Masculinity is hard to define. More and more, we see displays of the damage toxic masculinity can cause if left unchecked. Many of our favorite games and shows promote these sort of ideas, even subtly. Although many of the games don’t outright state that “you must be stoic and physically powerful to be a real man,” this reading is still easily felt. The First Person Shooter genre is the largest offender in this case, with many action games following suit. But, I think masculinity can, and should, manifest in other ways: emotional strength, love, and bravery. These attributes could be considered “soft masculinity” as a counter to more aggressive, “hard masculinity”. Since the geeky areas on the Internet are still in love with Steven Universe, I’d like to use that show as an example of displaying masculinity in other ways.
Last year I wrote an article about nuns in geek culture. Nuns and religious sisters of all stripes have such great potential as iconic feminist characters, but writers spend more time casting them as evil sexy sirens in black and white costumes. But what about the nun’s male counterpart, the monk? Monks are men who take vows of virtue and live apart from society (usually in a community with other monks). They’re mainstays of both Western and Eastern religions. Monks challenge popular stereotypes of what real masculinity looks like. And yet monks face a problem similar to nuns: we can’t seem to break them out of a handful of inaccurate stereotypes.
Spoilers for Doctor Who and Avatar: The Last Airbender after the jump.
Werewolves have never really been the most popular monster; they’re usually second fiddle to vampires or zombies. I suppose there’s some sense to that. Vampires are sexy romantics and zombie hoards are harbingers of the apocalypse. Werewolves usually act alone, and, outside of Twilight and Teen Wolf, aren’t typically portrayed as having much sex appeal. In 1941, The Wolf Man became the first successful werewolf film. Our monster has a furry face, spreads his affliction through biting others, kills people, and is ultimately killed by his own silver walking stick. He’s monstrous, not sexy. We can understand why vampires and zombies scare us, too. Vampires might represent a powerful person draining us of our own power for personal gain. Zombies drawn on our fear of pandemics and the ignorant masses destroying those of us just trying to survive. But what about werewolves? The most common answer I find is that werewolves speak to the changes a teenager experiences during puberty. Pisces already explored how this dynamic works in Teen Wolf. But if that’s the case, then where are all the female werewolves?
Nothing kills a story faster than a flimsy conflict, and in a universe where magic exists, the biggest mistake a writer can fall into is to make magic too easy. It seems paradoxical: after all, the whole point of magic is that it makes the impossible possible, but if magic solves every problem with little or no cost, the story loses its emotional significance. Like all things, magic must have limits, and those limits must be clear and identifiable.
I have become deeply frustrated with a favorite series of mine recently for precisely this reason. R.A. Salvatore’s The Legend of Drizzt is a high fantasy series following in the footsteps of The Lord of the Rings, but incorporating elements of the popular Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game. The first book of the series was originally published in 1988 and the series is ongoing, with more than twenty novels and a dizzying number of spinoffs. The main character, Drizzt, does not use magic all that much, so the very fuzzy and ill-defined limits of magic in this universe started off as a non-issue. Typically, a powerful magical antagonist would appear and Drizzt and his pals would have to defeat the baddie with the power of cleverness and friendship and whatnot. Also, swords.
As the series went on, however, main characters gained magical items, sympathetic magic-users joined the party, and problems started. Continue reading
We’ve talked about Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. previously on this blog, but never very positively. Although S.H.I.E.L.D. got off to a rocky start, the show undeniably got a lot better after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Sometimes you have to destroy a franchise in order to create it anew, and in this, S.H.I.E.L.D. did an admirable job. The characters of Ward and Fitz in particular serve to illustrate a view of masculinity which is rarely seen on television.
Spoilers for all of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1 below.
Some time ago, a friend asked me a question: how do you define masculinity? I paused, as this wasn’t something I ever put much thought into, and then responded that I didn’t actually know. The friend then commented that it was dangerous for men of color to try to fit into a white stereotype of what it means to be a man. Essentially, the way media perpetuates these aspects is harmful to the way both men and women view themselves and is especially harmful for men of color. As someone who believes that fiction especially reflects and shapes our society, this obviously gave me a lot to think about. Media is, for better or for worse, often a soapbox from which authors can talk about what they think our world is or should be. In this way, I feel like the stereotypical idea of masculinity is hurting us all.
A few months ago I was at my hometown con, Tekkoshocon, in good ol’ Pittsburgh, PA, and witnessed an interesting exchange. While waiting in line to ask about prop-check, I overheard the guys in front of me asking the con staffers if they’d seen any male crossplayers. They were participating in a scavenger hunt, and dude crossplayers are apparently rare enough to merit a spot on the hunt’s item list. This set me to thinking: Why is that?
I’ve already written once about crossplay a long time ago, but I think it’s worth revisiting. Crossplay is the practice of cosplaying as a different gender than the one you identify as, and it’s extraordinarily common at conventions these days. Except for one thing: most crossplayers are women dressing as men. I chalk this up to a number of factors, including the proportionally larger number of male characters compared to women in popular geek culture, and the fact that it’s far more of a societal no-no for a man to dress in women’s clothing.