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Man haters?

I love Junot Diaz. I think he is an amazing and imaginative writer and I like to read everything of his that I can get my hands on, so it is no surprise that I read the interview he gave to NPR this week. And what really caught my attention was his characterization of men through the eyes of women. Diaz says

But look, bro, are you telling me that if I get all the women of the United States and gather them all together and then say, ‘Do you highly recommend American men?’ that you’re going to get, like, a sterling recommendation? That these women are going to be like, ‘Oh, yes, American men are fantastic! These dudes have done so well by us.’ I think that every culture, if you got all the women of that culture together and said, ‘Grade your men,’ I don’t think any country — even a place like Denmark, which has this famous sort of gender equality — would give their men anything higher than F as a collective. And that’s a reality.

If you’re familiar with any of Diaz’s work, you’ll be able to see a parallel between the above quote and the characters in his stories—basically, his male characters are always jerks because that’s what he believes women see. Author Craig Nova comes to a similar conclusion about the characterization of men in fiction, except he laments it. Nova complains that male characters are rarely the good guys anymore, and are more often characterized as dead-beats and dogs. But in his own life, Nova can think of plenty of great male role models.

And as I think about Nova’s words, I am hard pressed to find a completely stand up, great guy in any of my recent reading. But the world isn’t full of men who are just jerks, so why aren’t our fictional men more diverse? How did we get here? Why do you think these two men portray their gender so differently in their fiction? And which do you think is more truthful of men in real life?

5 Responses to Man haters?

  1. Paula B. says:

    I don’t mean to be flippant, but surely Harry Potter is a great guy. The fact that he’s a kid shouldn’t matter.

  2. Aonghus Fallon says:

    I guess a lot of it has to do with promoting positive role models, but I also reckon it can sometimes backfire on the perpetrators. For as long as I remember, most family sit-coms have depicted the wife as the voice of reason and the husband as – essentially – an overgrown child. The irony is that audience sympathies are invariably with the husband. The wife is seen as a bit of a spoilsport (eg; The Simpsons).

    Being Irish, I do get tired of the popular stereotype of the Irish male as some irresponsible, drunken charmer. There are probably just as many Irish women who fulfil the same criteria – which is to say, not THAT many.

  3. D.C. DaCosta says:

    I think it’s a matter of “Give the people what they want”. Women want to feel superior, so you give them a male who makes them feel superior. If you’re writing Mickey Spillane, you give the male reader female characters to whom he can feel superior.

  4. Couldn’t part of the reason you’re not finding completely stand-up guys be that authors strive to give even their good characters realistic flaws?

    I wonder how much the increase in women’s voices over the last half-century or century has played a role. There are more women writers now than ever before, and women in general are more outspoken about feminism, sexism, etc. Their critiques are being heard (both in literature and in other areas of life) by both women and men. These women and men then promote those ideas to others, etc., and men stop always being the heroes in stories.

  5. Kem says:

    I think you missed one of the points that Diaz made in that interview. He said he believes men are generally not raised to see women as 100 percent human beings. Sex objects? Yes. People–with feelings–that matter? Equals? No. The day of his book’s release I went to see him speak at Barnes and Noble and he mentioned that he created these characters in a way to shine a light on behavior that should be criticized or looked at critically. He said he’d like for this to be a tool for feminists. So I think Diaz is not letting men off the hook for bad behavior. But I don’t think it’s about men being bad per se it’s about looking at how women are undervalued in patriarchal culture. Not related to Diaz–but look at the ongoing threat to Roe v. Wade or the recent state legislation about women and invasive gynecological exams. These are examples of women being seen as mattering less. Also–in terms of specific characters in his books–Diaz has made it clear that he draws on his personal life for his fiction and he’s described his father as abusive. He talks about how important machismo was valued growing up. How or why should this not come out in his books? It sounds like he’s being honest about his observations and reflections and characters. Of course there are wonderful men in the world…but that’s not the point of his latest book.

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