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22 June 2010 @ 07:18 pm
Fiction, gender, women's pain, and MAN PAIN.  
"This one time I hit a girl with my car. It was the most traumatic experience of my life and she kept trying to make it about her leg. As if my pain meant nothing."

So, I've been thinking about Man Pain, what exactly IS it, its awesome power to make me hate a character like I never thought possible, how narratives view women's pain vs. men's pain, and do women have the same kind of pain? And I have thoughts. :)

Man pain is often the fastest way to turn me off of something, but I don't think I quite realized *exactly* what man pain was until I had to watch a performance of Sophocles' "Elektra," and while watching, I thought to myself, "Oh, wow, Elektra has a lot of man pain." Elektra, of course, is a girl, which made me realize that Man Pain isn't just...pain or suffering that men undergo, but a very SPECIFIC type of pain, which is a lot more common to see in men than in women. It occurs to me that not ALL men's pain is Man Pain, which I consider to be a very specific type of fictional pain that is privileged over other sufferings/tragedies. Possibly, it's easier to notice and define when it shows up in women (for people who don't generally notice Man Pain)? Because fiction hasn't desensitized us to it by giving it to us over and over. More importantly, narratives are aware of it more when it shows up in women and it's not treated like Universal Pain.

Elektra's biggest conflict is along the lines of Hamlet's: her mother killed her father and took a lover, while declaring herself to be the queen of the kingdom, and she claims that Klytemnestra mistreats her and is evil. People familiar with the backstory, of course, know that Klytemnestra killed her husband for very, very good reasons (like the fact that he literally sacrificed their daughter to the gods in order to win a war), but Elektra refuses to see her mother's side of the story at all, choosing to be loyal to the father she's never known and has idolized in her mind. During the story, any version of it, Klytemnestra also has major conflict in terms of dealing with her children hating her when she did it all for them to begin with, has to deal with a kingdom not used to having a woman in charge, and has to deal with the conflict between the loyalties she owes to different people. When Klytemnestra attempts to explain this to Elektra, her response is to completely stop listening once Klytemnestra admits to having killed Agamemnon because all Elektra can see is her own pain and suffering. Which, yeah: MAN PAIN.

So what is man pain? It's this tunnel-vision, narrow-minded view of one's own pain that completely overlooks and ignores how others suffer or might even suffer *more* because of the same tragedies. Elektra's entire conflict is about hating her mother, and all she can see is her own suffering, a lot of which is based on things she perceives to be true and based on having omitted important parts of the story.  And her mother? Klytemnestra has actual conflict, actual suffering, and actual issues all of which surpass Elektra's, but she can't see that because she's so focused on her own issues.

Fictional men do this. Often. More importantly, narrative pov does this by choosing to focus on men's suffering (at the expense of others'), which always makes me go, "Hmm, but what about the women?" And it's not always the women who get overlooked in this kind of storytelling, but even lesser POV characters. One good example is all the movies where a white person helps people of color make some civil right achievement, and the focus is often on how HARD it is for the white people to go against their own to help these people out, ignoring the MUCH GREATER suffering of people who have never *had* the privilege of that choice.

A more specific example of man pain is given to us on Buffy in the above-quoted immortal words of Cordelia Chase: "This one time I hit a girl with my car. It was the most traumatic experience of my life and she kept trying to make it about HER leg. As if my pain meant nothing." <3

It's...easier to provide examples with women? Because we're supposed to find what Cordelia is saying funny, and OMG, it does make me love her harder. But the narrative is also poking fun at her. Likewise, Sophocles' "Elektra" gives Klytemnestra a very clear narrative voice that, if you're paying attention and familiar with the background story, makes you question the things Elektra is saying, makes you question her sanity for having made so big a deal out of something that shouldn't have affected her this much. As I said before, fiction is more aware of this when it does this with women.

Now, fiction does this with men ALL THE FREAKING TIME. But it's not poking fun at them, and it's certainly not wanting you to question their right to suffer the most and make everyone's issues all about themselves. Because it's all justified. Because all our narratives are male-centric. Because man pain, in fact, is UNIVERSAL PAIN. And women's pain is always...gendered, and often portrayed as excessive bitching/whining. And because fiction does it so much with men without seeing issues with it, it's sometimes harder to point out, but the problem becomes easier to spot once compared to how fiction and fandom treat women in similar situations.

And not surprisingly, fandom does this, privileges men's suffering over the women's. There was a discussion of Jean's constant Phoenix issues recently, and someone chose to talk about how hard it was on Scott, and how much he had suffered.  Because the pain he has to suffer when his wife is constantly being possessed by a god-like entity is somehow more important than the constant and consistent identity issues and loss-of-self issues and the constant dying and resurrections and all the readjusting that comes with that that Jean has had to suffer for a decade? But somehow, the fact that poor Jean has to go through all of this...justifies Scott cheating on her! How dare their life together be more about HER pain than his? He shouldn't have to stand for that! Oh, fandom.

