Thursday, December 11, 2014

Guest Post: Jaime Wright on being Done with book heroes....

Jaime's getting a little sick of the regular same-old book hero
(I am secretly hoping she likes my Ray when she meets him). As in all guest posts, opinions are those of the author)  A few Rachel thoughts: as an equalist, I don't always like the "aggressive, leading man" trope because I want men and women to be equal. What I like is confidence :) and what I like is strength in more ways than one. Some guys have physical strength--the type you see in the Rock, some guys have strength in swagger, like John Wayne--- but some guys have intellectual strength (Benedict Cumberbatch) and some guys have emotional strength --the strong, silent type. So what defines strength to you?   Jaime raises a good discussion point, and I would love to hear your thoughts.... )

From Jaime:

I’m done with book heroes. Seriously. What happened to them? They’ve all become … pasty. Ok. My husband tells me not to use all-encompassing words like “all” because it’s not an accurate representation of truth. Fine. Most of the book heroes have become … pasty.
I read a book the other day. The hero never argued, didn’t bite back, and when he finally snapped – he apologized. Apologized? Instantaneously? It was enough to curdle my toes and curl my stomach. So, I switched from inspirational fiction to general market. That hero ripped the woman’s corset off (which means he needed hands of steel because corsets don’t rip easily) and became as loving as a cave man on pre-historic crack.

Where are the real men in fiction, I ask? The ones who are temperamental, sweaty from labor (not other unmentionables), have pasts that haunt, grip, and wound, and are brutes. My husband is a brute. I love it. The other night I stubbed my toe and whined for about five minutes until he looked up from his book and said “seriously, Hon, get over it”. Love. That. Realism. Men are real. In so much fiction today, in that situation, my husband would have leapt from his chair after tossing his book five yards away from him. He would have cupped my wounded foot in strong hands, peeled my sock off, stroked my toe, and bandaged it. All while I was somehow perched in his lap. Then he would have moved in for a kiss, or an almost kiss, and then the chapter would end and leave you hanging.
That is not a real man. I’m lucky my husband even noticed I stubbed my toe.
Or maybe it is in your life. I suppose some sensitive souls exist. Maybe. Somewhere.
Is it just me? We’re even at the point of celebrating finely boned men, with cheekbones that demand blush, and skin that is more porcelain than a baby’s. (I’m hearkening Orlando Bloom in my head – don’t kill me). What happened to the strong, rugged Russell Crowe’s, or the husky-voiced Harrison Fords, or the suave, debonair Cary Grants?
I want to venture (*disclaimer: this is my personal theory, not based on statistics, theology, a college degree or anything more than two shots of espresso and a refill) that society has drifted away from the strong male for a primary reason:
1.      Female empowerment
Let me cut this down for you—and don’t bristle, I’m the queen of female independence. Still…

As women, in the 21st Century, we want our individuality. Whatever historical and societal issues exists, the fact remains, and will always be there: We don’t want to be ruled by the strong male. Dominance. Slavery. I call it the Cinderella-Effect. We want our dresses and the key to our cell, so if we leave the prince standing aimless and heartbroken, it’s because we wanted to. Ouch. Now that’s something to be proud of, ladies. Let’s weaken our males so we can be strong.
We daren’t marry the strong male type, or date, or even entertain the idea for fear he’ll lock us away and we’ll be scraping pumpkin off our shoes for the rest of our life. ERRR! Back up. The strong male type is totally misconstrued. If you want to hearken Scripture, it doesn’t even define the strong male as the ruler, king, or probably better termed, “the dictator”. It defines the strong male as the protector, defender, leader, and the one who takes the bullets. Well, hold up there. I’m a strong female. Horribly strong. I’m totally willing to take bullets for my family, defend and even lead. But there’s also something super attractive when the man steps up and says “I’ve got this”. Super attractive. And when he reinforces my talents, my intelligence, and my feminine strength, I suddenly don’t have issue with playing follow the leader. Because, in reality, he’s holding my hand and we’re in this together. Who doesn’t love a great team player? My husband empowers me. He is my energy-force-field. He stands behind me, cherishes me, and sacrifices for me. Now there’s a strong hero-type.
So back to fiction, now that I’m off my coffee-induced soap box and have now raised a thousand theological eyebrows. This isn’t intended to be an argument for submission vs. independence. It’s an argument for the man to be … well … manly, again. And that as women who want to be strong, we don’t emasculate the male into being stupid, weak-kneed, Ray Romano idiot-types. God created men, ladies. That includes the fact that they just might not kiss our boos-boos, apologize like sweet baby boy angels, and act all Victorian-gentlemanly. They just might outright chuckle when we trip and face plant. They might even forget to apologize because in their minds, that issue was done and over with three days ago, so why are you still stewing about it?

