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Manpain, (alternative/original spelling "man pain") sometimes also referred to as Mangst (from "Male angst"), is a term used by fans, particularly slash fans, encompassing a set of narrative devices that span literature, film and television. When a main character in a story (always male, generally white) is written with a particular kind of psychologically painful history that causes him to behave in specific ways, he is often said to have manpain.
your daughter to a bunch of aliens. Given your wife to a bunch of aliens. Written to letters to your estranged son while sequestered in a remote cabin somewhere in Canada. [...].
Unfortunately, manpain sometimes goes hand in hand with harming women characters, or downplaying their suffering to concentrate on the main male protagonist's suffering, as highlighted in Urban Dictionary's definition:
A term coined by fans who understandably got tired of seeing male characters' douchebaggery excused by a dark, tragic past, especially when the past involves hurting & dehumanize female characters solely to motivate the male hero.
mimesere from the X-Files fandom is anecdotally credited with either being the originator or a very early adopter of the term. This adoption and popularization may have come through frequent conversations between mimesere and Jennifer_Oksana. Before its widespread adoption by slash fans, it was used by members of the OBSSE Mailing List to refer to Mulder for typical manpain behavior and because of a script note by Chris Carter that refers directly to "the pain of being a man".[note 1]
One of the casting sides/scripts that Autumn Tysko would get her hands on included a description of Mulder's emotional state and "the pain of being a man." Thanks to Danielle/Ryo Sen, this morphed into man pain on the OBSSE mailing list. I was on OBSSE (jennyo/jennifer-oksana) and mimesere and I were friends back then, so that's how it probably moved from X-Files to other fandoms. Or at least one of the ways - I'm sure there were other OBSSE types who moved into slash.
Duchovny certainly has that man pain look down as the voices in his head started talking to him.
Autumn Tysko's X-Files Reviews: Biogenesis
This is one of the earliest still accessible uses of the term on the internet.
In 2009, mimesere memorably described manpain from the character's point of view as being, "I'm a dude, this is my pain, this is the REASON FOR ALL MY DOUCHITUDE, BEHOLD MY EPICNESS AND DESPAIR," adding, "sometimes it leads to sitting in the dark, brooding."
Some of the characteristics of manpain are generally held by fans to be:
- It's marked by excess. The tragedies of the character's history are extreme: his reaction to them is melodramatic: his pain is tacitly or explicitly acknowledged by the story and/or other characters to be worse than anyone else's.
It's not enough for your sister to be abducted; she has to have been taken in your place while you were paralyzed, unable to stop it. You can't just have a soul that allows you to feel remorse for the evil you did; you have to be cursed to lose that soul again if you feel a moment's happiness.
- It is self-centered and inner-directed; events, especially traumatic events, in the narrative are typically viewed through the lens of how they emotionally impact the bearer of the manpain, who is often a figure of isolation.
...like Lee Adama. I'm sorry, Lee, the world ACTUALLY ended in a nuclear holocaust, so your pain isn't any more important than anyone else's. You don't need a whole lake to represent it."
[Manpain is] Donna Noble losing all of Time and Space and yet we all get to focus on the Doctor standing tragically in the rain..."
- The character's painful history is frequently (although not universally) created by exploiting the death/suffering/loss of a woman, or children, or both. These women and children are often not characterized as having any importance in the narrative other than as plot devices to create manpain.
I loved the guy, I loved the show for about half its run, but it became clear to me that they did bad things (abduction, cancer, more abduction) to Scully to show Mulder's manpain..."
- (describing Mel Gibson's films):
...all the women he's touched (ew) and occasionally his children too (for effect) need to be tortured/maimed/killed so he can become a hero/have manpain."
MANPAIN comes out of the idea that white men have intrinsic value above and beyond all other people."
- The manpain serves a dual function. It is an easy way for a creator to shorthand a male character as vulnerable, and therefore sympathetic. In addition, it is used to excuse a range of behaviors and actions that would otherwise be read as unsympathetically selfish, anti-social or violent.