When "Merlin" first aired, I had plans to watch it, if only because my life-long Arthurian OTP of Morgaine/Arthur is vaguely canon, but from everything I have read, it's all about Man Pain, in terms of the focus on the dominant religion/group and completely disregarding the very justified reasons the Lady of the Lake has for her vendetta against Uther. And while there have been a lot of complaints about how all the women are evil...I sort of love evil women, so that alone might not have been an issue for me? But evil women that the narrative feels the need to punish while valuing the Man Pain of their oppressors? Um, no. A world of no. See, Sinbad does the Evil Sorceress thing so very well with Rumina, and she never gets punished for being evil, so she just...makes me happy instead of inspiring rage.

The major reason that Adama *never* appealed to me from the get-go, and despite the fact that I loved Roslin like I love Emma Frost, and given my tendency to ship my OTCs with EVERYONE, I never, ever liked Roslin/Adama for even a single second, was that Adama had some of the most epic (and epically HATEFUL) Man Pain in the recent years on TV. Boomer turning evil and trying to possibly doom the entire human race? All. About. Adama. I mean, seriously. His pain? More important than the possible extinction of the human race. It's *more* important for him to get his revenge than it is for humanity to survive. And people *love* this character. Certain people turning out to be Cylons? No one cares about how this affects humanity! And there's just no reason at all to worry about Tigh's own identity crisis in this. It's all about how much pain it causes ADAMA. And how he's suffered betrayal YET AGAIN. And Kara having a breakdown? Also about how she's betraying him! Who cares about what she's going through? Not Adama! Aside from the character choices that emphasize his man pain, the narrative does this, too. One major example is how the narrative sees Roslin's suffering all in the light of how it affects ADAMA in the last season. And this was the final straw. I...actually can't decide if I hate Adama more or Tyrol. But it's a tough call.

But fandom apparently loves Man Pain because look at its love affair with Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. It's hard to think of a character I dislike more for narrative reasons in Jossverse? (I hate Spike, Xander, and Topher all more, but for metanarrative reasons.) Where to start with his Man Pain? It likely started with his first appearance and the events of Buffy season three, but somehow, the fact that poor Faith was going through epic issues was all about how *he* had failed as a Watcher. Because somehow, the personal guilt of having failed at his job was more epic and important than the personal suffering of going through a mental breakdown, alienation, and loss of purpose/destiny/self/friends that Faith was going through. (I don't think the narrative thinks it's more important at this point, but Wesley certainly does. Thus, narrative hatred and not metanarrative hatred.) And then there was the epic Man Pain arc he got after Connor was taken to another dimension. Because losing his friends and purpose for reasons that were *entirely* based in his own issues and stupidity was more painful/important than Angel losing his child and going through epic betrayal all because of Wesley. And then the narrative was totally okay with Wesley torturing Justine because his MAN PAIN justified torturing women. Just like how his earlier Man Pain justified completely betraying Faith's and everyone else's trust. And not only did the writers think that all of this drama and suffering made Wesley more interesting than he had ever been before, but the fandom was happily all over it.

And the worse part is that I actually get why my friends who love Wesley love him? I don't agree with it at all, but I can understand how metanarratives have conditioned them to value this narrative? And conditioned me to understand this? But I get into at least three arguments a month with someone saying, "I just can't understand how you can love Emma Frost/Faith/Kara Thrace/etc." Because heaven forbid that narratives ever focus on women's suffering. And I feel that a major criticism of Kara Thrace as a character (besides people slutshaming her and seeing her sexuality as a reason to not like her) is that she has too much suffering and the narrative focuses too much on her angst. But seriously, people, does she really have more suffering than Adama? DOES ANYONE? But when Achilles gets a whole epic about his suffering, it's literary canon, but Kara, who has pretty much the *exact same issues,* gets painted as a bitchy drama-vampire by BSG fans regularly. Sometimes, even by the narrative itself! Because we're not *used* to seeing this much narrative focus on a woman with issues, but that's a huge reason I love her? Her issues are literally epic, and actually *don't* fall under Man Pain suffering. The narrative does have a tendency to focus on her issues more than others', sometimes, but rarely more than it values the issues of men within the narrative? So I can understand why you might prefer the relatively angst-free Laura Roslin to Kara Thrace, but I'll *never* understand why Tyrol or Adama is more interesting than Kara.

Also, correct me if I'm wrong here because I've repressed much of season 4.5 of BSG, but Kara's suffering in it is very...isolated and not seen as affecting things on a larger scale in terms of, at least, affecting people around her? When she's suffering, the narrative pretty much leaves her alone, and I sort of hate everyone for not being there for her, but the icing on the cake? The scene where Adama is breaking down over his BFF Tigh's betrayal and pulling everyone into his MAN PAIN. Because his suffering of his own issues with Cylons affecting how he views his STILL LOYAL BFF is so much more important than Kara losing her sense of self and the love of her life (don't argue ;) all in the same week. And I'm sure we see a lot of this with Athena and Helo, where the narrative is so much more concerned with his personal pain of being married to a Cylon than the much greater conflict Athena probably has to deal with, what with actually *being* the outsider.

