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Let's talk about Gender Stereotypes... (1 Viewer)

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MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
One thing that bugs the HELL out of me is Gender Stereotypes.

I see this in a lot of stories. There is this need to present female characters as "feminine" and male characters as "masculine". What truly defines being feminine and being masculine? Why can't a female character exhibit traditionally masculine traits? Like being physically strong, aggressive and competitive? Why can't a male character exhibit traditionally feminine traits like nurturing, gentle, etc. I think a lot of this is bullshit.

See, this is why I get a bit confused when you write a female characters vs. a male character. We all come from different walks of life. I know a handful of my female friends who are very physically strong, headstrong, tomboyish, etc. They don't really like wearing dresses and they hate pink. Does that not make them a female? Heck no.

I think when people write characters and don't think of Gender Stereotypes, the writing is a lot better. Attack On Titan is an anime/manga that does a tremendous job at doing this. Men and women are serving in the military and both of their courage and sacrifice is equal. It's nice to see.

Thoughts on Gender Stereotypes? Do you think writing should break away from them or keep them in play?
 

PiP

Staff member
Co-Owner
Thoughts on Gender Stereotypes? Do you think writing should break away from them or keep them in play?

I have not noticed Gender Stereotypes in modern books, films or TV programmes. .. yes, if the writer wants to portray a weak or strong character as part of the story, but that's all. *shrugs*

Maybe we need a rewrite of Jane Austen's book 'Little Women' or Jayne Ayres book 'Wuthering Heights', but in truth I am not a fan of rewrites, history or otherwise just to fit the 'modern view'.
 

escorial

WF Veterans
Since becoming a snowflake I'm like an ex smoker except when I've had a bevy and watch a carry on film..I'm also a hypocrite
 

epimetheus

Friends of WF
Have you read The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley? It's a retelling of the Arthurian story strictly from the perspective of the female characters, particularly Morgana. None of the characters are 'powerful' in the martial sense of Arthur or Lancelot, instead they wield power through politics and magic, though the latter is subtle. We see women in traditional feminine roles who are also powerful.

It's good to see some female characters take on traditionally masculine traits, but i think it's ironic that this is often done in the name of feminism - because the implication is that women are only powerful in as far as they are masculine and ignores the power of traditional feminine traits.

It would be nice to see some plurality in female roles - not women being objects in male orientated narratives, nor women just become men to satisfy a vocal political niche (or to capitalise on a wealthy demographic if you are cynical).
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
Males and females have differences but a good 80% of their characteristics are the same. Do you know what a clique is? Every film that feels the need to depict their female characters as 'bad asses' or any film that feels the need to make males the 'baddies'.

Selecting traits from the small but clear character traits that differentiate males from females are not cliques, they're short cuts for accepting those traits immediately rather than having to go through a whole lot of explaining. You could argue that's lazy, and in a lot of cases I'd agree, but you can't call it stereotyping.

This is not to say that you shouldn't attempt to break those stereotypes. I do it ALL the time. But you try writing a female that does't actually feel like a victim after being raped or doesn't actually give a shit about it, and you will be pressured into turning her into a stereotype. If you write the scene as if you were that character and layer in that nonchalance, it's even worse. The problem is, if you then succumb to pressure and change her into a 'victim' sometimes the whole premise of the story falls apart.

So, yeah, challenge those stereotypes but know them first.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Thoughts on Gender Stereotypes? Do you think writing should break away from them or keep them in play?

I don't often think about this. My female characters have been pretty well-received by female readers so I guess I am doing something right. And I don't often see this in books I read either, so I dunno. It just seems like a concern I never really had.
 

druid12000

Senior Member
I don't often think about this. My female characters have been pretty well-received by female readers so I guess I am doing something right. And I don't often see this in books I read either, so I dunno. It just seems like a concern I never really had.

I have to say, it's not something I've seen much in the books I've read, either. On television and in movies, absolutely. That's tougher though because it's mostly the dialogue that gives insight to the character, and that's usually pretty paint-by-numbers (probably why I don't watch much anymore).

