Friday, January 16, 2009

What is a real man?

I'm currently finishing up a collection of short m/m stories that I wrote throughout 2008, and there's a question I've been mulling over for a while. In Bloglandia, I see a lot of people, authors and readers alike, complaining about gay characters 'who don't act like MEN'. Or, to put it more crassly, the "men with p*ssies" phenomenon. (Edit: I've been corrected via email: the correct term is "chick with a d*ck". Either way, I'm not crazy about it.)

I don't get it. I mean, what does it mean for a 'man to act like a man'? What defines a "MAN"? Because no one is alike, and frankly, the overloaded-with-testosterone Alpha type isn't all that interesting to me. Also, the only gay males I personally know who are comfortable being open about their sexuality enjoy good fashion (as do many straight males for that matter), fuss about why I keep getting crappy dye jobs, and enjoy Broadway show tunes. And *gasp* they get emotional, and cry even. They've told me they've done this, and I believe them. So does this mean that, if I were to make them story characters, these guys would be called out for not acting like MEN?

Hmm. So now I wonder if the whole issue isn't about writing 'real' men at all, but writing about the kind of idealized male that romance readers find interesting, and then partnering him up with another idealized male.

But shouldn't it be more important to write about PEOPLE first, instead of trying to make them fit a cookie-cutter definition? I dunno...that's why I'm mulling this issue over. :)


Dakota Flint said...

Hey Anne! I think this is a great discussion topic, and it's funny to see this in my feedreader since ZA Maxfield blogged about this very topic yesterday and I gave a long-winded response. :) (You can check out the post here if you're curious

Personally, I think it has a lot to do with lazy or weak writing. I think a good writer can make me believe almost anything, leaving any preconceived notions about what society considers as feminine or masculine behavior in the dust.

I also think a lot of it has to do with perception and the personal bias regarding gender roles and politics that we all, as readers, bring to the table when we sit down to read. Sometimes it's almost instinctive, even when intellectually we know it's bs.

It makes me think of that joke/riddle about the teenager who's in a car accident with his Dad, who dies immediately, and when the kid is taken to the hospital, the doctor says, "I can't treat him; he's my son." And a lot of people are always stumped when asked how this is possible.

Jaime Samms said...

This is a hot topic right now, isn't it? I'm like you; not a huge fan of testosterone riddled alpha males. I do think there is a fundemental difference in the way men and women communicate, and whether that is a nature/nurture issue isn't really the point. The fact remains, we talk, they don't, so much. Of course there is a spectrum. Some are very reticent, and some are very open with their feelings. I strive to write men who aren't as articulate as women, because that is the paradigm I think most people know and understand. That doesn't mean my men don't feel. It's how those feelings are expressed that I think some readers tend to take issue with, and it is the hardest part to get right.

Just my opinion, of course.


Anonymous said...

Oh but so many author's do write chicks with dicks. No one is saying that men are not in check with their emotions. But women and men do communicate differently. That's what makes women different from men. People are not the same, so you can't write them the same.

I don't understand author's need to make their men so unbelievable in their stories. Sure it is subjective - but if this is a universal sentiment from readers, then not all of them (us) can be wrong.

I can probably let go some things in certain settings. As Dakota mentioned the author has to make me believe, and if they don't make me believe why their male characters has suddenly burst into tears - well that shows weak writing. If you can make me believe your character then your reader will have no problem.

However this issue is highly rampant in contemporary novels, and it does make my blood boil. However it's subjective as I said. No reader is asking for an alpha male here; it's just some author's do make me laugh with their weird notions at times.

Anne Cain said...

Thanks for the thoughts, everyone! Dakota, I missed ZA's post on LJ so I'm definitely going to have to go take a peek.

Jamie, it sounds like your write your characters in a way you think readers will best be able to associate with the "male identity". Not necessarily the Alpha type we both think is kinda nyeh, but still within the social boundaries of what it means to be male. But we've all met some guys that just don't shut the hell up! I mean, seriously, some guys can go on and on about cars, their favorite football team, politics, social issues, whatever--they love to hear themselves speak. And yet, they're still considered "male" because it's not touchy-feeling talk. But what about a college classmate of mine that kept prattling on about his boyfriend ALL THE TIME. Cute, but frelling annoying after a while. Would writing a character like that suddenly make him less of a man in a story?

Okay, anonymous, men are less likely talk and they don't burst into tears. By your logic, if a male character starts wibbling or crying (ah, the crying issue--I've read so many negative comments on the internet about male characters who get blubbery), he's a chick with a dick, right? that argument similar to the kind of comments directed towards the weepy fan who asked people to leave Britney alone, like in this vid?

Is Britney fan a chick with a dick? Is it a fair to call a real person that, or are only fictional characters fair game because they don't fit the "male" stereotype?

This really is an excellent topic--I love hearing the different ideas!

Lauralyn said...

Hi, It's me ~ZAM~ and I completely agree. I understood what Josh meant when he said that since by and large women read m/m and readers in a sense have the final say about what appeals to them, but I attribute a lot of the complaints about badly portrayed gender roles and stereotyping to poor writing, and not to characters who are written to be people.

My own father was a very gentle, delicate man, whose hobbies were figure skating and photography. It would be pretty easy to find a way to make this seem less than masculine, (although I for one don't know why, but his more athletic friends teased him.)

Yet he was Viennese, spoke with a soft accent, had trouble relating to people, was shy, and found that both photography and skating were the perfect way to PICK UP CHICKS. He was legendary at the ice rink for rescuing stranded maidens. And let me tell you, it worked for him like a charm and had he not been faithful to my mother?


Kris said...

It's an interesting topic and I agree one which can be very subjective.

As for myself, if the story is interesting, the plot is well written, and the characters developed and appealing, I will enjoy it - no matter if the book features alpha or beta hereos, 'manly' men or complete twinks.

I've said elsewhere that the world is made up of different folk; some of whom are stereotypical and some not. To me, it is NOT believeable or realistic to recognise this complexitity and insist on putting people/characters into neat and nice little boxes.

And, to be perfectly honest, if I wanted to read stories featuring the conventional, romantic alpha hero, I would still only be reading het.

My 2c.

Jaime Samms said...

:) Of course being gregarious does not mak a guy less of a man. As I said, there's definitely a spectrum. I think I would have a very hard time writing a man like that and having him sound believable. For myself, the men I know aren't talkers so much, so I guess that's what I'm used to. But what men talk about, and how they talk about the things that really matter to them, generally speaking, tends to be different from how women talk, in my experience, and as Kris mentioned, it's all subjective.

I love this topic, because there is so much room for differing perspectives and ideas.

Lauralyn said...

It's funny, my husband is a talker, knows all of the neighbors, has his fingers on the pulse of the neighborhood gossip, and is one of the chatters at church. Of course, I talk a lot too, and we've never run out of conversation with each other. He met me for lunch at work one time and one of the women who didn't know him later confided she couldn't imagine he was my husband because we were talking like we were 'friends'. ;-)

The men in my books talk. A Lot. Mostly because I thing articulate is sexy. But there are all kinds of people in the world and I think a really good strong and silent stereotype hunk is hot too.

Okay, in case the whole guy as talker doesn't immediately make you think sexy, think Cary Grant in His Girl Friday.

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