Don’t you think it’s time we level the playing field?
Gender double standards exist everywhere, in real life and in literature. This goes back to history and culture where women were the submissive, docile, weak property of strong, powerful, dominant men. Yet, even as this changes in real life, it seems to continue on in modern literature(historical fiction is a different subject that we won’t get into today.) Why? Why is it so hard for writers to branch out into unchartered territory with their characters?
I will admit that writers are trying. Two weeks ago we discussed ‘strong’ female characters and how this was becoming a flawed stereotype. This is what I mean by ‘trying’. Authors are starting to notice the gender double standards, but we still have along way to go.
Yet, females weren’t the only thing discussioners wanted to talk about. A few of them threw the conversation onto male characters and how they were stereotyped and shoved into a perfect mold, but we don’t talk about it as much. This is a perfect example of a gender double-standard. Now let’s talk about them a little more.
Two Way Street
First thing we absolutely have to note whether you like it or not: double standards go both ways. They exist for both male and female characters. Sometimes this is easy to overlook because so much of the conversation is driven in the feminine direction. (No doubt because so many young readers who are active in discussions are female. Also, many protagonists nowadays are female.) For this reason, it’s natural to focus on the cliches and stereotypes of females, but they’re not alone. Male characters are being forced into a mold, too.
There are plenty of characteristics that are considered ‘okay’ for female characters, but often not for male characters. For example: weaknesses. This is a very broad category. Weaknesses can be physical, mental, or emotional and history has made them far more common in female characters vs male characters. As a result, male characters who are sensitive, emotional, or empathetic, are very few and far between.
2) Love Interests
The most obvious example of this gender double-standard is in the love interest of female characters. The male love interest is tall, athletic, confident, often heroic. While it may exist, the non-stereotypical male love interest is hard to find under all the other beefy males, which is a shame. A male love interest with a little more brain and a little less brawn would be a far more interesting plot opener. Not to mention, not every man in the world is the stereotype. Plenty of non-athletic, intelligent, geeky, shy men are the love interests of women in real life. So, why aren’t they in books, too?
1) Sexual Relations
This is a common topic among readers because it’s a double-standard prevalent both inside and out of books and many people still uphold it today. They believe it’s okay for a man to be sexually active before marriage, but not a woman. If a man is sexually active he’s ‘experienced’. If a woman’s sexually active she’s a ‘whore’.
This is garbage.
It’s the biggest double standard still in existence. People know it exists, they understand that it’s wrong and yet countless female characters are still virgins throughout the entire series. And it’s not like they don’t have opportunities. The females in question often have a love interest right by their sides through a good two-thirds of the series, but nothing happens. Why? Explain this to me because I don’t get it.
This particular category makes me laugh. Plain out, full-hearted laugh because while people say they want strong, confident, dominant women, they do an about-face when they actually get it! Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
Example 1(movie format): Miranda Priestly in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ is the head of a fashion magazine with a demanding work environment, high expectations, and settles for nothing short of perfection. Andy, her secretary, says, “If [Miranda Priestly] were a man, the only thing people would talk about is how good she is at her job.”
Example 2(book format): Hermione in ‘Harry Potter’ is extremely smart. She knows a lot about magic and even corrects Ron in Transfiguration class, but they only thing people see is how she’s a know-it-all and bossy.
Shall I continue or are your minds satisfyingly satiated? o.O
Bomb Them, Banish Them, Float Them
Don’t get me wrong. We as readers have noticed these double standards and it’s because of our voices that writers are starting to make some changes, but we aren’t there yet. Equality for males and females in books isn’t here yet. We as readers need to keep discussing, keep pushing, keep nagging because if it’s important enough for us to talk about, it’s important enough for writers to fix.
What do you think about gender double-standards in books?
Tell me your opinion in the comments below!
And check out my discussion from last week:
Weak vs. Weakly-Written Characters