Hello Friends!! I wrote a post on Unlikeable Characters: Why is likability Even a Question? a couple of weeks ago, and it sparked another topic that had me thinking. So today, I am questioning the gender roles of men and women in fiction. Now, this wasn’t something I have put a lot of thought into till now. Here I am overthinking it and talking about those expected behaviors and attitudes of men and women in fiction.
Again I am inspired to write this post after reading Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. She talks about the gender roles of men and women in fiction, and she gave me a bit to think about that.
I asked about the likeability of male characters and if we found them more likeable than female characters in my post for unlikeable characters. Jonetta commented that we, as women, hold women to higher standards than men and thought it was a case of conditioning. Lindsay also commented on that. I asked myself a few questions do I judge women more harshly and question their motivates more than men
“It’s a man’s prerogative to be liked. Women are sometimes respected, sometimes admired, sometimes adored, but they aren’t liked, not really”
Gay talks about how gender roles can be a performance and questions if we have become trapped, expecting women and men to perform their gender. Have I come to expect men and women to play their roles in fiction? In thrillers have I come to expect women to be portrayed as either catty, evil, manipulative, not to be trusted, or helpless to disadvantages and grounded by cruelty and violence of men. Then in some twist or turn to the story, become strong, brave women. Thrillers have become more of a miss than hits lately for me, and I am starting to wonder if gender roles play a part in that for me.
Have we become conditioned on what we expected from male and female characters’ behaviour and attitudes in fiction?
I think some authors have come a long way with portraying those expected behaviours and attitudes of characters that seem to perform gender roles. Some are doing it better than others, and some miss the mark, especially in thrillers. We have come a long way away from the sidekick women to women-driven stories. However, I wonder if we should be raising our expectations on how men and women’s roles are portrayed in thrillers. How does an author balance an entertaining page-turner without falling into that gender-stereotyped behaviour and attitudes?
In Domestic suspense thrillers, women are often grounded in toxic marriages and disadvantages because of cheating, controlling murdering husbands, and the women are represented as broken by men’s cruelty. We also see self-absorbed, selfish, catty, manipulative women who can’t be trusted. While this can make for a suspenseful page-turner, I find myself wanting more from the characters in terms of development and depth to them.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them”― Margaret Atwood
I just read three domestic suspense thrillers that revolved around cheating, lying, deceitful or controlling husbands. Each portrayed the character’s roles differently, and that set different tones to the story for me. In one, the author layered the twists and turns while developing and adding depth to the characters creating three dimensional characters. She questioned some of those gender roles through the characters. In another, the author portrayed a few stereotyped gender roles, and then in the twist, the character becomes a “strong female.” In the other one, nothing too deep was explored, and the story was a fun, entertaining read for me that kept me guessing throughout the story.
What about those strong female characters, and how does that play into those gender roles in fiction? Is it the kiss-ass female character who drives the plot forward with her strength and bravery, a strong female character or the character that starts flawed (weak), vulnerable and is given her own conflicts and is driven by her goals the strong female character? More about that in another post.
Are characters that feel like actors performing a role more likeable and make for a more entertaining read, better yet what we call escapism read? When we read, do we want a performance of those gender roles or more realistic human characters? Sometimes knowing what we expect makes for a more comfortable read.
Thank you for sticking with me and reading through my post! What do you think about the things I said? Have you thought about the gender roles in fiction? Do you think we should expected more from characters or are we conditioned on what we expect from male and female characters’ behaviour and attitudes in fiction?