On the other hand, I do sort of appreciate that within the narrative, no one really questions the validity of Kara's suffering? Because as mentioned before, when women suffer, the narrative often questions it. I think Buffy occasionally had Man Pain, which is pretty much given with a protagonist like her (most notably during the Faith arc.), but Buffy also got called out on it by people within the narrative. And fandom never got over Buffy's 'selfish-ness' and the most common criticism of Buffy has always been that she was too selfish/self-focused mostly coming from the fact that she complained about the suckage in her life. How, exactly? Buffy is pretty much the only epic hero or heroine I can think of who knowingly sacrificed the love of her life to save the world? During the TV era when Max Evans and John Critchton were both willing to sell out their planet/the entire Universe to save theirs. Also, pretty much everyone on Buffy has more Man Pain than Buffy, but Buffy's is unnatural because she's a GIRL, I suppose? Sigh. Nothing makes me love Buffy like fandom's constant hatred of her for being oh-so-selfish.

So fandom likes to complain about how it doesn't like women because they just don't get the narrative arcs/narrative focus that men do and OMG, their arcs are so gendered, but when women *do* get the arcs that fandom associates with MEN? They then get criticized for having too much focus, being too selfish, too bitchy, too aggressive, too PRESENT, INFLUENTIAL, and for driving the narrative arcs with their suffering/issues because only men are supposed to do that, duh.

So, really, fandom, WHAT IS IT GOING TO TAKE FOR YOU TO LIKE WOMEN? When they don't get enough focus, you don't like them because they're too much in the background, when they do get the focus, you complain about how they're getting too much focus. When they're in 'traditionally feminine' arcs, they're too weak and gendered, but when they're in more action oriented arcs, they're trying to be like men, and shouldn't they be more womanly? When they're bitches, you just don't like their morals, but how many of you shun the male characters for their lack of morals? When they're too nice, they're doormats and Mary Sues.

(and, sigh, I know I have had a problem with the last one in the past. I know that I find it harder to like women who are too stuck in the male gaze and a portrait of what patriarchy wants women to be like (Fred from Angel, as well as many of Joss' characters of that type, is a good example of this, where while I liked her in theory, the execution of her arcs often left me cold.) And often, the good girls have to grow on me as opposed to my instantly falling for the morally ambiguous fictional women, but...I consider this a flaw in my own narrative approach, and I DO constantly work at improving it by defending/writing about the characters I'm indifferent to so I can see what makes them interesting.) And I feel that the first step is admitting the problem? Because there isn't even a single one of us who hasn't been conditioned to respond in an offensive way to some narrative. But most people who don't like women would rather blame it on the type of characters they are (read: ALL TYPES) than admit that they have internalized misogyny/misogyny issues, that they've been conditioned to respond this way, and that there's a problem on THEIR end. But when you manage to find a problem with every single female character, or even every single female character of a certain type, and ESPECIALLY when you would like that same character if she were a man, hi, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.)

But more than that, our narratives have a problem? Because I'm so tired of having to watch John Proctor sacrifice himself and be a hero when I'm actually wondering about how much of an asshole he must've been to have inspired Abigail's epic, epic vendetta and how his poor wife is going to have to look after three children alone in a time when women didn't HAVE career options because he would rather be a hero and die than be a decent human being and actually take care of his family.

But "The Crucible" doesn't want to give me that story, because the Man Pain is more important. And I still have issues from high school when my teacher insisted I write a paper about John Proctor's Man Pain because she didn't want to read about how Abigail had good reasons for her vendetta against him. I mean, guys, this asshole was cheating on his wife with a very young girl who worked for them (and thus was his employee!), and somehow he gets to be the hero of the narrative and the poor girl he slept with, ruined, and dumped is going to be the villain? And his wife who has very good reasons to hate him is going to SUPPORT him, but his suffering is the greatest! Because fiction doesn't care about women. And it certainly doesn't care about their suffering unless they're actually dead, and even then, the pain is all about how much the MEN suffer because of their deaths.

I've never seen the last season of "Angel" and never really plan to. Before "Angel" got to that point, they had already gotten rid of all the interesting female characters, and the only way I was going to watch the show was if Lilah Morgan or Gwen Raiden were fairly recurring. But they replaced Lilah before the new season started, and when they were asked about bringing back Gwen Raiden, the writers said that Gwen would upstage Angel with the focus on her narrative arc, so they could not bring her back. But somehow, Spike wasn't going to upstage Angel by having the exact same issues/dilemma/superpowers?! And it occurs to me that Spike is ALLOWED to upstage Angel (why not, he upstaged Buffy on her own show), because of his Man Pain. But having Gwen would shift the focus away from the Man Pain and only men are allowed to make their issues that central to the narrative.

