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

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Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
Here's a quote from Sol Stein that seems appropriate. (But I'd guess whether or not to use a stereotype or cliche depends on the type of writing being done-- audiences and their expectations enter into this too.) Here's the Stein quote:

"Another error of inexperienced writers -- or journalists in a hurry -- is
to confine characterization to the obvious physical attributes. For females,
facial features, breasts, hips, buttocks, legs. For males, broad shoulders,
strong arms, chiseled features, and so on. That's top -of -the -head,
thoughtless writing. Such clichés are common in speech. We expect better
of our writers." (Sol Stein)
 

vranger

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

Also true of men. It's a human trait, not a gender trait. Probably her quote was meant to indicate that men are expected to "be strong and bear up", but we know that isn't universally true. When an emergency strikes, there isn't much difference in psychology between the sexes. One evening when a friend set his face on fire with a badly aimed "flaming arrow" shot, he and his brother stood stunned, I looked for something to put it out, and by the time I'd decided on what to use, my wife had already grabbed a damp dish towel and done the job. But if the sink stops up, I'm immediately notified. :)

The trope is about used up now, but when I first started seeing stories where a "mousey woman" was thrust into danger and had to see her own way clear, they were intriguing. I'll take a clever solution over a brute force solution every time.
 

JBF

Senior Member
Also true of men. It's a human trait, not a gender trait. Probably her quote was meant to indicate that men are expected to "be strong and bear up", but we know that isn't universally true. When an emergency strikes, there isn't much difference in psychology between the sexes.

One thing I've noticed relative to this - women seem to respond better to immediate, short-term catastrophe whereas men tend to hold up better under long-term difficulties. There's also the question of prior experience and training - if your world contains more small-scale emergencies you're more likely to handle day-to-day disaster better than, say, the collapse of the economy, or global war, or mutant cannibals from outer space.

That lacks any kind of scientific examination though, so I wouldn't put too much weight on it.

One evening when a friend set his face on fire with a badly aimed "flaming arrow" shot, he and his brother stood stunned, I looked for something to put it out, and by the time I'd decided on what to use, my wife had already grabbed a damp dish towel and done the job. But if the sink stops up, I'm immediately notified. :)

That escalated quickly. Reminds me of a friend's couch fire story.

The trope is about used up now, but when I first started seeing stories where a "mousey woman" was thrust into danger and had to see her own way clear, they were intriguing. I'll take a clever solution over a brute force solution every time.

Same. There's an old axiom about the two means of winning an argument being reason and force. Most people have a preference - for writers who don't have to pay the medical bills, the latter is usually the more appealing option - and one of the more interesting means of forcing character development is giving someone an arsenal and denying them the use of force as an easy out.
 

Ralph Rotten

Staff member
Mentor
I largely base my characters off people I have known, or the actors I would want to play them in a movie.
So when I wrote Gunny Jo, the femme brute in Calizona Season 2, she was based on an actual person I had worked with back in the day.
Yes, the real Gunny Jo could punch like a man, and I have seen her do so. She was the man of her house, and even in a male dominated place like the Sheriff's Office, she was just one of the boys.

I have found that this method works well for me. It is rare that I invent a character totally from thin air.
I have a motto about writing: Fact is stranger than fiction, and people are stranger than fact.
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
I largely base my characters off people I have known, or the actors I would want to play them in a movie.
So when I wrote Gunny Jo, the femme brute in Calizona Season 2, she was based on an actual person I had worked with back in the day.
Yes, the real Gunny Jo could punch like a man, and I have seen her do so. She was the man of her house, and even in a male dominated place like the Sheriff's Office, she was just one of the boys.

I have found that this method works well for me. It is rare that I invent a character totally from thin air.
I have a motto about writing: Fact is stranger than fiction, and people are stranger than fact.

Good to know, thanks for sharing. I have a few female friends on Instagram and they constantly post quotes and thinks that basically say "A woman can be strong, but she should still be vulnerable/fragile as a flower". I think that's very strange. Women should be raised to be big and strong like their male counterparts. I'm glad some women are being brought up that way. Women need to be taught to defend themselves, just like men are. A lot of women in my life are very strong physically and mentally and hell no, they are not fragile as a flower. May be vulnerable at times yes, but that's common in all humans. We all have times where we want to cry. It's human nature.
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
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.



