another look, see Sam Syke’s post — “What Is A Man?“)

61 responses to “Manly Men Tales, Swingin’ Dick Stories, And Hairy-Chested Histories”

  1. I don’t have much to say except that I bookmarked this post as soon as I finished reading it. And though I might not be a woman like Miriam, I’ve sure as heck seen women who are a lot like her.

  2. Nailed it. Besides the fact that his definition of ‘masculine’ characters makes feminine characters little weaklings, he seems to be saying that all those supposed masculine traits make you a man. Therefore, you are no man if you do not have those traits. Bullshit. Don’t get me started on gender 🙂

  3. The ol’ “if you’re not X, but you are Y and Z” thing is, I think one reason you see some weird writing and boozy–I mean MANLY posturing from male writers: that they’re writing at all is already “not X,” so other things have to be proved.

  4. FWIW, I’ve had reviewers state flat-out that they’d have a very different reaction to my drinking, swearing, gun-toting heroine (in particular to my world’s attitude toward motherhood, or lack thereof) if I was a guy.

  5. Google thinks I’m male. That’s incorrect, amuses me, and illustrates the biases behind creating those logarithms. I never did tick all the girly boxes, or all the guy boxes either. Fitting in was never in my lexicon, and to make Google misgender me? That’s delightful. It made me HAPPY. I am fucking NUANCED, yo. 😉

  6. Thanks again for a well thought out post on gender. This is why feminism is important for men and women, gender essentialism hurts men too.

    I’ve now written a number of short stories that have hard-drinking, cursing, tough women and, every time, I’ve gotten comments on gender confusion. Especially a story I wrote first person — people found it very, very upsetting that they read it assuming it was a male narrator. When they finally realized it was a woman, people universally freaked out. “Wait, I thought this was a man?!” Interestingly, that is probably the most “autobiographical” piece I’ve ever written…so apparently I think and sound like a man. No idea what that means exactly.

    • If you haven’t, play Assassin’s Creed 4. While playing, hack ALL the computers during the modern day missions. There is some really interesting dialogue on gender essentialism where one of hte subjects (Subject 1 iirc) is a male, but has been reliving the memories of a female ancestor. They did a very good job of showing his confusion and trying to hold on to what he had accepted as true all his life against what he had just experienced. “I mean, if it was a guy then yeah I’d say sex, but girls don’t…do they? And it’s strange how the only time she felt she could be herself was when dressed as an assassin. How weird is that, only able to relax when you’re about to kill someone…”

      Actually, here is the audio log:

  7. It is very difficult to hear discussions like this without thinking of the opening theme to Orgazmo. I’d suggest reading parts of Paul’s writing while it plays.

    My concern any time you gender stories this way is it does automatically create a dichotomy, and usually split on the broadest of stereotypes. It’s like looking at a magazine rack of old pulp tales: There’s “Man’s Stories” weekly featuring a shirtless hunk fighting off hordes of angry lobsters and then there’s “Women’s Stories” featuring a 50’s housefrau weeping as her husband cavorts with his no-goodnick secretary.

    Or, another example, in Neil Gaiman’s interview with Harry Harrison. The author of Bill the Galactic Hero complained the “Tears & Tampax” school of SF (explicitly calling out Vonda N. McEntire’s Dreamsnake). Obvious divide: Stoicism and good, old fashioned SF is good. Emotions and girly things bad. Fire friend. Tree pretty.

    Why not say it another way? Why be hypermasculine or sexist about it? I believe Paul is trying to defend his particular style of “Into the Dungeon, there be Kobolds to kill!’ type of writing, but you can do that without dragging gender sterotypes around.

    “I love rip-roaring pulp fiction, where the hero’s are heroic, even if the world is not.”
    “Give me a good, hard boiled mystery any time, when the hero keeps digging in the muck to find more muck and corruption and Jimmy Hoffa.”

    Masculine is an easy, and in the end limiting, short hand for stories which should reach anyone who’s gotten the urge to pick up an axe and say, “OK, we send the halfling in first to look for traps…”

  8. Tut, tut, tut. Always looking for opposites.
    You westerners with your fixation on dichotomies.

    *looks around himself*
    Oh shit. I’m a westerner, too.

  9. I believe there was a time when the stereotypes of men and women were different. Not until the 20th century were women (and people in general) able to live a ‘comfortable’ life of piped in water, heat, and food at the corner store. Previous to that, people had to scratch and fight to survive, be they men, women or children. Women were known to bear up to 10 children of more (my grandmother) work in the fields, cut the wood, and in some cases shoot the the bear. They lived under harsh conditions most of us today could never imagine and when a child died, they kept going because they had no time to grieve – there were 8 more mouths to feed.

