Bibliotherapy for misandry?
August 6, 2014 4:52 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend novels, short stories or even biographies that might help me overcome my fear, distrust and occasional feelings of downright hatred towards men?

I'm a survivor of molestation, rape and abuse. I'm working on it in therapy. Finding my anger was a good thing, but it has recently started to stir up thoughts that I can only describe as misandry.

I need to keep reminding myself that there are lots of good men in the world, men that are good people, who treat women with respect and compassion.

Literature isn't always helping. I've recently had to put down several books I tried to read, because the sexism and misogyny of the characters - or the authors - felt incredibly triggering. (E.g., The Slap.)

I am looking for books with male characters who are not abusive, sexist or misogynistic. Male characters who are complex and vulnerable, who might have their issues but who treat women well. Male characters I feel safe with and feel I can like. Ideally, I'm looking for books written by men, authors who treat their female (and male) characters with understanding, as fully human. I'm looking for authors I can feel safe with. Who don't treat female characters as some kind of Other, or as fantasy fulfillment, or as objects.

Obviously, lots of female authors qualify, and those recommendations are welcome, too. But finding trustworthy male authors would feel very healing at this point.

Genre doesn't matter.

Explicit sexual content in itself is not triggering to me (unless its abusive), but in case there are other survivors interested in this thread, it may be worth mentioning.

Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Samuel R Delaney writes really beautiful difficult stuff about people and sex and gender. Not first on your list but definitely worth including.

Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed came to mind about a male character who sees women as people, especially when he's meeting women from a patriarchal society and trying to navigate the unfamiliar social expectations where he sees them as humans, and the men and women around him see them as women first, human second. It's a very hopeful book.

Terry Pratchett's novels all do this, and his Sam Vimes is a wonderful character, as his wife and their marriage. The books are just a pleasure to read in themselves.

Howard Fast's books are all a bit old but he's gripping, and when he develops a character more, they're full. I'm thinking especially of his Japanese-American detective novels, Masao Masuto, where the wife of the detective is particularly well written within the genre confines and the main character is someone admirable and good, but complicated.

Two memoirs I read and can recommend for your list, by men who were complicated people who respected and loved women in their lives: Steven D Wolf's "Comet's Tale: How the Dog I Rescued Saved My Life" and "Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man" by Brian McGrory.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:06 AM on August 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier is the first thing that came to mind. It's mainly from the main female character's point of view and I think how he writes her is brilliant. Full, realised, utterly human. The love story is really well handled in this respect too, and the male lead fulfills your criteria.

(While I love Terry Pratchett, it might be worth noting in this respect that the illustrations on the most common UK editions are utterly cheesy and objectifying and do a disservice to the books. (which can be a leetle "old fashioned" even in how he writes "STRONG!" female characters.)
posted by runincircles at 5:17 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Garp, the main character from John Irving's The World according to Garp, is certainly a good guy, even though he is not flawless. He does his best to be a good person, a good husband and a good father.
He sees and treats women as people, and I feel that the author does that, too.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:18 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I do need to mention that rape is a theme in the book.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:19 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know this isn't a book, but I think you should watch Friday Night Lights (the TV show, not the movie). The main character, Eric Taylor, is portrayed beautifully as an imperfect but very good man, and his relationship with his wife is the most real and loving I have ever seen on television.
posted by something something at 5:51 AM on August 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

I also arrived to suggest John Irving. There are plenty of Irving novels to choose from; Garp is his most famous but there are 14 others. Cider House Rules is my favourite novel ever. Irving's body of work is heavily thematic and themes of abuse are consistent, but applied on a fairly equal-opportunity basis; Irving himself was abused as a child. (I have never found his treatments and resolutions difficult to read, for what it's worth.) Off the top of my head, The Water Method Man is one of the novels that doesn't touch on that theme.

And, if it helps you at all, I knew him through a period of several years, and he always struck me as a man who is good people, who treats women with respect and compassion, and his wife is fucking amazeballs, which is always a good sign.

Also, for women authors, I'd suggest The Time Traveler's Wife, and The Good Husband. The "good husband" is an unusual character for a man in ways that are interesting, and he's deeply likeable.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:51 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Stephen King's 11.22.63 has a male protagonist who fits that bill and a female character who gets to think and do things, and it's an interesting alternate timeline sort of thing.
posted by acanthous at 5:57 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Fault in Our Stars (but it's a cancer tear jerker)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:08 AM on August 6, 2014

Silas Marner came to mind immediately when I read your question. I realise this fails the male author criteria, but it's such a lovely book I felt compelled to add it to the list.
posted by greenish at 6:56 AM on August 6, 2014

I'll put in another vote for John Irving; he is, at the moment, my favorite author.