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.



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

Yes I agree....people's feelings are that of a snowflake these days. People are offended by just about anything these days. What if my heroine had an abortion because it was her personal choice because she doesn't want kids ever? Of course, some of my readers would have a problem with it. But it makes sense for her, I know who she is. And there are women out there like her.

But yes...I'm a male and I tend to find writing female lead characters more fascinating/exciting. Most of my closest friends are female and we share quite a lot in common. Lots of "tomboy"-ish stuff to them I guess...lot of stuff males are traditionally into...but they are also into makeup/beauty/fashion and stuff. We aren't astronomically different. Yes, I have absolutely no idea what a period feels like, but I'm not going to write about that. I don't have boobs either so I don't know what that whole experience is like. However, my heroine keeps hers covered up. I am very respectful to women in my writing. Try to make men and women as equals as much as I can.

Writing what I know is HUGE, yes. I may not be a woman myself but I am damn motivated to write a very inspiring one (to both women and men).
 

MorganaPendragon25

Senior Member
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.

Yes I get that even the fiercest most badass women out there (especially in real life) wear dresses and have makeup and stuff. Yeah, most look for a male partner and most have kids. But not ALL women are like that and want all those things. I guess the type of woman I want to write...which is perhaps the most inspiring type of woman for me...is one who kind of ditches a lot of that traditional stuff. She doesn't want kids and I think it's best she remains single (I'm not a fan of writing romances for my main characters, I'm aromantic btw). Does that mean her life/story will be boring? Heck no. I follow a couple of super amazing women on Instagram who have no desire to have kids and are very happily single...those two women lead very amazing and inspiring lives. Just trying to picture them in a medieval story or something and they'd be damn cool!

I realize that not all my women in my story need to be Wonder Woman or Superwoman/Supergirl, whatever. My heroine I'm currently writing is not an invincible fighter, she is more of an underdog. She's not going to destroy every man (or another woman) she meets in a fight, my heroine will get her ass kicked too. My heroine does change as a human over the course of her journey. I too want a variety of characters in my story. I want them to all feel very human to my readers. Some are romantic and some aren't.
 

luckyscars

WF Veterans
Yes I get that even the fiercest most badass women out there (especially in real life) wear dresses and have makeup and stuff. Yeah, most look for a male partner and most have kids. But not ALL women are like that and want all those things. I guess the type of woman I want to write...which is perhaps the most inspiring type of woman for me...is one who kind of ditches a lot of that traditional stuff. She doesn't want kids and I think it's best she remains single (I'm not a fan of writing romances for my main characters, I'm aromantic btw).


You're speaking as though this type of female character is some rarity in modern literature. It isn't. There are lots of examples of female characters (and real life women, for that matter) who are not traditional. As a matter of fact, it's kind of become the norm. I can't remember the last time I read a book where the protagonist was a happily married woman in a traditional marriage. Which is okay, of course, and it's great that you are discovering that female characters come in all shapes and sizes, just like male ones, but I'm not sure why you're acting like this is revelatory?

What troubles me with your comments is I think you make a lot of unhealthy presumptions about women. I do not think you mean this the way it comes off, only that I think this speaks to a certain lack of understanding and a kind of 'reverse sexism'. For example, here you are saying 'she doesn't want kids and I think it's best she remains single/I don't like romances'. This statement implies that you regard this female character's romantic life as being inextricably linked to whether she wants kids or not. This doesn't make sense in modern society. There are lots of child-free couples just as there are lots of single parents. What I am getting a sense of is that you consider women effectively divided into two categories: "Traditional Women" who get married and have babies...and "Inspiring Women" who do not. That may be a misread, but I find that sort of binary either/or unappealing.

But yes...I'm a male and I tend to find writing female lead characters more fascinating/exciting. Most of my closest friends are female and we share quite a lot in common. Lots of "tomboy"-ish stuff to them I guess...lot of stuff males are traditionally into...but they are also into makeup/beauty/fashion and stuff. We aren't astronomically different. Yes, I have absolutely no idea what a period feels like, but I'm not going to write about that. I don't have boobs either so I don't know what that whole experience is like. However, my heroine keeps hers covered up. I am very respectful to women in my writing. Try to make men and women as equals as much as I can.

