Recently, the American Psychological Association released a statement highlighting the dangers of toxic masculinity, and the calling for action. The cosmetics company Gillette quickly followed up with a commercial encouraging men to be better. Now, it’s important to keep in mind that one commercial does not a company culture make, and the cynic would remind us all that Gillette is a company designed for profit, and may very well have been releasing the commercial for the endless discussion it would spawn (and the timing of the release after the A.P.A. statement seems a little too coincidental, as well).
All of this did get me thinking though of some of the places where I found role models in masculinity, and maybe it’s revealing my nerdiness to say that many of the places I found encouragement and inspiration were in fictional universes. I thought I’d share a sampling of them here, though I will note that this list is by no mean’s comprehensive; no one male character really encompassed all of the man I wanted to be, so I took what drew me from each character.
Jacen Solo from Star Wars
Jacen Solo was a character in the old Expanded Universe and there was a lot that drew me to his character–at least in his portrayal in the Young Jedi Knights and the New Jedi Order series. He was characterized as having a great deal of empathy, able to communicate with living things with ease. During the war with the Yuuzhan Vong he never stopped questioning, and always tried to seek a solution that didn’t involve genocide. He was truly admirable.
Corran Horn from Star Wars
My first encounter with Corran Horn was in Star Wars: The New Jedi Order, and in I, Jedi but he was in a number of series aside from that, most notably the X-Wing series. Corran had a lot of admirable qualities. He was one of the only fictional characters I encountered who took the route of friends first before becoming romantic partners, and desired more than a physical relationship. He was fine with being the best he could be, but would make it his mission to make the person in front of him sweat a little. He also knew when it was time to fight, and when it was time to use a different strategy.
Qui-Gon Jinn from Star Wars
I loved the character of Qui-Gon Jinn from the start. He had empathy in his ability to see beyond appearances; and he made clear that he would follow his conscience even if it put him in conflict with the leadership of the Jedi Order.
Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars
The last of my Star Wars inspirations. I like to say that while Qui-Gon is the type of Jedi I’d like to be, Obi-Wan is more the type of Jedi that I’d be in reality. Obi-Wan was a bit more measured than his Master–while he did learn from Qui-Gon and develop empathy to rival his, he also knew when and how to make a stand, and so he had a lot of Qui-Gon’s brilliance while remaining within the Jedi fold.
Bill Weasley and Remus Lupin from Harry Potter
These two characters share a lot of similarities in my mind. They both had a wisdom beyond their years, and while capable of bold heroics they were more often defined by their gentle kindness, encouraging words, and devotion to duty. They also tended to see a lot more clearly than other characters.
Jean-Luc Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation
Picard was one of my biggest inspirations because he had a high sense of integrity, and was often reserved–until situations came when he needed to take off the velvet glove and demonstrate the steel underneath.
William T. Riker from Star Trek: The Next Generation
Riker was, in many ways, the perfect foil to Picard–warm, amiable, and approachable, you could easily think of him as a friend–but when crisis emerged, he became very much in command.
Chakotay from Star Trek: Voyager
Chakotay remains one of my favorite Star Trek characters because, after the initial tensions were resolved between the Starfleet and Maquis crews, he was extremely loyal, unfailingly kind, and extremely perceptive. He supported Janeway wholeheartedly in situations where it was necessary, but wasn’t afraid to challenge her when he thought she was wrong.
F’lar from The Dragonriders of Pern
It’s difficult to overstate the impact The Dragonriders of Pern had on me. Many of the first male characters I found admirable were there, and definitely informed me in a lot of my late elementary school, early high school development. F’lar was reserved in a lot of ways, holding himself slightly apart–but he knew the value of research and intelligence, he was endlessly supportive of women and flexible enough to change when he was wrong, and willing to challenge tradition when it was mindless. He also had a lot more understanding of human character and the foibles of various stages of youth than many.
F’nor from The Dragonriders of Pern
F’nor was F’lar’s half-brother and there was much to admire in him as well. He was more amiable, and accessible than F’lar–but he also knew how to exert authority when it was the right thing to do, even going against his supposed superiors; he was often F’lar’s representative in diplomatic situations, and he wasn’t afraid to stand up for what was right no matter the cost to himself.
Jaxom from The Dragonriders of Pern
The advantage of Jaxom as a character is that the reader very much gets to follow his progression from child to teen to man, and is richer as a result. Jaxom learns how to command without losing self-control; how to love without letting lust take-over; how to grieve and how to let go–and how to always act with honor.
F’lessan from The Dragonriders of Pern
F’lessan may have had an inauspicious start, portrayed through much of his youth as a bit of rogue, not taking much seriously-but his portrayal in The Skies of Pern reveals how much he matures over the years. He’s not afraid to sing despite having a terrible voice in a culture that holds music in high regard; he’s responsible and encouraging, and determined.
K’van and Sebell from The Dragonriders of Pern
K’van is a model of determination from youth to adulthood, and his determination earns him the respect of all who meet him. Sebell is generally quiet and observant, and people can mistake him as meek–but he has a steel in him that no one would dare challenge.
Griffin Kirkwood from Merlin’s Descendants
This is probably the most obscure reference but Griffin Kirkwood was an inspiring character for me–and the only male first-person POV in the Merlin’s Descendants books. Griffin is a study in contradictions–raised to become both Baron of Kirkenwood in which he must fight Scottish raiders ad nauseam, and Pendragon of Britain in which he must use his magical powers to keep Britain in balance, he forsakes both heritages to become a Catholic priest. Yet he is eventually called back to Britain after being ordained, and his journey changes him gradually and surely. The end result is that he demonstrates integrity despite the disapproval of others, and grows in spiritual understanding, blending Christian and Neopagan theologies in a way no one else could. Rather than becoming Pendragon, he becomes Merlin and spends much of his life on the road, with the common people. He is intelligent, and has the ability to be patient and still. He charts his own course, experiences stigmata, and embraces his ultimate destiny as a Suffering Servant who must sacrifice his own life for the sake of others.
I’m probably missing many others, but this provides a good sampling and covers many of the most important.