In Defense of Girly Men

It all started a couple of days ago when I noticed PBW calling certain types of historical romance heroes “sheroes” because they were too nice, too sensitive.

Then Ferfelabat in the comments to this entry on Monica’s blog noted how historical heroes should be mean, and characterized modern men as “metrosexual-pc-chest-hair-shaving-how-are-you-feeling-today-babe? (Somebody just freaking KILL me already I so do not find most modern men attractive) millenium-male-neutering-at-birth-must-stop!-90’s.”

And then I remembered this previous rant I wrote and am again fascinated by what people perceive as acceptable or attractive masculine behavior, especially in a historical context.

I once said that one of the few constants in this world is how people of the older generation love to bitch about how the younger generation is dumber, more degenerate and generally more useless and going to hell in a handbasket. I realize now that another constant is how, as people get older, standards of masculine and feminine behavior of the newer generation are examined and judged as wanting. The men are distressingly girly, and the women unbecomingly forward (substitute with slutty and/or mannish as appropriate). The refrain “When men were men and women were women” is an old one, repeated with wistfulness by the old guard everywhere as the young ‘uns rebel and do something distasteful to their settled sensibilities—like women deciding to wear pants.

From the sounds of it, you’d think that behaving like a pissed-off, marauding soldier (yeah, that’s sexy—ask some Bosnian refugees what REAL marauding soldiers do*) or an unwashed mountain man is the be-all and end-all of platonic masculinity. Real men just take what they want! Real men don’t cry! Real men don’t care what they look or smell like! Real men sprout hair from any and all parts and orifices, and are PROUD of that hair, dammit!

In short: Real men aren’t pussies. In Romancelandia, there seems to be an underlying assumption that the only real men, especially men in historicals, are alpha heroes—VERY alpha heroes who, if they existed in real life, would be jailed for battery and sexual assault.

But if you read literature written by people living in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, like Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, the Bronte sisters, Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, George Eliot, Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, etc. ad nauseam, and if you look at former societal standards of what constituted ideal or desirable manly behavior, there was quite a bit of what would qualify as girly-man behavior going on, especially in the middle and upper classes, which is what most historical romances portray.

Courtly love. Code of chivalry. WIGS, POETRY, SATIN AND LACE, FOR GOD’S FUCKING SAKES. Byron wrote love poetry and he was the fucking rock star of his age. Men who write love poetry NOW?

The word starts with “p” and ends in “ussies.”

So repeat after me: standards of masculine behavior are changeable. Standards of masculine behavior are changeable.

Above and beyond all that, I also find it fascinating when people use comparisons to femininity in a pejorative sense. It’s one thing to not like a certain type of hero and elaborate why; it’s another to drag the opposite gender into it—though I guess I admire the efficiency in slamming both at once. And that thought led to another tangential musing, one that I think I’ve talked about before on this site: It used to be that masculine women were viewed with a certain degree of horror, but nowadays, if given a choice, I think many, many parents (at least those in industrialized nations) would prefer daughters who like toy soldiers and trucks vs. sons who like Barbie dolls and sparkly purses. The stigma of femininity is still very much with us; this is evident in the fact that women get to wear pants but men aren’t allowed to wear dresses and skirts. It seems to me that when blurring of gender roles and lines are allowed, allowing women to adopt superficial masculine traits is more acceptable than the reverse. Maybe because women WANT to adopt those masculine traits, but most men are not as willing to take on traits associated with the weaker sex?

(Um, sorry for sounding like a half-baked women’s studies paper all of a sudden.)

So following on that, is that why many readers of genre fiction—which often concerns itself with well-known and well-worn tropes and forms—are so discomfited, even hostile, to characters who violate gender lines? And I’m not just talking about romance novels, girly-man heroes and female readers. You can also see this sort of reaction in some male SF readers who seem to have an allergic reaction to assertive female characters in their stories.

But then, as I thought more about it, I realized that what PBW and other people complain about when it comes to annoying girly-men heroes aren’t so much feminine traits as they are just plain annoying traits. They’re talking about heroes who sound smothering, ineffectual, clingy and, well, kind of wimpy. These features are more acceptable when found in women, but c’mon: who likes clingy, ineffectual wimps of ANY gender? When heroines do the same thing, we call them doormats.

So why drag girliness or femininity into it at all?

Think about this another way: it’d be like me comparing a particularly violent alpha asshole hero who physically hurts the heroine to, say, a black dude. I’m not comparing him to a thug, or a criminal—those would be undesirable no matter what race you were. Instead, it’s: What’s with all these heroes treating their heroines the way black men treat their women? What’s with all these ne-roes?

