I recently finished reading Bridge of Clayby Markus Zusak and found myself struck with just how different this book was from so many I have picked up recently. It gave me vibes of something like The Outsidersbecause it’s a story of brothers and in general the struggles boys face growing up. I love Markus Zusak as a writer. The Book Thief is one of my favorite stories ever, and his other trilogy about the Wolfe Brothers that was published in the US as a bind-up called Underdogs was very much in the same vein. He writes brothers and boys so well, and so very accurately both these books gave me all the happy feels.
But what I’m getting at is the difference between this book and the majority of other new YA books I have picked up recently. For starters, it has male protagonists and an overwhelming male cast. Now let me give you an assignment. Go into a bookstore and look at the YA shelves and find me a book with a straight male character as the protagonist. Especially something that has been written in the last three years or so. They are a rare unicorn indeed. And if you do find one, then the male protagonist is never allowed to do anything because his female cohort has to kick all the ass and prove that she’s stronger than him because, oh no, you cannot have a male character stronger than a female one, even though that’s how biology works, it’s considered too sexist to even be mentioned. Check out books like Fawkes if you don’t believe me. But you also just have to look at the last couple seasons of Doctor Who as well to see this. Check out THIS VIDEO to see what I mean. This guy shares literally word for word my opinions and he says it better.
So for some reason everyone, especially women, think that in order to have strong female characters the men have to be oppressed, incompetent and constantly put down by their female compatriots because otherwise how are girls going to feel like they can do anything?
Girls, if you need that much reassurance, then you really are sad.
Bridge of Clay has everything that feminists term “toxic masculinity” but is really the sentiment ‘boys will be boys’—oh but wait, you can’t say that either because apparently in the feminist minds that’s essentially an excuse for men to rape women #modernsociety. The brothers in this book beat each other up and the other city boys, they get into fights, they squabble, but that’s how they show they love each other because this is how men work. And they also respect women, the whole story is in a way, about their love and respect for their mother who was a strong woman and a good role model. It’s biology, it’s not “male entitlement”. There is nothing toxic about masculinity, it’s healthy for boys to be boys, and it’s healthy for girls to embrace their femininity, but no one can do that when women are portrayed in fiction as something they’re not. That’s not a role model, that’s fantasy. A real role model is a woman who stays feminine and can still kick butt. Maybe she’s even a mother and takes down the baddies to save her kids. This is the kind of heroine that I, as a young girl, and now a woman, have always looked up to. One who keeps her self-respect instead of making a fool of herself and jeopardizing her mission by wasting time with stupid rants to reassure herself she’s awesome. A hero. (*cough*CaptainMarvel*cough*)
So while Bridge of Clay and books like it about mostly boys who actually act like real boys are rare, there are books that do everything right to both their male and female characters, and I’ll explain why.
First off, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite series, and one of my favorite heroines: Kara from The Thickety series by J. A. White.
Kara is everything a strong heroine should be. But does this make her a feminist hero? No. Not at all. In fact, it makes her so much better. She is forced into her decisions often by outside forces and boy does she have to make hard decisions and do things that seem impossible. But does she back away? No. Does she do them because “she is a woman and that makes her the only one who can do this”? No. She does them because she has to. Because she wants to protect the people she loves and she has the ability to do so, or she’s the only one who cares enough to try. She never belittles her little brother because he is male, she protects him because she is his big sister and that’s her job. When another male character is introduced later on, she works with him and they make a good team. Respect goes both ways so how can your male partner respect you if all you do is call him out for being stupid just because he’s a man?
This same kind of example is given in J. A. White’s other book Nightbooks. This one has a male protagonist and a girl sidekick. Their partnership is just as healthy as the ones in The Thickety, they work together to save themselves from the bad situation they have gotten in. Of course there’s setbacks and issues, but they don’t arise because of them being male and female and railing on each other, they arise from outside sources, things the protagonists have to overcome. You know, like old stories used to do. Both characters are viewed as intelligent and strong individuals because of what they fight to overcome, not just because of what gender they are.
I also have to make mention of another of my favorite heroines, Karin Murphy from Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. She’s “small but fierce” as one of the characters described her. She’s both proud of her femininity and willing to kick monster butt. She jokes with Dresden about his “chauvinistic” white knight attitude, but she never bites his head off when he saves her during a fight—they’re comrades in arms. Because of that, she’s also someone Harry can count on, and is often one of the first people he goes to when he needs help. Miss Gard, a Valkyrie character from the series is also a super epic female character I always loved in this series no matter what side she’s on. 1,000 times a better Valkyrie than that poor attempt at one in Thor: Ragnarok which I frankly couldn't tell whether she was a man or a woman because the way she was written they could have cast either.
And before you say “oh but these are male authors, what do they know about women?” well, heh, as a woman, I’m willing to say that male authors are most of the time the only authors who can get female characters right, or at least write them as actually likable. So often men nail the strong heroine because they write her as just that: a strong heroine. Female writers often seem to think strong means the same as ‘strong willed’ with the ‘I don’t need no man’ attitude, when that is exactly the opposite. A quietly strong heroine could easily be the one to save the day, while the loudmouth “feminist icons” are surrounded by ridiculous plots that have to be crafted in such a way so that the heroine’s stupidity doesn’t end up destroying everything. Which is why the characters is these types of stories often fall flat, and the storylines make no sense because there is hardly ever any real character development going on. It’s just a reason for an author to be able to tout their political agendas instead of actually taking the time to make a good story.
On that note, here’s a female author that does a fantastic job of writing male and female characters: Jennifer A. Neilson.