    If you take it back a few centuries, women were possibly more bad ass than most men of today. However, men were much more bad ass then as well. I think that our modern society loses track of what we were, and what has been passed down in our genetic pool through time. Until the last 50 years, men were not sensitive crybabies, but were still coming off the warrior years. In some parts of the world, things are still that way.

    I admire your willingness to discuss your own father. Mine was similar in his man ways and didn’t understand the son who had the creative bent. It was indeed difficult to deal with growing up. At the same time, if I would have had to clear a forest to plant a farm and push a plow behind a horse to feed my family, I would have been a different person indeed.

    I think the popularity of the tough character of both genders arises from a memory deep inside us of what our people once were, and is something that has possibly been lost forever to flat screen TVs and political correctness.

  10. In Paul Kemp’s description of “masculine,” everything he writes can also be traits of a woman (except for the “fatherhood” part). I share some of those traits. I know women who share some or all of those traits.

    And although I don’t have much in common with Miriam Black, I can still relate to her really well as a woman. Whoever claims that she’s an example of a man being “unable” to write a female character–well, they’re just mistaken. Chuck, I think that in Miriam, you’ve captured “female” and “feminine” beautifully. Yes, in a nitty gritty, in-your-face, blood-and-guts kind of way…but that doesn’t make her a man with the serial number filed off.

    It just makes her human. And if a writer can write a woman to be human, then he has done right by her and by his readers.

  11. Wow. I’ve never thought about whether my characters are particularly masculine or feminine. Some kick bottom, some don’t. Some are brave, some are bullet headed morons, some are not. I do think, though, that if you write, your own experiences may well impact on the kinds of characters you write, or the way they behave. I spent almost a year on the Amazon forums before anyone realised I was a girl. Smug. Oh and I third the folks who have known real life Miriams. There are plenty of women who drink and swear.



  12. I don’t think you have to jump to the ‘That’s feminine’ if it’s not masculine. There are things that I believe are truly MASCULINE such as Paul S Kemp, but if you don’t meet all of those it doesn’t mean you’re not a MAN, you’re just a man. Maybe we need another word? Machoman and man?

    • Well, the problem is, if you’re going to define or care about masculinity, then it at least *conjures* the discussion of femininity — and while that doesn’t mean one is the opposite of the other, it does still command a complicated discussion.

      “Macho,” by the way, has a lot of… well, baggage with it. Machismo. Honor. Colonialism and domination and some ugly history and cultural mores.

    • No “machoman” doesn’t really work, because women can have all that too. I think in the original blog post, he did a great job of describing the sorts of stories he writes. Just use *those* words, not “masculine”. The word “masculine” is a weak, inaccurate crutch of a word. Call your story violent. Say your hero drinks and swears and sleeps around. Your story’s themes are courage, stocism, and virtue. And, as The Wendigo points out, you’ve just described Mirriam and her stories. She’s a great character. I usually don’t read things that dark or violent these days, but darn it he gave it away for free and I couldn’t stop reading. 😀

  13. “As a rule they’re men. They drink a lot. They sometimes womanize. They answer violence with violence. They’re courageous in the face of danger. They’re stoic in the face of challenges/pain. They have their emotions mostly in check. And they act in accordance with a code of honor of some kind.”

    That’s not men. I don’t know a single man who answers this description. That’s idealization, genre trope, or one-dimensional caricature, depending on how sympathetic you feel toward that particular book at that particular moment.

    • That’s an excellent point, Keith. I don’t know any men who answer to this description, either! I do know men who share *some* of these traits…but as I stated above, I also know women (including myself) who share some of them.

      None of us are a certain trait *all* of the time. And characters shouldn’t be, either.

    • I don’t think it’s that, I think he’s just writing into a certain mode of fiction and character. For me there’s just a question over what some of the assumptions behind those modes are — not from Paul specifically, but maybe in general.

      • I’ve seen these same assumptions trotted out in support of idea about why grim dark is popular. I think it’s a surface judgement, not a deep dive that really unpacks what’s going on.

  14. This ties into why I dislike all those “writing the opposite gender” classes that pop up at writing conferences. There are over 7 billion people on the planet. Are we seriously saying that each half of the population fits in neat little boxes of “masculine” and “feminine,” and that one’s inborn equipment dictates into which box one fits? And also that of COURSE an author will have problems writing the opposite gender?

    It’s also why I dislike blanket statements of “But a woman/man would never say/do that, and therefore your book is unrealistic!” The question is not whether a person of a particular gender would say or do something. It’s a question of whether this particular *character* would say/do such a thing. And if normally not, then what brought him or her to that point?