When changed so that the comparison is a bit more charged, it gives it a whole other feel, doesn’t it?

Now, I’m not saying I’m exempt from this sort of gender-based shorthand. Check out how many times I use the word “pussy” pejoratively on this website. So in many ways, it’s a case of pot, kettle, black. The messenger has a whole lot to do with the message, too. PBW gets leeway because she’s a woman as well as a writer and reader of romances, leeway I’m not sure a man who doesn’t read or write romances would get, and I’m sure that if I were black, that my hypothetical comparison would take on other dimensions, too.

Still and all: isn’t it interesting?

Personally, I like all sorts of heroes. I like alpha heroes as long as they don’t cross the line and physically or sexually hurt the heroine. Confident, take-charge types are very attractive. The perfect alpha hero for me is Sebastian Dain from Lord of Scoundrels. He’s bad, he’s stubborn, and he’s a Type A personality—but in just the right way, and we get enough of his backstory that we understand why he’s such an asshole at times.

On the other hand, I also like heroes who are angsty and tortured but not necessarily alpha, like the kind Laura Kinsale excels at creating. And I love beta/gamma-type heroes who take on some of the roles that are typically assigned the heroine, such as healer and nurturer.

I’ve noted before that I enjoy it when taboos involving gender lines are broken, or at least bent and bashed around a bit. It’s part of the reason why I like romances involving cross-dressing. When the characters are feeling what seems, at the surface, to be a homosexual attraction? Love it. Love watching the characters struggle with it. Some people are squicked by the idea that the characters, by evincing this attraction, are not 100% hetero. Most of the people I know who are squicked by this aspect almost always say the hero is showing signs of being gay and they’re worried that he might run off with the footman, when really, he’s showing signs of being bisexual, and tendencies towards monogamy are not, as far as I know, exclusively associated with sexual orientation.

Overall, however, the underlying message is a pretty attractive one to me, even if it’s not necessarily realistic: that it’s the essence of somebody that’s attractive, and not necessarily their packaging, even something as powerful like gender. The moment in Shadow Dance when Sophie tells Valerian (whom she thinks is a woman) that she loves him and is willing to follow him anywhere, even after he tells her he’d have sex with her if she does (again, the assumption being that he’s a woman)? One of my most favorite scenes in any book, anywhere.

In real life, I’m attracted to men who aren’t stereotypically masculine. The metrosexual, body-shaving type? OK, I can’t stand people who primp too much, male OR female, but men who *koff* shave and know how to dress well, who know their way around literature, music and pop culture, who aren’t afraid to display or engage in a discussion about squishy feelings when called for, who are able to poke fun at themselves, who are secure enough to wear make-up and a dress when the occasion calls for it? HOT.

So here’s a salute to the real girly men: men who confound gender stereotypes and expectations and look pretty fucking sexy while doing it. Long may you prosper. There aren’t nearly enough of you in Romancelandia.


* Yes, I realize the whole Conquering Hero fantasy is just that: a fantasy, and that it bears no resemblance to the real-life brutalities perpetrated during war time, but allow me this little bit of hyperbole, eh? Hey, if PBW can do it, why can’t I? Oh, wait I review books, and therefore am lower than the lowliest prokaryote. Sorry, forgot that. That lack of a cell nucleus really fucks with my short-term memory. Also, my ability to use commas, em dashes and parantheses with proper discretion. DAMN YOU, CELL NUCLEI!

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Ranty McRant

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  1. 1

    I’m not sure all the modern romance heroes are that much more sensitive.  Jennifer Crusie’s and Nora Roberts’ guys, maybe, but Linda Howard and Anne Stuart?  Their men are still pretty testosterone driven, at least in my opinion.

  2. 2
    Candy says:

    I agree. In fact, in my opinion, the romance genre has a significant problem with the exact opposite of what PBW claims. Here’s the thing: I’m trying to think of romance novel heroes who fit into this wimpy shero mold, and I’m having a tough time coming up with any. Even the most beta of beta heroes like Christy Morrell of To Love and to Cherish and Ruck of For My Lady’s Heart aren’t girly unless you have very astringent, specific standards for manliness.

  3. 3
    Candy says:

    Umm, I do know the difference between astringent and stringent.

    *bangs head against desk*

  4. 4

    So the next tweak we need to this site is the ability to do “Ohmigod, I can’t believe I typed that!” quick edits of our own posts.

    And I kind of like astringent standards. Cool, bracing, like a splash of witch hazel on a hot day.[g]

  5. 5
    Robin says:

    Men who write love poetry NOW?

    The word starts with “p” and ends in ‘ussies.’”

