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Male Roles Vs. Female Roles in Fiction: Discussion/Analysis/Troperwank:

 1 Karalora, Sat, 9th Feb '13 7:56:13 AM from San Fernando Valley, CA Relationship Status: In another castle
Manliest Person on Skype
The scene: The Sexism & Men's Issues Thread.

The topic of the moment: Behavioral expectations placed on men and women.

The contenders: Besserwisser and Karalora

Quoth Besserwisser:

My most common source is fiction with the most respected primarily male role is The Hero, someone who is defined by his willingness to help others.

To which Karalora replied:

What is the most respected role for women in these same works of fiction? Or any fiction, for that matter?

Shockingly, the two contenders agreed that this was a worthy topic for general discussion! So! Here are some questions to play around with.

  • What sympathetic or respected roles are given to male characters in fiction?
  • What sympathetic/respected roles are given to female characters?
  • What about these roles garners the sympathy/respect?
  • What unsympathetic or unrespected roles can we contrast them with?
  • How do portrayals of male and female characters compare and contrast with each other? When and how are the expectations the same and when and how are they different?
  • How does all this feed back into Real Life?

And thus even OTC ultimately comes back to Troping. Excelsior!
 2 drunkscriblerian, Sun, 10th Feb '13 12:24:46 AM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
Glad this thread finally got opened for discussion. Anyway, going to play with all the questions Karalora asked - hopefully - and use one of my favorite movies as an example of gender equality in media done right...James Cameron's Aliens.

This may seem an odd example, but here's why I hold it up. You can gender-flip any of the characters in the movie and thanks to the context we're given, all of them still remain believable. For almost all the characters you would not have to change much of anything if you wanted to do this. random aside All of the characters have good solid reasons for being in the plot that have nothing to do with their gender. We have competent members of both genders, and at very few times is gender even an issue.

Another funny point; if I were going to make Aliens for a 2013 audience (and it was a standalone story) I'd make Ripley a man. Why? Because about the only part of the movie that has not aged well is Ripley's Mama Bear tendencies. Sure, it was cool in 1986 when the movie came out - and most of us love that one line.

But these days you can't swing a cat without having an Action Girl try to kick your ass for doing it, and the whole "woman goes Hulk to protect children" thing has gotten a bit stale. For a modern audience I think it'd be cooler having a man doing that job. A good many fathers I know have problems with the lack of media father figures taking the job seriously, and seeing one would make them happy.

And playing back into what I said above, you could make Hicks a woman and change absolutely nothing about his dialogue or actions...yet the character would still work. Same thing with Ripley. Even the romantic sub-plot between the two of them stays intact.

My take; the best way to tell if a character is stable is to gender-flip them and see what happens. If they still "work", that is they stay believable and sympathetic (or unsympathetic in the case of characters designed to be antagonists), the character is probably realistic. If the character suddenly changes drastically, there's probably a stereotype being employed somewhere.

Admittedly this is a rough barometer and does get pretty subjective at times. But I still think it works as a vague indicator. Thoughts?
If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 3 Loni Jay, Sun, 10th Feb '13 12:44:13 AM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
I don't know - what if, say, the conflict of the story depends on the character rebelling against gender roles? Several of Tamora Pierce's female protagonists simply wouldn't work as men, because large chunks of their story is about rebelling in a male-dominated world. Does that really mean that they're bad or not feminist?
Be not afraid...
 4 drunkscriblerian, Sun, 10th Feb '13 12:50:55 AM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
@Loni: I always hesitate to give stories like that a pass, because "rebelling against gender roles" is a pretty thin hook to hang a plot on most times. Thus why the "rebellious princess" thing is such a cliche, why Action Girl is rapidly heading in the same direction, etc.

Sure, showing gender roles getting expanded is a laudable enough idea...but the story needs to have more than that. So I guess my answer is yes, they aren't really advancing the cause of women any.

edited 10th Feb '13 12:51:37 AM by drunkscriblerian

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 5 Lascoden, Sun, 10th Feb '13 12:56:43 AM from Missouri, USA
...
[up][up][up]It's definitely an interesting idea. But, I do think that gender plays a larger role in the Alien movies then that. The common themes in the franchise is related to gender, and its connection to parenting. Alien was full of sexual imagery, with the designers admitting to focusing some aspects on men and others on women. Prometheus was all about parenting, with focus on the father role. The third-I mean, the fourth had the baby-thing, which went heavy into all sorts of gender stuff (moreso in the first-draft). Aliens is similar. You mentioned the Mama Bear aspect. I really think that that was the main theme of the entire movie. Ripley was protecting her surrogate daughter against the Queen, which acted as a sort of antithesis. Basically, it was sort of a "Good Mother vs. Evil Matriarch". If the genders were reversed, I think it would just change the role theme of the film. And I'm of the opinion that when you change the theme, you should just do a different movie.

Also, if Vasquez is a man, who will Michelle Rodriguez play? Sassy, tough, and ultimately doomed? That's the role she was born/typecast into playing!
boop
 6 drunkscriblerian, Sun, 10th Feb '13 1:01:28 AM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
[up]Well for one thing, Michelle Rodriguez didn't play Vasquez. That was Jeanette Goldstein. And for another, yes...Alien-the-franchise is full of sexual imagery, but under Cameron's direction that element was downplayed in favor of more action (I haven't seen Prometheus yet so I don't know if that got brought back or not - stopped following the franchise after the abortion that was Alien3).

