Competence affects men differently than women, however. Men are much more proud than women, and incompetence strikes at the heart of a man’s ego, dignity, and self-confidence while deflating his hubris.
Every December, Chicago’s Navy Pier holds a Winter Wonderfest. It’s basically an indoor carnival in a convention hall that has a skating rink, inflatable rides, train rides, even an indoor Ferris wheel, and lots to eat. This past December my wife asked me to take my 2-year-old daughter into the Candy Cane Bouncer, a bouncy house that had netting for walls and was supported by red and white striped inflatable pillars. I was the only adult in the bouncy house (the website clearly says that it’s an attraction for all ages) but since all of the kids were bigger than my little girl I stayed to the side and bounced with her. At some point I lost my balance, fell off the side of the Candy Cane Bouncer, and got tangled in the netting. You have to remember that the netting was the wall, so I dragged down the entire side of the Candy Cane Bouncer, which pulled the wall on the other side towards me and caused the whole bouncy floor to slant. The kids were screaming. It wasn’t like on the Titanic when deck chairs were sliding off, but everyone was traumatized. My daughter somehow was still in my arms. The workers walked around the outside of the crumbling bouncy house and one of them says to me, “Sir, you shouldn’t bounce so close to the edge of the bouncy house.” I looked through the netting pressed against my face, ready to explain what had happened but realized it wasn’t worth it and that they weren’t offering me any help. I worked my way out of the netting and the resilient bouncy house regained its form. I spent the rest of the time bouncing on my knees towards the middle.
When I got out of the bouncy house, my wife was in tears (she’s in tears proofreading this article) because she was trying to explain to me how funny it looked from the outside to see the bouncy house falling over the screaming kids. Two weeks ago she was telling the story to our friends as we ate at Cracker Barrel, and she was crying all over again because she couldn’t stop laughing.
I was embarrassed by my incompetence in the bouncy house. I couldn’t look a single parent in the eye as I exited. What bothered me the most was my hurt pride, my incompetence to stay afoot in the bouncy house. I must have looked foolish trapped in the netting. My masculinity was injured.
Men are super sensitive in areas where they feel they should dominate. Use that in your novel. Men seek to avoid conflict when they sense their pride could be injured. When their pride is squashed, they’ll lie and say it wasn’t or overreact to the injury. Don’t hesitate to humiliate your male protagonist and then build him back up. You’ll create a more believable and stronger character.
Matthew Sheehy writes from the Chicagoland area and fully intends to have a rematch with Candy Cane Bouncer at Navy Pier’s Winter Wonderfest 2012.