Tropes in my writing: Soft Masc characters, part 3

Here continues my musing on some tropes that frequently recur in my writing! Specifically, analyzing my tendency to use what I refer to as “Soft Masc” protagonists– “a male character with a presentation that is fairly normatively masculine, but with a preponderance of personal qualities that were traditionally coded as feminine” –and how that manifests.

Continues from part 1 and part 2.

Romantic relationships:

Nathaniel is married to Clara, to whom he is utterly devoted. They are functional friends, lovers, and partners, with perhaps a more equitable relationship than other couples of his time. He actually is inclined to let her run the show, as the more strident personality, though her power is unofficial and based off of his feelings for her. Notably, she is three years older than him.

Aidan loves Diana, despite their meeting under the problematic mistress-slave dynamic. She is very much the dominant partner with all the power in the relationship, an issue they have to navigate. In fact, their relationship is specifically a flipping of the expected gender roles of the hetero dynamic, where he takes on the traditionally feminine role and she the masculine one. She is ten years older than him.

Tom falls for Alice, a girl he meets in the course of unraveling a mystery they’re both connected to. He is off a lower social class than she is, which makes forming a relationship difficult, and he feels he has no right to presume to her affections. He is a few years older than her.

Robin I plan to eventually get together with Marian, the canonical love interest for the legendary character. In his past, he dates and sleeps around a great deal, often choosing so-called “high value” partners such as models and famous people, as an outward symbol of status. He’s hooked up with other men, though probably never dated one more than extremely casually. Before finally connecting him with Marian, I would have him get together with other characters in his typical way before settling the two of them together. The idea of him committing to, and growing in order to deserve, a serious romantic relationship would be part of his character journey.

Justin is a ladies’ man in a similar vein to Robin. A confirmed bachelor, he is committed to having fun above all else and will likely never settle down. He presents himself honestly and is happy to make casual connections but is not out to deceive, hurt, or use anyone. He also has a handful of experiences with men in his past, mostly from his days at Harrow and a few after.

Nathaniel is the most normatively masculine, followed by Tom. Aidan is certainly the least.

Relationship with female superiors:

Being able to defer to women is a major feature I include in portrayals of this kind of man.

Both Tom and Nathaniel have female mentor figures. Tom learned his craft from his mother, and her part in the mystery he stumbles upon drives him to investigate it. Nathaniel started out modeling himself on the Colonel, a very traditionally masculine man, but as the Hawking stories go on, he comes to focus more on learning from, and winning the approval of, his aunt instead. He listens to her expertise, follows her orders, and respects her authority.

Though not a mentor per se, Aidan follows and defers on most matters to his sister Morna. He acknowledges she is the superior intellect and is inclined to trust her judgment above his own. He treats her as if she had some sort of seniority, even though he is in fact four years older than her. Also in living as a slave in a matriarchy, he is accustomed to most women having some real power over him.

Robin has no “senior” woman in his life whom he is emulating or deferring to. He is again the most normatively masculine of my male protagonists.

The only way this is relevant for Justin is that he will confess to being intimidated by Mrs. Hawking. If nothing else, he respects her enough to fear her.

Relationships with female peers:

Strongly valuing female friendship and connection and respecting the strength and expertise of women is another intrinsic quality of this kind of male character.

Nathaniel’s friendship with Mary is one of the most important connections of his life. He does due to socialization sometimes slip back into patriarchal assumptions, but he is working to unlearn this. He does seriously respect her abilities and is interested in her as a person.

Similarly, Aidan’s closest relationship, perhaps even more so than the one with Diana, is with his sister Morna. Their shared experience of conquest and slavery has unbreakably bonded them, and he believes in her brilliance and capability above all else.

Tom has spent his life working in a female-dominated industry and it taught him enormous respect for women. One of his special skills is his ability to listen to and understand the world of women in a way other men of his time and place do not, making him trustworthy to them.

Robin, for all the effort he puts into chasing them down as sexual partners, also has real female friendships. His best friend is Scarlet, whom he respects enormously as an intellect, enough that he has given her enormous professional opportunities. He does, however, impose on her to keep his grandiose promises and get him out of trouble, but I tend to this is more about his own self-centeredness than because she is a woman.

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