I will caution you with respect to Garp that rape is one of the themes of the book. To expand on what Too-Ticky said, one of the major characters in the novel runs what I will call a support center for abused women. Also, there is a depiction of a particular incident of rape and physical abuse which may be triggering for you.

Garp was the first of Irving's novels I read, and I've been hooked ever since.

Abuse is actually a fairly common theme in the Irving novels that I have read (admittedly I have quite a few left on my "to-read" pile), however, those who are abused are never looked down upon or said to "have it coming to them." As DarlingBri said, his treatments and resolutions have not been difficult to read.
posted by tckma at 7:14 AM on August 6, 2014

The Book Thief by Zusak, definitely! (Although the themes are as heartbreaking as you can expect from a story taking place in wartime Germany and narrated by Death). It fits the bill entirely: the protagonist is a young girl, portrayed well by the author, and the main male characters (Hans Huberman, Max, little Rudy) are pretty wonderful each in their own way, and they treat her lovingly.
posted by sively at 7:20 AM on August 6, 2014

I recently read Joseph Boyden's The Orenda, and I thought of him right away when I read this. It's set during the colonisation of Canada, and there is a lot of violence in it (including one rape scene), but Boyden's characters (both male and female) still have sensitivity and compassion. It was really notable to me, because I found The Orenda too violent to enjoy, but I somehow still connected with and enjoyed the characters. So ultimately, my recommendation isn't for The Orenda, but one of Boyden's other novels: I've also read Three Day Road, which is about Cree snipers in WWI; again, it's set in a violent context, and the characters are doing a lot of things we associate with maleness in a negative way, but they are still very human, complex, and vulnerable. Through Black Spruce was also very popular (I haven't read it so can't say more than that) and Boyden has also published some short stories, which are good.

I also recommend anything at all by Thomas King, whose work still deals with tough themes but is a lot lighter (hilarious, actually!). You would absolutely be safe with him. Green Grass, Running Water is my favourite.

(I'm stuck on a theme at the moment I guess, and thinking of Indigenous men writing in Canada. Tomson Highway's The Kiss of the Fur Queen also occurred to me. It's a beautiful novel about two brothers, which follows them from childhood through adolescence and adulthood. But it may not be a good choice for you, since a big part of the novel is about their experiences of sexual abuse in the residential school system.)
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:28 AM on August 6, 2014

I've just spent way too long thinking about this, but since you mention you are very angry (and you know, good for you) you might want to read Irving's The Hotel New Hampshire. Women who have been victim's of sexual assault and how they deal with that is a theme through the novel, and you are never, ever in any doubt who Irving is rooting for. The character of Suzie is a truly special, spectacular protagonist on that particular story arc. And while it's weird to say at this juncture, it's a very, very funny novel.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:13 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another one is Phillip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy with the heroine Lyra.
posted by runincircles at 8:57 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry to keep popping back in here, but I'm adding a few of the non-Irving novels suggested here to my "to read" list...

Similarly to what DarlingBri said, the abusive character Constable Carl in Irving's Last Night In Twisted River is an antagonist in that novel. Again, you are never, ever in any doubt how Irving feels about him.
posted by tckma at 9:07 AM on August 6, 2014

Metafilters own J. Scalzi does a pretty good job on this with very accessible and easier to read Science Fiction novels. Old Man's War is the common, and usually pretty good, starting point and he has several novels in this universe and at least one written from a teenage girls point of view (Zoe's Tale which is a counterpoint to The last Colony-same events from different narrators point of view). Redshirts is good also.

He is also very active in advocating for a wider acceptance and role for females in fandom also.
posted by bartonlong at 9:34 AM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Since you said "genre doesn't matter," I am hoping it is okay to suggest a web comic.

I read Questionable Content precisely because I was molested and raped as a kid, it is written by a man, it has a lot of really good female characters, the characters have real problems and they are generally resolved with minimal drama.

I have some criticisms of it, like the degree to which resolutions are undramatic is kind of unrealistic, but I try to kind of overlook any criticisms I have since that (the undramatic resolutions) is a big part of why I am there. It is also filled with mostly childless, mostly 20-somethings who mostly seem to have no goal to get married and have kids (and, hey, the author apparently got a vasectomy at a young-ish age and has no kids and never wanted them). I am 49 and have two kids and I liked being married and would remarry if I found the right guy, so, in some ways, I can't fully relate to the characters. But, otherwise, the characters have dealt with various serious issues (one character witnessed her father commit suicide and this gave her big issues) and are gradually finding non-dramatic solutions and generally getting their lives together.