    I stopped worrying about writing male characters once I realized how stupid it is to assume that approximately 3.5 billion people share similar traits that identify them as “masculine” vs. my “feminine.” We’re all still people.

  15. Riply from Alien is one of my favourite characters. And it is not because she’s a woman. It’s because she is a good character. I think one of the reasons she is good is that she was initially written as a man, but being written as a man didn’t mean she was written ‘masculine’: when she was male, she was written as a character first and her gender didn’t come into it. Then they cast an actress. Masculinity and femininity may well be firetraps for writers but, very generally speaking, I think people find writing convincing and interesting men easier…because it’s almost a conscious decision to make a character female. I’m not saying I agree or that this is how it should be, far from it, I’m just saying because of the world the way it is, this is just how it rolls. Characters are often women for a reason, out of concious effort…they’re not always cast as men for any reason at all. But there’s a way round it, which I sure is what you did with Miriam: write them as a character. A strong character, with weakness and depth and emotion. Their gender might inform some of their choices, but not many. Unless you’re making a deliberate point I often think that the best characters you create could swap genders and they would still be ‘strong’ (I know, I hate that word too), they would still be engaging, they would still be realistic. Male or female, we’re all (mostly) human

  16. The easiest way to end this argument (not that it will ever end. Or that it is even an “argument”) is to point someone to the basis for all Western storytelling: Greek myth. Boy, that Hermes sure was a man’s man, right? Or how about Athena? Yep, she loved lacy things and was all like, “Oh, he did what? Girl, you need to get you some stripper heels!”. BS. Folks thousands of years ago knew people, as represented by goddesses/gods, were varied an complicated. I write people. If they have tits, fine. If they have a dick, fine. Some menstruate, some don’t. Some are bitches, some aren’t. Some can make a mean parfait. Some can’t boil water. I don’t really care what gender they are. They are what fits the story.

  17. You know, I agree Chuck.
    And associating certain traits and qualities of strength and stoicism with masculinity is just as harmful as associating domestic, overemotional traits with femininity; it puts pressure on people to act a certain way, and creates judgement when they fail to meet those standards.
    There’s a hell of a lot of pressure to be a man, all the time. And it’s not fair to anyone of any gender to give them two lists of character traits and say, “You’re not normal unless you pick from ONE of these lists.”

  18. First off – I really enjoy Chuck’s writing and I loved Miriam as a character, reminded me of my sister. I also really enjoy Paul S. Kemp’s writing and am totally down with his own words on masculinity. I have a sister, who strange as it may be, is a guuurl. A very feminine, with tits, with her own kids, stay at home Mom kind of girly girl who happens to also play ice hockey and holds two black belts and was a runner up for the Olympic Tae Knwon do team just a few years ago. She describes her pre fight routine as “getting here dick on.” Completely whigs her husband out. Why are some people here pretending that the adjectives masculine and feminine don’t mean something? They can hold meaning, different of course for everyone without imparting some sort of value judgment based on our own history and baggage – which we all have. The whole thing just reeks of PC bullshit. Strong characters are strong characters. Some have feminine traits, some have masculine traits. some have both – some have tits, some have dicks, some have both. Oh wait…

    • SA, I think the whole point being that the basic definition of “feminine traits” versus “masculine traits” are unclear. If you’re just using biology (feminine traits = tits, masculine traits = dicks) then whatever. I’m not sure where it become PC bullshit to say “these things he is calling masculine, aren’t actually about men since many women also share these traits.”

  19. What I’m saying is that masculine and feminine traits, the terms themselves have meaning – a valid, time tested description. They are adjectives. What each of us “feels” about the terms, or are how they are used says a lot more about us than it does about the very use of the measuring stick across the spectrum of masculine/feminine. Neither have an intrinsic value, both have relative strengths and weaknesses depending on the context. In biological terms the masculine/feminine spectrum has anatomy to define it. In terms of traits and characteristics they are very much mobile across gender, or should be at any rate. To pretend we don’t know in a literary context what the terms such as “butch”, “knuckle dragging Neanderthal”, “effeminate man”, “kick-ass biker chick” or “gimp loving redneck” are trying to convey – is just another sacrifice to the idol of political correctness.

    • I know what those things mean, yes, but that doesn’t make any of those things “good character.” They’re just lazy shorthand. As is, frequently, the term “political correctness.”

