Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rise of the Man-Child

In a recent op piece, acclaimed fantasy author Michelle Sagara extolls the appeal of the "alpha male" in romance novels. A genre, she admits, she doesn't have much success writing for, but in which she does have some experience reading. It's not what you might think--her championing of the male paragon in this genre, that is--and makes for some great reading. I think everyone should check it out, and then come back and chime in here in the comments section to let me know your own opinions on the subject.

You can click here to read the full article, but I wanted to excerpt this particular passage to bring to light something I've been thinking about with regards to the way contemporary men behave in the real world:

". . .Let me go one step further. He is not looking for love to define his life and give it meaning. He has a life. He has a life he’s in control of. Men who read romances looking for clues on how to approach women are taking the wrong things out of the reading if they’re focused on out-of-context behaviours. The alpha has confidence in himself. He is not looking at love as a way of bolstering a (non-existent) confidence. He has proven that he can, thank you very much, be strong without a relationship to define him. But…he is aware that something is missing.
"If you’re male and reading romance to try to understand what women want, that’s what you should take out of these books: that you need to be confident, and to have a life of your own, interests of your own, direction and motivation of your own; that you can, in fact, take care of yourself and all of the details of life and living, before you look for your life-mate. You cannot expect that these things are donated simply by having a girlfriend/wife, etc. They’re not."

The bolded portion, of course, is particularly what I wanted to discuss here today. See, I personally know a few men who *THINK* they live like this, but in fact do not. Far from it. It's something that perplexes me. Quite a few of my male acquaintances like to promote this ideal that they are "manly" men who are so independent and in charge of their lives. These men are so proud of their status as "bread winners" and family men, yet somehow never fail to speak patronizingly about women and their inferiority as a gender. These are men who are married to women who work jobs, too, and yet these women are STILL expected to come home to take care of the cleaning, the cooking, the child rearing, and the paying of the bills and balancing of the accounts. These are men who talk all day and night about how they love their wives, but how--don't get it twisted!--they could leave them tomorrow and completely take care of themselves if these women don't give them the proper due respect they deserve.

Pfft! Yeah right. I have yet to see this proven or put into practice. I meant it. Zero times have I seen men of this ilk actually live up to their boasts. Not just in my circles, but in the broader population as well. Where are these men that are independent and fully secure in their own individuality? For all they talk about women being the weaker sex, in fact they are the ones themselves who are weak.

Example A: Manly man thinks he makes a pretty decent living. He thinks he has it made. He comes home from work and expects his live-in GF (who also works) to have the house clean and dinner waiting for him. Yet the minute they get into hot water, is quick to say to me in private how easy it would be to kick her out and let her fend for herself. See how she likes it then. His GF promptly leaves on her own accord, and for weeks later it is all the man can talk about how much better off he is, and how he's living the good life. And how he didn't need her anyway. But then the laundry never gets done. The dishes start to pile up; take out cartons are everywhere. Roaches and other vermin make pilgrimages to the promise land his apartment has become. And suddenly the girlfriend is back, and all is well. And you know what? Of course she came back because he "allowed" her to. That in the end HE realized that a good man is forgiving and generous, and will always leave the door open for the woman to return because he loooooves her so. Oh yes, he's such a man.

Example B: Married manly man likes to tell me that I'm too laid back. That I give women too much respect, and that I'm living my life wrong because I take into account women's feelings and treat them as human beings owed the same respect I believe the world owes me in return. He has a lot of opinions about how I, as a single man, should be more selfish and experimental. Get out there and just try all the different fish in the sea! According to this great guy, I need to be more like him. Although he's married, he has a woman on the side. She gives him what the wife cannot. But although he's been with her on the side for 5 years, has never once used the "L" word with his mistress. She knows her place and will be thankful for it! According to this paragon of manliness, a real man never lets a woman think she is on equal footing with him. A real man never gets too attached. But when this side woman eventually tires of him and leaves, he constantly whines about how he wishes he still had her as his backup. How he can't stand his wife and wishes the side girl was still around for him to relieve all his frustrations on. But, oh yes -- I'm the one that's not being a real man for refusing to live the same way.

Is this what the modern man has become? Is it no wonder women resort to fiction to find examples of what a real man looks like?

For the record, I am proud of who I am. I don't question my manhood, because I'm not insecure about it. I don't need to put women down to prop up myself or my gender. I simply get things done. I clean for myself, cook for myself ... keep my accounts in order, my health on point, my house organized, my career on lock -- all by myself and without the need to qualify it all by the presence of a woman on my arm, or lack thereof.

I don't need a woman to appear strong next to. Or to stoke my ego and make me feel needed. I don't look for, nor do I need, a mother figure. Even when I was married I never expected to be mothered by my wife. I'm surprised by how many men do. Even those who think they don't and who later become single again are completely useless at day-to-day management of their affairs. This is not manly to me. It's actually quite pathetic. And do you know how to spot these types of baby-men out there? It's fairly easy. No, it's not just the messy bachelor pad they keep. Or the fact that they don't even know how to cook, or to put together a decent monthly personal expense plan, or to save money worth a shit!

No. You want to know how you can spot a typical man-child in the wild? It's by how quickly he needs to get right back into a relationship once he becomes single. For all his talk about manly independence and the latent submissiveness of women, he's quickly in another relationship with one before the boxes have even been unpacked at his new place.

If women are attracted to the male hero in romance novels, it's not because he's a fetishized version of the male ideal: it's because he is his own person not dependent on the women around him to bolster his ego and baby him. He's a man that has his own thing going independent of you, and as such has his own identity not built upon the foundation you laid.

I'm not a woman, but I would imagine that appears pretty damn sexy indeed. Or am I wrong?



  1. Hum....never really thought much about it...but now I am.

  2. Kim, did you read the article I linked to? I thought she had an interesting take on the status of the typical male romantic interest in most romance novels, and why these archetypes are so successful in attracting female readers.

    Anyway, it's not like you have to worry about what I wrote in this blog update. Your husband seems of the old-school, very secure and handy types. :)

  3. I think some men no matter the time period have antiquated views about women. Both your examples are sad. Independence is very attractive and you sir are very independent. :)

  4. Aww, thanks Cin! :)

    I just hate seeing grown men being such babies in life. I suppose since I didn't have a mother for most of my formative years, it has taught me how to truly take care of myself. And I don't mean in the fake way most men *think* that they are independent. But I mean truly. A real man knows how to cook, clean/organize, sew, pay his bills, take care of the kids, shop, dress himself, etc. I just hate when men relegate all these tasks to the women in their lives and think that their only job is to go to work and bring home a paycheck. Especially when, in this day and age, women are more often than not bringing home paychecks, too!


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