I wanted to post something funny but alas, alack, I lack the anecdote. Perhaps tonight's holiday office party will provide fodder for the next post. So instead, here's what's on my mind:
Is it misogynistic to have a male character who is bigger/better/faster/stronger than the female protagonist?
I keep reading book reviews by people I deem superior to me in literary taste, social consciousness, and basic coolness. They don't like the pop culture books that I enjoy and the reason that crops up with the most frequency is that the book is antifeminist in some way. And no, I am not talking about Twilight, although its popularity demonstrates a personal conviction of mine.
Evolution trumps social consciousness.
We are all descended from hunter-gatherer societies with division of labor based on biological necessities. Women bear children. Human children require a lot of time and attention, with one of the longest and most intensive juvenile periods in the animal kingdom. It might be possible, or even advisable, to be a single mother these days but for most of human history it would have been a very difficult prospect. I propose, therefore, that most women exhibit a genetic preference for a male who can provide and protect. This gives offspring the greatest chance at viability. It is a documented reproduction strategy called "sexual selection by female choice" and is most notable among species with concealed ovulation, or a fertile time that is not advertised to the male of the race.
Whether or not a gal wants children odds are good she will find her sex drive still dovetails with those traits her progenitors required.
Men who want the choicest females look for one who is likely to produce healthy offspring. i.e.: They like their ladies hot. While facial features and coloring vary by race, some indicators of "health," like figure, are nearly universal. An "ideal" female body shape, for example, demonstrates proportions that cross culture and race. The preferred ratio of a model's bust, hip, and thighs are the same on every continent. Except maybe Antarctica but there is no population to speak of there.
Then begins the demonstration of masculine desirability. This can be physical superiority but because we are social creatures other forms of power, such as wealth, can compensate. Hence, the "howcome men can get older and still be sexy" lament. Older men have amassed more wealth as a general rule. Nobody thinks the salt and pepper silver fox with food stamps is a catch. If he's driving a Mercedes, however, swoon.
I'm not saying this is universal or that we can't get off the reservation, just that it is already hardwired in a spectrum pattern with extremes at both ends. But it would go a long way towards explaining why we return, generation after generation, to stereotypes that most of us agree are outdated.
So, is it actually misogynistic to recognize these distinctions and stereotypes in our writing? I think no. Unoriginal, but not misogynistic. It crosses the line into anti-feminist when the characters are punished in some way for breaking out of traditional roles and I don't see that much in current fiction. Writing within a traditional role isn't the same thing as rejecting a non-traditional or even counter-culture one.
The biggest complaint about YA books is that most often the male character is the vampire, werewolf, supernatural whatever and the hapless damsel is either at his mercy or under his protection. In reality, the "supernatural" is just a crutch for "supermasculine." Most of the traits that come with the title are exaggerations of physical qualities we consider male: speed, strength, and sometimes aggression.
The uber masculine hero and the heroine who values strength and loyalty in her man are not going away because they lie at the center of the spectrum and appeal to the greatest number. Or lowest common denominator, if you want to look at it that way. As a value judgement, it seems harsh to hold it against society in general that we tend to look for our ideal mate in a romantic figure. We can stretch things a good bit- look at how many more of our heroines get to do a lot of thinking and even some saving (yay!) and how many emo vampires (boo!) are out there- but trying to reverse the role altogether and still produce a commodity that resonates is tricky business. No matter how much I tell myself I should, I really don't want to read the love story between the 98 pound weakling and She-Ra.
This is what the romance industry has known for years. It's also why they are growing while almost everyone else is not. The rare books that appeal to the mainstream without alienating the academics blend the lines but they don't completely erase them.