Men Who Help

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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24 Responses

  1. fillyjonk says:

    I like it too, as a plotline. (I see far too many young men – many of my students – who have either been trained to be incompetent, or who have figured out if they act sufficiently so, someone else – usually a woman – will do the stuff for them).

    Also, for me, it’s a bit of wish fulfillment. I’m not married and don’t (currently, though by currently I probably now mean “ever again”) have a boyfriend, so there’s no one else in my life close to me to do that heavy lifting, and I feel really bad putting some of it onto my friends, because, you know, they’re just MY FRIENDS and they don’t have as tight a link to me (or so I feel, maybe incorrectly) than the guy I’ve (theoretically) thrown my lot in with.

    Also, men who help are men who NOTICE people need help and are sufficiently unselfish enough to do so. (I’ve also known men in my life who never helped, not because they were helpless in the traditional sense, but because they were so wrapped up in their own egos that no one else really *existed* for them)

    Confession: I have a long, ongoing, sort-of-self-insert story (the lead woman character in it is a slightly-better version of me, and by a different name) and in this story there are two male co-workers (setting is a bookstore/small press) who are Men Who Help. One is better at the emotional kind than the other, but they both do help occasionally – but then again, they also NEED help from time to time….

    It sounds stupid to write about it but that little story that’s run in my head off and on for a couple years has provided comfort when distressed and diversion when I need it. And I think it does present a better version of the world….Report

  2. LTL FTC says:

    Kim Wexler is probably the most realistic depictions of young corporate lawyers I’ve ever seen.

    Everybody thinks young lawyers in private practice are either doing coke with strippers, laying down ultimatums, or coming up with genius legal theories in eureka moments while surrounded by leather-bound volumes. Most likely, they’re making sure addresses match in obscure filings or grinding through documents in some windowless conference room.Report

  3. Mike Dwyer says:

    David Baldacci likes to write all of his novels with a male protagonist and a female helper. I always saw it as a buddy-action thing with a little bit of potential romantic tension thrown in (he almost never actually delivers on that). I never think of it as pandering, but more of an attempt at adding a different perspective. And in the case of at least one of those series, the female is the better fight/shooter of the two so she ends up doing a lot of the saving.

    On a personal note, I always like to hear married couples talk about the division of labor in the household, when they aren’t bitter about it. Marriage is a partnership and finding that balance is special.Report

  4. Doctor Jay says:

    Everyone needs help. Rescue is a staple of both adventure and romance. It doesn’t, however, have to be gendered. Examining why, for instance, you as a woman are focused on men who help could be a rich vein to tap, in terms of fiction.

    Because I have known a few women who couldn’t be bothered to lift a finger to help someone. Not a lot, but a few. I think that’s a sterile and isolating way to live, but some people think it’s what they deserve and are entitled to. If that’s not your world, that’s good.Report

    • veronica d in reply to Doctor Jay says:

      It doesn’t have to be gendered, but gender matters. Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me that many str8 women enjoy reading about such things. It seems perfectly wonderful, precisely because of the sexual subtext — and by “sexual” I mean to include the whole spectrum of romantic relationships, including the mere potential for romance. (Flirting is sex!)


      I’m going to present a counterpoint, but it should not be interpreted as contradicting Kristin’s point. Instead it is meant to add context.

      I grew up a boy — most of you know this. At a certain point, I changed. In turn, the way people treated me changed.

      This wasn’t so much in meatspace, as I’ve never really passed very well, and the men who are into trans women are — well, it’s complicated. But online — I remember when I first began presenting as female online.

      Men treated me differently. It wasn’t nice. It felt intrusive.

      How can I explain this?

      Okay, so I was writing at the time, and posting my stuff on certain online forums. There were many men. When I wrote with a male pen name, everything was basically okay. Others would critique me. I’d critique them. It was fine.

      With a female pen name — oh gosh. Men lined up to help. I started getting random emails from random dudes who were darn certain they could help me. They were very eager, insistent even.

      Often they weren’t very good writers, and their suggestions were not helpful, and dammit I didn’t really want that kind of help.

      It’s hard to explain.

      They wanted attention. Their “help” was a pretext for a certain kind of relationship, which wouldn’t help my writing but sure would take up my time.

      “But Veronica, don’t you want critique?”

      Of course. And yet.

      They were too eager, too insistent. Moreover, they did not want a conversation between equals. For example, they wanted to tutor me, and for me to be receptive and compliant.

      There was this one guy, who seemed cool at first. I tried to do a “mutual critique” thing, where he critiqued my thing and I critiqued his. This seems like a natural thing to do.

      It didn’t work out.

      It’s a truism that amateur writers don’t want critique, they want praise — of which I am as guilty as anyone. But this was different.

      The word “condescending” comes to mind.


      There is a thing about “men helping.” Often it’s not just help in a natural way. It’s more than that. It’s a kind of relationship, with all varieties of sexual tension and subtext. If as a women you’re receptive to that, then fine. But when you are not, it’s tiresome.

