The phrase “Why isn’t there a Men’s Rights movement?” is often equated to questions like “Why aren’t there soup kitchens for rich people?”
Of course women have, and have had over the past century, every right to speak out against being screwed over by the rulers of the world, and their demands had every right to be louder than men’s because you know, they could already vote and earned twice as much money. But as a companion of mine pointed out recently, when it comes to things less fundamental to survival but still damaging to society, like my favourite poison media representation, both genders are equally troubled.
I talk a lot on here about how the female gender is preyed on and toyed with by fiction and the media, but less about guys. Because, well, the obvious answer is, they get trapped in its claws less. There aren’t six hundred different books and magazines and films beaming them conflicting and troubling messages about how to love, how to act, how to think and what to like and how to define your existence based on your gender-based position in society.
Hey, wait a second…
Okay, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to take some of my older posts about females being messed with by the media and look at the male side of the issue. That sounds like fun.
Generally speaking, a relationship involves two people, and if the message is being beaten in that the only way to be happy in life is to find True Love everlasting in the teenage years, it’s hitting both girls and boys (taking into account, naturally, that the vast, vast, ocean-like majority of the offending works feature straight couples).
In fact, lots of these books are from the girl’s point of view, and paint her love interest in a beauteous light, lavishly described and honed to near perfection. Maybe he’s a poetic, protective vampire, or maybe he’s just a fierce and wonderful super-strong human being. Either way, while the subliminal message hitting the girls is that they ought to go find a guy like this (because let’s face it, the author has just spent the last three-hundred pages making them sound great and we don’t want that effort wasted) to be their perfect boyfriend, the subliminal message going out to any guys who go near it is that they ought to be that perfect boyfriend.
As that picture from the “Talking Perfect Boyfriend” App (oh God that’s a thing) demonstrates, the romantic/sexual wish-fulfilment of one gender is often unrealistic and uncomfortable for the other.
But hey, maybe there aren’t a lot of guys who read these YA romances. That in itself is a stigma, because if they’re caught doing it, they’ll be deemed as trespassing on girls’ territory, and that’s no good. Because romance is so girly, and being girly is bad, especially if you’re a guy. Which leads nicely into the next one…
By all means women should be able to wield guns and hate frilly dresses, but by equal means should they be able to wield guns and love them. They should be able to be themselves while retaining the power of their selves and their gender, because being feminine is not a bad thing, despite what many sources imply and outright state.
The same message exists in the hearts of men and male characters. Why shouldn’t they be able to have traditionally feminine traits, like wanting to have a family or liking sewing or having a passion for dance? With the feminist movement there was a great breath of freedom that bloomed into how women could express themselves, in real life and in fiction, and now they are accepted to be able to have interests and traits all along the scale of masculinity to femineity. Yet there has been no such liberator for men, leaving them stuck in their rut of expected behaviours. It’s that old and simple example: women can wear pants without a second thought from anyone, but if a man wears a skirt he’s a heathen and a deviant.
I mentioned Katniss in this post, so let’s talk about Peeta. He’s unusual in this respect because, shock and horror, his main talent is baking. That’s something much more traditionally associated with women, surely. Yet it’s his heart and soul, and what (by a stretch) ends up saving his life on several occasions. He is, of course, in the same cast as Cinna the fashion designer, Cato the sword-wielding jock bully gone rabid, Finnick the muscular and emotionally damaged hero, and Beetee the slim and feeble technological expert. It comes down to what can never be said enough times: design character on their characters, not on stereotypes inflicted by other people. Just as there is more than one way to be a girl, it should also be expressed that there’s more than one way to be a man.
There has to be a male version of this. The “Look, I’m really bizarre and awkward and different, I’m not very mature and a little bit fashionably inept but it makes me the perfect love interest to liven up your life” character category.
Hell, they’re all over the place: the heroes of underdog stories that wallow in their informed nerdiness and social ineptitude, and always get the girl. When fiction is not informing guys that they have to be all-powerful perfect hunks of muscle and wit, they’re waving the reverse in our face: that strong, capable young men are clearly only meant to be villains and the threatening axis on a love triangle, and the weedy, awkward guy will always triumph.
Not that there’s anything wrong with attempting to provide heroes that are relatable to a range of people… this should be done as often as possible, but sadly it is not, and it is also done wrong, creating new stereotypes that boost viewer involvement and self-esteem absolutely zero per cent. Quirky Guys will often fall into the same traps as their sisters: they are flawed and hapless only on surface level, they sigh about not fitting the male ideal but will be played by perfectly attractive actors who are possibly a bit on the skinny side and wear glasses and fandom t-shirts, and the “geek” aspect of their lives will be treated as if it’s a personality trait more than an interest, throwing them into a whole new pit of stereotypical horrors and going for tried-and-true methods of nerd spotting that not so much allow for viewers to relate to the character, but to turn them into the punch line of jokes instead.
Goodness me it’s a mess out there. While we may overlook it, the males of the world are the media’s chew toys as much as females are—though, of course, God forbid men should complain or make note of it too publically, because it is yet another foolish stigma that men are not emotional creatures weakened or perturbed by such things. How totally unmanly is it to whine about whether or not they can have more varied and less constrictive boxes to have their fictional counterparts stacked in? How totally unmanly is it to care and show emotion about something so trivial as the fact that you’re looked down on for caring is accepted as the norm in society?
It seems that men and women, boys and girls, are equally misrepresented, stereotyped and trapped in boxes by the media both fictional and non, which subliminally affect us all from our developing days into our troubled adulthoods. Perhaps if we figured this out the most vocal advocates of each gender would decide to get along more, but I daren’t dream too big for one blog post.