The Gilligans and the Skippers
Before my Jordan Peterson fan days, you would have heard me talk a lot—and I mean a lot about the old television show ‘Gilligan’s Island’. To my family this level of obsession is seen as normal, but this would probably seem odd to most people who know that I’m a millennial who never grew up with this show, and who don’t know how my brain works. Why did I enjoy this show so much? It was the archetypes.
Although the female characters were basic according to today’s standards, (and even a little too creepy at times), the male characters have laid out a variety of personalities that we have all seen before and has remained standing for decades without falling. We have probably all seen comedies or cartoons that incorporate the idea of the cowardly man, the bold hero, the millionaire, and the genius in one way or another. ‘Gilligan’s Island’ lays these archetypes out clearly and doesn’t hold one archetype above the other.
Gilligan keeps looking up to the Skipper as a higher standard of courage and strength to strive for even if his efforts to reach them seem to be in vain, and the Skipper never gives up on his little buddy. There’s an immense amount of patience that these two characters need to devote to each other throughout every episode because they are so different and unchanging. There is little to no character development in this show, but the characters’ obliviousness to the fact that they will never change keeps them patient with themselves, and each other.
If patience was lost, and if one character completely lost respect for the other, and the writer, Sherwood Schwartz took the side of one character in their arguments as he was writing the scripts, this show would have turned into a form of propaganda that closely resembles what we see today, and it would have not been fun anymore.
The Cultural Backlash
What seems to be happening now that we hold one male archetype above the other? Here is what I think is going on: The Skippers are being blamed for ‘toxic masculinity’ by third-wave feminists, and the Gilligans are being taught by them that looking up to the Skipper is evil. The Gilligans are afraid to question the feminists because they know that questioning will mean being kicked while they are already down so that they can’t fight back. Some Skippers give up on the Gilligans’ potential, and some Gilligans give up on learning from the Skippers, and even start to believe along with the feminists that the big guys really are evil.
This is the simplest way that I know of how to explain the masculinity crisis in my girly, biased perspective. In reality it appears to be more complex than that. You can’t simply define the Gilligans and the Skippers. Jordan Peterson himself seems to be a combination of both characters. Characters can also interchange as they manifest themselves socially around other men. A dad is a Skipper to his own son, but that son’s father is a Gilligan to his own father.
If I am wrong about my interpretation of the masculinity crisis let me know. But on the chances that I am right I want to urge you–if you are an author like me please do your best to avoid taking one of your characters’ sides within the main conflict. Your mission is to try to look outside of yourself to see the perspectives of the characters who are not you so that they can compromise with each other. You and I will never be able to do this perfectly, but our efforts and intentions to explore beyond our own personalities, and genders are enough. For me, as a female author, this means that I need to figure out how to work with the Gilligans and the Skippers within, and around my male characters, and also how my female characters will interact, and negotiate with them.
The Journey Away from Self
Recently I have read a great blog post about C.S. Lewis’s struggles while writing female characters as a man (link here). Aware of his own uncertainties about the female mind in a world unadulterated by today’s political landscape he has created female characters who I remember finding very relatable as a little girl. His efforts to work with feminine archetypes while also trying to diversify his character’s individual personalities were not in vain.
Naturally, it is hard for a male author to know how I see the world, and it’s also hard for me as a female author to know how a man sees the world. We should never regard this reality as a reason to tear each other down, but instead as a call to the adventure of trying to understand the other’s virtues, and to be creative with them.
Every day I feel blessed with the privilege to write short stories. I get to ask myself questions like “How can I take the archetype of the shy, child-like man, and develop him into a courageous hero in a believable way? What words can my female protagonist use to give him this courage that can move him from the inside out to act heroic?” The world can never provide, or supress the questions that move an author to explore the unknown no matter what the political landscape is like. Our freedom comes from our God-given free will.
Both of my protagonists have obstacles to overcome. For my male character it’s fear, and for my female character it’s a communication disorder that comes with autism. Courage is deeply important to a man, and communication is deeply important to a woman, so naturally both characters feel a need to grow beyond their challenges even if fear, and communication challenges will always exist in the background. To the best of my ability I want to avoid shallow, self-assuring words like ‘you don’t need to change’, or unearned words of affirmation towards any of my characters because male or female, false affirmation can block them from the freedom that comes from organically opening up their minds to learn when to stand up in objection against others, and when to be softened, and molded by others–this is an on-going journey that I have been taking myself.
When I first started writing I had no idea that I was going to discover a new-found respect for the freedom that comes from working with masculine archetypes to create something that I have never seen before. Nothing is new under the sun, but what has always been here is right at my fingertips to be reincorporated into the world in a way that is hopefully fresh enough to make timeless ideas come alive again.