I have a few female friends on Instagram and they constantly post quotes and thinks that basically say "A woman can be strong, but she should still be vulnerable/fragile as a flower". I think that's very strange. Women should be raised to be big and strong like their male counterparts. I'm glad some women are being brought up that way. Women need to be taught to defend themselves, just like men are. A lot of women in my life are very strong physically and mentally and hell no, they are not fragile as a flower. May be vulnerable at times yes, but that's common in all humans. We all have times where we want to cry. It's human nature.

You talk about how fascinating/exciting it is writing about female lead characters, but then say you try to make them 'equal to men' and deliberately ignore/stay away from aspects of their body/sexuality (parts that actually make them female) so what exactly do you find so fascinating/exciting?
 

vranger

Staff member
Global Moderator
I too want a variety of characters in my story. I want them to all feel very human to my readers. Some are romantic and some aren't.

Well, this is a complete reversal of everything you've written previously in the thread. Congratulations. But be careful. Heaven forbid you should write a female character in a traditional role and subsequently be shunned for having "little imagination and a very narrow mindset". I'd grieve for you.

I have a few female friends on Instagram and they constantly post quotes and thinks that basically say "A woman can be strong, but she should still be vulnerable/fragile as a flower". I think that's very strange. Women should be raised to be big and strong like their male counterparts.

By all means ... Anytime women tell a man what their preferences are for living their life, he should IMMEDIATELY reject that in preference for his own fantasy. Nailed it. :-/
 

Matchu

Senior Member
Yes, I was sensing the 'trope,' if that is the word, is ripe for subversion: the battle-armour ladies v the 'oh my god if I see another badass woman I'll puke.' I was thinking to write some 'badass badass women with a treble treble of treacle goodness messaging.' It was only fleeting.

If I was being more serious I might urge a writer to consider the reader, and the pleasure the writer could provide a reader, and the pleasure they would receive from that achievement..rather than the school o navel which of course has its place. Did I spell navel properly.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Board Moderator
I treat all my characters as people - based on folks I know (though not direct copies, just a piece from this one and another from that one). Each have specific strengths and weaknesses, and I do my best to avoid stereotypes.

I dislike the 'little-miss-homemaker' and 'shrinking-violet' female stereotypes more than the 'macho-man' male stereotypes because they raise unrealistic expectations (and also because they're annoying). Men and women are different - who could have predicted that such a statement would become controversial and to some inflammatory? We live in a world gone mad.

I've been a martial artist for over 60 years. In that time I've had the privilege to train with some VERY tough women, several of them being world and national fighting champions. Even they freely admit that in a physical altercation with a male they are at a disadvantage; they can't match the size, weight, and upper body strength of a male, and their best chance at survival is to strike first, strike hard, and be utterly ruthless, then quickly get away before their attacker recovers.

And yet - in movies at least - the script has flipped from mindless female homemakers to hundred pound women trouncing a crowd of fit and apparently strong men. That's a new-age stereotype I object to, because it's not only unrealistic, but also dangerous.
 

JJBuchholz

Senior Member
I treat all my characters as people - based on folks I know (though not direct copies, just a
piece from this one and another from that one). Each have specific strengths and weaknesses, and I do my best to avoid
stereotypes.

This is almost the same to how I write my characters. That being said, I do have characters both male and female that are
somewhat stereotypical, but done on purpose. Examples:

1) The 'Darius Darksword' character from my Darksword series is a man's man that is a master swordsman and commands
elemental powers, BUT he does not exactly have the 'chiseled' body that some might use, and as strong as he is, has a
weakness for his beloved. Darius also doesn't like to see people get hurt or suffer in any way. It strains his emotional state,
and is one of the few things that can.

2) Arielle from the same series is a beautiful woman that is very feminine, but has been known to go off and fight on her
own when motivated, and can be fiercely loyal and strong in her own right. Even though she has Darius to save her and
fight for her, she has saved him a couple times as well.

3) I wrote two stories focused on a female protagonist surrounded by a predominantly female cast as an experiment. It
turned out quite well, and I was surprised that I could actually write a female protagonist (being a man and all) , and
trying to help myself understand the female mindset and such.