I can't even imagine seriously writing a stereotypical character. There's so much to draw from in the spectrum of human experience and imagination, it's like having a palette of every conceivable color available, but choosing to paint only in gray.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I have to say, it's not something I've seen much in the books I've read, either. On television and in movies, absolutely. That's tougher though because it's mostly the dialogue that gives insight to the character, and that's usually pretty paint-by-numbers (probably why I don't watch much anymore).

I can't even imagine seriously writing a stereotypical character. There's so much to draw from in the spectrum of human experience and imagination, it's like having a palette of every conceivable color available, but choosing to paint only in gray.

I think the problem occurs in the boardrooms of hollywood and TV studios. They have quotas that need to be filled, which inevitably lead to stereotypes, although for some odd reason, they think they're bucking the trend. No, they're feeding a trend that's lead to new stereotypes.

A stereotype isn't a character with specific traits, it's a character with ONLY those traits. There are choices you have to make based on 'norms', otherwise you lose 80% of your audience which are your average consumer.

Using my own story as an example, a pregnancy was necessary, so it HAD to be a woman. In order for our antagonist (although it's left to interpretation which is which), the woman (Josephine) had to care nothing for herself, nothing for anyone else and nothing for the child. That's the whole reason Joe exists in the first place. Everything lead from my first and inevitable needs for the character. I didn't decide on who Josephine was, the story and needs for the story dictated them.

And that's how you should write. If you find yourself thinking: should I make them male or female and arbitrarily pick one, you're doing it wrong. You have your story, you know the needs of your story, and that informs you of the character/s you'll need. A pantser will likely have a different approach, but even then, the story will evolve around the limits of the character they've created.

If the pantser suddenly finds themselves in a situation where their female character is faced off against 2 male assailants, and it's not sci-fi (no enhancements) and not a fantasy (no spells/magic) and not a horror (no otherworldly abilities), then the outcome is likely to go badly for the woman. And that's fine for pantsers, and much of the fun. On the other hand, if they've made their character a male, there's a much higher chance the character could better those two male assailants. Not necessarily of course, but there's definitely a higher chance. In this case, having picked a male character, the pantser has more at their disposal. Even if the character loses, nobody is going to question it. If he wins, it's not going to be out of the question, so that won't pull people up either.

You have to be honest with yourself and honest with your readers. If you don't, they'll pick up on it and reject the premise. Hence high critical scores for dross from hollywood by 'critics' and low scores for that same dross from consumers. People are not stupid, as much as Hollywood and other companies like to pretend they are.
 
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vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
One thing that bugs the HELL out of me is Gender Stereotypes.

I see this in a lot of stories. There is this need to present female characters as "feminine" and male characters as "masculine". What truly defines being feminine and being masculine? Why can't a female character exhibit traditionally masculine traits? Like being physically strong, aggressive and competitive? Why can't a male character exhibit traditionally feminine traits like nurturing, gentle, etc. I think a lot of this is bullshit.

See, this is why I get a bit confused when you write a female characters vs. a male character. We all come from different walks of life. I know a handful of my female friends who are very physically strong, headstrong, tomboyish, etc. They don't really like wearing dresses and they hate pink. Does that not make them a female? Heck no.

I think when people write characters and don't think of Gender Stereotypes, the writing is a lot better. Attack On Titan is an anime/manga that does a tremendous job at doing this. Men and women are serving in the military and both of their courage and sacrifice is equal. It's nice to see.

Thoughts on Gender Stereotypes? Do you think writing should break away from them or keep them in play?

Certainly characters can work in any role, just like real people do. However, there are physical differences between the sexes, traditional roles which have existed (ostensibly) since the dawn of mankind, and in many cases cultural expectations.

The strongest women will never have the muscle mass of the strongest man. Without a LOT of artificial help from science, a man will never bear a child. There is nothing wrong with adopting a traditional role for either sex just as certainly as there is nothing wrong with breaking it.

There are PLENTY of women in this world who enjoy traditional roles and embrace feminine motifs. Anyone who walks around a place with people, and has their eyes open, will see them all around. That also applies to traditional roles in the home. Now, my wife and I both had successful careers. Mine is still going, she retired a few years ago. Yet, she still did/does most of the cooking, because that was a fair tradeoff for me doing ALL of the yardwork. She doesn't want to cut the grass or rake the leaves or vacuum the pool, and will never have to. (She did enjoy dead-heading the roses, before we moved and left our rose garden behind).

