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.
I wrote this for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Contest this week (Ten Random Sentences). I chose this sentence for inspiration:
The river stole the gods.
It’s just around 900 words. Hope you enjoy!
Their land was a desert, so they prayed to their gods to bring water, for plants to grow, for animals to come out of hiding places between rocks so that they could spear them and eat. One more meal, one more oasis, one more night watching the stars and trying not to freeze.
That was all they asked.
Ada knew that it had not always been like this. The land used to be fertile, so many generations before her own that even the stories that told of it were eroding from the wear and tear of being passed down. There were old gods, old in the way that their people had lived enough years without needing their assistance that they forgotten how to call their names.
When Ada was younger, she would sulk in the shadows cast by the elders’ fire. One night she had heard them saying names she’d never heard them say when the rest of the tribe was around. It was only years later, when she understood that the springs had been rising past their normal levels and that the water tasted unfamiliar, that Ada understood that they were names of old gods, whose knowledge and guidance couldn’t be provided by their current deities.
The world was changing, away from the stories and gods Ada’s tribe currently held and prayed to, and if you hear the right whispers, toward the older times, and the older gods.
But as long as the change happened slowly, and the whispers were quiet, the only person who noticed was the girl who grew up learning to dance invisibly in the shadows while the rest of her generation danced like fire.
* * *
Desert people pray for water and consider their prayers answered with sudden summer rainstorms and shady oases after long days of travel.
When their gods’ answer is floods, new gods and new prayers are needed to survive.
The storm clouds came and everyone expected them to give a day of rain before they burned off in the summer heat. That second day saw rain was unusual.
On the third day their tents’ simple waterproofing with animal fat was not enough to hold off the storm. By the end of the first week, the tribe’s tents sat on the bank of a river, and by the end of the month Ada forgot what it was like for her skin to be anything but wet. And still it rained, and the river next to the camp widened, threatening to swallow them whole.
The river stole the gods.
A month and a half into the storm, one of the elders came out of his tent wearing a black robe no one had seen—no one’s grandparent’s had seen—and spoke of gods that could save their people.
The elders brought back the old gods and tossed aside their current deities. They were the leaders of the tribe and it was their job to save their people, and you pray to the god who will deliver you from harm, not the one that brings harm.
It was war. Some people would not abandon the gods that had watched over them, that had brought them safety and love and shelter. Others blamed their neighbor’s piety for the continuing storm: you do not pray to the god of water when your world is flooding.
After two months, the rain stopped. Summer’s heat had faded and the sun did not have the strength to suck dry the ground the way it once could. The river had stolen soil from other lands and brought it to Ada’s tribe. The sand of their homeland was now soil.
Green, bright fertile green—a color as foreign as another language to the desert people—appeared. Grasses, flowers, bushes with berries. Stories of the forgotten times from before the desert became their only hope of survival. Which plants are edible, which ones are poisonous?
And still it was war. For if the rain has stopped, then the people who were praying for water were clearly kneeling at the wrong altar. But never before had their been a concept of a “wrong altar,” or that their could be right gods and wrong gods. Difference of religion appeared in a world that had never before considered religion to be anything but a fact.
Hiding in the shadows, Ada heard the whispers, of war between dueling gods and humans as chess pieces. Of right and wrong on a cosmic scale. Of dying to be right or killing those who are wrong.
And she couldn’t help but wonder if the conflict was completely imaginary, made up by a scared and confused people whose world had changed without giving them a warning or a solution. Years ago the land had dried up, and some gods faded and others came to the forefront, and the elders did not pass on a fear of the old gods in the face of new ones. Surely the chance was not a sign of disrespect or betrayal, but simple necessity. Maybe the gods knew that the world would change without them, and that some of them would be needed while others weren’t.
Probably, Ada was wrong. The rest of the children always said Ada was too nice, too quiet. She’d spent too much time in the shadows to know how the real world worked.