I'm of the opinion that being is writer is not just about putting words on the page, but also challenging ourselves and
occasionally stepping out of our comfort zone to do so. For me, writing a story with a female protagonist was a HUGE step
into the unknown, not to mention the fact that I also went into an entirely foreign (at that time) genre when I started to
write romance.

There is no right or wrong for us, and if all the people who start screaming 'stereotype' and other things would just take
a step back and either appreciate the piece, or move on to something else and at least enjoy something (in terms of
writing), we'd all be happier and better off. It's too easy nowadays for people to start crying about how they are offended
by something rather than ask questions about what it is they are offended by, and why they feel that way. Instead of
analyzing their own reactions and thoughts, they scream bloody murder and want it changed.

Personally, this will never affect my own writing. You either like what I write, or you don't. It's as simple as that.

-JJB
 

indianroads

Staff member
Board Moderator
This is almost the same to how I write my characters. That being said, I do have characters both male and female that are
somewhat stereotypical, but done on purpose. Examples:

1) The 'Darius Darksword' character from my Darksword series is a man's man that is a master swordsman and commands
elemental powers, BUT he does not exactly have the 'chiseled' body that some might use, and as strong as he is, has a
weakness for his beloved. Darius also doesn't like to see people get hurt or suffer in any way. It strains his emotional state,
and is one of the few things that can.

2) Arielle from the same series is a beautiful woman that is very feminine, but has been known to go off and fight on her
own when motivated, and can be fiercely loyal and strong in her own right. Even though she has Darius to save her and
fight for her, she has saved him a couple times as well.

3) I wrote two stories focused on a female protagonist surrounded by a predominantly female cast as an experiment. It
turned out quite well, and I was surprised that I could actually write a female protagonist (being a man and all) , and
trying to help myself understand the female mindset and such.

I'm of the opinion that being is writer is not just about putting words on the page, but also challenging ourselves and
occasionally stepping out of our comfort zone to do so. For me, writing a story with a female protagonist was a HUGE step
into the unknown, not to mention the fact that I also went into an entirely foreign (at that time) genre when I started to
write romance.

There is no right or wrong for us, and if all the people who start screaming 'stereotype' and other things would just take
a step back and either appreciate the piece, or move on to something else and at least enjoy something (in terms of
writing), we'd all be happier and better off. It's too easy nowadays for people to start crying about how they are offended
by something rather than ask questions about what it is they are offended by, and why they feel that way. Instead of
analyzing their own reactions and thoughts, they scream bloody murder and want it changed.

Personally, this will never affect my own writing. You either like what I write, or you don't. It's as simple as that.

-JJB

Your 'Darius Darksword' character made me think of one of the toughest guys I've ever run into. He was a bit under 6' tall and built like a tank - we called him 'Wideglide' (which is a motorcycle made by Harley-Davidson) because he seemed almost as wide as he was tall. Loud personality with a booming laugh. No body builder type muscle tone - more like the power lifters in the Olympics. Long hair and beard, with a LOT of body hair. Definitely a man's man.

I've not thought of Wideglide in a long time... maybe I'll use him in a novel one day.

In my last couple books I had the chance to write from the POV of a female MC. I was nervous at first, but had my wife and daughters give it a look, which gave me some confidence. I use a female editor, and she didn't have a problem with that character either. In my current project, half the book is written from a female POV, it's a challenge but I'm having fun.
 

vranger

Staff member
Global Moderator
I do my best to avoid stereotypes.

I do have characters both male and female that are
somewhat stereotypical

Let's clear up some confusion. I picked out these two quotes because they were the last two, but there is a lot of discussion here about "stereotypes" when what we're really discussing are "archetypes", which are not the same thing at all.

An archetype is the "black knight" or the "white knight" or the "scientist" or the "student" or the "ghost" or the "homemaker", etc. There are dozens (possibly hundreds depending on whose list you use) of archetypes, and no matter how hard you try or what you think you are doing, you cannot write a story without archetypes, including the protagonists. That's because all archetypes represent a category of people, fictional or real. Every character is an archetype we pick out and then customize. We give them a personality, vulnerabilities, special skills, appearance, fears, goals. Plus, a character may encompass more than one archetype, which is where they really start to get interesting. Throw darts at a list of archetypes, come up with a "white knight-ghost-homemaker" and you can get juicy story ideas. (I think I'm going to have to write that one. :) )

Readers are going to have some expectations of an archetype. We want to shake those up enough to take a stab at originality.

