Recently, I polled a group of mostly women about what kind of men they like to read about. I got a whole lot of interesting answers, but by far the majority said they like reading about “alpha” males and really masculine men, and they like them to be flawed or in need of emotional rescue. I find that sort of fascinating, since my ideal man is nothing of the sort—not in real life or in fiction. Neither of my characters in “The Artist as an Old Man” fit the bill for societally approved masculinity.

When I write, a lot of real-life people bleed ink onto the pages. Of course, this is true of most writers. In my case, that means I don’t tend to write the kind of heroic, culturally masculine men a lot of people like. That’s because I hardly know any men like that. Not one of the men who influenced me as a child fits into the cultural mold for Real Man, and the vast majority of my male friends as an adult tend to color outside the gender expectation lines.

There’s often criticism for non-men (meaning women and people of other genders) writing male/male pairings for a variety of reasons. Some of them I absolutely agree with, and for that reason I tend to stay away from writing on certain themes or subjects. However, one of the criticisms I’ve seen is that people who are not men can’t write men “properly.” I find that somewhat strange, given that men have been writing female and feminine characters for ages, and I rarely hear that as a complaint. I do hear criticism for misogyny, but not specifically that male writers don’t “get” how women interact with the world.

The thing is, most of my male characters don’t come across as culturally masculine because I’m writing with people I know in mind. I know a lot of men—I suppose my experiences have led me to conclude that on the whole, I love men and value my friendships with them deeply. So when I write, I’m drawing on real-life personality traits: strong, gentle men; artists and hippies; peacemakers; intellectuals; nerds and geeks; musicians; emotive and expressive guys. I often find myself puzzled when I hear, “But real men act like _____.” Last I checked, all the men I know are in fact real, and they generally don’t have a set of ways they behave that conform to some cultural notion.

oldloveyoungheartsfinalI suspect some of the criticism for non-male writers is rooted in two forms of misogyny. One, there’s a belief that women are not as capable as men of writing in certain genres—chiefly action, high fantasy, and science fiction. Two, there are many people who have a low-level of underlying dislike of anything perceived as “too feminine.” I don’t mean this in just a personal way. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to form romantic relationships with people who fit the kind of personality you like. But there’s a tone of fear with regard to men who aren’t masculine in particular ways. Men who defy cultural masculinity norms challenge us in ways that women who challenge norms don’t. For example, it’s considered “normal” for women to wear pants. Whole blogs are devoted to androgynous people who are wearing more culturally masculine clothes, and articles about the hotness of women in tuxes abound. Yet we don’t consider it acceptable for men to wear skirts, androgyny centers on the degree of presented maleness, and there are no articles devoted to the sexiness of men in ball gowns (though I would argue that they are equally gorgeous).

It speaks volumes that anyone would be expected to write a narrow, one-dimensional stereotype of manhood in which there’s a list of characteristics they must possess. I find it much more fun to read and write about guys who are outside those margins. Messing with How to Be a Man is incredibly freeing, and I hope in the future to see many more people expanding their boundaries.

Author bio:

A. M. Leibowitz is a spouse, parent, feminist, and book-lover falling somewhere on the Geek-Nerd Spectrum. Ze keeps warm through the long, cold western New York winters by writing romantic plot twists and happy-for-now endings. Hir published fiction includes hir first novel, Lower Education, as well as a number of short works, and hir stories have been included in several anthologies. In between noveling and editing, ze blogs coffee-fueled, quirky commentary on faith, culture, writing, and hir family at

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