You want to know who writes the most feminine characters I EVER read? Women authors.

So no, it's not bullshit, it's real life. I think we're allowed to let real life seep into our fiction from time to time.

I don't get the point of your outrage, because I see aggressive, competent, sturdy female characters ALL THE TIME. Maybe you need some tips on where to find them. ;-)
 
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luckyscars

WF Veterans
I see this in a lot of stories. There is this need to present female characters as "feminine" and male characters as "masculine". What truly defines being feminine and being masculine? Why can't a female character exhibit traditionally masculine traits? Like being physically strong, aggressive and competitive? Why can't a male character exhibit traditionally feminine traits like nurturing, gentle, etc. I think a lot of this is bullshit.

See, this is why I get a bit confused when you write a female characters vs. a male character. We all come from different walks of life. I know a handful of my female friends who are very physically strong, headstrong, tomboyish, etc. They don't really like wearing dresses and they hate pink. Does that not make them a female? Heck no.

I see it quite differently, but it really depends on what you are reading and from which era. Up until a few decades ago sure, traditional stereotypes in gender were everywhere. These days? Shit, I can't move at the bookstore without finding the latest example of postmodern take on women, men, or both.

The spunky, take-no-crap tomboy is pretty well established at this point, I would say. Hell, I see it all the time and it's not even new. It's EVERY goddamn Disney movie, most Hollywood blockbusters. The whole 'not like most girls' thing.

I often find it a more irritating iteration of gender stereotyping, because it enforces the idea that strength comes with 'male' behavior and/or appearance. To a lesser extent, the 'sensitive man' also exists and is a little newer...but is a little less appealing, for lots of reasons I suppose..

Either way, I think this is one area where the pendulum has actually swung the other way. I can't tell you how many times I hear authors justify women being sexually promiscuous on the basis of 'yes she's acting like a man and you gotta deal with it because that's feminism!'.

No, it isn't feminism. It's a form of misogyny, if anything, because it's assuming women must ape male brutality, selfishness and heartlessness in order to be 'strong'.

That doesn't mean women CAN'T be sexually promiscuous, mind, only that the entire subject is irrelevant, because strength of character does not manifest well through how many people you fuck and in what position.

Basically, I think gender is poorly studied in most literature. When I think of strong female (or male) characters, they almost never come from books or movies that are purposefully seeking to provide them. They tend to come from naturally well-formed characters that are 'whole people' with their own motives and agendas.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
There is this need to present female characters as "feminine" and male characters as
"masculine". What truly defines being feminine and being masculine? Why can't a female character exhibit traditionally
masculine traits?

One would think this comes down to the writer. Speaking from experience, as a male writer I feel more comfortable writing a strong
male protagonist and can relate directly to the character. That being said, I have created strong female supporting characters, and
have even written two stories with a strong female protagonist to see if I could pull it off.

I have read many books with strong female characters, and that is where I primarily took inspiration from. Being a man, I find it
easier to write from a male perspective, as there are aspects of female life that I'll never understand, even with the amount of
research I do. I'm not a woman, I can't think like a woman. Therefore, I stick to what I know.

Why can't a male character exhibit traditionally feminine traits like nurturing, gentle, etc.
I think a lot of this is bullshit.

They can, and sometimes do. Just because you don't agree with things doesn't automatically make them B.S.

Again, people write what they know.

Do you think writing should break away from them or keep them in play?

I think if people calmed down and stopped being offended by just about everything, we wouldn't be having this problem in the
first place.

-JJB
 

JBF

Staff member
Board Moderator
Are we talking about characters and their private lives? I really haven't seen much in the way of rules that says you have to depict women one way or another. Or are we talking a hundred-pound female character with the build of a fencepost beating half a dozen male goons a full head taller and double her weight?

I doubt anybody cares if a female character prefers to wear pants, or cuts her hair short, or works in a field that's predominantly male. What bothers people in my neck of the bookstore is the sort who boldly goes into a traditionally non-feminine field and just happens to be the best at everything, ever, without having to work. Usually there's some talk of magic or technology (which, to a lot of writers, are essentially the same thing) bridging the difference.

Ain't nobody got time for Mary Sue.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
It's also really important to differentiate between 'gender stereotypes' and 'gender traits'.

