A rhetorical question, you might say! Today I came across this article in a UK newspaper, and it got me thinking. (I usually blog about books or writing, but there is a connection – bear with me.)
The article contends that in modern, Western popular culture – in this case, television specifically – it has become commonplace for men to be portrayed in less than flattering ways. Certainly this can be seen in some advertising, where the male of the species are often seen to be shallow, simple and/or sex-obsessed, and frequently outwitted with ease by sassy, self-confident women.
Perhaps it’s the case that, quite rightly shy of overt sexism or racism, and possibly over-compensating for the overt gender stereotyping of the past (see below), mainstream advertisers have started to regard men as the easiest target.
For myself, as a man, I can see the article’s point, and I do think that some advertising is guilty of this. TV programmes, probably less so. (I don’t, for example, especially agree with his view about Outnumbered – yes, the dad in that show can be a bit wet, but so can the mum.) But equally I’m well aware that I live in a society where men still have it pretty good. Most top politicians, business executives and high earners still tend to be male – that’s changing, but slower than it ought to be. And it’s important to be able to laugh at ourselves – and let’s face it, most stereotypes have at least some basis in reality …
Anyway – how does this link to writing? Just the thought that it’s important to avoid lazy stereotypes when creating characters – because it’s very easy to do. Specifically, as we strive to draw strong, compelling and authentic female characters in our stories, we should beware of the temptation to short-change the males. Especially the older ones. This may be especially a risk in teen / YA fiction, in which the younger characters are centre-stage and the older ones tend to be in the background and therefore in danger of being merely one-dimensional and under-developed – and if they’re also men, the risk may be higher.
One adult male character, Rob Black, appears in both my novels Falling Girl and BASIC Boy (though in the latter he’s a teenager half the time too). He’s middle-aged and male – the kind of character who, in YA fiction, might not come across in a very positive way. I’ve tried to avoid that, and I hope I’ve succeeded. He’s certainly flawed, and many of this shortcomings are brought into sharp focus as the stories unfold, but so is a deep courage and determination. In the end it’s the kids who really save the day of course, but he helps and he’s clearly there to support them. He’s certainly not an idiot – not entirely anyway. Or at least I hope not.