We have seen these same six guys over and over and over, and we are tired of them.
There’s been a lot of legitimate criticism of the lazy, insulting stereotypes of women that too many movies and TV shows rely on, and the harmful effects those stereotypes have on impressionable viewers. There’s not, in my opinion, enough criticism of the godawful stereotypes of men that are doing just as much harm. Here’s six particularly egregious ones.
The Strong Silent Type
He doesn’t talk much; words aren’t really his thing. He never asks questions and he doesn’t answer many, either. Nobody knows what’s going on inside his head… until it’s violence o’clock. Then he’s expressive, all right; he’ll express a dozen people to death, never saying a word except for a trenchant quip here and there.
Wait, bad verbal communication skills and a penchant for solving problems with violence? Isn’t that every domestic abuser ever?
It is a serious problem that this stereotype is so popular; it encourages boys to hone their imagined ninja skills rather than their ability to express themselves. And while I’d never disparage the noble art of ninjutsu, I personally have solved way fewer problems in my life by assassinating them than by asking someone to clarify their point. Honestly, anyone who can’t say the same should probably reexamine their life choices.
The Romantic Stalker
There’s no dissuading true love, not for this guy. No matter how many times she tells him it’s over, she’s not interested, or she’s actually involved with someone else, he knows that “no” just means “try harder.” He follows his intended around to learn her habits. He shows up at her house or workplace unexpectedly. He breaks into buildings and assumes disguises just to get closer to her. He likes to surprise her unexpectedly. In the movies, this ends with her realizing that anyone so devoted must be the perfect boyfriend. In real life, the best-case outcome is a restraining order. The worst-case is a cluster of scenarios, mostly involving the phrase “murder/suicide”.
Even when society has mostly accepted that stalking is bad, movies and TV continue to champion it. There was a film out last year about two dudes using CIA surveillance equipment to invade Reese Witherspoon’s privacy without her consent. My personal favorite is from Aaron Sorkin’s disastrous Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, where Bradley Whitford’s character is directly told “This is stalking, it’s really making me uncomfortable, and you need to stop.” He responds “No, I’m not going to stop” and sure enough, a couple episodes later she’s madly in love with him.
This isn’t a fanciful connection, either; real-life stalkers often cite movies as justification for how their inappropriate actions are really romantic gestures. Stop, stop, stop teaching people that this behavior is normal or acceptable. It is not.
The Unsuitable Suitor
This guy is often found in the same movies as the Romantic Stalker. Greg Kinnear and James Marsden have both played a lot of him. He’s the guy the girl should not be with, the boyfriend that’s not as good for her as the stalker would be, the relationship the hero has to rescue her from. He’s always superficially handsome, he’s almost always rich, and he’s just there to be a foil for the hero’s free-spirited stalking.
I’m not saying the heroine should stay with the smarmy rich pain in the ass; that happened in Pretty In Pink and it was awful. (If you liked the ending of Pretty In Pink, you are a bad human being. I’m sorry you had to find out this way.) It just dismays me that every time I see this guy pop up onscreen, I know every single thing he’s going to say and do. If that’s not a sign that a stereotype needs to be retired, what is?
The Sitcom Husband
He’s dumb, he’s crude, he’s filthy, he’s horny, he has the interpersonal skills of a child and the emotional depth of a staph infection. And yet he’s married to a woman so much more attractive than him that if you met this couple in real life, you’d do a double take.
Enough. Please. We have seen this guy every day in syndication for decades. It’s a brutally ugly stereotype of men, and it comes paired with a painfully irritating stereotype of women as well: Sitcom Husband’s wife is always a nagging, humorless killjoy, a sexy pseudomom to a fat, balding adolescent. That is not a normal, relatable marriage dynamic, that is an Oedipal nightmare. I watch sitcoms for laughs; when I want weirdly incestuous relationships I’ll watch Game of Thrones like a normal person.
The Badass Loner
He rides into town out of nowhere, his past mysterious, his manner tough and aloof. There’s a touch of violence to him, but his effortless aura of cool makes him irresistible to the ladies.
This is one of those things that people keep doing because it worked really well once. So every time someone tries to write (or god forbid, actually be) the Badass Loner, they think they’re going to get this:
But in practice, they usually end up with this:
There is a noun in German, backpfeifengesicht, which translates as “a face that needs a fist in it”. The above picture is why that word exists.
The Dumb Foil
This is one of those awful characters that’s just a prop in someone else’s story. His job is to doubt, criticize, argue with, or compete with a female character on the basis of her gender, and lose. You’ve seen him saying things like “You sure a little lady like you can handle that?” or “This is why women don’t belong in this profession!” or “No way am I going to lose to a girl.” He is literally just there to be wrong.
The Dumb Foil is an amazing artifact, really. He’s a time capsule of how hack writers thought feminism worked for five minutes in 1972. He comes down to us perfectly preserved, an atavistic living fossil, always ready to reduce gender relations down to men against women, and be perpetually astonished at the revolutionary idea that sometimes women can win.
Meanwhile, real feminism has been doing a good job breaking down the cheap stereotypes, clichés, and ill-drawn characters that have too often been women’s lot in TV and movies. It’s past time we started doing the same for men.