STEREOTYPE = Women are more emotionally fragile than men
TRAIT = Women cry more often than men.

Stereotypes are things that are based on assumption not fact. Sexism comes into play when differences are assumed without merit.

It is a fact that most women do cry more often than most men, around three to four times more often per month on average, and there are lots of reasons for that. So, having a female character cry where a male character may not is not itself an example of 'gender stereotyping' and it's certainly not sexist.

Women being more emotionally fragile than men, however, is a gender stereotype because crying in itself does not indicate more sensitivity. Moreover, the fact it is interpreted as such is actually an example of misogyny because it draws a direct line between a feminine trait (crying) and a negative human trait (emotional fragility).

When writing characters it is important for them to reflect the traits of their gender while avoiding, as much as possible, the stereotypes. Not all of the traits (there are some women who hardly ever cry and some men who cry very often) but enough that the character's gender feels authentic for who they are.
 

Kensa

Senior Member
One thing that bugs the HELL out of me is Gender Stereotypes.

I see this in a lot of stories. There is this need to present female characters as "feminine" and male characters as "masculine". What truly defines being feminine and being masculine? Why can't a female character exhibit traditionally masculine traits? Like being physically strong, aggressive and competitive? Why can't a male character exhibit traditionally feminine traits like nurturing, gentle, etc. I think a lot of this is bullshit.

See, this is why I get a bit confused when you write a female characters vs. a male character. We all come from different walks of life. I know a handful of my female friends who are very physically strong, headstrong, tomboyish, etc. They don't really like wearing dresses and they hate pink. Does that not make them a female? Heck no.

I think when people write characters and don't think of Gender Stereotypes, the writing is a lot better. Attack On Titan is an anime/manga that does a tremendous job at doing this. Men and women are serving in the military and both of their courage and sacrifice is equal. It's nice to see.

Thoughts on Gender Stereotypes? Do you think writing should break away from them or keep them in play?

IMO, the true stereotype is thinking a woman has to be 'masculine' to be strong and a man has to be 'feminine' to be kind.

A good (old) anime where the female MC is very feminine AND strong AND wants to achieve more in her life than being married to her crush is Saiunkoku Monogatari. I don't like her in the first episode (she screams too much), but after that she's cool. It's based on novels, I don't think they have been translated.
In an episode, an older woman teach her to wear make-up, she calls it "woman's war armor" (or something like that) ;-)
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
Certainly characters can work in any role, just like real people do. However, there are physical differences between the sexes, traditional roles which have existed (ostensibly) since the dawn of mankind, and in many cases cultural expectations.

The strongest women will never have the muscle mass of the strongest man. Without a LOT of artificial help from science, a man will never bear a child. There is nothing wrong with adopting a traditional role for either sex just as certainly as there is nothing wrong with breaking it.

There are PLENTY of women in this world who enjoy traditional roles and embrace feminine motifs. Anyone who walks around a place with people, and has their eyes open, will see them all around. That also applies to traditional roles in the home. Now, my wife and I both had successful careers. Mine is still going, she retired a few years ago. Yet, she still did/does most of the cooking, because that was a fair tradeoff for me doing ALL of the yardwork. She doesn't want to cut the grass or rake the leaves or vacuum the pool, and will never have to. (She did enjoy dead-heading the roses, before we moved and left our rose garden behind).

You want to know who writes the most feminine characters I EVER read? Women authors.

So no, it's not bullshit, it's real life. I think we're allowed to let real life seep into our fiction from time to time.

I don't get the point of your outrage, because I see aggressive, competent, sturdy female characters ALL THE TIME. Maybe you need some tips on where to find them. ;-)

Not an outrage but I think people who write men and women to gender stereotypes have little imagination and a very narrow mindset. I LOVE reading female characters who are strong and independent, and a bit aggressive. I love women who are not afraid to challenge and stand up to their male adversaries.

What are some feminine motifs you speak of?
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
IMO, the true stereotype is thinking a woman has to be 'masculine' to be strong and a man has to be 'feminine' to be kind.