I told my husband I already have his epitaph set and ready for his gravestone. Get over it. It’s his favorite catch-phrase and it’s reality. He’s dead. Move on. Get over it. Have the life God intended and stop weeping over the grave that holds a lifeless body when he’s perfectly happy in eternity.
I digress. In short, my point is this: I miss the real male in fiction.
Can we write him again? Can we write the cowboy who forgets to tip his hat in the direction of the lady? Can we write the hero who rides a Harley with a blackened eye from a fist fight? And what about the Bible-preaching preacher who tells his parishioner to stop sinning because it’s just plain wrong—forget tip-toeing around the truth.

Bring back the MAN to the HERO.
That’s my cry.
That’s my plea.
Signed, yours truly,

And extremely independent female who appreciates a good, strong, Godly, aggressive leading man.

About Jaime: 

Professional coffee drinker Jaime Wright resides in the hills of Wisconsin writing spirited and gritty turn-of-the-century romance stained with suspense. Her day job finds her a Director of Associate Sales, Development & Relations. She’s wife to a rock climbing, bow-hunting youth pastor, mom to a coffee-drinking little girl and a Sippy cup-drinking baby boy, and completes her persona by being an admitted Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Blogspot junkie.

Jaime is a member of ACFW, enjoys mentorship from a best-selling author, and has the best critique partners EVER! (Yes, that's an exclamation point.) She was a semifinalist in ACFW’s 2013 Genesis contest and that alone encouraged excessive celebration over extra espresso with hazelnut syrup.

Find Jaime on the web


Unknown said...

Yay for seeing Jaime Wright on Rachel's blog! Two awesome people in one awesome place. I consider Jaime a kindred spirit for many reasons, not the least of which is our shared love for one Jack Bauer!

Have to say, though, I kinda disagree with the post. And here's why (note: there are probably some very personal biases going on here): My dad is one of the strongest people I know. He is amazingly sacrificial. He works ridiculously hard. I mean, seriously. I remember as a kid being awed at the things he did--like knocking a wall out of the house, figuring out how to fix absolutely anything, building a deck, and then shooting--and making a basket--from that deck. Which won't sound cool to anyone who has never seen the setup of the deck/yard/basketball hoop, but trust me, it was crazily impressive. He. Is. Strong.

But he is also gentle. He apologizes. He is reserved. He would never in a million years tell someone to "get over it" even if he totally thought they should. Not that that's wrong, it's just not his way. My grandpa is similar, as are several of my awesome male friends. No one would ever call them "brutes" or "debonair" or "rugged", but I consider them some of the strongest people I know. And I'm not saying that because I'm an independent female (though I like to think I am!)...but because truly, to me those things are strong. I have trouble apologizing. I can have a hard time being sensitive. I have sooo much trouble being patient and kind and sacrificial and unselfish. So when I see those qualities in a man--someone real or fictional--I see them as massive strengths.

So again, there may be a lot of personal bias going on here and I don't mean to be all "YOU'RE WRONG!" I can definitely understand wanting more variety in the fictional heroes we're presented. I think I just have a different definition or understanding or preference when it comes to "strength" in heroes...real or fictional.

(Though, don't get me wrong: I would be entirely impressed by someone literally strong enough to tear a corset. And if I was forced to wear a corset, I'd probably fall in love with anyone who, improper as it might be, freed me from it. :) Also, men should never be described as having porcelain skin. EWW!)

Jaime Wright said...

GREAT feedback Melissa. And, I should clarify, it takes GREAT strength to say "I'm sorry". I think what I probably didn't say clearly as I was ranting off the top of my head ;) is that I was thinking more of the sitcom dad who apologizes simply to get his wife off his back as he cowers and simpers beneath her verbal nagging. I'm with you my dad was very gentle soul, but he was strong in his belief, in his leadership and in his male-ness. Saying I'm sorry because you were wrong, is cool. Being unable to stand up for your convictions as a man is where I become concerned.

And in fiction, I think my only argument is not all heroes need to be so nice. :) Nice boys scare me. LOLOLOL but that's personal opinion, not conviction of right/wrong.

It sounds to me like the men in your life, Melissa, were their own version of convicted, belief-bearing, Jack Bauers who i'm guessing WOULD become brutes if someone messed with their family ;)

Gail H. said...

I agree with you to an extent Jaime. We need more real men in fiction. In real life though the thing that drew me to my husband initially was his sensitivity and caring. He got emotional and he wasn't afraid to cry. But he also could be tough. When either of our kids got hurt and cried he told them it didn't count unless it was bleeding!

