Feminism. The word strikes terror in the heart of some. In others, it ignites a fiery passion. If you’re terrified of women having equal rights, you have some serious issues to work through. I could spout off on a long, arduous lecture of exactly what I think of those people who are so terrified and unnerved by the word feminism, however; there is just as great a peril facing our young men, one I didn’t really look into until I met a gentleman who had similar struggles that paralleled that of my feminism. So I will do my best to call attention to the extreme portrayal of the ever elusive six pack, the macho square jaw, reverberating voice and all around heroic depiction that our men must face up to everyday in the stories of science fiction and fantasy, whether in book, movie or game. I struggled a long time writing this post-there’s simply not enough studies done regarding unfair representation of men in media (especially in literature). It is, nonetheless, as important of an issue as feminism.
The concept of masculinity is short-sighted and ill-defined. A man, like a woman, is of his own individuality. He is defined not by a six pack but by those skills, interests and values he can call his own, those that he has cultivated through relationships, hardships and joy. Instead, the masculinity we witness and experience is a cold stone bent upon expressing with his fists, rather than the heart, and constantly dwelling on the next fling. Why then has this become our report card for a hero? Why are our heroes continuously depicted as the knight in shining armor?
Science fiction and fantasy are often guilty of the above depictions of the masculine, but on a different scale than the rest of media. In such genre related stories, we expect a male character to be measured in one aspect: his prowess in battle. It is rather rare (from my experience) to read a story of those genres not focused on battles. Such a focus sets the male characters up for being, wanting to, or being forced to be a warrior, a valiant hero. We lose our measure of that individual, then. The “hero” becomes nothing more than the next six-pack to potentially be run through (but can’t die because he’s the hero). Instead of allowing that male character to reflect on feelings, growth and companionship, he is forced to only reflect on the next tactical move, a shell for military jargon and courageous gibberish. He is a hero only by title and cowers from personal growth.
However, not all prowess at violence in these genres necessarily leads to the stereotypical “masculine.” The character, Drizzt Do’urden comes to mind. Through this character, the author depicts an inner journey often reflective of the other characters within the story. Here is a character that recognizes battle for what it is, that recognizes later the woman he loves does not need protecting, that recognizes and does not shy away from personal growth. Within this context, we move gradually away from the “masculine”, we erode its stereotypes by having the character recognize a female character’s worth and humanity, but, more importantly, his own. As the Hunter, he sees himself as an instrument of death, not necessarily a hero. He sees violence for what it is. When he is Drizzt, this is even more apparent. Drizzt does not see his skills as more excellent than any other, he does not dwell on love interests, he does not dismiss emotions and feelings as unnecessary. Indeed, the entire story is his personal journey, his story. He could not have much of a story if he were to think emotions folly and of no use. He is, essentially, guided by his heart and not his fists, as is too often the case with masculinity.
There are, of course, exceptions to the above rule. I have only listed one with which I am most familiar, but I would be happy to hear of others. If we are to combat violence and maltreatment towards women, we must also face the expectations that society places on men. Therein, I believe we will find the ugly monster that cringes at the word “feminism”.
For, what is the hope when we’re waiting, always waiting for the knight in shining armor?