A couple of years ago, BookTok and BookTube – the literary subcultures of TikTok and YouTube – started a meme, #writtenbyawoman. The idea of the meme was that men, as written by women authors, were–well, terrific! Wonderful! Kind, gentle, considerate! To say a man was “written by a woman” was to give him the ultimate compliment: to put him in a category with men like Mr. Darcy, or Laurie from Little Women, or the Hot Priest from Fleabag. This complement has moved past fictional characters to be applied to real men (as in, “OMG he’s amazing, it’s like he’s written by a woman”), as well as to celebrities (e.g. Harry Styles, Timothee Chalamet. Hozier.)
This is one of those cases where fandom’s hit on an idea that academia has also explored. In the introduction to her 2017 book, Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire, historian Carol Dyhouse notes that:
“The icons of romantic literature — Mr Darcy, Mr Rochester, Heathcliff, or Rhett Butler — were mostly, in the first instance, products of the female imagination. Movie stars and rock musicians acquire and cultivate images that in many cases have little to do with their ‘ real ’ selves. Many of the most successful ‘ romantic leads ’ in the past — Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, Dirk Bogarde, Richard Chamberlain, for instance — have been gay. Their performances nevertheless conjured visions of maleness which had women weak at the knees: how do we make sense of this?”
What we now refer to as the ‘alpha male’ hero, rugged, square-built with a strong jawline, has never held indomitable sway over feminine emotions. Sensitive types, moody aesthetes, and men exuding androgynous charm have featured equally prominently in the cultural landscape of desire. (1-2)
Even early heartthrob’s like Rudolph Valentino’s character of “The Sheik” were #writtenbyawoman – did you know that he comes from a bestselling novel, The Sheik (1919), written by E.M. Hul (that is, my girl Edith Maud. 😀 You go, Edith!)
Dyhouse’s purview extends from soulmates to vampires to pop stars and of course to David Bowie as the Goblin King. Not a fandom book per se but well worth checking out if your areas of interest include, say, pirates, Adam Ant, or Lord Byron.
Dyhouse, Carol. Heartthrobs : A History of Women and Desire, OUP Oxford, 2017
–Francesca Coppa, Fanhackers volunteer