The need for honest male representation: why can’t we admit what men are really like?
Another National Men’s Day came and went on November 19 last year with the usual ugly fanfare on your choice of social media time-sucker. I know you’re sick, I’m sick, and the world’s men are sick of the usual tantrums: “Why is there a day for men when men hold the power in society?” “Isn’t every day Men’s Day?” “Doesn’t it promote a narrative of false equivalency between social roles of the genders?” PFFFT.
People insist on ignoring the fact that men are hit as hard as anyone by stereotypes in the media. How do you cope with constantly being portrayed as the hero, the savior, the everyman, or as brave and stoic and kind-natured? Depictions like these set up unrealistic standards for men that no one should ever be expected to live up to. Worse, they come at the cost of never acknowledging the real men we interact with every day who don’t fit these limited molds. For that reason, for this year’s Men’s Day, I’ve compiled a list of male archetypes that never see the representation they deserve in mainstream media.
The Soft-Spoken Nerd Asshole
Media is filled with the narrative of the kind, honest nerd. He’s the “nice guy”, the one who’s there for you when the asshole jock leaves you. The media frames him as unflinchingly normal, just doing what anyone would do as a sweet downtrodden beta-male, and pursuing his love interest at a reasonable pace.
How long will we keep pretending this is the only way nerd boys can be?? I know many, many self-identified nerdy males who are disgusting, creepy pricks. Where did we get this idea that a soft voice, an awkward persona, and low self-confidence equate to treating women with basic humanity? We are doing a grave disservice to all the guys out there who are all these things, while still treating women like absolute dirt. These brave men break stereotypes every day, proving that jock culture and nerd culture are both valid ways to express toxic, personality-stunting machismo.
The Pretentious Anarcho-Commie Hacker
Like frozen yogurt at a bad frozen yogurt place, the tech-savvy archetype for Hollywood men comes in limited flavors. Maybe it’s the spy, wielding gadgets with finesse to infiltrate high-security mansions. Or maybe it’s the hacker himself, tapping at the keyboard doing secret, brilliant calculations while green zeroes and ones fly past. And, of course, there is no shortage of brilliant mastermind men, those who always think 15 steps ahead and hold the entire plot in the palm of their hand, all of whom are played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
These depictions do a serious injustice to all those men in our lives who think they know tons of shit behind the scenes, but really don’t.
Men of all stripes have a compulsive need to explain things to you that, for one reason or another, you do not need to be told. It’s not for your sake. It’s for theirs. Imagine how much damage it does to the self-image of these men that we assume they actually know what they are talking about. The idea that wild, aggressive, complicated claims and judgements always come from a bedrock of reason and experience is a product of the hetero-patriarchy, and liberation will only come when we understand that many of the men around us are idiots, they are jumping to conclusions because they think they’re a god. And we need to recognize that these sweet men’s true skill is in making you feel like an idiot for doubting them.
The Lovable Dork Slimeball
How many times have we witnessed male characters flop through life awkwardly in a cute, relatable way– trying their best, relying on their friends, and making fools of themselves in front of their crushes? The myth of the well-meaning dork is a pervasive one. We see these men framed as innocent, good-natured, and as the victims of their own awkwardness with women. In doing so, we blatantly ignore the many men who suffer from deep-seated dysfunctions of empathy, respect, and personal responsibility.
I myself am not a man, but I’d bet confidently that it would hurt to be written all the time as if I have no culpability in the way I lead my life. It would hurt terribly. Everyone is bestowed with the ability to think about their actions– particularly those actions that cause trouble, insult, and embarrassment to the object of one’s affection– and to assume men lack this inherent drive is frankly ableist. The choice to ignore a woman’s feelings and put first one’s ham-fisted attempts to sleep with her like a complete douchebag is a very real, intentional choice. The men who make this choice are aware of what they’re doing, and it is insulting, infantilizing, and misandrist of Hollywood to frame these actions and their results as if they have no relation to the man’s character.
The Fucking Weirdo in Your Liberal Arts Class Who Turned In a Photo of Himself with a Hitler Mustache for His Art Project
Ultimately, these are all just examples to get you thinking about these deep, complicated issues. The underrepresented ways that men can be awful are far, far more than I can list for you here. The rule of thumb I use when I write male characters in my web-fiction series Femmesplosion is: however mean and insensitive and self-centered and pointlessly harmful he is, punch it up. We are conditioned to think of men, especially in fiction, as decent, normal, kind, and fair, and that simply isn’t the case. Men are just horrible. And not just to women either, but to each other and in general. I have no damn idea why. They’re just horrible.
Women and femmes in Hollywood, the choice is clear. Will we continue to allow the continued misrepresentation of our opposite-gendered counterparts (I mean, I don’t mean opposite-gendered obviously, because gender is a spectrum, and you can be non-binary, so I would never actually use “opposite” in that way, but just, you know. You know.) or will we take a stand for the rights of men in media and say, “No more! Capitalism has erased the truth of how shitty and awful you are no more!”