A good (old) anime where the female MC is very feminine AND strong AND wants to achieve more in her life than being married to her crush is Saiunkoku Monogatari. I don't like her in the first episode (she screams too much), but after that she's cool. It's based on novels, I don't think they have been translated.
In an episode, an older woman teach her to wear make-up, she calls it "woman's war armor" (or something like that) ;-)

There are plenty of women out there in real life who love lifting weights and building muscle. Is that a masculine thing, wanting to be big and strong? I definitely don't think so. Quinn McKay for example (on Instagram), I'm a dude who lifts weights and her shoulders are more sculpted than mine. I will praise a woman like Quinn with everything in my power. Is she "a man" because she has big strong arms? Heck no. A lot of women I know lift weights because when they get stronger, they feel way more confident. I think women who are afraid of "looking like a man" after lifting a lot of weights or getting bulky...those things need to be pushed to the side. I admire women who lift weights a lot.

Hmm...make-up as woman's war armor? Interesting. Humans are a very complex species. A man or a woman can be pretty much anything they want to be in today's world, I wish that was reflected more in today's stories. Especially men and women who don't want to be parents ever.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
Not an outrage but I think people who write men and women to gender stereotypes have little imagination and a very narrow mindset. I LOVE reading female characters who are strong and independent, and a bit aggressive. I love women who are not afraid to challenge and stand up to their male adversaries.

What are some feminine motifs you speak of?

When you write that sort of a rant, it appears as outrage. ;-)

In real life, women (even strong and aggressive women) dress up in pretty clothes and alluring clothes, wear makeup, look for a man in their life ... or already have one. By their early 40s, 85% of women have borne at least one child. Two income households are much more common now than 50 years ago, but there are still many women who choose to stay home and take the role of homemaker. I know women who change their own oil, and competent career women who melt down and call for help if they have a dead battery. Of the women I know, if there is a man present, they expect him to do 'traditional male jobs'. Certainly that's not always the case, but I've rarely seen a woman turn down an offer from a man to do heavy lifting. Where I live, women are pleased to have a man open the door for them, even when the man is a stranger. Goodness knows I've been caught at the bank door often enough when I opened it for one lady, and wound up standing there for a stream of them going both in and out. LOL Any time I see a woman come out of a store with a heavy product, I offer to load it in their vehicle. I have NEVER been waved off.

If a woman doesn't want to choose a traditional role or motifs, that's great. But ... it's only wrong if she is FORCED to chose them against her will. If she wants them, she's entitled to them.

Like I said, this is real life. You're dreaming of some fantasy where NO WOMEN want these things. That place does not exist. So while the women you fantasize about DO exist, and there is certainly a place for them in literature, it's silly to exclude the roles and attitudes of the rest of our population of women. These are not "stereotypes", they're real people.

I've now finished my seventh novel, and I have strong female characters in every one of them. But they are not the ONLY female characters. If I took your advice to heart, my female characters would be monotone Wonder Women with no surprises and no vulnerabilities. I have strong characters, traditional characters, and in between, because despite what you might think, I want a variety of characters in my stories. I'm not going to write the same female character for every role in the story, for every book, ad infinitum. And I'm certainly not going to write the same character as the lead female role every time. You write the same thing over and over again if you want to, I won't stop you.

But to slam other writers for not writing your fantasy every time they sit at a keyboard? Nope, I'm not having that.
 
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Matchu

Senior Member
Admit, at least, how a woman of fiction deserves some prison time, a facial tattoo? Of course, muscles are optional.
 

EmmaSohan

WF Veterans
.... I LOVE reading female characters who are strong and independent, and a bit aggressive. I love women who are not afraid to challenge and stand up to their male adversaries.

Oddly enough, you are in a way treating women different from men -- you like when female characters are strong.

Fiction creates characters that our readers can use as role models. If you take, say, James Bond, it might look like just entertainment. But Bond is a character I would not mind if males tried to be.

And surely there are girls/women who want a female heroine who is strong. So it's great that models exist.

In my writing, I almost invariably have female characters who are strong, but in a female way that I think can be practical and useful to females. If people want to call that sexist, I'm not going to argue, maybe it is.

In one book, the class is discussing this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt:

A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.

Which is already treating women different from men. My character eventually responds:

"I could give a shit about looking strong. I'm not strong. That's fine with me. But I want to be able to help – and do what I need to do – even when things get bad. That's what I want to be when I'm an adult."
 
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