A few weeks ago, I had the misfortune to watch "Charlie Bartlett," which involved a rich, disturbed kid becoming a self-appointed psychiatrist for fellow students. He has a history of delinquent behavior, which has his single mother having to move him from school to school while running a company and the household. The mother is portrayed as being flaky and on tranquilizers, and the climax of the movie comes when he admits to a girl that he's always felt the need to be an adult because his mother apparently isn't one. And he feels the need to act out in school because he has to be an adult at home and take care of his mother. Which, just wow.  Your mother is on freaking TRANQUILIZERS very likely because of YOUR delinquent behavior, and just shut the fuck up about your MAN PAIN. Also, hi, you're making it worse.  Which is not to say that he doesn't have valid issues, but we constantly get this story in fiction of the absentee father that's idolized and the mother who actually stayed being vilified, often from the POV of the male child, and there's just no conception of this dynamic from her POV.

And then there was the critically acclaimed "500 Days of Summer," which consisted of nothing but a guy's Man Pain-ish POV on his relationship with a flighty girl, and we never get her POV, just his dressing her up in his patriarchal meta-narratives. The problem is that no one questions this when coming from men. And do you know how many of our metanarratives are made up of just this sort of problematic stuff? I'm sure there are countless examples of this, and the fact that I can think of at least a dozen more just off the top of my head despite the fact that I avoid fiction with a very male-centric focus? Um, yeah.

Lastly, I leave you with this, a definition of Man Pain:

Man Pain.


1). an all-encompassing, egocentric suffering that disallows focus on anything else but the pain.
2). tunnel vision focus on one's own pain and disregard/lack of understanding for the suffering of others. Most often experienced by fictional men.

We see this in two forms:

a). Narrative form: Wherein the hero is focused on his pain and ways to alleviate or wallow in it, often at the expense of the suffering of others. This comes from the character's own issues and is likely to make you hate the character if you're not prone to liking Man Pain.

b). Metanarrative form: Wherein the writers decide that the suffering/pain of the Male hero is a lot more important than the suffering of others, which is ignored/pushed back by the narrative. This will make you hate the writers, while still possibly liking the character.

ETA: It seems from the comments that some people are attributing the term "manpain" to me. This is not the case. It's a fandom term that already exists and is used to refer to a specific type of character arc involving brooding male heroes with lots of angst and suffering - often over a refrigerated woman - that many fans find appealing. This is just my personal/critical definition of the term and the outlining of the metanarrative forces behind the phenomenon. :)
Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative
Nicole Anell: caprica - tamaranicole_anell on June 23rd, 2010 02:54 am (UTC)
Heh, well I can't say we'll ever agree on Wesley, because there my own distaste for manpain comes into conflict with my irrational love for people who Fail Epically and bring about their own torture.

But yeah, I really like the way you defined this. And for me this is the kind of narrative that always thrives on girlfriend-fridging. (And of course my Wes got a double high score there. *sigh*) I like my share of grief stories; it's not that I don't believe that pain is *real*. But it's such a cliche when the focus ends up squarely on the widower/lover's heartache, like Well This Is Certainly The Worst Thing That Can Happen To Anyone, without any consideration for *her* actual life and the tragedy of it being taken.

(May I suggest The Crow as an especially rage-inducing example of manpain? It was the ~favorite movie~ of an ex-boyfriend of mine and I had to watch it. So: the goth protagonist comes back to avenge his own death, but mostly the death of his Dialogue-Less Girlfriend who was gang-raped and killed alongside him, because sometimes people have such HUGE SUFFERING that they need to come back from the dead. Just... please wrap your brain around this for a second, that the movie is all about his unfinished-business revenge and not hers. This movie states *up front* that the pain of WATCHING his girlfriend get raped and killed is the Tragic Event that sets the story in motion and shatters the vale of death, 'cause I guess ol' whatshername didn't have any significant pain of her own.)

P.S. "500 Days of Summer", oy vey.

Edited at 2010-06-23 02:56 am (UTC)
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: BSG - Six/Gaiusprozacpark on June 23rd, 2010 03:40 am (UTC)
Which I completely understand? While I'm a lot more rational about my love for fictional men these days, I did crush on freaking Michael Guerin back in the day (for which, I'm appropriately ashamed now), and I'm still a lot more likely to crush on the Baltars than the Sam Anders', who have to grow on me through their love for my OTCs.

I think Man Pain is just the inevitable side-effect of a fictional structure that in general disregards women's narratives for men's? I love fictional angst/pain and possibly nothing makes me happier? But this tendency to focus on men's pain has made me kind of wary of angsty fiction that's also male-centric.

And dude...just your description of "The Crow" is making me want to find people involved with it and punch them. How can someone even write that and not see the fail, not to mention the fact that it's consumed and liked on a mainstream level. *headdesks forever* Let's also never forget how Tigh's suffering of losing his unborn baby was so much greater than Caprica's, who actually lost the baby.
(no subject) - nicole_anell on June 23rd, 2010 04:07 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - prozacpark on June 23rd, 2010 05:53 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - greycoupon on June 23rd, 2010 07:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - (Anonymous) on June 29th, 2010 03:40 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - pandoradeloeste on June 26th, 2010 05:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - nicole_anell on June 26th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ivanolix on June 23rd, 2010 05:04 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - franzeska on June 29th, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - sanguinity on June 29th, 2010 03:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
ellestra: wingedellestra on June 23rd, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
Thank you for putting this into words.

This is something that started to bother me more and more lately. The one version that particularly bothers me is that the man cannot have deep and meaningful motivation to do anything without this Man Pain. If something doesn't require a personal sacrifice for him, something that will haunt him and let him brood on screen, it's obviously not worth the effort.

I cannot treat this seriously any more because it always reminds me of the contest Polish SF magazine held for ID4. It was to find most logical and factual errors in the movie. One of my favourites was about the fire in the tunnel killing many people but the PoV characters' dog managed to get saved. And everyone cheers. After all who cares about all these nameless people. It was their favourite pet's life at stake. Because we all know that the total destruction means nothing but losing a dog is a tragedy. I see I noticed I dislike this in movies (and news) more and more. Especially when it's connected with the main character being always right (which so often it is). This is why I couldn't get past 2nd season of 24. Jack's life is so hard...

And the main reason why I'm not active in fandom much is the women hate so blatantly displayed everywhere. It pisses me of that no matter what female character does she is obviously doing it wrong and is bland and not realistic and Mary Sue while the same behaviour from a male counterpart gets pages of apologias written by countless authors. And if even that doesn't work you can say the actor is cute and his acting is so good (the actresses are of course ugly or too pretty and obviously none of them can act).

BTW I love all your examples.
I disliked what Adam and Tyrol became at the end so much I almost forgot I liked them at the beginning. And I hated how we never got to see Athena's dilemmas about changing sides. She just went from disdain for humans to barely being there at all.

The reason I dislike Scott/Emma pairing is because deep inside I think he doesn't deserve her. Or more precisely that she wouldn't put up with his bullshit. She never striked me as a woman with much patience.

Topher was sick fuck who made custom slaves for rich people. I liked that there were lines even he wasn't able to cross but that doesn't make him any less creepy. Just bearable. It is sad that the show was clearer on that then the fandom. But the person that annoyed me most in Wheadonverse was always Angel because he seemed to be absolved of all the evil he had done just because he felt bad about it while judging others (I haven't seen much of Wesley so I cannot comment on him but your examples are pretty infuriating).

I always felt that Crichton's story was reversal of the usual tale. He didn't become a better person due to his experiences, he became worse one. Maybe more badass but also worse. The season 1 John would not approve. Aeryn got the classic redemption story.
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: Farscape - Aeryn & Sikozuprozacpark on June 24th, 2010 04:36 am (UTC)
Yeah, the women-hate is why I mostly stay out of mainstream fandom, too, and experience it through the filter of my awesomely women-positive friendslist. But the lack of meta/fanfic focused on certain aspects of women's narratives makes me sad.

Athena and Boomer had so much potential for awesome dual arcs that ran parallel to each other's, but Athena lost much of her agency after she became part of Helo's narrative, and I don't even know how they messed up Boomer so badly.

While I ship Emma/Scott madly, I approve of and understand not shipping them based on Emma love, and yeah, Emma is too awesome for Scott, whom I still have much hatred for from the Madelyne Pryor days. But...he makes her happy? And I enjoy the fact that all the issues in their relationship comes from HER issues and trauma and not his.

I always felt like "Dollhouse" *wanted* me to like Topher? A ridiculous amount of the narrative was in his POV. I'm mostly...indifferent to Angel. He annoys me because of his benevolent sexism and other issues, though.

And yes, "Farscape" did very well with the reversals of the usual tropes, which is possibly why season four disappointed me as much as it did? It had a very Man Pain focus on John's issues, and we had NO idea at all about what Aeryn even DID during the time she was missing or how she reached any of the resolutions she did about their relationship.
(no subject) - ellestra on June 25th, 2010 03:15 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lyssie on June 25th, 2010 12:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - prozacpark on June 26th, 2010 08:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
Merry F: kara despairivanolix on June 23rd, 2010 05:23 am (UTC)
Wow. I had not realized that this issue was so easily distilled. You managed to take all my vague sense of wrongness about so many storylines and put it into one succinct idea. THANK YOU.

I think this is why I do not like "dramas" without a good deal of counterbalancing genre material. The romanticization of emotional pain is nearly always fraught with this, and I am not even a little bit attracted to it. Conditioning be damned. If my favorite characters go this route, I start to hate them, honest to goodness. I was glad they left Kara alone for much of her mainpain-compatible storylines, because during some arcs I was already starting to twitch. Thankfully, by Season 4 when she got more of a front-and-center plot, it was outward and not inward facing, and so I managed to maintain my epic love for her. There's a reason that I love the self-sacrificing/self-deprecating characters, because they will make their pain all about everyone else, and it may be equally unhealthy but god it is preferable.

But when you manage to find a problem with every single female character, or even every single female character of a certain type, and ESPECIALLY when you would like that same character if she had a penis, hi, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM.

