Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Gender Roles in Literature

Gender roles are actually a big deal in literature, if you really pay attention.  They've changed, drastically, over the years.  For instance, if you look at a novel like Jane Austen's, women were meant to be married and constantly have men take care of them, rescue, escort them, run their lives.  If you didn't have a good marriage, then nothing else in your life was really pertinent.  Even though Austen had smart, independent women in her book, they were still confined to specific roles (however, Austen's first line of Pride & Prejudice seems to be a commentary on the absurdity of it all.)

Today, literature leans more towards books that have independent  self-sufficient women who tend to be equal, or better than, their male counterparts.
We see a LOT of this happening in YA literature.  Take The Hunger Games, for example.  Katniss was the one who supported her family, who did the hunting (both of which are usually roles assigned to males).  Katniss inevitably saved her sister from the arena.  Even when she was in the arena, she relied heavily on herself and was the one who had to help Peta.

If you read our review of Starters, you'll see the same trend.  Callie is the one to protect her brother after her parents die.  She is the one who works so hard for everything that she has, and, the one who risks everything, and inevitably exposes everything.

However, traditional gender roles are extremely prevalent in literature today.  The most obvious place that we see this is in Romance novels and Chick Lit.  The market is filled with women who can't seem to function until a man comes and saves her.  Twilight is an excellent example of female dependence on a male.  Bella is constantly getting herself in trouble or having accidents, causing Edward (or Jacob) to have to save her.  Even though, at the very end of the very last book, this role changes for a very short amount of time, it doesn't really counteract the theme of the first three and a half books where she needs Edward to protect her.

Gender roles even appear in our Children's books.  Though, in recent years, girls are just as productive as boys.  Take, for instance, in Harry Potter, Hermione always has to save not only Ron, but also Harry.  If not for her knowledge, they would have died, minimum, seven times.  Or what about Winnie The Pooh, a book where a boy plays with stuffed animals, a role general assigned to little girls.  There are still children's books that throw women into the stereotypical gender roles. Fairy tales are an excellent example of this.  Initially, they weren't meant for kids, but today, we market a lot of them towards young girls.  We tell them that they are beautiful princesses, whose only job is to wait for a handsome, rich, male who can save her from the big bad.

Gender roles are everywhere, and even though a book may seem to break them, you can always try the age old Bechdel Test.


  1. Great post. I watched an interesting video recently about how movies for young boys are not shown as having a powerful female character, and that its important to show boys strong females so they can grown up respecting them and whatnot. That video mentioned the Bechdel Test also.

    1. That's why I put Winnie the Pooh in there; it kind of breaks gender roles from the boy side, which you don't really see that often. In today's age it's all about breaking gender roles with the girl's, but we still rarely see things like Winnie the Pooh, where he plays with stuffed animals.

      (As a short side note, Damian and I were talking about it recently, and I ended up telling him, "You know they're all in Christopher Robin's imagination right?" and he said, "WHAT?! They're not real! I never knew!" It was pretty hysterical.)