Fictional assumptions

Was reading yet another book this morning in which a male character assumed it was his job to protect a female character simply because–he was male, she was female. Okay, also because (the early pages of this story implied) they had history together. But mostly because, I got the impression, it’s what guys–or boys in this case–do.

This is one of those things that shows up so often in fiction–especially fiction with male protagonists–that it’s taken for granted, this notion that part of what it means to be a man is–that you protect women. Well, okay, not just in fiction–how often in real life do we hear parents tell their sons they need to protect their sisters? And how much less often (unless, say, a son is a special needs child), do we hear parents tell daughters they need to protect their brothers?

And then there are movies, where even a verbal threat against a woman is taken as reason enough for male characters to switch over to violence–even if until then they were engaged in other means of conflict resolution–no questions asked. Because even when physical violence isn’t imminent, even when there isn’t really any danger, apparently men must protect women at all costs. “Sometimes you have to fight to be a man” is taken as one of those unquestionable–unquestioned–truths.

Even as gender roles in some ways become slowly more balanced, this is something that keeps coming back around, in the stories we tell and everywhere else: this notion that part of being a man–almost part of the definition of being a man–is about protecting women. And that–as a result–part of being a woman is about looking to others to protect you.

Protecting the things we cherish is valuable–no argument there. (Fighting is only one of many ways of protecting, of course–but that’s a whole other subject.) It’d be a scary world if we stopped placing value on protecting things.

But I’d like to see that protecting redefined more often by our society not as part of what it means to be a man, but as part of what it means to be human. Because we all have a role to play in this work, one way or another.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *