Gender Roles in Fiction: An Introduction

I’ve been doing a good deal of reading lately. Several of my recent reads were written a hundred years ago, or more. I’ve enjoyed the books, for the most part, but I’m running across interesting ideas. Ideas that make me want to know more.

The more I read, the more I find myself looking at how men and women are portrayed in stories. Including my own. And I think each time, how much of our concepts of gender roles are merely a cultural construct that has no real meaning.

Gender “norms” are only normal, because society has accepted them as such. If they truly were normal, and defined, they wouldn’t change from culture to culture and across time. Gender roles would simply be set like the laws of physics.

Clearly, this isn’t the case. Gender norms change across cultures and by generation. The only aspect of gender that seems to me to be truly a biological imperative are those centering on procreation. This is dictated by anatomy. Men are designed to impregnate while women are designed to carry and deliver new life.

I don’t believe biological differences should serve to lock men and women into set roles. Nor should they preclude anyone from pursuing what interests them. As a woman, and the mother of boys, I’d like to see both men and women treated fairly. One gender should not gain at the expense of the other. I have no wish to vilify men in order to glorify women.

Women are capable of an endless variety of activities outside the traditional mother and homemaker roles. Women are kind and cruel, intelligent and average, strong and weak, funny and sober. They are good at math and good at art. They are bad mothers and terrible musicians. The fact is, no one woman can be defined by the simple fact of her womanhood.

This is, of course, equally true of men. Men are protectors and they are abusers, leaders and followers. They are businessmen, athletes, nurses and cooks. They are sensitive and clueless. There is no single definition of “man” aside from anatomy.

I am curious now as to how gender norms have changed through the years, and how they are portrayed in fiction. As a writer of fiction myself, I want to be able to approach this subject with sensitivity and fairness, and not perpetuate the same, tired stereotypes.

I’ve started researching this subject to see where it might lead with my own fiction. I have some ideas I want to pursue. For my next post on gender roles I hope to present a comparison of a fictional work from a hundred years ago with a more modern example.

I am only just beginning to study this in detail, and I would welcome any input. I don’t have all the answers, and I’ll likely get some things wrong. Please feel free to contribute to the conversation. What are your thoughts on gender roles? Do you have any recommended reading to offer on the subject?

One thought on “Gender Roles in Fiction: An Introduction

  1. Pingback: Tyrion Lannister, Body Image & Books That Make You Think – TAwrites

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