One of the things that has been teased out in this whole discussion is the assumption that there is a substantive difference [between] 1) real pain in real life, 2) pain in fiction that is treated seriously and deserves (and generally gets) the same from its audience, and 3) pain in fiction that is used exploitively as a quick and easy tool to further characterization and earn sympathy from the audience—and correct me if I'm wrong, but in these cases I would say it is often assumed to be a largely female audience, who are generally understood to be suckers for that sort of thing."
Jack Harkness[...]is always doing horrible things to other people (torture, mind-wipes), then moping about how tragic it is that he "has" to do these terrible things, instead of feeling sorry for the other people whose suffering he's just caused."
Fan Response to Manpain
Fans' response to, and tolerance for, this kind of characterizations varies widely from character to character and fan to fan. The quality of the writing in the source material makes a difference to fan response. If the source is a ZV show or film, the skill of the actor can have a big impact on the fannish perception of his pain. Characters with manpain often inspire the full range of fannish response, from devotion to derision. Slash fans, who are a majority female, can be fairly sensitive to what they perceive as cynical exploitation by canon creator and assumptions about female audience response to male characters' suffering.
All that said, it is undeniable that many of the characters who are most widely regarded as having manpain are also widely explored by fan creators, particularly in writing slash fanfiction. blacksquirrel notes about this phenomenon:
It's hard to truly encapsulate the ironic edge of manpain which is both the emo angst that makes our hearts go pitter pat, and the vaguely absurd fixation of characters who really need to get over themselves and realize that they are still alive, still the heroes of their own stories, and still better off that most other people in the world."
So what is man pain? It's this tunnel-vision, narrow-minded view of one's own pain that completely overlooks and ignores how others suffer or might even suffer *more* because of the same tragedies. (...)
Fictional men do this. Often. More importantly, narrative pov does this by choosing to focus on men's suffering (at the expense of others'), which always makes me go, "Hmm, but what about the women?" And it's not always the women who get overlooked in this kind of storytelling, but even lesser POV characters. One good example is all the movies where a white person helps people of color make some civil right achievement, and the focus is often on how HARD it is for the white people to go against their own to help these people out, ignoring the MUCH GREATER suffering of people who have never *had* the privilege of that choice.A more specific example of man pain is given to us on Buffy in the above-quoted immortal words of Cordelia Chase: "This one time I hit a girl with my car. It was the most traumatic experience of my life and she kept trying to make it about HER leg. As if my pain meant nothing." <3
actually on this topic
manpain is a META concept that exists to discuss FICTIONAL SEXISM. in real life, if you laughed about “someone’s manpain”, you would be a disgusting piece of shit for a human being no matter what your gender was. if you were laughing that someone’s life was destroyed by the death of their mom or their fiancee you would be a fucking shitheel not worth my time, and i would not watch a fucking tv series about you. 
Criticism of the way female pain in framed vs male pain- given more emphasis, exploration and often having female characters suffer only to highlight a man’s pain or serve his narrative- it’s worth exploring and the term is useful for it. When a female character is held hostage solely to further a man’s suffering? When a female character’s grief is ultimately used to highlight the tragic nobility of a male character? Sorry, that’s the definition.
Female suffering is framed often as something that breaks female characters, something the narrative rarely allows them to confront or express real anger over. Male suffering is framed as a motivation, a strength and often expressed through anger, drive and stoicness in narratives. That is something worth criticizing. Being in pain brings a male character to the front and center. Female characters are shoved to the side.