    Unless, of course, they massage a microphone or a guitar on a stage in front of drunk and/or dancing people.  Which is your point, isn’t it?

    I’m glad you brought this up, Candy, because while I do think it’s really important to look at the ways gender expectations and roles define and limit women, it’s also critical—and yet less popular—to talk about how these expectations define and limit men. 

    Let’s face it; for all our talk of gender role modeling, women have a tremendous influence on what constitutes acceptable or desirable masculine behavior.  Men suffer, IMO, from no fewer double standards than women do, only it might be a little worse for them because our culture—women included—still doesn’t embrace the guy who talks overly much about his feelings.  And while I don’t think that ordinary men feel held hostage to the ideals women produce via Romance novels and romantic comedies, etc., I think we send men all sorts of mixed messages about what we expect of them on a daily basis, and that we’re hardly adding to the aura of healthy masculine confidence we seem to be desirous of. 

    It’s always struck me as kind of ironic that women often feel they are changing themselves, exercising themselves, dieting themselves, botoxing themselves, etc. because they want approval and acceptance FROM men, and yet, overlaying all this, are some pretty strong judgments coming from women about what’s acceptable and desirable FOR men.  In other words, sometimes I think we underestimate our own power and overestimate the power of masculinity to define femininity.  Like, maybe it flows both ways, and maybe our side is “winning,” and yet not recognizing that we might be losing what we want even as we gain more influence in creating and defining it.

  6. 6
    Candy says:

    To go on a tangent:

    Unless, of course, they massage a microphone or a guitar on a stage in front of drunk and/or dancing people.

    Only very specific kinds of music, though. Sissy-boy accusations abound for performers like Michael Bolton, boy bands like N’Sync, and even quiet, guitar-driven indie acts like The Shins. I know a lot of guy friends I had who used to be huge Aerosmith fans were turned off when they started writing more ballads, which to the guys constituted “chick music.”

    Actually, the whole hard rock/heavy metal phenomenon is interesting in how it exagerrates certain stereotypically masculine traits (the swagger, the loudness, the aggressive tone of the music) while subverting others (the use of make-up, flashy, sometimes borderline feminine clothing, etc.).

    And you have an excellent point about how men are hemmed in by just as many expectations as women are, and these expectations can be just as damaging (if not even more) when pressure is brought to bear on a male who can’t or won’t conform.

  7. 7
    Nicole says:

    We just need more geeks. 

    Hmmm…I’m not much of a fan of the uber-alpha, nor of the really “girly” men.  Hrm…I’m not quite sure what I like.  Hell, I can’t remember anything about whatisname from LoS.

  8. 8
    Robin says:

    “Actually, the whole hard rock/heavy metal phenomenon is interesting in how it exagerrates certain stereotypically masculine traits (the swagger, the loudness, the aggressive tone of the music) while subverting others (the use of make-up, flashy, sometimes borderline feminine clothing, etc.).”

    Which may be the reason it appeals to both men and women, rather than, as you say, singers like Aerosmith and Michael Bolton, who eventually lose the respect of at least one gender.

    ” . . . about how men are hemmed in by just as many expectations as women are, and these expectations can be just as damaging (if not even more) when pressure is brought to bear on a male who can’t or won’t conform.”

    What makes it even worse, IMO, is that I’m not sure men CAN always conform to some of these standards, as some seem to conflict with each other.  For example, women want a man who takes charge sexually but doesn’t carry that behavior into public.  Or they want to man who takes out the trash but doesn’t hold car doors open because that’s chauvanistic.  Personally, I think women need to be much clearer with ourselves about what we expect of men, and how these expectations are formed by our own conflicting desires and expectations for ourselves.  Because I really do think we have a lot of power over how masculinity is defined in this culture, even if we don’t realize it.

  9. 9
    SB Sarah says:

    I was thinking about Candy’s rant-in-progress (we’d been emailing about this for a few days) yesterday at services for Yom Kippur. My in-law’s temple has a “healing service” which focuses on asking for personal prayer on behalf of oneself or a loved one, and it’s, as far as services go, pretty innovative and unique, particularly the degree of emotion that is aroused in the congregation, because the prayers mention caregivers, treatments and the stresses one goes through, etc.

    I always notice when, at the point where people stand to ask for a personal prayer with the rabbi or cantor, men stand up alone. Often they are teary, which of course makes ME cry, but I notice myself noticing the men standing but I am not so surprised by the women. It’s not so much the personal prayer request, but the emotional-ness of the service and that particular moment in the service that seems to not match with my gut-reaction standards of what a dude would do. And of course I ask myself about that for the remaining hour of the service.

