Gender in Stories

Most stories depict gender as we view it in the western world. There are men and women. Men do one set of tasks (ie. ruling, fighting, acting tough, etc.) and women do a different set of tasks (ie. raising and giving birth to children, flirting with men, and home-making). But these are very western ideas of gender. And they stem out of the Victorian era, so they are quite modern. As such, you wouldn’t expect gender to be the same in every story.

What are some stories that you know of where gender is different from the western version?

What are some interesting or different ways that you’d like to see gender written about?

Is there anything wrong with writing about gender the same way in almost every story?

4 responses to “Gender in Stories

  • irrationalitydestroyer

    A couple of things. First, those traditional gender roles are common over the world, not something that arose in 19th century England. Han Chinese had them way before the Victorian era, so to call this a Western conception of gender is wrong.
    As for stories where traditional gender roles disappear, you can find them in the Bible with the story of Deborah and Judith, or in Chinese legend with Hua Mulan, in Norse myths there are women warriors aside from the Valkyries, in Christian hagiography you find many female saints doing the same things as men. While maybe a bit more traditional, in One Thousand and One Nights, you have Sheherazade who risks her life to saver her kingdom by telling stories to the caliph.
    As for different ways to see gender be written about, I would like for people to stop focusing so much on the beauty of women. Sure, they may be the fairer sex, but that beauty is not everything in women, nor the most important thing. Another thing I’d like is to see men who don’t save the day through violence but through peaceful means. Warrior heroes are so common that it is ridiculous.
    Now, is there something wrong with writing gender the same all the time? Well, maybe not. It’s just how life and history is, but at the same time being original doesn’t do any harm either. Though it is actually pretty common to see stories where both men and women swap their traditional roles.


    • hessianwithteeth

      I called the gender expressions in the novels that I at least am likely to read ‘Western’ because I live in North America and read Western novels. The gender expressions in those novels come from Victorian England. Yes, other cultures had similar beliefs about gender, but my culture was not really influenced by them. However, there are many cultures where gender is different. The Native Americans have what we translate to two-spirited. From what I have been told, someone who is two-spirited is neither a man nor a woman but rather somewhere in between. India had some interesting views on the relationship between men and women prior to colonialization. You can still see hints of it, but gender expression in India today has largely been influenced by Western beliefs. In Papua New Guinea there are certain tribes that believe that boys should be separated from their mothers no later than age 6 because they cannot learn how to be men while under the influence of a woman. Boys are encouraged to have sex with each other because sperm is thought to make one more manly. They even eat sperm for that effect. Other tribes on the same island are matriarchal.
      You made a comment that women are the ‘fairer sex.’ That is how we tend to view women in the west. Women have the looks and are responsible for attracting the men. As far as I know, that’s pretty universal among humans. But what about a story where humans acted like birds: the men would be the ones who dressed to attract attention and were considered beautiful while women were considered relatively plain and were responsible for picking a mate? I think that that would be interesting to rad and would challenge traditional gender roles.
      Life and history don’t show gender as homogeneous. Gender roles throughout history, and across various cultures, change over time. Roles that were once perceived to be masculine are now considered feminine, and vice versa. Our culture is now more accepting of those of us who do not fit in traditional gender roles. People who are transgender are slowly becoming more accepted in society and more parents are trying to raise their children in such a way that allows the child to decide for themself who they are. Perhaps we are harming people by only showing two gender roles in most stories. Yes, there are those with gender variance, but I would argue that it is not enough. We need more stories that defy traditional gender roles so that we can create a world in which gender is seen as fluid and a spectrum rather than set and binary.


      • irrationalitydestroyer

        I know views about gender are not homogenous in history and around the world, but my point was that the idea that men act tough, are warriors, and women are child bearers and stay at home did not rise in the West in Victorian England but rather is something that appears in many cultures throughout the globe and throughout history. For instance, the idea of female chastity and purity is almost universal. In most cultures, and this is also undeniable, men have been the ones that go to war for the most part, not women. So sure, there are many ideas about gender spread throughout the planet like you said, but the Victorian view has been around for quite some time before that era in many cultures.


        • hessianwithteeth

          That’s very true. But I’d argue that the views on men and women are quite problematic. I think that literature can and should be used to encourage people to think about their views on gender. Unfortunately, most literature simply perpetuates the gender stereotypes.


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