A thousand times, THIS. And it's definitely relatable to the manpain issue, but since I don't really like any character with manpain, I'm thinking of it more in general terms. For a long time, I had a hard time liking any woman who wasn't a rebellious Action Girl, and looking back I can see that that was because I was trained to think that women were only valuable when they were rejecting femininity. And while that is still more my type than most? I've learned to love and adore many other types of women, from the scheming villainess to the nurturing mama bear to the intelligent snarker to...well, there are lots.

And as a final note, you actually made me love Sam Anders more than I used to, WHICH IS A FEAT. For being part of a narrative that is almost never about his angst, and even when it is, he tries to make it about other people. Even Baltar has a sort of inverted manpain, where he thinks it's about him, but the narrative often mocks that notion. And the more fictional men I think of...the more I realize that almost all of them had frequent manpain. *sigh* I think I may appreciate characters like Faramir and Richard Cypher more now for going the soft-sensitive-woobie-heart route with their problems instead of the EPIC MANPAIN one.
imelda72imelda72 on June 24th, 2010 01:45 am (UTC)
Even Baltar has a sort of inverted manpain, where he thinks it's about him, but the narrative often mocks that notion.

I was wondering why I didn't mind Baltar's manpain, and this is exactly it. Because he is just so ridiculous. He's certainly the queen of manpain, but the narrative doesn't sympathize with him for it. Usually.
Here via a link from a link - agnes_bean on July 19th, 2010 12:03 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - prozacpark on June 24th, 2010 04:55 am (UTC) (Expand)
lilacsigil: 12 Apostleslilacsigil on June 23rd, 2010 05:34 am (UTC)
Wonderful post! It had me doing the dance of "Yes this is true, omg your brain is so smart!"

I think you're right that there is both a narrative focus and a personal focus, but unfortunately we live in a culture where white/male/heterosexual/able-bodied is Normal and thus anything that happens to them could happen to anyone (thus their pain is not only the most important, but of universal appeal to the audience). I get very sick of "the worst thing that could ever happen is Character being injured!" in canons that have actual disabled characters around; "the worst thing that could happen is your (possessive deliberate) wife/girlfriend/child dying" when there are women and children right there in the narrative trying to avoid getting killed. It's like they don't really count or something.

Personally, I liked Wesley when he had man-pain but dealt with it (right up to the Faith arc, and also when he had that excellent and equal relationship with Lilah), but they made his man-pain SUPER IMPORTANT. Then his man-pain became an entire extra character, took over most of Gunn's screentime and started mooning over Fred, well, then I didn't like Wesley any more. I didn't like this tendency much in Angel, either, but at least people usually slapped him for it. And no, I don't like Spike-minus-Drusilla either.

I sort of expect man pain in most mainstream media, with some exceptions (which is why season 5 of Criminal Minds has been so disappointing!) but it always makes me sad to see it in fandom. We're meant to be resistant readers, dammit!

Recently, I've been watching "The Vampire Diaries" which seems absolutely built for oceans of Man Pain but is doing nothing of the sort - the narrative form of Man Pain is certainly there, but utterly unsupported by the meta-narrative.
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: Emma - broken by rumor_of_warprozacpark on June 24th, 2010 12:20 pm (UTC)
"the worst thing that could happen is your (possessive deliberate) wife/girlfriend/child dying" when there are women and children right there in the narrative trying to avoid getting killed. It's like they don't really count or something.

THIS, yes. And I've noticed that I'm just...a lot more likely to connect with the characters who are 'othered' by the text? Realizing which makes me uncomfortable sometimes, but fiction has certainly conditioned me for it with just this sort of crap.

I think a lot of my friends tend to have liked Wesley when his manpain was of the narrative variety (and could be explained as a character flaw), but not so much after the narrative started making his manpain the most important thing ever. And this is partly true for me, too? I think a lot of my early Wesley hate is a result of how his arc went towards the end, and I don't remember disliking him when I was watching initially when it was airing.

In general, I think I'm a lot more okay with the narrative variety, where my hatred is confined to that character, but the metanarrative variety makes me just hate the writers and often the entire show.

Oh, oh! Yes on "Vampire Diaries." This is why "Vampire Diaries" is the only new show I'm still watching. <3 And I was so worried for it with Stefan's initial voice over of how this was his story, but it's really more hers than his, and there's a significant focus on all the women, which I'm really enjoying. And the lack of man pain is exactly why I'll keep watching even though the finale sort of failed on some important bits.
Michael: Master Cheflux_apollo on June 23rd, 2010 05:36 am (UTC)
I really shouldn't be reading this at 1:30am, because right now I'm too tired and all the ranting is just making me want to douse your vitriol with some nice, cold milk.

I object to you generalizing this as 'MAN PAIN' out of principle, because it shifts the focus away from what the phenomenon really is - sexist gendering of the narrative lens.

So there. Blah.
lokifanlokifan on July 24th, 2010 12:09 pm (UTC)
Surely 'man pain' is sexist gendering of the narrative lens by definition, and prozacpark is talking about that? What focus is being shifted from?
(no subject) - lux_apollo on July 24th, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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Anne-Elisa: time to dieetrangere on June 23rd, 2010 04:00 pm (UTC)
this is brilliance. brilliance. (haha i also tend to love evil women / bad girls / anti heroine very easy; but have trouble with the good girls. Then again I'm the same with the men).

