Let me infuse a measured amount of hypocrisy into my blog by encouraging you to include a realistic amount of sexism in your works of fiction. As a general rule, fiction that subvert the reader on either a conscious or sub-conscious level to behave in a sexist manner should be avoided, but being politically correct is not the same thing (or should not be the same thing) as pretending the problem does not exist.
I was inspired to write this by another blog post titled “Five Signs Your Story is Sexist – Against Men”. (I assume the hyphen mid-sentence is supposed to imply “Wait for it. Here it comes”.) The five signs are the following:
- Male heroes have no relationships.
- Fathers are distant or judgmental.
- Men are divided into winners and losers.
- Male sexual consent is disregarded.
- Feminine men are mocked or demonized.
The essay goes on to present examples of each item in modern fiction, tries to explain why such depictions are harmful in real life, and suggests how each problem might be remedied. Read it if you need to, but most men do not. It does not tell us anything we do not already know.
Do these problems need to be “fixed” in fiction? It is more than evident that these are the tropes that sell. It should also be obvious, unless you are totally blind, that this is how the men around you tend to live. Men ARE lonely beings. Fathers ARE judgmental. Men ARE divided into winners and losers. Men ARE (easily) coerced into sex. Effeminate men ARE mocked and alienated. Trying to “fix” these problems in an imaginary world by creating a place where such pressures do not exist is admirable from a political correctness perspective, but does it serve the purpose of improving the quality of your stories by setting the stage in such a idyllic Never-Never-Land?
Story is driven by conflict. In a conflict you can acknowledge the existence of a problem without condoning the people who practice it. You can achieve this by “fixing” your sexism only half way. The male protagonist tries, and fails, to have lasting relationships. Fathers try, and fail, to mend fences. Men try to leave the rat race and the never-ending dick-size contest, only to be drawn back in. Men try, and fail, to resist sexual coercion. Effeminate men try, and fail, to be accepted by their more masculine peers and vice versa. Men should be depicted as trying to become more rounded characters in a world that conspires against such efforts. Men try to be good men, but they are still compelled to be men.
A man adopts a new lifestyle in order to settle down and develop a lasting relationship, but someone comes in with a new job. The world needs him. He cannot settle down.
A father and son reunite over dinner. They try to connect. But old conflicts emerge, pride is at stake, and their respective manhoods get in the way of the reunion.
A woman plants an unwanted kiss on a faithful husband. He resists, but can only do so with an awkward smile and vague excuses. When he arrives home he must hide the evidence of the kiss from his wife who will no doubt assume him to be the instigator.
A big man and a small man shake hands and tries to mend fences, but due to their respective standing in the world, each man must respond to difficult circumstances differently. They must choose different sides.
You have seen the same script a thousand times. But the world continues to conspire against men who try to be less like men. This is what happens to men in real life every day. This is the script that always works because this is the way it always is.
Even in a fictional world full of witches and warlocks, elves and fairies, vampires and werewolves, androids and space aliens, emotions and conflicts have to be real. The conflicts men face in the world are closely related to the masculine roles they are compelled by their environment and biology to play. This is why sexism against men in fiction is often the driving force of the plot. Therefore, completely eradicating the abuse of men from your story can be detrimental to the quality of your narrative.