When I get a break and can sit down and actually enjoy myself on Tumblr, I often find myself getting angry at many of the things that are posted and reblogged in my fandoms. There are many things that piss me off, but recently it’s been the extreme gender roles and sexism against certain male characters. That’s right—the feminist is going to talk about sexism against men.
I have always believed that sexism affects men as much as women, but in very different ways. Men, just like women, are forced into gender roles and societal expectations that they don’t necessarily want. When teaching feminist theology to my college students, I tried to point out to the men (because I always felt no one else was) that they should be just as insulted by sexism and gender roles as the women. After classes, many of my male students approached me to say that they were angry about the gender roles men were placed into. They felt they had to always be tough—not necessarily physically strong, but that they always had to act macho and unaffected by everything. They felt threatened and uncomfortable by ideas that claimed men couldn’t be loving or nurturing as fathers; that they shouldn’t say anything about it if they felt (or were) sick. They felt pressured to avoid asking for help or working toward peaceful compromises, but rather, felt that they must always be the aggressive loner who does his own thing. These are all roles that greatly influence men’s lives today.
So what does this have to do with fandoms? Well, masculine gender roles often results in stereotyped male characters like Dean Winchester, Batman, Derek Hale, and Wolverine, whom fandoms love and think are awesome. Now, granted, many of the characters I just listed have a lot of depth. Dean, for example, really grows and develops as a character (at least in the first five seasons), so it’s not that I think these characters are necessarily negative stereotypes. What bothers me is how fandom reacts to other male characters that don’t fit the typical male stereotype.
For this post I’m going to talk about the three male characters I see picked on the most by fans: Sam Winchester, Superman, and Scott McCall. I always said these three characters need to sit down and get a drink together because it really makes no sense that the fandom hates them as much as they seem to. Of course, none of this means that the entire fandom hates a certain character, but that enough people hate a character that the rest of the fandom starts to notice it and see it as a problem. (I really should point out that characters like Superman, Sam Winchester, and Scott McCall are also male stereotypes of a different sort, but that is a post for another time.) For now, let’s look at why these characters are so hated.
Sam Winchester is an overall good person—or at least he tries to be. Especially in the earlier seasons of Supernatural, Sam acts as the voice of reason and compassion in contrast to Dean, who tends to act on instinct and see the world in black and white. As the show goes on, things get more complex. Dean grows as a person and is able to see the shades of gray in the world; he isn’t just the mindless solider his father trained him to be. And for all of Sam’s goodness, it’s revealed that Sam bottles up a lot of anger and has a tendency to be self-righteous. By the end of Season 5, at least, both brothers have seemed to grow and develop as characters, and both have learned to deal with their issues a little better (we’ll ignore the later seasons, which changed that).
But despite the fact that Sam and Dean both get excellent character development, I see way too many people demonizing Sam and putting Dean on a pedestal. This just baffles me, because of all the main characters on the show, Dean is probably one of the more problematic ones. Dean’s the one who lies to women in bars, makes fun of people who are different or think differently from him, and yes, Dean is funny and admittedly very sexy, but that does not make up for some of the shit he pulls. If you met Dean in a bar, you’d think he was a bit of an asshole. Sam isn’t perfect, but at least he tries. Part of Sam’s anger in later seasons seems to be in response to how nothing he does is good enough, no matter how hard he tries. So it baffles me that Sam is the one who gets so much hate. Yeah, Sam screws up, but so does Dean. Why does one get more shit for screwing up than the other?
I think this is largely because Dean is portrayed as the beer-guzzling cowboy and Sam is the nerdy sensitive guy. It’s very clear in the episode “Tall Tales” that this is even how the two brothers think of each other—Sam views Dean as the typical drunken fratboy and Dean views Sam as an effeminate, over-emotional, nagging housewife. And I think that’s just it: Sam thinks before he shoots, is in touch with and wants to talk about his emotions, and always tries to do the right thing. Sam is viewed as less masculine, not just by Dean, but by the fans as well. Therefore, anytime Sam screws up and hurts Dean, it’s viewed as worse than when the opposite happens. As if Dean was always the “righteous man” and Sam’s effeminate, over-emotional problems were
always screwing Dean over. Maybe the fandom hates Sam because he does try so hard to be good, so perhaps fans judge him more when he fails, but I think at least subconsciously much of the hate directed at Sam comes from the idea that he is somehow less of a man than Dean.
