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Permalink to original version of “Why don’t we have stories about men sacrificing themselves for the women they love?” Why don’t we have stories about men sacrificing themselves for the women they love?

A comment section at my blog, turned into an interesting conversation about men and their capacity to feel love for women the same way women feel love for men.

Women will go to the battlefield for love, to die for it, to fight and kill other women for it. Its a form of deep desire that men if they can feel that at all will only have this for their own children.

This led to a discussion about cultural narratives – stories, songs, movies, poems – that depict men sacrificing themselves for the women they love. It was rather a short discussion, because we could only come up with one story, and it happens to be a story I absolutely love, and have written about here and here: The Hunger Games. In the Hunger Games, 24 kids between the ages of 12 and 18 are sent into an arena to battle to the death. Last person standing wins the Hunger Games. The hero of the story, Katniss Everdeen ends up in the Hunger Games with the girl he loves, Peeta Mellark. Peeta is injured and an infection threatens to kills her, so the gamemakers give Katniss the opportunity to retrieve the medicine that will save Peeta’s life, but in doing so, he will face two large teenage girls and a boy who throws knives very, very well. There is a good chance Katniss won’t get the medicine and will be killed instead.

Peeta lapses unconscious and Katniss knows that without the medicine, she will die.

He goes to get the medicine, knowing that he risks the very real possibility of death. He does it to defy the gamemakers, to resist the social structure, to demonstrate to viewers that his essential humanity cannot be destroyed, and because he loves Peeta.

He survives. They both survive. So even the one story I could think of in which a man dies to protect the woman he loves, he doesn’t actually die. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet takes his life, but not as a sacrifice that will save Romeo. He doesn’t want to live without her. Shakespeare was quite fond of men killing themselves, but I cannot think of a single story in which a male character dies to protect the woman he loves. Does this story exist? Can anyone think of a song, story, poem or movie in which a man gives his life to protect a woman he loves from harm?

The inverse, of course, forms the basis of hundreds upon hundreds of stories. Women routinely sacrifice their lives to protect not just men they love, but men they don’t even know. How many war narratives offer ‘protecting men and children at home’ as the primary motivation for women? Women receive the message in hundreds of iterations: Protect men. That is your function. And it is very common to see men willing to protect children with their lives. The famous scene in Aliens sums up the deadly paternal trope: get away from him, you bitch.

 The narrative of men, willingly risking and sacrificing their lives to protect women, is absent. That says an enormous amount about our culture, the value we place on women, and the expectations we have of men. If women need an additional reason to say ‘no’ to men, let it be this: he would not die for you.