This is something that has been bothering me for an incredibly long time. Today, I think I have finally nailed it down to an expressible idea. Probably it is due to the combination of reading old posts on Pottersues, Avengers fan fiction, and a particularly pragmatic Megan Frampton romance, all in one very long morning. And it might be a long post, so bear with me.
Spoiler: The point mostly pertains to fan fiction.
It’s (fairly) commonly accepted that most people who write fan fiction are women, and a significant number of those are quite young. I’d say under 25, or under 20, depending on the fandom. I think it would be fair to assume a lot of them do not know or understand men very well. Particularly the ones who are not talented writers. (and/or are 16)
The point about not knowing or understanding men (or boys, but the former is worse and I’ll get into why) is one reason that there is a lot of fetishising M/M romance with damaging tropes.
I’m all about smashing gender stereotypes, but male characters who use emotional manipulation more than direct confrontation, cry prettily, and squeal over cute things seem less like barrier-breakers and more like a lady who couldn’t write a male character, so she just gave a female character a masculine pronoun. And I strongly believe that men and women should be allowed to cry without being maligned for doing so. But these characters are not part of that kind of thinking. They are just girls disguised as guys. They use feminine language, have feminine habits, feminine priorities, and solve problems and communicate the way that adolescent girls do. Sometimes like women, but usually like teenage girls.
I’ve seen this in original and published M/M romance, but fan fiction is where this shit LIVES. While happily getting my Avengers fic addiction fix, I read some Cap/Iron Man fic. I love these characters. Love the actors. I am so not alone in that love, which is pretty awesome. For a long time after I realised the ship was a thing, I was happy just knowing it was a ship. I’m easily pleased. Just exist, I said. So actually reading fan fiction was rather a step up in my participation. (I don’t do fandom stuff much…)
Reading it was… awkward. I tried to feel happy and do the fangirl squee thing, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I know we all experience our movies and comic books differently and not everyone will see characters the same way, but it was distressing to me that someone sees Captain America, this guy:
as a mealy-mouthed, thumb-twiddling virgin who can’t say “penis” without dying from a blush-induced heat stroke. There is absolutely nothing wrong with any characters who are virginal at any age, or who are embarrassed by sex. There is something wrong with a large consensus of people seeing those traits in a character who is not characterised that way anywhere in canon. And comic books have more canon than the Santísima Trinidad.
Steve Rogers is an adult. Not only does he have a penis, he can probably say it if he has to, especially considering all of the health issues he had at the beginning of the first movie. I have been an old-fashioned virgin. I did not like to speak bluntly about sex or genitalia, but I didn’t blush when someone said words like “oral sex,” and I didn’t fall to shy pieces if the subject came up on any level. What I did do, and what I have seen Cap do, is tastefully avoid the subject and if it did come up, stay quiet or use polite euphemism until the conversation changed. It’s an adult way to handle one’s feelings on many subjects.
“I don’t want to talk about it because I think it’s private and in this situation inappropriate,” does not equate to, “I will melt down if I try to talk about it in any situation.”
And that is only ONE thing that is going sadly, sadly wrong in fan fiction. Characters are mischaracterised (ugh that feels so redundant) all the time in fan fic. That’s a risk you run–I learned this reading pottersues when the blog was new. But by that same token, it’s not okay. It still sucks. I’m not the only reader who dislikes it. Just in this case, it links to my issues with male characterisation by writers who seem not to understand guys at all.
Which brings me to my second point–relationships. But I’m gonna have to break this into two posts. I started writing this about 14:00 today, and kept getting interrupted by an appointment with my doctor and needing to drive places. Second half of this will be written and up tomorrow morning.