Maybe the most frequent question I’ve seen asked of Joss Whedon is “Why do you write so many strong women?” or some variation thereof. I’ve almost never seen him get asked about his most subversive characters; his men.
Although it can’t really be said that strong women are everywhere in fiction or movies nowadays, there’s no denying that there are more and more of them. Which basically means that, in fictional life at least, you can create a female character who has any kind of job you like; cop, fireman, soldier, warrior, stay-at-home mother, you name it. You can be a kick-ass feminist like Ginny Weasley, a loving mother and a kick-ass action hero like Samantha/Charly in the Long Kiss Goodnight or a real superhero, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and still be definitely feminine, even without the whole Women in Refrigerators trope.
Whereas male characters… not so much. There seem to be several stereotypical male types that a fictional man can be cast as and writers may veer outside of them at their own peril. You have the dedicated family man, who does not venture outside of the romantic comedy/romantic movies. There’s the hero, who is never dedicated really to anything other than the mission. Then there’s the loser. And of course the villain and the douchbag. And that’s pretty much it.
Case in point: John McClane (yes, I love Die Hard movies, so sue me). He supposedly really, really cares about his family, but none of them can stand being around him unless he’s literally saving their lives. He’s obviously torn up about not being closer to his family (even if he doesn’t talk about it) and yet he doesn’t seem to lift a finger to change his behaviour to bring them closer.
Another case in point: Jude Law’s character, Graham, from The Holiday. The man seems to be a wonderful dad to his kids, pretty much the equivalent of most guys I know around my age who have kids. He spends time with them, doing activities they like and so on. Except he doesn’t have a heroic bone in his body. The movie goes as far as to present him as pretty much the most unmasculine character ever seen on the silver screen, who’s still played by a dude. Don’t get me wrong; I really enjoyed the movie and liked Graham as a character.
Novels are a completely different and more allowing form of fictional life and they do, on the whole, tend to turn up more complex characters than movies, but even in novels it’s very rare to see the heroic sides of characters like John McClane combined with the caring side of characters like Graham, even though that kind of men do exist in real life. I know some of them personally.
Isn’t it time to to applaud people like Joss Whedon for the men they create? The guys who are confident enough in their masculinity to let the girl in the group drive things, the Xander’s who stay with the group even though they feel like the least useful person in it, who end up saving the world not because they’re the strongest bad-ass around but because they care for someone?
Maybe it’s time to form a male suffragette movement. :-p