So I have read through the entire archive at least a couple of times and I follow it regularly just because it's written by a guy who is not batshit insanely assholishly mansplainingly !&*()*() whatever. He's a normal guy with normal problems (getting divorced, IIRC) whose characters have problems and they find the support they need and what have you and things turn out okay.
posted by Michele in California at 10:05 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seanan McGuire has said that in her October Daye series, which starts with the novel Rosemary and Rue, there will be no sexual violence. There is quite a bit of violence, and there are certainly male characters who are staggeringly horrible, but rape is not a weapon in anyone's arsenal.

I hope you won't be insulted if I recommend children's authors--John Bellairs began characters and Brad Strickland has continued them who are among my favorites in literature. The main characters are mostly boys, with girl sidekicks occasionally getting the spotlight, but Uncle Jonathan, uncle of Lewis Barnavelt, is exactly the kind of man you need to meet in literature. He takes in his suddenly-orphaned nephew, loves him, embraces his quirks while being quite quirky himself, and saves the world, all while bickering hilariously with his next-door neighbor/best friend/NOT romantic interest Florence Zimmerman.

I nth Terry Pratchett--Sam Vimes, Carrot Ironfoundersson, Nobby Nobbs, Mr. Aching--so many wonderful men.
posted by epj at 11:13 AM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's written by a woman and is meant for young adults, but A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle has complex and sympathetic male characters, and is immediately what I thought of on reading this question. It's kind of a coming-of-age story.
posted by Librarypt at 11:56 AM on August 6, 2014

Might I suggest another/additional tack? Consider writing stories about such men yourself. Start with pen and paper and if you like what you get, edit on a computer. Don't worry about what will become of the stories, the important thing is to tell them to yourself. Make yourself the female protagonist.

Whether you know a single man who could be the inspiration for your characters or not, you already have an idea what these men be like in your world. Write about how you would interact with them, maybe how your fears melt away as you get to know more about the men and see how good they are.

Who knows, they might be good stories, too!
posted by trinity8-director at 1:32 PM on August 6, 2014

I find Michael Chabon to be good at this, specifically his novel Wonder Boys.
posted by youcancallmeal at 4:59 PM on August 6, 2014

I think you'd really like Mike Perry, a non-fiction writer whose memoirs (especially Truck: A Love Story) show him to be a thoughtful, sensitive, and highly respectful guy even while he frequently portrays his own ham-fistedness with social graces (and the typical stuff of Northwoods manhood) for laughs. Truck is largely about his falling in love with a woman to whom he's now married, and Coop is about learning to be a dad, both to his wife's first daughter and to the child they had together.
posted by dr. boludo at 7:17 PM on August 6, 2014

If you want a likable male protagonist, James Herriot's books might be for you. He writes about being a country veterinarian in the 1940s. It's not highbrow literature, but it's sweet. He's married in his later books and he speaks fondly of his wife.
posted by christinetheslp at 10:09 PM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Not sure if you are interested in movies-but Boyhood was just released. It has a really realistic portrayal of a boy from childhood to adulthood and all the characters are complex and multifaceted. Its an amazing film. But, I should warn you there are some scenes of domestic violence
posted by winterportage at 6:04 AM on August 7, 2014

Came to recommend James Herriot. He's a wonderful comfort read for me. There are more animals than humans, but he writes with such compassion for both that it's hard not to feel reassured. Also hilarious. Saint-Éxupery's The Little Prince is also timeless.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:15 PM on August 9, 2014

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mocking Bird is the archetypal ideal man. Re-read that book to remind yourself how great men, particularly fathers, can be. Also read any books by Patrick Gale - his men are always lovely, except when they are an evil protagonist, but he always has a good man in his books, and his authorial voice is immensely reassuring as a good man himself. His book "A Perfectly Good Man" is particularly interesting, though it does also have a very bad man in it, and there is a subplot of rape, I'm afraid to say. Reading through these posts, it's interesting and depressing to note how many of the books mentioned do have rape as a theme. Gale's latest novel, A Place Called Winter, is also an excellent read with a lovely man at it's heart, but again there is a rape in the book. For other good men - read Gerald Durrell's My family and Other Animals - one of the loveliest books ever written, and by a man who comes across as utterly benign.
posted by NovelCure at 1:54 AM on February 26, 2015

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