    Does this emotional and personal appeal that takes place in front of the congregation make me think less of them? Nope – I think it makes them more fascinating and human.

  10. 10

    This may be a bit of a red herring, but I’ve been chatting about this sort of thing to a few people recently. It seems that among certain sphere of academia, (sociology, linguistics & English so far polled) “gender” is no longer considered a useful category for analysis. Apparently it doesn’t play as important a role in the construction of identity as other factors.

    Anyhow, this came as a bit of a shock, and instinctively it doesn’t make much sense to me, given among other things the points mentioned here. But I don’t actually know very much about the arguments behind it.

    So can anyone else help out here? It might provide some food for thought.

  11. 11
    Candy says:

    For example, women want a man who takes charge sexually but doesn’t carry that behavior into public.  Or they want to man who takes out the trash but doesn’t hold car doors open because that’s chauvanistic.

    OK, to go on another sort-of tangent: some types of behavior that are considered chauvinistic or whatever, I have a hard time getting.

    Like holding doors open. In my experience here, if the dude goes before me, he holds the door open for me. I extend the same courtesy if I’m ahead. Actually, scratch “dude” and insert “person,” because I haven’t really noticed a difference on door-holding when it comes to gender. Only people in a big rush don’t bother holding them open for other people. Big on holding doors open for other people in Oregon, we are.

    If the guy opens the car door for me, I generally slide over and unlock the door for him—unless he has remote keyless entry, of course. It hasn’t even occured to me that this sort of thing can be construed as chauvinistic; I’ve dated mostly very geeky, fairly progressive guys. The Very Tall Husband actually has to open the door for me when we ride his car because the handle to his Caprice? All fucked up and hanging on by a thread, and he’s the only one who knows how to jimmy it open without fucking it up even more.

    And the toilet seat thing… I don’t know, I guess growing up with four brothers, I’ve learned to always check that the seat is down and that there aren’t any mysterious puddles before sitting down. Though most of the guys I’ve been with/lived with have been very courteous about them.

    Because I really do think we have a lot of power over how masculinity is defined in this culture, even if we don’t realize it.

    You know what I thought of immediately when you I read this? I suspect it’s very telling—about me, the culture, whatever. I thought “Yes, women have a lot more power to determine the definition of masculinity now—mostly because we have a lot more discretionary income.”

    I’m not even sure I can expand too much on this point, other than some vague connections about how media images and their influence, and how we vote with our dollars and hence help shape media images, but then the media images don’t spontaneously arise from a vacuum, they’re based on existing social standards, and it’s all this crazy chicken-egg-chicken thing and gah.

    Maybe more later.

    Does this emotional and personal appeal that takes place in front of the congregation make me think less of them? Nope – I think it makes them more fascinating and human.

    See, I like and respect a guy who can honestly and openly express emotion. And I mean guys who know how to do that in a healthy way—I’ve known a few guys who were veritable navel-gazers, which I found annoying if only because it’s so self-centered. There’s only one self-absorbed twat allowed in a duo, that spot has been taken by me, thankyouverymuch.

  12. 12
    Bonnie says:

    The most “attuned to needs/wants of his lady, smart sensitive willing to communicate, courteous, polite, well-dressed, reader-ly, cooks and does laundry and dishes” man I know? Is also the most “solid in his convictions, stubbornly committed, believes the man should carry the suitcase, enjoys a good man’s night out with the men, knows how to fix things around the house and tie an Eagle Scout-quality knot” man I know.

    If he’s what qualifies as a “shero,” sign me up for a regular appointment, baby.

  13. 13
    Lynn M says:

    Very interesting observations, Candy. Where to begin…

    First, I’m with you in thinking that all different sorts of heroes can be made attractive. It’s not that one is an Alpha male or a tortured bad boy or even a best-friend beta that will hook me when it comes to an appealing hero. I think it’s the level of confidence such a hero exudes that I find attractive, or when it’s not present, unattractive.

    So, for example, take Gile from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (played by the most awesome Tony Head). What a non-hero type of guy. A geek who wears glasses, works in a library, is wordy and pompous in his Britishness, generally not the kind of guy you’d imagine as any sort of hero. I’d call him beta to the max, or at the very least, the anti-alpha male. Yet because Giles has so much confidence in himself, presents himself with assurance, you can’t help but think of him as a hero. In some ways, he’s just as appealing as Angel the tortured soul hero and Spike the alpha-male bad boy hero.

    So no matter who the hero is or what type of a person he is, I will probably find him attractive and/or heroic if he is confident about who or what he is. If he’s a florist who listens to showtunes while driving his minivan to yoga lessons after sipping chai with his book club, as long as he does it with confidence, I’m there.

