Breaking Gender Norms in Writing

I have written previously for you as a writer to break outside your comfort zone to push your borders. Now, I want you to consider social norms for genders. Before any of you put up your red flags and think this is something political social issue – please continue reading.

Society is generally divided into male vs. female. There is the political movements of equal pay and gender equality, etc. But we still have gender reveal parties for expecting parents – blue for boys and pink for girls, etc. I want you as a writer to break one of the social norms within your book. It can be something major with a woman as a C.E.O. or something minor as in a husband who can’t open a jar, but his wife can.

I am a female, but I do not consider of myself as feminist. I am just me. I am single, living and paying for my own home by a full time job. I do have a college education by holding a bachelors and three associate degrees. This all looks great to an outsider as a successful young woman – but I still call my dad when something breaks. Just this week, my bathroom sink trap pipe rusted through and nasty water from a clog went everywhere. I cleaned it up, but my dad came to the rescue to changed out the pipe. However, their was still a clog. My dad is a farmer. He’s a hard worker but he never accepted the idea that woman can’t do maintenance. Yes, he fixed the pipe, but wanted me to take care of the clog. I did. I got it cleaned out and then felt empowered enough to tackled the slow draining valve in the toilet – I fixed it to!!

Growing up, my parents normally had my brother out working the fields and helping fix the tractors. My sister and I helped around the house and worked in the garden. Yes, these are your typical gender norms. But, I know how to drive a tractor, cut lumber, hang drywall, install ceiling fans, has shot arrows bulls eye a few times, and stack hay bales. As a child, I had both Barbie dolls and toy tractors. My brother had a baby doll as a child, but hunts deer when he was a teen. Now he works on semi’s trucks and is a great father to two small boys. My biggest shock was I once had a flat tire and called dad. He arrived and looked me dead in the eye to say “Well, what are you waiting for – get out the jack”. He then proceeded to talk me through changing a tire. These small life lessons do not minimize the fact that I am a female, but that I can fend for myself.

So should your characters. Don’t limit their story by placing them in strict social norms. Give them their own accomplishments and let them grow as individuals. Yes, there are scientific proven facts that do define certain gender roles, but that does not mean everything.

Another Twilight reference – the main character, Bella Swan, was a truck driving, motorcycle riding, cliff diving, shop hating, lovesick teenage girl. Hunger Games had Katniss Everdeen who is a hunting, fighting, compassionate female who finds herself as the leading face of a war. Harry Potter defeated Voldemore because of love.

Go back even into the classic literature: Jane Austen broke multiple norms – Pride and Prejudice had Elizabeth Bennet who was out spoken and fierce in her beliefs and understandings. Emma Woodhouse in Emma proclaimed that she would never marry even though women were expected to marry. Sense and Sensibility had Eleanor and Marianne as polar opposites. Eleanor was quiet and refine, but loved just as deeply as Marianne believed she did, even though Marianne was outspoken and drama.

Read Romeo and Juliet. It is not just a tragic play, but had Romeo murdering Juliet’s extended family members, a marriage betrayal, suicide, and more. This was written back when it had to be extremely shocking for the audience to witness it.

Don’t limit your characters and more importantly, don’t limit yourself. Keep writing and keep learning.

L.R. Mauck