  20. One of the first sci-fi books I ever read–eons ago–was ‘The Witches of Karres,’ by James H. Schmitz. Goth is one tough, smart, capable little kid, and that she was a girl was beside the point . . . other than her determination to (eventually) marry Pausert. Pausert, on the other hand, came off as a sensitive, caring person, and the fact he was a man was beside the point . . . other than being nonplussed about Goth’s intentions. Schmitz always wrote strong characters, and lots of these happened to be women, or teenaged girls, presented without any need for excuses, explanations, or PC bullshit. Enjoyed this blog a lot, and I’m looking forward to reading about Miriam (book on the way).

  21. it doesn’t, in and of themselves make them “bad character” either and that is my point. It comes down to how each of us perceives the terms. And that is on us. The whole issue lives in the realm of opinion, perception and our own reactions – to words that have meaning. And yes, PC is way over used, and I duly apologize.

    • I mean, sure, it’s absolutely what we put onto these words and ideas. And that’s what my post is about — if we make too many assumptions about what is masculine or feminine, we enter into some really weird territory that not only makes it unwelcome for certain readers to connect with the story but also runs the risk of creating empty, two-dimensional characters. We’re writers who can imagine unicorns and spaceships and so I would think we can imagine complex characters who do not cleanly cleave to outmoded gender notions.

  22. I agree there. We can and do imagine all sorts of complex characters. The only thing I take issue with, and if I’m misinterpreting your argument, I apologize; is holding an opinion that a female character who is unambiguously expressive of traditional feminine traits or the male analog can’t be strong complex characters. You may not write them (choice), I may not enjoy reading them (opinion/taste) but there is a lot of strong literature out there that utilizes both. Geez, I have to go back to work… But as usual, I really enjoy your blog.

  23. Ugh! Eeeuw! The description of men bing drunken, cheating liars who swing their genitals (and ask ANY woman–we’ve all seen them up close) is an insult to a few good men. It’s irresponsible to depict anyone in sweeping generalities. It also makes me up-chuck when this hoser distinguished “strong women” from women. This simplistic, lazy thinking, this ‘us & them’ grade school level convergent thinking and the picking of low-hanging fruit is a huge part of what’s wrong with today’s world. Though you can dress it up and call it fiction, or throw a tantrum about freedom of speech, you’re promoting the wrong message when you idealize the image of this kind of man. Congress is full of them, the dating world is full of them, jails are full of them, and they’re dangerously full of themselves and only themselves. People with big hairy bodies whose minds are so small, they must brag about their swinging parts are a danger and a major annoyance to everyone. Fucking clowns…

  24. I’m going to throw something into the mix here, Chuck…

    I’m wondering, would as many people accuse Miriam Black of simply being ‘a girl with a dick’ if the name on the front cover of the book had been ‘Charlotte Wendig’ instead? Or would some of those people have instead thought “Yay, finally a female author taking a real risk and writing about a kick-ass woman who defies the sterotypes! Go Charlotte!”

    I have a sneaking suspicion that a character’s ‘gender authenticity’ (which is a totally crap way of saying what I mean, but the closest I can get at this time of night after too many salted almonds) is as much judged by the gender of the author as the quality of the writing. A surprising number of otherwise intelligent people staunchly believe that men ‘can’t write female characters convincingly’ and vice versa; as if not being in possession of the appropriate genitals somehow renders it impossible at a neurological level.

    I once had a critique of my work (from a man) where he said he “could instantly tell you’re a woman just by how badly you’re writing the main (male) character.” The justification he used for this? “No man who said the word ‘fuck’ would EVER call someone a ‘wuss.’” Yep, just that – he didn’t offer up any other examples. (I’m intrigued – is that TRUE? What happens if he does – do random alpha-males stop what they’re doing to punch him to the ground or something?)

    As for Paul S. Kemp’s article… I’m not even sure what he’s really trying to say. He starts off defending his ‘manly man’ ideals, then does a sidestep with the ‘but I’m also really pro-women’s rights and totally down with the LBGTs’ disclaimer and then kind of finishes with ‘you know what – I don’t care what you think, or what ANYONE thinks because it doesn’t even MATTER ANYWAY…’

    I don’t know the answer to this one. I’m pretty sure that, if you ditched the terms ‘masculine’ and feminine’ to define the different ‘types’ of behaviour, you’d have to come up with some alternative words for them anyway. Which might be a good thing… but for how long? Until those words come to have the same connotations as the words they replaced? Of course in an ideal world there’d be no reason to make the delineation at all, as you say, Chuck – but I think we’ve still got a lonnnggg way to go before we see that happening.

    Darn, is this what salted almonds does to my brain?

    • That is a point. The whole gender issue gets mixed up with who is writing which gender. ‘Cause the whole gender issue is about perception. Say in America wearing make up if you were a man would be a ‘girly’ thing to do. In other parts of world this would be a ‘manly’ thing to do.