    As for the fact that applying feminine traits to a man is generally a pejorative thing, I understand completely your frustration over the seeming message it sends about being female. If a guy is accused of “throwing like a girl”, he is being criticized, ergo the way girls throw must be something bad. Or if a guy backs down from a confrontation, he’s called a “pussy”, something viewed as bad, ergo people with pussies are inferior, right?

    Except, I don’t think it really works that way in a broader sense. If my son and my daughter are playing catch, we tease both kids about “throwing like a girl”. It’s almost as if certain phrases have become catch all for expressing displeasure but the implicating of the individual words has lost it’s meaning. We don’t mean that throwing like a girl is bad. We mean that you aren’t throwing properly.

    Same thing with the pussy remark. A guy is called a pussy when, really, the word coward would apply just as readily. It seems almost as if the saying itself is so pervasive it’s just a form of slang rather than a slam against the female gender.

    In generaly, though, since women have been working for centuries to catch up with men in terms of equality – ability to vote, ability to work in all fields, ability to earn equal pay for equal work – it seems that wanting daughters to become more “masculine” is understandable (I don’t mean desirable, mind you!). By encouraging daughters to “take it like a man” society is trying to lift women up to the level of men. Whereas, if a man or boy moves toward acting more feminine, society views that as taking a step backwards.

    Now, I don’t subsribe to this theory as the way things should be. I’m just supposing why it might be the case. I can admit that we encourage our son more in certain areas than we do our daughter. But I also can say that when my son plays dolls or Barbies with his sister, I certainly don’t get my panties in a twist over it.

  14. 14
    SB Sarah says:

    Like holding doors open. In my experience here, if the dude goes before me, he holds the door open for me. I extend the same courtesy if I’m ahead.

    To stir race and cultural differences into the mix, just on this topic of courtesy, I will tell you that after about four months of visible pregnancy and a casual survey on my part, by and large the people who offer me a seat on the subway are (a) women, or (b) black or Latino men.

    Women, I assume, because they’ve been there and know what it’s like to have a full term baby on your bladder 24-7.

    But Latino and black men? I still wonder why that is.

  15. 15
    Bonnie says:

    Note: The previously-mentioned man? His big flaw is that he doesn’t trust me to drive his car, the bastard, and I haven’t figured out yet whether it’s because I’m a woman or because his car (named Cleo) is his baby.

  16. 16
    LFL says:

    This is an issue I can see both sides of.  I’m someone who can love beta heroes, but there are times when some of them start feeling less than real to me.  I absolutely love Christy from Gaffney’s To Love and to Cherish who was mentioned above, as well as Michael, Gaffney’s gentle, raised-by-wolves hero in Wild at Heart.  Though I know some readers who have complained that Michael isn’t “wild” (as in savage) enough, I think that was one of the points of the book and personally I wouldn’t want Michael any other way.  In my opinion, no one has done the beta hero better than Gaffney has in those two books. 

    I also never felt that Ruck was less than masculine in For My Lady’s Heart.  I think one aspect of Laura Kinsale’s brilliance is that she can write just about any kind of hero and make him convincingly real and masculine.

    However, this is probably un-PC to say, but there are some authors whose beta heroes start to feel less like real men to me and more like the author’s fantasy of what we’d love men to be like. 

    Take for example, Lucien in Mary Jo Putney’s Dancing on the Wind.  Now Mary Jo Putney is IMO a terrific author.  Uncommon Vows and Shattered Rainbows are both in my top ten favorite romances, and as for Dancing on the Wind, it sits on my keeper shelf along with the rest of the Fallen Angels series.  But Lucien… I love him, but well, he’s so sensitive that he’s taken up celibacy because meaningless sex gives him post-coital melancholy.  If he can’t be in a committed relationship, he doesn’t want to sleep with a woman.  Now I’m not saying that there might not be any men like this out there in the world.  But personally I haven’t met them.  And that makes me feel in some little part of me that he isn’t quite real; that he’s more of a fantasy of what we women would like men to be.  Yet even as I say that, I sure enjoy that fantasy. 

    Then there are Mary Balogh’s heroes.  I love Mary Balogh’s books.  Her plots and characters don’t come out of a cookie cutter mold, and her originality is a really wonderful thing.  In many ways I feel that her books are more true to life than most, but some of her male characters seem more emotional to me than the men I know in real life.  It’s not just that they sometimes cry, or that they sometimes say sentimental things, or that they sometimes have pounding hearts and tight throats and roiling stomachs.  It’s the occasional combination of all these things in one male character.  I enjoy reading about them, but they sometimes seem less than real to me, because they are so sensitive.  And again, I become conscious that this is a woman’s concept of men, and feel that male authors would not write about male characters in this way.

