Okay, so we can’t exactly rip off Indiana Jones, Thor Odinsson or Clark Kent, but when I asked my mother to name some Overly Masculine Heroes, these are her offerings. (Yes, mother, I am proud you named Thor.) And these men are the reason men risk developing testosterone poisoning.
There are heroes who define what it means to be masculine. With muscles, girls as prizes to win at the end of the quest, and fast cars. These are the men of the ‘80s, and I’m surprised my mother didn’t mention the A-Team (though, to be fair, I said “heroes” and not “guys”).
One of the key problems of these men is that, because they are the definition of masculinity, they tell males how to and how to not behave. They reinforce the stereotype of Heterosexual Male in a Quest, where the prize at the end is A Fair Maiden.
No, not in this time period.
There is some great literature out there which deconstruct this stereotype, such as Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus and Magnus Chase, or Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter Chronicles. And yes, I realise I’m naming young adult and teen fiction. But that’s where this awesomeness lies.
And this is bad for current adults.
But in terms of younger writers and readers, it teaches that it’s okay to not have muscles. It teaches that it’s okay to not be heterosexual or to fit the gender binary.
Because the world is full of shades of grey and blurred lines. Your work should reflect this.
But this is not a lesson on social acceptance. It’s a lesson on how to avoid the stereotypes of these sorts of heroes.
Firstly, I’d suggest you “ask” your characters who they are as a person.
Then, you ask yourself why you’re including this in the story. Because “diversity” isn’t good enough. Readers can tell when you’ve added something in for the sake of it.
Characters don’t need to be perfect. Perfect is an ideal. It’s poison, it rots society. Your characters have flaws which make them relatable and likeable. Your flaws make a character human (if they are, in fact, human).
Maybe your overly masculine hero has a sexual dysfunction he’s hiding. Or a tiny penis. Because someone with those muscles cannot be a perfect human. A perfect human is impossible to achieve unless you’re a saint.
No, don’t write about a saint. What are you, a Christian author from the Late Medieval Period?
I’m tempted to include a bit about the science of testosterone poisoning, you know, like I did about what drinking blood does to humans? But then I decided against it. Because I’m ranting about muscles and low-key bitching about romance novels.
Moving on, let’s discuss how masculinity affects the plot of our heroes.
One blog post I read a while ago said you shouldn’t think about the gender of your narrator as a deciding factor for writing it. Or that it should play a part, at all, in deciding who does what, when, and why.
Because gender should not be a factor in the actions of your characters.
We call this toxic masculinity. It is where society says a man is strong, emotionless, and earns all the money. He drinks beer and likes violent sports. He drives fast cars and treats women like prized possessions.
Insert the song, “You Don’t Own Me”.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that generalisation doesn’t apply to every man on the planet. And as such, it shouldn’t apply to every character who was born with certain genitalia.
Where there’s a character, there’s a cliché and a stock character. We have a Manly Man and a Sensitive Guy. You can select the Straight Gay and the Raging Gay. There’s a character trope for everything, and whether it’s written well depends on how the author handles the characterisation.
I suppose the female equivalent for this is the Femme Fatale, the sultry woman who seduces men for whatever reason. Dresses in revealing dresses and has bright red lipstick. She’s usually the bad guy, or knows the bad guy, or works for the bad guy. James Bond probably slept with her at some point.
But the problem with manly heroes and seductive women is that they reinforce certain gender norms.
This is going back to the eighties and the use of women as props. We should be past this; our male characters should deal with their emotions like a mentally stable person. Our female leads should treat men as people and not eye candy.
This is about equality and respect.
Women are more than seductresses and prizes to be won. Women are more than empty vessels for the reader to squeeze into who just react to the story at large. This should be reflected in the books we read and write.
Men are more than action heroes and lone rangers. Men are more than shallow and vaguely abusive love interests for the female lead to idealise. This should be reflected in the books we read and write.
As I mentioned in my article on villains, every character has a goal and motive.
Every character must have a purpose for being in your story. And I do mean beyond “but my lead needs a love interest.” What actual role does your character have in the story?
How does your love interest move the plot forward?
Your love interest needs a genuine reason for your inclusion of them in the story. Are they also the mentor? The sidekick? Princess Leia was, I argue, the mentor. Han Solo was the contagonist. Fight me on this.
What message have I tried to convey in this rant?
Well, I’ll give the short and sweet answer to that question. Mills and Boons is not a good idea if you want diversity. But anyway:
- Overt masculinity has been relegated to the last century. This does not reflect the current times and views. Unless your book is set in the eighties, don’t have big muscles, a fast car, and a girl as a prize for completing a quest.
- No man is perfect, ladies. Everyone has flaws. Characters have flaws. And if I read one more story where the female narrator harps on about how perfect her love interest is, I’m assuming he has either a sexual dysfunction or a tiny penis.
- Women are more than love interests for men. Men are more than Greek statues for women to gawk at. So why am I still reading that shit?
- I realised that this article turned into a social rant on equality. I’m kind of not sorry.
Now, go forth and think about the implications of overly masculine heroes.