Forget Iron Man-child – let's fight the white maleness of geek culture

Fantasy has become a sandbox for immature masculinity. What kinds of stories could we tell if our writers tackled the hard truths of male identity and privilege?

The coming year threatens to be another period of white, male heroism in geek culture. Another summer of superpowered men in the cinema. Another year with only 4% of video games having female lead characters. Another year where a list of 30 hotly anticipated fantasy novels lists only seven by women, and only one by a writer of colour, where a science fiction shortlist with two women out of five is greeted as some kind of victory.

Money is the bottom line in the uniform white maleness of geek culture. The entertainment conglomerates that produce most of this content fear the female geek because they might disturb the profit margins. Boys buy more toys. And so the evil eye of corporate marketing departments is fixed upon them.

Let's be clear, this isn't any better for young men than it is for those left out of the party. They've been fed an unremitting diet of adolescent power fantasies. Which in turn feeds in to the arrested development of many men today, who drag their adolescence out well in to their 20s, 30s or even 40s. It's not just boys buying these toys, it's grown men who should know better.

Speaking of which, the author Paul S Kemp recently shared a valuable insight in to the values of "hypermasculine" fantasy. Meeting violence with violence. Occasional womanising. The Roman code of virtus. Kemp's reactionary outburst was made in response to the growing calls for more diversity in fantasy writing. But he seemed unwilling to discuss his opinions, doing the manly thing and switching the comments off when the inevitable takedowns of his odd philosophy began to appear.

What Kemp mistakes for "traditionally masculine values" are really the values of extended childhood. The white, male heroes of geek culture aren't men, but man-boys. Tony Stark is a cheeky little "billioniare playboy" with underdeveloped social skills who sits in his basement tinkering with his toys. He isn't Iron Man, he's Iron Man-child. These stories have to be told in fantasy, because the childish analogues of manhood they propound would never survive contact with adult reality.

There is a place for masculine stories. In fact, there is a desperate need for stories that tackle the hard truths of male identity. Offering advice for authors on the fundamentals of "writing the other", Daniel José Older called out writers who fail to even to write their own self.

"… what we don't see a lot is white people writing about the emotional, political, social experience of being white, the challenges and complexities of whiteness. We don't see many men writing about patriarchy, how it has damaged us, how we dance in and out of these impossible gender binaries in our daily lives."

As John Scalzi famously explained, Straight White Male is the lowest difficulty setting there is. I don't agree with the the metaphor entirely. Young white men often number among the most useless and deficient individuals in society, precisely because they have such a delusional sense of their own importance and entitlements. They've been raised to believe that one day they'll be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars (and superheroes), but they won't, and they're having a tantrum because of it.

How much more valuable could geek culture be if it represented all kinds of people equally? And what kinds of fantasy stories could we tell, even with white male heroes, if our writers truly engaged with the realities of power and privilege?


Damien Walter

The GuardianTramp

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