The New Archetype: Stupid Males

I wonder if years from now a man will write a blog similar to mine except his goal will be to right the wrong done to boys and men in modern fairy tales? Shall I explain?

I recently watched a modern fairy tale, Disney Pixar’s Brave (2012). I really wanted my daughter to like it because I needed something to balance out her current affinity for Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. For those who don’t know, Brave is about a Scottish princess who wants to buck tradition and not get married off in some contest of strength by men she doesn’t know. It becomes a mother-daughter story of trying to understand one another and lots of magic and mayhem ensues.

That part is fine, but my concern was the father. In short he was ineffectual; never knowing what was happening in his own household and almost killing his wife because he was dead set on catching a bear. It doesn’t sound too bad, but when you think about it, the growing trend for modern fairy tale movies is to cast the male as a dolt. It makes the brilliance of the female characters all the more impressive. But does it?

I know my blog is supposed to concentrate on the empowerment of women by reworking old fairy tales into modern, fully-fleshed female heroines, but a funny thing happened on the way to empowering women. We took away power from men.

I was guilty of it myself. After writing a novel with a strong, independent teenage female lead it was pointed out to me that her love interest was not stupid, but colorless enough to make the reader wonder why she would be interested in him in the first place. Disney’s Snow White, but male. Needless to say, rewrites have fixed the problem.

I understand the push. In order to make the woman more powerful, someone has to play the foil. But does that really mean that men have to become buffoons. It’s like they have to regress in order for us to progress. I cringe every time I see a female powerhouse who constantly has to save her male love interest from one dumb debacle after another. Thank goodness this isn’t a blog that includes sitcoms, or I’d have to make a separate blog. Can’t we have partnerships? Does empowering female protagonists by weakening their male counterparts make for a better message than the weak, helpless female waiting to be rescued?

To men and boys, I’m sorry. I don’t think you should have to become incompetent in order to make us look good. To the sisterhood, I think we should seriously think about what we’re teaching this generation’s crop of kick-ass girls. Soon we’ll come full circle: powerless, ridiculed men and the sexist, overbearing women who patronize them.

For those who don’t remember, feminism was supposed to be about making us equal, about partnerships—not about casting men as the new pretty bimbo.

Here’s the Fairy Tale Partnership Challenge: Look for stories, on TV, in movies and books, where the male lead and the female lead are partners and feel free to share. Both leads should be fully realized characters that somehow complement each other without one or the other having to be a total idiot.

Happy Hunting!

4 thoughts on “The New Archetype: Stupid Males

  1. A timely article.

    I’ve always cringed at the shows where the makers seem to feel as if an empowered woman is one who talks loudly and a lot, and perpetually bosses around the clueless man/men in her life. What happened to equality?

    It’s mostly the police procedurals or detective teams that seem to get this balance right. Although the tropes in those stories are getting old, at least they show both men and women as human beings.

    • I agree. Courtroom dramas and police procedurals are very comfortable make both men and women equally powerful as well as scared, happy, flawed and myriad other emotions that we all experience. I find that funny considering there are still walls to be broken down in regards to integrating women into police forces and the military.

  2. Great points about the doltishness of male characters in the media. It’s a bit of an epidemic! I don’t think feminism is to blame, though: most media is hardly feminist. That which IS influenced by feminism (think 30 Rock, Parks & Recreation) feature dynamic male leads who are on par with the leading ladies. The reason: feminism is about equality, not an inversion of the power imbalance.

    That was one of the big problems with girl power: by proclaiming “girls rule, boys drool,” it set up empowerment as a zero-sum game. I think a lot of the current images of doltish men and empowered females have a legacy of girl power–not feminism.

    • An interesting point. I think it’s good to point out that “girl power” has sometimes overtaken feminism and adulterated its message. It’s human nature to have a well-defined “they” from which to bounce off. And its more attention grabbing to say you have an enemy than to ask for the sexes to respect each other. I agree with your insights.

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