I adore her Ascendance Trilogy and Mark of the Thief Series. Sage is absolutely one of my favorite characters ever, and Imogen is a perfect example of a quietly strong heroine. The same goes for the characters in the Mark of the Thief series. In both of these books the hero is bolstered up by the support that is given from his female companions. And when they need to, these ladies step up to the plate and stand beside their men. Not behind them, and not in front of them either. They are equals. Ironically what feminists pretend to want, but you can’t be equal if you really just want to be better.
In her book Scourge we saw a very fantastic female protagonist save her people from a plague by going under cover to discover what was really causing it. She has a male character at her side and like in her other books, Jennifer writes them as a team, and cuts out the relationship issues so many of the bloody stupid YA books portray these days because the men aren’t allowed to be men, and the female characters are still so stupid they get into more trouble than they’re worth. How the heck are you supposed to save the world when you can even get past your own personal issues?
So, now I want to move from books and talk about one of my favorite shows— Supernatural. There’s a lot of reasons I love it, mainly because all the main characters are male, and extremely flawed and likable characters, and very well acted and written as well. I think the fact that this show has just been renewed for its 15thseason is testament to the fact that people enjoy this kind of content, even with the lack of female leads, romantic plotlines, and political agendas. Now yes, the later seasons have their PC moments, but they’re brief and rarely detract from the true storyline, unlike, say, recent seasons of shows like Doctor Who where it has essentially just become a media outlet for the BBC to tout their political agendas instead of being a fun sci-fi show. Even in a recent interview Misha Collins says that the main success of Supernatural is because “it defied convention in that it’s not about romantic relationships. It’s about this brotherhood of men”. It started with two brothers, then added a third with the inclusion of Castiel, and now the three of them are co-parenting an orphan nephillim son and I frankly can’t be happier with the familial aspect.
But even with this band of brothers, when Supernatural has brought women around, aside from a few instances, they’ve done it right. There have been an array of platonic/sisterly relationships between female characters and the boys, and also motherly ones in characters like Jodi and Ellen. Even when the interests are romantic the women are usually generally supportive of the boys, but we rarely see these kind of relationships crop up anyway.
To prove my point of the difference between this show and, say, (again) recent Doctor Who (and to see my point here you really need to go watch that video I linked above) I’m going to pluck a seemingly random and innocuous scene from Supernatural but one that I feel really proves my point.
In Season 3 Episode 6 “Red Sky At Night” we see a reoccurring guest character Bela Talbot, show up. She’s a thief and an ‘independent woman’ and always does her best to pull one over on the Winchesters whenever she shows up, and usually does—until she is forced to go to them for help because she’s bitten off more than she can chew.
Not only is Bela an independent woman that will ask these brothers for help when she really needs it, even if grudgingly, but whenever she attacks the Winchesters with cheeky comments implying her superiority as a female, they are allowed to attack her in kind. Unlike in Doctor Who where apparently rebuttals from the men about gender superiority is no longer allowed so they’re constantly, laughably put down to the point you can’t even take these poor men seriously as heroes anymore. Granted, this Supernatural episode was from back in ’08 where you could still get away with general entertainment and were not forced to push political agendas, but knowing Eric Kripke I don’t think he would have written these characters any differently, and in fact, Sam and Dean, though obviously they have gone through the character arcs you would expect out of a long running series and have indeed grown up over the course of the show’s run, are still themselves, despite writer changes. Partly thanks to Jared and Jensen’s genuine care about the characters and also the fact that the producers still also care deeply about the show and have been there since the beginning.
But I want to bring attention to one scene in particular that has always struck me for some reason.
During the course of the episode they have to retrieve an item from a museum and to do so they have to infiltrate a gala. Dean dresses in a tux and when Bela sees him, she’s obviously pretty hot under the collar, and propositions him for “angry sex” later. Dean, taking offense, tells her “Don’t objectify me”. (Watch the scene HERE)
Ladies and gentlemen, in that moment, Dean, a well known ladies man, showed he had more self-respect than 80% of these so-called strong, independent YA heroines. And he also handled the situation better than any of them when they are propositioned by the “misogynistic” male character where the heroine flies off the handle at them for even thinking of them like that. Supernatural is actually very “progressive” about this topic if you’ll forgive the word, because, having male leads and a lot of female monster baddies, situations like this do crop up. Vampires and demons forcing kisses, unwanted groping and such: the kind of situations a lot of people only seem to think female characters get themselves into, but no, this just isn’t true. Women can be just as nasty and objectify men just as well as men can women. There is such a thing as mansels in distress. And whether it’s their brother, guardian angel, or female hunt buddy coming to their rescue, the Winchesters are never emasculated by this because they’re allowed to actually BE masculine in the first place. If you’re fighting creatures with supernatural strength sometimes you will be beaten up by a girl.
All I ask is for authors to write real men characters as well as real women characters. Instead of simply writing crappy fiction that doesn’t please anyone, has flat characters and no plotlines past the political agendas that are only there because the author wants it to be. You can’t make characters be themselves if you put words in their mouths which is why so few books have characters that feel real anymore and why the last couple Doctors have lost viewership to a well-loved sci-fi show. A greater example of this cannot be given than the Disney Star Wars franchise.
So will we ever see another book like Bridge of Clay published? Frankly, and sadly, I find it unlikely. What will we do when Supernatural finally ends? Because it’s honestly the only show of its kind on television right now, and I doubt there will be others made despite its success.
The pure and simple fact is, you can’t please everyone, so just please stop trying. At the very least you might get a good story out of it.