Elizabeth: How Men Talk (in fiction)

talkingThe topic of today’s post was triggered by a couple of things I’ve heard/read in the past few days.

First was a recently released tape of a conversation by one of our presidential candidates which, if you haven’t been living under a rock or staying away from the news, you’re probably familiar with.  The tape has generated a lot of discussion about men (how they talk and what they do) including a very thoughtful piece on Chuck Wendig’s blog about locker room talk.

The “too long/didn’t read” gist of the post is:

“No, it’s not all men.

No, it’s not all ‘locker rooms.’

But it’s some of them. It’s more than we’d like.”

Chuck’s post and several others discussions I read about how men talk and are perceived got me to thinking about how men are portrayed in the books I read

I don’t remember ever encountering a misogynistic sexist male in a romance, unless it was an antagonist or some other character who received his comeuppance or an “attitude adjustment” by the story’s end.  I certainly don’t recall ever encountering a hero who would ever be described that way.

Just because I haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it’s not there, however.  According to this week’s book review on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books website, the misogynistic sexist hero is a reality, not a myth.  The book, which they gave an “F” rating, contained general assumptions about men like the one below; annoying but ignorable.

 “Men couldn’t help checking women out. DNA and all that.”

Less ignorable was the language used by the hero to insult the heroine during the story; language that was left unchallenged by the heroine (or anyone else).

 “I hated that no one in the story said, ‘Hold up, this is NOT ok.’” ~ SBTB reviewer’s comment

What I found interesting was that none of the other reviews I found for this story noted any of the flaws that caused the SBTB reviewer to give the book an “F” grade.

The way men act in the stories I write and my expectations for how they will act in the stories I read are shaped by what I’ve experienced in real-life.  If the same holds true for other readers, then it makes me wonder what kind of men the reviewers who gave this book a positive rating have encountered in their own lives.  Was this particular hero not really as bad as he seemed?  Maybe they have a lower bar or maybe, as I sometimes do, they just mentally ignored the appalling parts.  I’m really hoping it’s the later.

So, have you read any books where a male portrayal, especially if it was the hero, left you shaking your head?  Conversely, how about a recommendation or two for a book with great male characters.

11 thoughts on “Elizabeth: How Men Talk (in fiction)

  1. We had some lively debates about this in our McD program, but for a head-shaking reference, I’m going back to SEP’s Heaven, Texas, wherein the hero publicly humiliated the heroine. That was a deal-breaker for me. Maybe if it had occurred in the first act and a big part of the rest of the book had been him redeeming himself, I could’ve accepted it (big maybe, though). But it happened near the end, when they’ve (supposedly) both grown and evolved and fallen in love. At that point, my feeling was the hero would always be an asshole, and the heroine would always be one argument or misunderstanding away from being publicly humiliate by her SO again. Not the way I want to imagine the ‘HEA’ of my girl in a romance story.

      • I was a bit off-point, as I don’t think the hero was a misogynist so much as a person who perhaps would not fare well in a long-term relationship. But it caused head-shaking for me and made me realize that different people have different takes on what makes our heroes…well, heroic.

        Back to the discussion at hand, at least one commenter on the post on the Smart Bitches site liked the book, and there were some very positive reviews (as SB Sarah noted). We all definitely read with our own experience filters in place.

        Another interesting part of the review post was the discussion of so much female body comparison and what seemed to be shaming of women characters who didn’t dress as demurely as the heroine. The heroine having SMH for other women would be as big a deal-breaker for me as the sexist hero. So I’m going to say this book is unlikely to be my cuppa.

        • Nancy, I saw the female body comparison discussion, but didn’t want to cloud today’s issue with that. Definitely something that would make me put a book down though. Regarding the positive reviews from others, it kind of makes me want to read through the book just to form my own independent opinion. Probably only likely to happen if I find the book at at the library or free in eFormat at some point. Curiosity isn’t enough to cause me to pay for a book that is very likely not my cuppa either.

  2. I read the Chuck Wendig post yesterday, too, and thought it was really terrific. However, I don’t remember reading anything where I thought the heroes were overtly sexist. Maybe I don’t read enough! Thanks for pointing me to the Smart Bitches review. I read it, amazed, and signed up for the newsletter. I’m long overdue there!

    • Glad you enjoyed the Smart Bitches review; hope you enjoy the newsletter. As for overly sexist heroes, I don’t remember reading any,but I don’t know if that is because I haven’t read any or because I was just unobservant / blocked them out.