    I don’t feel that Balogh’s female characters, who share similar characteristics, are too sensitive to the same degree.  So obviously I am applying a different standard.  But… aren’t men different than women in real life?  Whether that difference is biological or cultural, isn’t that difference there?  And therefore, isn’t it okay to apply different standards to fictional characters of different genders?
     
    Don’t get me wrong; I’m not sorry that these sensitive male characters exist.  I would be heartily sick of super-masculine heroes if they were all I read about.  I’m glad there is variety, and that I can read about more than one type of hero.

  17. 17
    Sarah F. says:

    Okay, haven’t read the whole post yet, but I do have to comment on some historical facts:

    Charles Dickens—well, don’t know much about his books or his person.

    Thomas Hardy—stuck his wife in an attic and got it on with the governor.  Which Charlotte Bronte *didn’t know* when she dedicated Jane Eyre to him.  No shit.

    Bronte sisters—do you really want to get it on with Rochester or Heathcliff in real life?  Really?!?  And Charlotte had unhealthy attachments to her married boss who was horrified that she had feelings for him.

    Samuel Johnson—eh, can’t really say much about him, besides the fact that he seemed to be an unmitigated male chauvinist pig whenever I read about him when researching my female authors.

    Alexander Pope—have you read Abelard and Eloise?!?!  What about Rape of the Lock.  Not male heroes we want to emulate.  Certainly not “pussies,” unfortunately.

    George Eliot—avoid her at all costs.

    Lord Byron—he got kicked out of England for having an affair with his half-sister, an affair which produced a daughter.  Yes, his honest-to-god half-sister.  He treated Caroline whatsername like shit (although she was off the deep-end a bit), and have you read his “romantic” heroes?  They have unnamed sins which usually involve killing or raping some poor female, refuse to love, and deserve to die.

    Sir Walter Scott—the only one who might actually be said to write true, honest-to-god pussies.  But then, I personally couldn’t stand the character of Waverley.  I wanted to rip right through the book and scream at him to make a damn decision already!!!

    So, just my historical thoughts.

    The only one who could be said to write real, sensitive, interested-in-the-feelings-of-the-heroine heroes is Jane Austen.  There’s a reason she’s beloved.

  18. 18
    Sarah F. says:

    Duh.  Hardy got it on with the governESS, of course.  Not the governor.  No closets for Hardy.  Sorry.

  19. 19
    SB Sarah says:

    So where is the balance for the idea romance hero? What level of emotional depth is intriguing and what level (a la Lucien) kinda makes you go, “Ooook, there, dude.”

  20. 20
    SB Sarah says:

    Excuse me. “Ideal” romance hero. Parson the sudafed-influenced typing. I shall now go and operate heavy machinery.

  21. 21
    Candy says:

    It seems almost as if the saying itself is so pervasive it’s just a form of slang rather than a slam against the female gender.

    I agree, to an extent, but in a way, isn’t that really, really disturbing? It’d be like if, say “runs like a nigger” became commonplace. It’s a nasty shock to hear something like that because, well, the prejudice, contempt and dismissive attitude are so very clear, especially because the n-word is taboo among just about all polite circles (I don’t flinch when I hear someone say “cunt,” but I DO flinch when I hear a non-black person say the n-word).

    We’re inured to the phrase “throws like a girl,” and God knows I’ve used that phrase to make fun of my non-existent ability. But the roots of it are kind of disturbing, regardless. That people don’t give a second thought about using it suggests something… dunno what. Not self-hate, that’d be too facile, but something along the lines of a system where the contempt is so deeply entrenched, it’s part of our world and therefore invisible, kind of like the way a fish doens’t really SEE water any more because they’re living in it.

    Where’s Sara Donati? Saraaaaaa…. I want her to talk about linguistics and how words that are initially very charged lose their edge, and the process therein.

    But… aren’t men different than women in real life?

    Oh, yeah, definitely. With the caveat being that the variation within the gender seems to outweigh the variation between the genders in some cases. You’ll find the man who’s into foo-foo throws, seasonal decorations and Celine Dion just as you’ll find the woman who’s into sports, fixing cars as a hobby and Metallica.

    My point isn’t that there aren’t any differences between the genders, or that gender differences are bad. My point was mostly about how feminity is used pejoratively, and about how much I enjoy men in real life and in fiction who defy certain types of categorizations. Well, I enjoy women who do that, too, but this post was about girly men. I’ll write one about mannish, kick-ass heroines who save the day some other time.