I have so much hatred for Adama's manpain. Of course I'm a hypocrite because I love Wesley (despite recognising the silly manpain involved). I guess Wesley's just prettier when he suffers *shallow*
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: Echo by foxglove_iconsprozacpark on June 24th, 2010 12:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I have a general preference for morally ambiguous characters and prefer evilish men, too. Unfortunately, in fiction, the assholery of men often presents itself as assholery towards women in particular, and fiction/fandom excuses/glorifies this? Which has possibly made me a lot more picky over my bad boys than the bad girls. :)

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hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: Batman hates ice cream.  And you.prozacpark on June 24th, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
Yes, that. Which is why while I love the Batverse in theory, in practice, I have only been able to fall in love with "Birds of Prey." Which is awesome, and I like its lack of Man Pain. <3
(no subject) - ojuzu on June 26th, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
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orange_creativeorange_creative on June 23rd, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
I am so glad I read your meta. I always loathed it when characters couldn't see past their own problems (I get frustrated, stop watching, facepalm through the rest of the episode, etc.). I just never really had any particular terms to match to how I felt about it.

And then there was the critically acclaimed "500 Days of Summer," which consisted of nothing but a guy's Man Pain-ish POV on his relationship with a flighty girl, and we never get her POV, just his dressing her up in his patriarchal meta-narratives.

This. A couple of my friends told me that they really liked this movie and recommended it. I started watching it, then stopped about half an hour through. Right off the bat, I couldn't take the main characters dramatics because ONE TRUE LOVE wasn't in love with him. I despised the way his POV was glorified, that his heartbreak from being dumped by a girl who had been honest and straight-forward about what she wanted from the relationship since the beginning somehow made her the bad guy. Granted, as I skimmed through the rest of the movie to see if I would be watching another hour of the same, I couldn't help but like Summer much, much more.
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: Big Love - Sarah/Heatherprozacpark on June 24th, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's exactly my reaction to Manpain, too, and I'm generally not someone who lets my dislike for a character get in the way of liking something? But enough manpain would force me to shun any canon.

I liked Summer a lot, too, and the more he vilified her, the more it made me like her. I really don't understand why the movie isn't about his own issues and his inability to take her for what she actually is and stop forcing her into his narratives. And it amazes me that people sympathize with his POV instead of seeing him as an incredibly unlikable jerk who ignores Summer's boundaries in hopes that she'll change her mind that he actually is? Sigh.
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lls_mutant: Callylls_mutant on June 23rd, 2010 06:20 pm (UTC)
Here through ivanolix. could not agree more about manpain! And you just summed up every reason I detest Jack Shepard on LOST and adored John Locke. For Jack, it was all about him. For Locke, it was all about overcoming and what he could do.

What's frustrating about BSG was that it could be pretty good at the pain thing before season 4. Not perfect, mind you. Far from it. (Like you said- Helo and Athena. Once Athena had Hera, she lost all storylines that were NOT Hera-centric. I HATED that.) But Lee sent up Adama's manpain quite a few times. Baltar had manpain, but like you said, we were meant to find Baltar's manpain quite ludicrous. And there were characters without it that had very real pain and emotional journeys that DIDN'T descend into that. Tom Zarek, for example. Early Saul Tigh. (And even after he killed Ellen, a lot of the issues were dealt with nicely there because it was about him working through genuinely justified guilt, and a lot of it was about her, not him.) Early Galen Tyrol- the guy who begged for 40 more seconds to get his crew out and would do anything for his kids. Like you said, Sam Anders. And I'd even add Felix Gaeta to it, because even though Felix got that tunnel vision, 1.) the narrative didn't, and 2.) Felix genuinely believed that what he was doing would make things better. Just SO frustrating.

Lovely meta!
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: BSG - Sam&Kara - Capricaprozacpark on June 25th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
Yeah, Jack's Manpain was what made me give up on "Lost." The episode where Boone DIED, and his death was all about Jack's guilt and suffering? Last straw. I was very fond of Locke, too.

Early BSG did incredibly well with tapping into the POV of 'others,' and set up a narrative arc that forced you to look at all sides? And then all the complexity started dying slowing started from season three until we ended with the epic fail of season four. And Athena's role being reduced to the mother of the special child of god's new generation was especially offensive because fiction already has issues with the idea of motherhood.

A lot of the Man Pain earlier was portrayed as character flaws? Tigh's being the primary one, so that when he made things all about himself, the text questioned it. But season four was just...devoid of any and all subtleties that had made otherwise problematic arcs work for BSG.
confidentiality spice: bsg | copiesdanniisupernova on June 23rd, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
I...actually can't decide if I hate Adama more or Tyrol. But it's a tough call.

Tyrol for me, hands down, no questions.


Seriously, wtf Chief? Everyone's life is just dissolving around him and all he can think about is what a huge inconvenience it is to him!