I feel left out of most fandoms because I genuinely hate deeply flawed male characters and their manpain. I don't care that they can't stop being an asshole and hurting everyone around them. I don't care that I have to see a soft side to a male character that showcases everything wrong with toxic masculinity. "But wait!" his fans cry, "Flawed characters are good characters and he's complex and I don't condone his actions, I am fangirling him the right way. I find him dark and delicious!" I don't care, I don't care, I don't caaaaare. They always get the lion's share of meta and fanwork. It's gotten to the point that I know all the fandom beats for these dudes when I don't even consume their canon. If a male character has a bunch of gif quotes from Hamilton, or they're headcanoned as Slytherin, or compared to a Byronic hero, I hate him already. I wish these characters would go away, or at least if people must have these types, make them female characters. Their arcs would at least be less gendered and I wouldn't feel forced to sympathize in any way with crappy dudes, and we'd be talking about ladies instead. I don't mind character flaws, but many good and decent male characters can have flaws without being assholes. And no fandom, I don't care if they're only decent with their love interest or little sister.
To me, 'manpain' is when the characters in a canon all go through a bunch of terrible stuff, but the only one whose pain really matters and gets explored in the narrative is the man's. Or when the character is driven by his deep pain caused by something that, statistically, happens to a lot of people.
Manpain can also be understood as a product of toxic masculinity making it taboo or "unnatural" for men to express emotions.
Fave-ness tends to go along with being the Single Perfect Tear one in canon. It tends to go along with being a Beautiful Mess instead of a supportive friend. You’re not going to get a canonical single perfect tear black woobie with an endlessly supportive white bestie very often. At best, you might get a beautiful mess next to beautiful messes of the same ethnicity or a canon where they’re both a bit of a mess. It’s the same kind of process where any crime show with a Genius and a babysitter always makes the woman or the POC the babysitter and the Genius a white man.
Meta Fanworks Exploring Manpain
- Thingswithwings' vid, The Price , summarized by her as "Mr. Billowy Coat King of Pain" is an exposé on the manpain phenomenon, and culminates in a sequence of shots of characters crying a single perfect tear, with post-process tear-sparkle added on. The vid links to a meta post (login-locked) on the subject which attracted a great deal of conversation in the comments and in other posts.
- But what does your name matter, Archived version graphics by tiarnanabhfainni, highlighting the women characters in Supernatural that were used to further Sam and Dean's manpain
- NO HOMO: Two White Men Touch Each Other, Archived version, a parody poster for a fake show satirizing slash fandom's taste in canon material. Created by sophistry on 28 March 2012. Followup comments by raphaellaskies, ceilingtheo, and olderthannetfic, including "#You say white cock and manpain like those are BAD things!"
- Man Pain: It's What's For Breakfast, Archived version - Kroki Refur's satirical essay on manpain featuring smiling images San and Dean Winchester. "Motor vehicles also causes them deep Psychic Pain, due to the similarities between the word “car” and the word “doom”..." and "Dean tends to get angsty around law-enforcement officials, who remind him of his father (who is dead from car-crash related Man Pain).." (August 2007)
- lilliputian meta on manpain, Archived version, by lotesse ("My problem with mainpain - and it is a problem, don't get me wrong - is that it actually minimizes the amount of pain available. ) for " lilliputian meta on manpain.") (June 16, 2011)
- Manpain -- why so often a bore?, Archived version by cupidsbow (July 28, 2013)
- Man Pain:What It Is and Why It Doesn’t Belong in Your Book, Archived version by Lee Paige O'Brien (August 15, 2016)
- S.L. Huang: On The Subject of Manpain, Archived version on terribleminds.com (Jul 10, 2016)
- Your Sister in St. Scully - An Electronic Community of Female Fans of The X-Files, Archived version by Sarah R. Wakefield, published online in Journal of Popular Film and Television 02 Apr 2010.
- In the ''JPF&T-Journal of Popular Film and Television'' essay "Your Sister in St. Scully - An Electronic Community of Female Fans of The X-Files" by Sarah R. Wakefield, mentions that "The Abbey" uses the term "man pain" for "the trauma of being a male", but doesn't credit a specific member for coining the term. Published online: 02 Apr 2010.
- Mangst on tvtropes.com
- Manpain by natetanner July 26, 2012, retrieved Feb 14th 2018
- From a Livejournal post, Archived version by sinensiss: I think mimesere might get the credit for first use of "manpain". Her LJ is the first place I saw it, anyway, years ago. Published November 16, 2009, accessed November 13, 2022.).