    However, this is probably un-PC to say, but there are some authors whose beta heroes start to feel less like real men to me and more like the author’s fantasy of what we’d love men to be like.

    Oh my God, I can’t agree with you more about Mary Jo Putney’s heroes. Oy. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Dancing on the Wind, it’s the only Fallen Angels book I like, but the navel gazing. Hot damn.

    OK, here’s my take:

    Is it really a problem with a male character attaining feminine characteristics and losing his credibility that way, or about a male character whose seams are showing, so to speak? With Putney, her most annoying heroes don’t strike me as feminine so much as unbearably, blandly New Age, with oftentimes anachronistic attitudes towards, well, everything, especially the way they deal with psychological trauma. And THAT perhaps plays into the whole sensitive shero thing, since annoying New Age ponces engage in stereotypically feminine activities like ponder on emotions and acknowledge the power they hold over us?

    The best male heroes embody female fantasies without making us stop and go “Hang on, he’s obviously being written by a woman who’s trying to throw in every perfection a woman could want! He smells nice! And he refuses to come until I do—three times! And he takes the garbage out without asking.” The male heroes who are less deftly constructed show us the author’s hand.

    But that, I think, can be said about just any type of fiction.

  22. 22
    Candy says:

    Hey Sarah F, thanks for the run-down. It’s always interesting to read about other people’s dirty laundry. I think you missed the point of my list—or I wrote so poorly that I fucked up the point, which, much as I hate to admit it, is probably more than likely. I was trying to make a point about how romance readers seem to see raping, pillaging and smacking women around as socially acceptable behavior in historical times and I was trying to point to the fiction of the time periods in question (and not necessarily the behavior of fiction writers themselves) and show how they reflected standards of behavior and social mores that would be considered girly-man by today’s markers.

    And shame on me for generalizing on Byron’s work. Fucked-up nookery and anti-heroes aside, he did write some truly mushy lovey-dovey stuff like “She walks in beauty like the night.”

  23. 23
    Robin says:

    “And again, I become conscious that this is a woman’s concept of men, and feel that male authors would not write about male characters in this way.”

    Do you think that were this man “real,” he would be appealing in the same way?  Because I suspect, given the cues women tend, in a very broad sense, give to men suggest that this level of sensitivity would be discomfiting in real life.

    “It’s almost as if certain phrases have become catch all for expressing displeasure but the implicating of the individual words has lost it’s meaning. We don’t mean that throwing like a girl is bad. We mean that you aren’t throwing properly.”

    I always think it’s those phrases we need to pay the most attention to, because rather than having lost meaning, the meaning has become so normative to us that we don’t have to consciously mean it when we say it—it’s built in to the judgment.  Because no matter what, “throwing improperly” = “like a girl, and even if we individually use these phrases casually (and we all do, to greater or lesser degree, IMO), they still, IMO carry a certain cultural freight.  I’ve tried to clear my vocabulary of certain words (like gypped via gypsy), but I think the gender ones are so pervasive that it’s really difficult to screen all of them out of our common usage.

    “I thought ‘Yes, women have a lot more power to determine the definition of masculinity now—mostly because we have a lot more discretionary income.’”

    And education, and cultural influence, and more equitable access to positions of social import, political participation, etc.  Absolutely.  And it still bears observing, IMO, that women can still have cultural influence over gender roles and not be socially equal to men in terms of equal pay, etc.

  24. 24
    PJ says:

    That thing about the younger generation being degenerate has been going on since at least the Roman Empire—they’re always complaining about how much more manly and womanly they were in the old days.  But I’ll bet if I could read hieroglyphs there would be somebody complaining about how they just didn’t make pharoahs like they used to.  “In my day we slept with our sisters and we *liked* it.”  Some things never change.

  25. 25
    FerfeLaBat says:

    Paging back up to the “Buffy” post … Spike.  There were no other lustworthy, supernaturals in that series … just Spike.

    ::Pondering the strange twists and turns of this post::

    On the break room table here at work we get the “inside” magazines on the news publishing world including advertising trend analysis for the Ad reps to better hunt their prey. (My husband watches Animal Planet for much the same reason.)  A month or so ago they were lamenting how GQ and Maxxim had driven the metrosexual trend and how companies were racing to keep up with, and get ahead of, the male cosmetics, facials, and high-fashion markets.  They posted all the usual research facts, etc and so on.  I don’t know that it’s fair to blame GQ and Maxxim.  But the metrosexual trend is a marketing fact-of-life.  If you are writing a contemporary, ya gotta take this in to consideration.

    I will stick to Last of the Mohicans for my high water mark, he-man-hero-standard.  In a historical romance, if the girl is more of a guy than the hero, I’m tossing the book into the ocean—with apologies to the sharks.