Nothing makes me love Buffy like fandom's constant hatred of her for being oh-so-selfish.


Great meta!

Edited at 2010-06-23 06:32 pm (UTC)
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: Carnivale - Rita Sue by call_me_daisyprozacpark on June 24th, 2010 08:46 pm (UTC)
That's an insanely (and depressingly) accurate description of Tyrol's relationships with Boomer and Cally. I'll never understand my friend who LIKES Tyrol because she thinks that he stood by Boomer through the Cylon identity crisis, which makes me wonder if we were watching the same show.

Seriously, wtf Chief? Everyone's life is just dissolving around him and all he can think about is what a huge inconvenience it is to him!

Dude, THIS. I have repressed a lot of season 4.5, but another classic example of Manpain is in the finale when Tyrol's manpain over having lost his wife (who apparently annoyed him anyway!) was so great that it was more important to strangle Tory to death while everyone watched at the risk of ruining their truce than it was for HUMANITY TO SURVIVE. So, having remembered that, I'll happily agree to hate Tyrol MORE with you. ;)
greygreycoupon on June 23rd, 2010 06:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you for saying this about Kara. I can't comment about the other shows since I never watched.

It was funny how when Kara and Tight are both PTSDing post NC and Adama has his lovely moment of kicking her out of her cuz she's a "cancer", he forgives Tigh right away for the exact same behavior. Tigh's manpain is allowed. Kara being traumatized was a personal insult to Adama. Funny how that worked out.
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: BSG:  pilotloveprozacpark on June 24th, 2010 08:54 pm (UTC)
Oh! Yes, that's the prefect example of how narratives allow men to suffer, but suffering women better get their act together, and more importantly, shouldn't be inconveniencing anyone with their pain. Like, following that episode, I feel like Kara made more of a change than Tigh did? And Adama didn't even acknowledge it. With Tigh, I think, we still got a scene of "What happened down there?!" But with Kara, he had no clue, and he jumped to judging instead of ASKING. *hates*

I hate few things more than Adama's pick-and-choose parenting style.
something clever: never fade awayshah_of_blah on June 23rd, 2010 11:16 pm (UTC)
While I don't necessarily agree with all the specifics of this post--namely, I love 500 Days of Summer, and also Fred (and while I don't particularly care either way about Wesley's Man Pain that's mostly because I don't particularly care about Angel)--I really like this meta. Adding it to my memories.

Also, sidenote: I will never understand fandom's hatred of Buffy. Self-centered, sure. Selfish? Not really. And you know, the show is called Buffy the Vampire Slayer so it shouldn't come as any surprise when Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the primary focus.

And another sidenote, I am once again grateful for the fact that my experience of BSG fandom is mostly limited to my Kara-loving, Adama-hating bubble.
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: BSG:  Karaprozacpark on June 25th, 2010 03:54 am (UTC)
I always liked Fred in theory, and read a lot of fanfic with her? But my dislike for Joss and how he consistently treats the characters of that type in his narratives made it hard for me to like the textual portrayal of Fred because I could not divorce her from Joss's problematic authorial intent. Which is, of course, my own issue with Joss (this is why I just..don't watch stuff he does anymore), and not so much a problem with Fred as a character. :)

And yes on all of the Buffy bit. I...don't think anyone has ever questioned the focus on Angel or his manpain? And his entire narrative is kind of built around the suffering he must undergo to be redeemed.

Kara OTCer fans tend to be saner than the rest of the fandom, yes, and I'm very glad to have avoided the Adama loving and especially the Tyrol loving portions of that fandom, too.
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hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.prozacpark on June 25th, 2010 03:56 am (UTC)
I've also just realized that "The Iliad" is pretty much built around Achilles' manpain? ;) But at least there, the point is for him to learn to see OTHER people's suffering, too. If only modern lit had that understanding.
Une Frakkante Cylonne: Six- lead- candy_girl82sunshine_queen on June 24th, 2010 12:45 am (UTC)
I'm here via ivanolix, and I found this is a really insightful and interesting read. A lot of what you're saying I had noticed before but never thought about in detail- like Kara's identity crisis being ALL ABOUT HOW UPSET ADAMA WAS, and how it differed from the metanarrative of Caprica's miscarriage being reduced to how sad it made Tigh, and that was almost the last we ever heard of it. Thanks for writing this!
entertaining in a disturbing waylyssie on June 24th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC)
Even worse: we never had a reaction from Caprica about her pregnancy. It was About Tigh the entire time. Would it have killed them to do a thirty-second scene with Cottle telling her? No. But they didn't, because the Man-Pain was More Important.
(no subject) - sunshine_queen on June 24th, 2010 03:01 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - prozacpark on June 25th, 2010 04:00 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - prozacpark on June 24th, 2010 05:03 am (UTC) (Expand)
Ade: little witchnotexotic on June 24th, 2010 01:17 am (UTC)
Would you mind if I linked to this post in my journal?
hell to ships, hell to men, and hell to cities.: Vampire Diariesprozacpark on June 24th, 2010 12:46 pm (UTC)
Link away. I don't mind. :)