  3. I’ve never read the original books, but the original James Bond portrayals in the movie are mind-bogglingly sexist and misogynist. The rape-but-she-liked-it scene in Goldfinger was truly horrifying. I’m told by fans of the novels that the books are actually worse.

    For a sexist hero, I’ll point to Travis McGee, although I’d say he falls well short of outright misogyny. Both the character and the author treat women like ambulatory scenery. Harry Dresden is nearly as bad in that he treats women (or even sidhe who look like women) as if they’re both more valuable and more fragile than men. (Well-intentioned sexism is still sexism.)

    I had to discard my first two suggestions for heroes who are roll models, because both were written by female authors, and I feel like that’s cheating. But I’ll go with Roland Deschain, protagonist of the Dark Tower series, because he seems to treat women the same way he treats men.

    • Yuck about the James Bond portrayals. Romance novels had their fare share of that decades past when what was considered socially acceptable was apparently different – it’s one of the reason why I’m not a fan of pirate/romances. Sounds like Travis McGee isn’t likely to make it to my TBR list, although the phrase “ambulatory scenery” is great.

      No need to discard suggestions for heroes just because they were written by women. Since the unfortunate example I cited above was woman-penned, it seems fair to suggest an alternative that also was.

      • In that case, I’ll go with Miles Vorkosigan. He manages to be attracted to a wide (very wide) range of women, and involved with a few of them, without objectifying any of them, let alone belittling or humiliating them.

  4. I’m not too surprised about Trump’s tapes, and I definitely think we’ll be seeing more of that as we get closer to election. I mean, a month away is too early to spend your best ammunition, and that tape could have come out ANY TIME. I think there are some revelations out there that will make this seem tame, but they are saving them for closer to the election day. It’s really an interesting case to speculate about, from a fictional standpoint. The whole thing is reminding me very much of the Vorkosigan series’ Council of Counts, and I can’t even discuss it on my Lois McMaster Bujold list because of a long-standing ban on American politics.

    I think one of the reasons why it’s making such a splash is that perhaps this IS the way alpha-males or famous males act and talk. Trump has threatened some of his Republican detractors with exposure for their own sexually impolitic comments and actions. And I get the feeling that nearly every male in power has had sex as a perk. Maybe not Jimmy Carter, but even he “lusted in his heart”. I remember seeing some article said that ultraviolet light studies showed a lot of Pentagon desks had traces of semen under them. Was that an April Fool’s joke, or some sort of satire that I’m remembering as fact? Could be, but the fact remains that it Fits Into The Narrative.

    And, I’ve read in the past a lot of novels and romances with rapey villains and rapey heroes — I tend to block out the details and the names. The big thing with those is that the woman in those romances overcomes, tames, subdues and sometimes even kills the predator. This is the whole point of those sort of books — the woman gets to be the hero.

    And let’s face it, with at least 10 percent of females having an experience with rape or sexual assault, there’s got to be a huge audience for books where women turn the tables on their aggressors — sometimes quite directly, but sometimes through the Power of Luuuuvvv, she turns him into a new man. I’ve seen men who manage to control their behavior toward the woman they love, but still act like jerks to other women.

    I’ve read some James Bond books, and yes. They are very misogynist. Goes back to the Dick Lit thing. The point of those are violence in a good cause, cool gadgets, lots of no-strings sex. The misogyny is just the 1960s equivalent of whipped cream on a masculine-fantasy-sundae. (And isn’t that a very feminine analogy for me to make? Chick lit is about good food, shopping and learning to get along. Anything else is . . . extra bullets to the stun gun of love? Gosh, I’m not good at masculine analogies.)

    Anyway, I’m finding the whole sordid affair very interesting. I still believe in the system of checks and balances, so I don’t believe the election spells the end of America, no matter which way it goes. I do think we are going to see some major changes, though. So, the whole presidential election is an interesting study in motivation, human nature, and the different kinds of people we have floating around in the world.

    And for the record, I believe in democracy. Even if Hillary Clinton loses, I think America will survive. (But boy, I also think it’s going to be a rough four years that will result in a lot of stupid infighting that’ll make the Obama years look like a tea party. Pay attention to your down-ballot choices, folks, and please VOTE!!!)

  5. I recently spoke with a Trump supporter that said locker room talk is something every one knows about and has done in the past. I honestly had a hard time disagreeing at the same time I would not engage in ” locker room ” talk now as an adult.

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