Jaime Wright said...

Gail, that's cool!! :) I can accept that. The issue I've been finding in fiction is the men are so sensitive they're not realistic. At least to the experiences of me and the women I "polled". It's more like their "sensitivity" has become feminine. They get upset and give the silent treatment, or they are so nice it doesn't even match the stereotype male in most Christian marriage counseling books. Several of the books I read in 2014 there was little tension between the hero and heroine because they just got along so well--it was the other story lines that moved the story forward. I have a hard time relating to that. Even my Dad, who was much like Melissa described, gentle, kind, and not brutish, was still very male in his reactions (ie. making mom mad because he never noticed her new hair cut, planning to have company over even tho mom's fibromyalgia was on fire, etc). I feel like many of the men in fiction are too quick to recognize waht females WISH real men did, instead of writing them to be more like ... men. Or else, I am just nuts and in an extreme minority ... which could very well be. :)

Unknown said...

I suspect that then what you're running into is fictional wish fulfillment -- the author's view/subconscious desires impacting how the male lead is constructed in their work. Which perhaps opens up a whole new discussion of what female readers want/expect in inspy vs. mainstream reads. (Though I do think there are a lot of authors in the inspy market who write the male point of view in a fantastically nuanced, realistic manner!)

Unknown said...

Love your feedback to my feedback, Jaime. :) I think we probably agree in many ways. And it's true, there are some heroes in CBA who feel a little too, well, perfect. I don't mind the nice guys. I love nice guys in real life. I feel like they get degraded too easily and too often, so I often find myself getting defensive on their behalf. But when it comes to Christian fiction, there are times when the heroes are, yes, just WAY too perfect and unrealistic. If they have no flaws, they have no opportunity for change...and for me, it's that journey to change that makes or breaks a story.

Then again, like Ruth said, I do think there are some amazingly well-written and nuanced heroes in CBA. Like Dr. Trevor in Elizabeth Camden's latest. LOVE. I'm not sure if he really fits your "brute strength!" preference (and for good reason, as is revealed in the story), but he stands up to and challenges the heroine. And I LOVE that.

Oh and on the apologizing thing--I remember Rachel Hauck once talking about characters who apologize too easily. I so hear her and you on that. I think what amazes me in books and real life is when a character forces him/herself to apologize after a long struggle. Because an apology means all the more when it's hard versus a quickie sorry. :)

Jaime Wright said...

Hope my blog post didn't come across as anti sensitive male. That wasn't what I was trying to say. Lol. What I was trying to say is I've a read a lot of heroes lately who react with feminine emotion and/or are so polite and tender and nice it's like they're cookie cutter of what women want them to be rather than men God intended them to be. Strong, even gentle, but men. Leaders. Warriors. Captains. Caring but real not entombed by sentiment and womanly emotions.

Jaime Wright said...

Yes to everything you said Melissa!!!

Halee said...

I think Ruth raises a good point - the author's preferences influence the characters he/she writes, especially when it comes to romance. Romantic style is a majorly personal preference. (Personally, I'm not very romantic. Flowers die, people. Give me coffee!)

But I think fiction could use more realistic characters all around. Males AND females. In the CBA, particularly. It's as if we want so much for people to be good, and kind, and for everyone to get along that we naturally create characters who are like that. And when they argue or have a fight or do something that's not nice, it's to advance the plot. (And they apologize later.)

When did we become afraid of humanity? When did we decide to show only the flaws that are pretty, the kind that attract the hero and heroine to each other in order to rescue each other?

We are flawed people. We are beautifully imperfect and wonderfully unfinished. And we're different, wildly diverse in our personalities and preferences and abilities. Why bind your heroes to one mold? Why force your heroines down one path?

My hope is that one day our characters will be as varied as we are, that we will find within the pages characters who surprise us and intrigue us and remind us of our humanity. Because really, being human is a pretty amazing thing.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Cool post and I look for realistic men in my books, too. I guess I look for the strong, silent type...but what I don't see is a lot of books where men actually don't SAY much. So when I find them (like Far from the Madding Crowd with Farmer Gabriel Oak), I remember those men. This is probably due to who I married...he's also intelligent, a hunter, etc. But sometimes he doesn't say the things I THINK he should. This is part of why I love him. He's not scripted by me. LOL. Anyway, I do love when men act like men...but men can act different ways, like Melissa said. Some are more action-oriented, some more verbal, some more quiet, and the list goes on. Just goes to show there's a hero for every reader and they don't always look the same.