A stereotype is an oversimplified archetype, possibly taking just one or two commonly held public perceptions and then likely emphasizing them. Stereotypes are also often based on misconceptions.

So if the subject is the "female stereotype", it's a meaningless term. It would only have meaning if someone wrote a character that went no further than "not as strong as a man" (or one other quality). So if the lesson is "don't do that", then "don't do that". But having a character who is "not as strong as a man" is not reason alone to label the character a stereotype. It's often reality. As I wrote in an earlier post, we're allowed to add reality to our writing.

A "homemaker" is an archetype. So what is a homemaker, really? Possibilities include housekeeping, chef, accountant, chauffer, tutor, nanny, event planner, psychologist, efficiency expert, gardener, purchasing agent, and so forth, all in one. So if we say a character is a homemaker, we've named an archetype that BEGINS with all these responsibilities, and then we add the customization. This is not a stereotype.

You can make archetype into stereotype only by forcing the archetype down to one activity and limited personality. When we see that, it's typically only for a minor character, and that's okay. You may need a secretary that only answers the phone and announces visitors.

But these are not our main characters. Our main characters start as archetypes, not stereotypes.

Then if you add some personality ... the secretary comes up with good ideas the manager missed, and stands at the door to deny a belligerent visitor entry, and insists the boss stay on schedule ... now we're building the secretary back up to the archetype, which has all these responsibilities. Just add some personality and a bit of non-standard behavior, and any question of stereotype is dismissed.

What the OP failed to understand is he only wants to use one set of narrow customizations, and expects that of every story. That would get rapidly redundant, and some comments have indicated it already has for those members. Just because decades ago most secretaries were female doesn't mean that any female secretary in a story is a stereotype, just as having a male warrior isn't a stereotype. They're both valid customizations for an archetype (and vice versa).
 

TheMightyAz

Senior Member
You mean to say you don't analyse, re-analyse, and over-analyse every single word? Man, that really chumps my cheesewagon.

;)

Fair point. lol.

I honestly don't understand these sorts of discussions. I can pick any number of women I've met in my life and add them to my story. I don't question their traits, I just represent them as accurately as possible ... with a few traits jigged here and there to stop anyone getting too unhappy. The answer is: Just write the truth. If some people don't like the truth, stuff 'em.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Board Moderator
For clarity:

Stereotype:
1. a set form; convention.
2. Sociology. a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group.

Archetype:
1. the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.
2. (in Jungian psychology) a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.
 
I honestly don't understand these sorts of discussions.

To an extent, same. It's only when threads like this appear that I stop to consider whether my characters fit or don't fit into various boxes. At the same time, I understand why there's this grappling going on -- there's a lot of images floating around about what it means to be a woman, and of course authors want to engage with that.

The dichotomy which I disagree with is the "some women are aggressive and bad**** and some are nurturing and traditional" thing. EVERYONE is, to an extent, both aggressive and nurturing. Those are biological and spiritual instincts which must be ordered under our "whole person." How much we express these may depend on personality or identity, but tbh it often just depends on situation. I'm aggressive in a mosh pit. I'm nurturing in my church preschool. I'm simultaneously aggressive and nurturing when a young sibling is about to fall in a river! Because those situations call for the expression of those instincts.

But we are talking about fiction here. About fantasy. So maybe what people are wrestling with is: what is the IDEAL of womanhood -- not ideal in the sense of perfect, but in the sense of, like, a Platonic ideal: what, divorced from mere societal construct, is WOMANNESS? I don't have the answer, yet. But consider: things which fall short of ideals are often all too similar; badness is hopelessly uninventive. But goodness is like a flower, or a branching tree, or a budding staff: it is simultaneously united and various. Good exists in differentiated forms. Though womanness is "one thing" in the sense that all women are Woman, each woman's individual ideal form is unique. So, I suppose what I am saying is, in our fiction, there is room for all the branches of the womanness tree. And it's not, like, two or three boxes, either. There are as many branches as there are women.
 
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