Combating Chauvinism With Writing

I saw this on Pinterest:

how to write a male
I tried to follow the link embedded in the pin but it gave me an error page. The site it’s from is bookjacketblog.com.

And it struck me as really, really sexist.

I thought #1 was interesting, a little stereotypical but also something you might keep in mind if you wanted to strikingly juxtapose a male and female POV.

After that point, it basically spirals out of control.

Don’t get me wrong: I like writing advice, and I know that not all of the advice out there will be stuff I agree with. But this list goes beyond advice to paint a picture of the male character that is stereotypical, insulting, small-minded, and out of place in the modern environment.

The first time I saw the Pin, I read through it, had a small “wow, way to be sexist” moment, and moved on. But then I came back to my Pinterest feed and it was still there. And I had to think about it again. And being a speech-and-debater who hasn’t been to a competition in a while and girl who has spent way too much time talking about feminism with her journalism class–I couldn’t let it go.

So here’s what is wrong with this check list, and why I can’t just let it disappear into the recesses of my Pinterest feed.

Writing has the power to change society–to change it’s stigmas and challenge it’s chauvinism. The stories we read can humanize people we’ve only ever judged, can make us care about people we want to hate. Novels can be and should be a mechanism for social change, especially in this day and age, where we stand on the precipice of a massive societal movement towards tolerance and understanding.

The mentality behind this checklist is a roadblock to such progress. It tells writers that they do not have to strive to look around them and take the human elements of the real world, boil them down, and recast them into stories that make their readers look around and see the human world (thus beginning a cycle that could honestly change one’s perception). Instead, this checklist proposes that men can be boiled down into seven–seven, not even a round ten–sentence-long descriptions. It removes the drive to search for the right word or scene to convey a character and replaces it with a simple To Do List.

I’m not saying that there aren’t some male characters to whom this checklist applies. The reason this checklist exists in the first place is that it is rooted in reality. However, the issue is that it isn’t titled “How to Write a Stereotypically Alpha-Male Character.” It doesn’t present itself as a resource for writers who want help with writing a certain personality type. It just presents the checklist as if every male character one could ever want to write should have the same characteristics.

First of all, imagine how boring the world would be if that were true. And second of all, imagine how divorced from reality writing would become–it would lose all power to change society, except for the power it had to perpetuate it’s cookie-cutter ideal of masculinity.

I hope that no one saw this check list and took it to heart. I hope that no one saw this checklist and from that point forward, never challenged themselves to write a male character that broke the mold set forth. But I’ve seen the hate-filled posts on social media and the protests on the streets, and I find it hard to believe that there is no one out there who didn’t see this graphic and add it to their writing mindset.

And maybe you’re thinking, “This is just one graphic. I’ve never seen it before. Why all the hullaballu?”

You can dismiss the graphic, sure. It is a far cry from going viral. It’s just something I stumbled upon.

But you cannot dismiss this conversation. You cannot turn your back on the importance of combating chauvinism with writing. And you cannot deny that there are people out there in the world who do not see this checklist as sexist in the extreme–who see it as a list of goals to accomplish, a list of parameters to meet in order to “be a man.”

Writers–you have the chance to change the way people think. Don’t make the mistake of only reinforcing social stigmas and prejudices. 

Break the mold.

I know it’s easier said than done. In my WIP, I constantly struggle with writing innovative characters that don’t rely on stereotypes. Do I always succeed? Probably not.

But maybe it’s a good thing that I saw this graphic on Pinterest. Because from now on, I’ll have a constant reminder of the importance of pushing past stereotypes to find the true essence of the characters I’m trying to create.

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