- Baronessie: > Um...what's man pain
Something CC talks about. From the Two Father's script: [snipped] It is a picture of nothing in particular that somehow says almost all there is to say about certain men of consequence. About the pain of being a man and the state of political savagery in which they must by necessity dwell. Post by Autumn Tysko, Archived version to alt.tv.x-files, October 24, 1999. Archived November 14, 2022.
- Biogenesis, Archived version , Autumn Tysko's X-Files Reviews, posted October 24, 1999. Accessed November 13, 2022. Archived March 2, 2021. Reposted to alt-tv-xfiles, Archived version, October 24, 1999.
- Comment by mimesere, Archived version, posted November 16, 2009 (Accessed 13 November 2022)
- with my rumdiddlyumdiddlyumdiddly, i'm so deep, Archived version Accessed 18 November 2009.
- comment, Archived version by ladyvyola. The fandoms referenced are The X-files and Buffy The Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series).
- comment, Archived version by musesfool. The fandom referenced is Battlestar Galactica (2003).
- comment, Archived version by teenygozer. The fandom referenced is Doctor Who (Tenth Doctor).
- comment, Archived version by thisficklemob. The fandom referenced is The X-Files. Scully is exceptional in that she was a signifcant part of The X-Files' narrative, but she was also clearly supposed to mirror Mulder's (mostly unknown and uncharacterized) sister in the present-day evocation of Mulder's past trauma and loss.
- comment, Archived version by lovehotel. See as examples: Lethal Weapon, Braveheart, Ransom, The Patriot.
- comment, Archived version by mswyrr.
- comment, Archived version by walkingshadow.
- comment, Archived version by rusty_halo. The fandom referenced is Torchwood.
- comment, Archived version by blacksquirrel.
- fiction, gender, women's pain, and man pain, Archived version by prozacpark. Posted 22 June 2010 on Livejournal. Archived 3 June 2022.
- MAY 9, 2017 (11:18 AM), Archived version Posted to Tumblr by animatedamerican, followup comments by others. Accessed February 2019. Archived 28 March 2019.
- "manpain should only be used when a female character suffers for a man's pain, not to reinforce gender roles". Archived from the original on 2022-10-02.
- Comment by anon on fail_fandomanon, March 2, 2017, Archived version.
- Comment by anon on fail_fandomanon, May 15, 2014, Archived version
- Did you mean:[Dead link] Jan 29th, 2018. The same author seems to have taken a more negative stance on the usage of "manpain" in later years: e.g. This post from 2020, Archived version
- I recently started a new fandom with a canon mlm couple..., Archived version, Tumblr ask answered by olderthannetfic. Posted 1 April 2022. Archived 13 November 2022.
- New Vid: The Price (Multifandom), Archived version, posted June 16, 2011 and her follow-up meta post some thoughts on manpain. um. many thoughts on manpain, actually... (login-locked) dated June 16, 2011
- I want music videos for the shows that are only in my head. (login-locked), posted by recessional on June 16, 2011 (....I write too many men in various states of trauma, pain, loss, grief and responsibility to be anything but ambivalent about thingswithwings new manpain vid....I'm nowhere near as sure that by writing about men in pain, I won't wind up being dismissed as brainwashed by popular culture and [various negatives associated with writers of manpain here], and part of that is the slipperiness of the definition evidenced in the very vid itself and the deliberate inclusion of things that, while not actually being manpain, happen to look like it from one perspective or another. So I'm ambivalent. Not violently opposed or going "NO! IT'S WRONG AND EVIL AND THINGS ARE NEVER LIKE THAT!" Just . . . ambivalent. Mixed feelings.")
- The Missing Link, Archived version, posted by cesperanza on June 17. 2011; ("The Price is the missing link between Lum and Sisabet's Women's Work and Sisabet and Sweetestdrain's On the Prowl")