Some years ago, while reading yet another explanation of "The Eternal Female" by a man, I began to wonder: Have women ever tried to define men throughout history? Curious, I began leafing through books by women that might have something to say about men. I soon found that the answer was yes. Women, especially American women, had plenty to say about men. But in contrast to mate pronouncements on women, women's statements on men (prior to the last few decades) have tended to be quieter, more musing, more speculative -- and quite penetrating. Conveyed for the most part through the prisms of literature and art, rather than the window grilles of philosophy and psychology, these female perceptions of the male as a corpus of work have been largely overlooked. Particularly neglected in literary anthologies and criticism are American women writers' perceptions over the past century of men's virtues, dilemmas, and paths to happiness. Equally neglected are the contributions of American women writers to a central myth of American culture, the Adamic myth of America as the New World Garden of Eden. Such neglect has prompted this collection.
Do American women writers value and sympathize with anything in men as traditionally gendered? As I began this study not only in the early years of the second wave of American feminism, but also as the brunt, personally, of much awful treatment by men, I thought the answer to that question was simple: very little. I was surprised. Operating within the theoretical framework of feminist theory and readers' response literary criticism, I closely examined over 275 stories, poems, and novels by women featuring men. I found that there was a significant line of male protagonists with whom their female creators seemed to empathize.
Perhaps they were created as imaginary models of what men would need to do to deserve a woman's admiration and/or compassion. Perhaps they were patterned after some real-life father, brother, lover, or friend whose virtues the patterner wished to hold up for emulation and whose dilemmas she wished to plumb more fully. Some -- particularly those who become trapped in their dilemmas -- may