      Damn Bri for distracting me from work—again.  I was being so good, too.

  26. 26
    Candy says:

    “In my day we slept with our sisters and we *liked* it.”

    Not to mention walking barefoot for 20 miles in sandstorms to go to temple service and being GLAD there was a temple in the first place, etc. etc.

  27. 27
    sherryfair says:

    Candy wrote: “The male heroes who are less deftly constructed show us the author’s hand.”

    Yes, it’s a problem that I have with some romance novels whose characterization seems grounded more on archetypes than on observing an actual male human being in its natural habitat.

    It’s just as bad as when male writers write female characters that make us scoff: “Yeah, right, that’s a male fantasy. That young promising novelist must not have been getting any/must have just gone through a bad breakup when he dreamed up that flimsy cardboard being.”

    It’s a an across-the-boards characteristic of bad writing. When the people in a book behave like the strange species known as Book People, and you think the writer needs to read fewer books and wake up and observe the behaviors of people around him or her.

    I have wondered if the hypermasculinity and pervasiveness of alpha males in romance is due to a few inept writers seizing upon “male” signifiers for quick, cheap andeasy character development.

    What I can say, there are a lot of emotional/psychological types of men out there (alpha, beta, gamma don’t cover them all) and I’m not seeing all of them represented in Romances. I’m only seeing a couple of them.

  28. 28
    Candy says:

    But the metrosexual trend is a marketing fact-of-life.  If you are writing a contemporary, ya gotta take this in to consideration.

    It’s a trend among certain males, but there are so many different types of men to begin with—not to mention sub-divisions within the kind of male that would be vaguely lumped together as metrosexual, such as hipsters, certain types of literature geeks, artfags, etc.

    Sort of off topic: Advertisers are finding out that men are willing to spend to look good. Why? ‘Cause being well groomed and smelling nice tends to get a man pussy. I think this generation of males are re-discovering the fact what women have never lost sight of: flattering clothes, good hair and the right touch of make-up help you look attractive, which in turn increases your chances of getting laid exponentially.

    I will stick to Last of the Mohicans for my high water mark, he-man-hero-standard.

    Which character from Last of the Mohicans: Uncas or Natty Bumppo? And the JF Cooper version, or the retchingly gawdawful movie adaptation? (Though I admit Daniel Day Lewis is hawt in that movie. Well, he’s hawt, period. But especially so in the movie.)

  29. 29
    FerfeLaBat says:

    The movie AND the book in different ways.  The book because Hawkeye and Uncas were unfailingly considerate of women … masculine without having to belittle women to achieve it.  Cooper’s prose drags out a little much but it’s still a beautiful glimpse into wild America and men who tamed her.

    The movie, because Dayum – DDL is Sssssmokin hot.  The Courier scene?  Buy the sound track and play the track.  It gets my heart racing.  Just an amazing piece of music, slow build, minor key, adding brass to strings as the tempo builds.  It’s like sex.

  30. 30
    fiveandfour says:

    I’ve been talking at my computer while reading everyone’s thoughts and comments.  I quite like this discussion but am going to add just a couple of tangental, non-consequential thoughts for now:

    —-I’ve been thinking for awhile now about the specific ways in which each generation defines masculinity and feminity.  For example, when watching a movie or television show from the 30s and comparing it to one from the 50s and 80s, etc. I find it interesting to compare and contrast what’s displayed as (what I presume was) relatively typical male behavior for the time period in which the thing was made.  This has led to things like noticing that Nick & Nora Charles were perhaps a thoroughly modern-style couple at the time, and yet Nick goes out of his way to make sure Nora doesn’t get to participate in any of the real detective work he does (though he does share his thoughts with her more than I ever observed my parents sharing their thoughts with one another) to noticing that the original Battlestar Galactica series showed men with hairy backs on screen (and this show aired on a Saturday morning!).  Yet, for all that, one thing has remained constant when ideal masculine behavior is shown: men must be strong.  Now, how “strong” is interpreted varies, but it seems some combination of physical strength, mental strength/ cleverness, and moral strength is a constant through the generations.

    —-As respects the toilet seat thing, I saw one of those documentaries they do to show us how nasty-germy hotel bedspreads and kitchen countertops are so that you feel like you should carry a jug of bleach in one hand and a can of Lysol in the other at all times and there was something in there about how, when you flush the toilet, a fine mist rises up and coats all that’s in the vicinity.  Just think about that, then think about where your toothbrush is stored.  Personally, I think this fact should win the argument once and for all in favor of putting the seat and lid down by both genders all of the time.

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