      Personally, I never thought of Miriam as anything, but a chick. A weird, pretty messed up a chick, but hey that’s what makes it fun.

  25. As always, you articulate these things very well. I tend to get uncomfortable when people start describing certain character traits or themes as masculine or feminine, and you sum the feelings I have up very well. Thanks for writing this piece.

    And your dad sounds a lot like mine in some ways.

  26. This blog. These comments. I feel like I just took a master class in character development. Bookmarked for study. Thanks.

  27. I don’t get too hung up on what is “masculine” or some other definition of gender. The fact is we have a number of different categories of masculine these days, from the classical proto-masculine characterized by Chuck’s dad, to the neo-masculine “metrosexual” to the Beta-Male “pajama boy.” They are all “masculine” but on varying levels of the manhood Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. It’s a new era. We need to stop thinking in terms of black and white.

    If you want to get kicked in your gender-biased ass, read Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Left Hand of Darkness.”

  28. […] 11, 2014 — Leave a comment So, today I read Chuck Wendig’s post “MANLY MEN TALES, SWINGIN’ DICK STORIES, AND HAIRY-CHESTED HISTORIES“, then Sam Sykes’ post “What Is A Man?“, and, of course, Paul S. […]

  29. Gender issues are generally weird. Even if you angle something traditionally one the other a slightly different way it comes out an entirely different way. Probably a lot do with perception, and culture.

    Even stranger is when I read a book sometimes I think ‘that character doesn’t act like gender.’ And, it usually has nothing to do with the typical stuff. Just something doesn’t ring true.

    Funniest time is I read a really old hack slash fantasy type book in first person, and it wasn’t until the end of the book did I realize the main character was a woman.

  30. I think sometimes so-called masculine traits are seen as the desirable traits. Being tough, not showing emotions ect. Whereas the so called “feminine” traits are seen as being less desirable. Some of the guys I know who study nursing get more crap for that than I get for studying paramedics, and those jobs seen as the community as traditionally gendered jobs (that’s changing, but it’s still a slow change in some places)

    I think with characters, as long as you can justify, via their background, who they are, then they just are who they are. Gender only really comes into that via the fact that society has these ideas about how men and women behave, so the behaviour of one gender vs the other may get different responses. These different responses may in turn shape that character’s actions.

  31. This is one of the things that frustrated me as a reader when I was growing up. I wanted to see women participate in the adventures, and most often they were assigned perceived “feminine traits” — one of which was, unfortunately, victim. The action would happen, and they would do nothing at all to help themselves, preferring to wait to be rescued. I had a relative who was crossing the prairie with her husband and young son in the early U.S. migrations. Halfway across, her husband died. If she had turned into a victim like the books expect us to be, she and her son would have died!

    Yet, when I wrote stories that featured 50 percent women and gave them participation above victim, my then nearly all male critique group sneered at them as if they had intruded on forbidden territory. So if you’re stuck on a snowy mountain, the women should just complain and whine and freeze to death while the men stoically move forward?

    By the way, my father doesn’t drink (doesn’t like the taste). What does that make him? And I’ve known military men who don’t curse. What does that make them?

  32. “As a rule they’re men. They drink a lot. They sometimes womanize. They answer violence with violence. They’re courageous in the face of danger. They’re stoic in the face of challenges/pain. They have their emotions mostly in check. And they act in accordance with a code of honor of some kind.”

    Right, real men are alcoholics with VD, goddammit! Growl! Snarl!!

    If we’re going to apply this to the real world, that’s (mostly) a better description of a criminal or maybe just an alcoholic than a man. Or go back to fiction and apply the above description to Merle Dixon of TWD…yep, it works. So that’s a “real man?” Someone who is truly stoic (and I’ll save the rant on the constant misuse of that term for another day) would not drink a lot, womanize, or be prone to violence. Someone with their emotions in check does not do those things either. People drink too much and sleep around precisely because they do not have their emotions in check and do not view the world stoically. And do men really have a monopoly on a code of honor? I know you’re trying to be generous to Kemp here, Chuck, but I have to call bullshit when I see it.

  33. I think it’s telling that in psychology, masculinity, femininity and androgyny are merely points on a continuum, and are only loosely linked to biology (and much more strongly linked to socialization). Consider the Bem Sex Role Inventory; a test to see how masculine or feminine you may be. The typical woman will hew toward the feminine side, and the typical man will land on the masculine side, but there are plenty of people whose genitals are not good predictors on how they will “score” on the test (never mind the intersex folks out there).

    In the end, how you define masculinity, or femininity speaks more to your own prejudices than to any objective definition (if there even can be one).

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