(These are my lightly edited notes for a panel I attended at the ConFusion Fantasy and Science Fiction Convention in January of 2018)
DESCRIPTION: From high fantasy adventures to noir mysteries to superheroes and war stories , genre fiction has meticulously catalogued the narrow roles society expects men to occupy: strong, brave, and powerful, but also angry, competitive, emotionally repressed, and misogynistic. What does a character arc look like for the man who has decided not to be the best at performing this toxic vision of masculinity? We’ve seen many stories about women who struggle and triumph against gender roles. How can writers use social expectations of masculinity to create challenges that their male characters have to overcome to save the day?
PANELISTS: David Anthony Durham, Jason Sanford, Jim C. Hines, John Chu, Pablo Defendini
- Before discussing “positive masculinity”, perhaps a definition of “toxic masculinity” (“T.M.” henceforth)?
- T.M. may appear in ways that seem innocuous
- T.M. does NOT mean “All men are bastards!”
- T.M. is something we are born into but can supersede
- #NotAllMen is a symptom of T.M.
- Kylo Ren is an example of T.M.
- Poe Dameron is an example of a different sort of T.M.
- We are at the beginning of the pushback against T.M. at the institutional level.
- Part of challenging T.M. is challenging the idea of “masculinity”, i.g. “What is masculinity? What is masculine?”
- Works which stand against T.M.:
- All the Birds in the Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders
- Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer
- Steven Universe
- Almost everything by Lois McMaster Bujold
- Empathy can inoculate against T.M.
- Good fiction creates empathy
- “Write better books, make better people”
- Can healthy, well-balanced protagonists make for compelling reading? YES!!!!!
- We would like to see aspects of T.M. addressed in literature in the upcoming year:
- Lack of empathy
- “We want people to live up to Apple’s P.R., not necessarily Apple’s actions in the world.”
- Big tech companies are often not aware of, or don’t care about, even the first-order effects of their actions (e.g. externalities, be they environmental, cultural, economic, et al.)
- Being proud of ignorance is a huge signifier of T.M. Distrust of expertise and education and intelligence
- Dismantling T.M. is MEN’s PROBLEM. It’s not on women to do it for men.
This was quite eye-opening for me. I am aware of the existence of toxic masculinity in everyday life, and do what I can to expunge it from my personality and social interactions. Of course, as a guy, and as me being embedded in me, I am not always aware of how I am perceived by people outside of me. This panel was a good view into the various ways toxic masculinity can manifest. Of particular interest was that this panel happened right after an incident in another panel, which led to an attendee exhibiting stalker-ish behavior toward one of the panelists. T.M. in action. I expect I will add thoughts to this subject in future blog posts.