Sunday, August 28, 2011

Male Protectiveness

I wrote a comment on Tracy Grant's blog which turned out to be about male protectiveness in romance literature:

But the common trope in a romance is that, if a good man loves a woman, then he wants to keep her from endangering herself. He may not act on those feelings, he may even recognize the inconsistency between loving her for her strength and wanting to protect her from harm but those protective instincts always seem to arise. So when we are seeing from the good man’s POV, we will eventually hear those thoughts.

I don’t want to hear Raoul having those thoughts and I was glad to he doesn’t in this scene [Tracy had put up a scene from her next release.] I want him to be so ruthless that it never even occurs to him that he should protect her as it doesn’t seem to here. And yet, I want to know that he loves her as we also hear in this scene.

I don’t think most readers will like Raoul for this, most of them probably won’t even believe he really does love her. But I do. And, at the end of “The Mask of Night” when Charles asks Raoul to stay because his presence makes Melanie happier, I realized that Charles thinks so too.

P.S. I can think of one other male “romance” character who understood that love doesn’t give a man the right to restrain a woman’s actions in order to protect her. It’s Lord Peter Wimsey in “Gaudy Night”. Somewhere in that book, he and Harriet discuss this and that male protectiveness leads women to deceive men in order to be free of it. I think Melanie and Charles get close to having a similar discussion in “The Mask of Night”.

Here's the scene from "Gaudy Night":

[Wimsey]"But if it's only my own risk, I can afford to let it blow. When it comes to other people--"
[Vane]"Your instinct is to clap the women and children under hatches."
"Well," he admitted, deprecatingly, "one can't suppress one's natural instincts altogether; even if one's reason and self-interest are all the other way."
"Peter, it's a shame. Let me introduce you to some nice little woman who adores being protected."
"I should be wasted on her. Besides, she would always be deceiving me, in the kindest manner, for my own good; and that I could not stand. I object to being tactfully managed by somebody who ought to be my equal."

Isn't that insightful? How many romance novels involve the heroine sneaking off from the hero to do something he has expressly requested/demanded/forbidden her to do because it is so dangerous? In the worst ones, she does it because she is TSTL but even in the better and best, when she does it carefully and competently, the hero has "proven his love" by trying to prevent her from doing it. Of course, she deceives him - she's been set up to do so by his protectiveness. And protectiveness is a male romance trope which Dorothy Sayers brilliantly shows can only result in one or both of the partners being patronized.

1 comment:

  1. Jeanne, I loved reading more on this topic, and reading the full Peter & Harriet exchange. There's is one o my favorite literary love stories, at least partly because their relationship is so honest.