      I’m busy! Help when needed is welcome, but unwanted help is intrusive. Moreover, unwanted help with a sexualized agenda is just annoying as heck.

      to be clear, “sexualized agenda” doesn’t have to mean “trying to fuck me” (although sometimes it does). It’s more than that. Some men enjoy simply flirting for it’s own sake. But flirting should be mutual. The power dynamics should be welcome by both parties. If I’m not in the mood, then their “help” is not helpful.

      Try telling such a man that you don’t want his help. There is no good way.Report

      • That is all entirely true and since it was beyond the scope of the piece I really appreciate you chiming in to share your experience.

        Sometimes help is not really help.Report

      • This is a really good comment, Veronica. It reminds me of how I (as a straight man) sometimes interact with women.

        And you’re on to something about “sexualized agenda” not being merely or only having sex. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but I think it’s probably right.Report

  5. Blake Watson says:

    Thirsty. I mean, literally thirsty. I had written a couple dozen stories and the number of times being thirsty came up was astonishing to me, in retrospect. I had no idea I was writing this as a common theme, and I had written two stories where it was THE central plot point.

    I live in the desert, is my only explanation.

    As for Wonder Woman, I haven’t read a lot of her stories—an interaction with Kristin usually means another book order from Amazon, I find—but she did have her Steve Trevor. And I will be shocked to find if a great many of her stories (say, around 40%, especially after her introduction) do NOT involve being helped. Because—at least until recently—ALL superheroes get help from others.

    People joke about Robin, The Boy Hostage, but he’s saved Batman’s bacon on more than one occasion. Lois & Jimmy Olson have saved Superman. Steve Trevor has helped out Wonder Woman, I’m absolutely positive. And not just the sidekicks but random people. The help was usually not on a superheroic level although it often was, as through some transmogrification, Lois Lane became a robot, Jimmy Olson turned into The (legally distinct not-quite) Hulk, etc.

    Why? Because everybody but The Villains were helpful in the Golden Age of comic books. There were very few villains relative to the general population, and there weren’t even a lot of cowards. A very common trope is the comic book equivalent of the guy in Tiananmen Square, where somebody stands up to a villain who can crush him.

    And if we ask Why? again, the answers are simple: A good story needs a not invincible hero, and comic books in particular used to be about Good Values. Everyone needs help, everyone can help, everyone SHOULD help.

    The weird perversion of the past 50 years is to convince women (and men) that they are the “only one”. It’s a miserable existence and a lie.Report

    • Ha glad you clarified re thirsty! They keep inventing new words faster than I can keep up.

      One of my fave writers, Jess Walter, often has people getting eye injuries in his writing. I always wonder what happened to him.

      LOL re book orders – I’ll take that as a compliment! 🙂 Thanks for reading!Report

  6. Tod Kelly says:

    I don’t disagree with the post Kristen, but I do think there is a bit more nuance to be mined here. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen anyone say that female character should never ask for or receive help. (Not saying no one has ever said that – this is the internet, after ll -just that at least to my line of sight it’s n to a big enough universe to make itself known.)

    What I *have* seen objections to are the historical tendency for female characters (especially in TV and movies) to act as merely a one-dimensional plot device for a male character to help, which is similar (and probably related) to complaints about women characters (again, primarily in TV and movies) existing as a one dimensional plot device as a thing for the male character to win.

    TV certainly doesn’t seem to be like this anymore (I don’t go out to the movies enough these days to comment on those), but that I can say that when I was growing up and a young adult, outside of arthouse films or PBS costumed dramas, women’s roles really did tend to be written as if whoever wrote the scripts hadn’t given much thought at all to them except as a plot device for the male characters.Report

    • Tod Kelly in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Also: Kim is hands down the best character on Better Call Saul.Report

    • All that is true, but please understand that my larger point here is that women – real live ones, not fictional characters – are expected to do by far and away more than ever before and we are expected to do it all perfectly. We are supposed to have jobs, a family, keep house, exercise, look fabulous, have hobbies, be demons in the sack, create perfect bento boxes for our children’s lunch and post pics of it on social media etc etc etc and it’s a lot of pressure and it’s a lot of work. Even if you aren’t seeing it in fiction, I assure you that in real life, that message is blaring very loudly in every woman’s ear since birth for at least the past 50 years from a whole lot of non-fiction sources.

      I get that it was dumb to have a girl in the background jumping up and down in movies and TV. I get that there were toxic messages attached to that (but of course, at least women saw actual women in real life doing all sorts of things to counteract what they saw on screen). To replace one untrue trope with an equally untrue trope where supernatural creatures who just so happen to be female who are constantly perfect and always flawless do all the stuff singlehandedly while the men stand around going “Duh, Ralphie” with their finger up their nose or down their pants – it does nothing for me. In fact in many ways it seems very much akin to the 9 million toxic messages I’m already getting from everywhere anyway – that women have to do it all, all alone, all the time.Report

  7. blake says:

    Ha! It’s gone but apparently you got an Illuminati comment! I wrote a (not very) funny thing 10 years ago about joining the Illuminati and I just let the I-spam acculumate as a (not very funny) gag. 402 comments! (And I’m sure only because I haven’t checked on that blog in years.)

    I always wonder if those things actually hook people.Report