Superman is another male hero who’s been demonized by the fandom lately. I think this is at least in part because Superman used to be the male ideal and now people are rebelling against that for characters like Batman. People seem to think that Batman is a more complex and interesting character, because he has flaws, whereas Superman is just perfect, but that idea is just not true. Superman, like Sam Winchester, has a tendency to be self-righteous, and despite his Christ-figure status, sometimes has difficulty forgiving those that hurt him and those he loves. Superman is actually a really complex and interesting character. He is not simply a strong force for moral goodness—he’s so much more. Lately, however, I see that the love for Batman has less to do with Superman’s presumed lack of complexity and more to do with the fact that Batman is pretty dark, whereas Superman always tries to be morally good. There seems to be a push recently to make every superhero dark, broody, and willing to injure people violently. The hero is willing to do something morally wrong in order to stop a morally worse person. This is best shown in the real world over the issue of using torture to expose terrorist plots. Batman is the type of hero that would torture if he had to, but Superman would never torture. Superman’s willingness to go out of his way to try and help, save, and reform his villains is seen as foolish. His love and devotion to Lois Lane is seen as his being “pussy whipped”, while Batman hooks up with countless partners, but is emotionally unable to connect emotionally with any of them.
Even worse than the idea that Superman is a fool and a loser for trying to do the morally right thing is the idea that Superman is a liar and a tool. There’s also the idea if that if something bad enough happened to Superman, like it did Batman (as if bad things haven’t happened to Superman already), he would not just become morally gray like Batman—he would actually become evil. It’s as if society has to believe that a man can’t be a completely morally righteous person—he has to be faking or he just hasn’t had enough life experience yet. That’s truly very sad.
Finally we have my favorite out of this group, Scott McCall. Scott is my favorite because, being a person of color, he gets hit with both racism and sexism. Poor Scott. I mentioned before that when I first heard about the Teen Wolf fandom, I didn’t even know that Scott existed. I thought the show was about Stiles, and that’s no accident. I have heard fans complain before that Scott is clichéd, uninteresting, a bad friend, and a bad character. This gifset pretty much sums up most of the “complaints” about Scott. These accusations are usually followed by cries of “Stiles should be the main character!” Why? Stiles is funny, I’ll give them that, but he’s hardly the most interesting character on the show. Scott’s development as a character throughout the seasons has been excellent. The werewolf storyline does really well explaining how it feels to be a teen and be suddenly bombarded with more strength and sex drive. Scott struggles the first season to control his anger and thus instincts as a werewolf. On top of that, he has some pretty negative male figures like Derek and Peter telling him to kill people and to betray his friends and family. Scott fights all of these temptations and really grows from it. There are some problems with connecting masculinity to this idea of being a werewolf that struggles with aggression and violence, simply because it paints the picture that aggression and violence is in men’s nature. I don’t think that’s what Teen Wolf was going for, but the implication is there.
Season 3 is my favorite for Scott, though, because he really comes into his own. He was always someone worthy of admiration, but season three he becomes worthy of the title alpha male. And I mean that literally. Scott is revealed to be a True Alpha, a werewolf who becomes an alpha not by killing, but by the strength of their character. After this was revealed, many fans claimed Scott did nothing to deserve such a title, saying that he only selfishly spent his time with Allison in previous seasons and saying that this just made him a cliché. This completely ignores everyone that Scott has saved over the last two seasons. Almost every character owes Scott McCall a life debt at this point. Scott is the guy who wanted to save Jackson from being the Kanima, despite the fact that Jackson has never been nice to Scott. Scott told Isaac he didn’t want him to get hurt even when Isaac was treating Scott horribly. Scott is the guy who felt so guilty when he thought Derek died that he almost died himself. Scott looks out for all his friends, and even his enemies, and worries about them. That’s pretty amazing.
And yet so many people hate Scott, wish he wasn’t on the show, and think that his character doesn’t deserve to have nice things. I think Scott gets hate on the show for two reasons. He’s the only prominent character of color on the show and he doesn’t fit the stereotype of masculinity; in fact, he actively breaks the stereotype. No one has said specifically, from what I have seen, that Scott a bad character because he is a person of color. I haven’t heard any negative or obviously racist jargon, but when fans push to get rid of the main character, who is a person of color, and replace him with one of the white characters, that is definitely suspicious and problematic. Scott does tend to be whitewashed by the fans, but I blame that more on the writers of Teen Wolf than on the fandom. Furthermore, Scott’s character, unlike almost every other male character on the show, is the one to consistently want to come to peaceful resolutions and help everyone. Derek, and even Stiles, easily jump on the “let’s maim or kill everyone” bandwagon. They fit the stereotype of strong aggressive males in their own way. But Scott doesn’t. Scott has strength—in fact, all of the examples I have mentioned in this post are physically very strong, but they know when and how to use that strength to help others, not just to further their own agenda, or to try and maintain their power and control.
Gender roles affect men just as much as women. It doesn’t surprise me that male characters who don’t fit stereotypical male roles get hate from fans. Some people in these fandoms don’t seem to like Sam Winchester, Superman, and Scott McCall largely because of their moral character. Sam, Scott, and Superman are less likely to harm people, less likely to be aggressive, and less likely to attempt to dominate and control people. I’m not saying these characters are perfect by any means, but they make an effort to remain morally righteous, whereas characters like Dean, Batman, and Derek/Stiles are the exact opposite—they’re aggressive, violent, dominating, and controlling. We talk so much about critiquing female characters, but we need to start doing the same with male characters, and uphold the male characters that do break at least some stereotypes.