Breaking Down Stereotypes: A Hymn to Tim
By Jennifer Young
|Need a hero? (Photo by Michelle Ward)|
It was my fellow blogger Mary who first got me thinking with her post on ‘What’s in a Name?’ (4 February). Then it was Jenny, in a comment on her own post: “Will Self believes that the name Tim is a serious handicap in life, apparently. Tim the nightclub bouncer? Somehow, it doesn't seem to work!”
This is the reason for a spontaneous and totally appropriate burst of public laughter from my good self the other week. I was standing watching a school rugby match, a mud-stained slugfest between 30 boys-just-turned-men on a miserable morning. As one youth cannoned into another sending him to earth so hard that I’ll swear the ground shook, a voice from the sidelines cried out “Great tackle, Tim!” And I laughed.
Once I had recovered from the scowls around me and clapped politely (because it was indeed an excellent tackle), I took stock. Tim, on closer inspection, turned out not to look like a man handicapped by a girly moniker: indeed, in 15 years or so, given a brush of stubble and a line or two on his face to hint at an interesting past, I’d say he’s a certain graduate from half back to heartbreaker.
Rugby-playing Tims aren’t news, as it happens. Currently Scotland regularly unleash their own man-mountain, Tim Visser, on terrified opposition. And yet, in the face of the evidence in front of me, I know Jenny and Will Self to be right. A rugby player called Tim, your reader will say, shaking her (or his) head? Really?
|No-one wants a mousy heroine|
At this point I should confess to something of a bee in my bonnet about stereotypes. I’ve never quite recovered from a long-ago critique in which I was told that my novel would never be published because my heroine wasn’t feisty and my hero insufficiently manly. The fact that the plot required this quiet and unassuming pair to go through hell for one another and come out of it as a couple who each achieved fantastic and fearless things for the sake of the other was irrelevant. They may have ended up as heroic – but they didn’t start that way.
I know that readers are looking for a certain something and that’s what writers have to give them, but I don’t believe that those readers have to be – or want to be – spoon-fed. Out here in the real world there aren’t enough heroes to go round: people have to fall in love with Mr I-Suppose-He’ll-Do – and, astonishingly enough, they make it into a happy ever after.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we reject the stereotypes altogether: after all you can argue that a stereotype is what underpins genre. But I do think we can nibble away at the edges and at least make our stereotypes interesting.
So I’m going to set you a challenge. Next time you’re scratching around for a name for your muscle-bound hunk of heartbreaker, think of me – and call him Tim.