As to the whole "mom-vs-mom" subtext in Aliens, that's part of what I was saying has gotten stale to a modern audience. Changing up Ripley as a man produces different subtext, to be sure...but you wouldn't have to change any of the dialogue or character actions to make Ripley a believable man. The subtext would change, but the character of Ripley is essentially intact in a plot/character sense.

Finally, gender plays a role in Aliens, yes. But no gender really gets the shaft in terms of how the human characters are portrayed, which is one of the reasons I like the movie so much.

edited 10th Feb '13 1:02:32 AM by drunkscriblerian

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 7 Loni Jay, Sun, 10th Feb '13 1:02:29 AM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
I don't necessarily mean ones that are only about rebelling against gender roles. I mean ones in which the main plot takes precedence, but a lot of drama and character development comes from the gender stuff.

Be not afraid...
 8 drunkscriblerian, Sun, 10th Feb '13 1:04:04 AM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
[up]Eh, Mercedes Lackey does the same thing and I got sick of the concept after I graduated high school. As a writer I find if you go to talk about gender roles, there's this ever-present temptation to resort to stock characters to make your point. I mean, Lackey does that constantly with her male antagonists IMO.
If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 9 Lascoden, Sun, 10th Feb '13 1:23:42 AM from Missouri, USA
...
[up][up][up]Oh, I know Rodriguez didn't play Vasquez. I was just making fun of the Vasquez Always Dies Trope, and how it's been pointed out that she often fills that role (See. tongue

Anyway, while I agree that neither gender necessarily got the short end of the stick, I still think that they played different roles in the movie. The movie, in my eyes, has a strong maternal theme. Now, you could change it to paternal theme instead, and you could maybe make it just as good. But I just think it would be a very...different movie, on a fundamental level. And I think a part of it is due to it being a product of its time. An era where women in action roles was not quite as accepted as it is now.
boop
 10 Loni Jay, Sun, 10th Feb '13 1:31:53 AM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
[up][up] I don't know about Mercedes Lackey - I only ever read one of her books*, which I didn't like and didn't finish.

I don't know if that is an inevitability of writing about gender roles, anyway. Something to keep an eye on, yeah, but I don't think it's impossible to do well.

Like it or not, gender and its expectations play a substantial role in people's lives. It seems silly to cut yourself off from exploring the area - especially if you're going to be writing non-speculative fiction stuff.

edited 10th Feb '13 1:32:36 AM by LoniJay

Be not afraid...
 11 drunkscriblerian, Sun, 10th Feb '13 1:37:26 AM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
Like it or not, gender and its expectations play a substantial role in people's lives. It seems silly to cut yourself off from exploring the area - especially if you're going to be writing non-speculative fiction stuff.

Well I wasn't saying to cut it off entirely. Just that a character's reason for existing in the story needs to be more than "its a girl, and she's doing boy stuff! Isn't that awesome?" *

Sure gender affects what we do in reality. But it's one of many factors. The harder a creator plays that card, the more they start traipsing into stereotype-land. At least in my experience.

edited 10th Feb '13 1:38:32 AM by drunkscriblerian

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 12 Oh So Into Cats, Sun, 10th Feb '13 2:21:56 AM from The Sand Wastes Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
It's more about doing stuff that does not have popular approval. However there is a noticeable dearth of stories about boys doing girl stuff, so that's kind of a problem.
"Beware of the wolves. They were raised by wolves."

Eidolonomics: ~60.4k/100,000 words
 13 Besserwisser, Sun, 10th Feb '13 2:33:28 AM from Planet of Hats
And I think a part of it is due to it being a product of its time. An era where women in action roles was not quite as accepted as it is now.
We have discussed that in the Sexism and Men's Issues thread but Aliens only turned out to have a female protagonist because Alien was a horror movie, a genre with lots of female protagonists. Same with Terminator and Teminator 2.

The thing with showing people as rebelling their gender roles is that while it is quite possible to do so I haven't seen many good examples of this. Most feminist works with this tend to villainize men and sanctify women. Something which already happens in regular works of fiction. They somehow feel to need to show not only one Strawman Misogynist but several with few men not fitting this description. If the story is about defying gender roles shouldn't men be also be shown to do so instead of pushing most of them in roles they feel they fit in our society? Though that is a problem with prosectution and not the overall concept.

However there is a noticeable dearth of stories about boys doing girl stuff, so that's kind of a problem.
If we want more equality, should we really show gender as the most defining feature?

 14 Oh So Into Cats, Sun, 10th Feb '13 2:41:55 AM from The Sand Wastes Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
Girls having swashbuckling adventures or being firemen is pretty commonplace in the minds of viewers, and while it's unrealistic not to note that it's unusual for women to do this in certain time periods and there would not be certain consequences, it doesn't seem like much to hang one's hat on, sure. However there just plain is a lack of things that show "hey boys it's acceptable to do X and Y and Z and stuff too!"

Again this is mostly when thinking about children's literature like Tamora Pierce, which does tend to be heavily gender segregated - as in, girls will read stuff about boys but boys won't read stuff about girls. There has been some change in that but not enough.
"Beware of the wolves. They were raised by wolves."

Eidolonomics: ~60.4k/100,000 words
 15 Besserwisser, Sun, 10th Feb '13 3:45:07 AM from Planet of Hats
[up] Yeah, more stuff showing men in traditionally female roles would be great.

 16 Vericrat, Sun, 10th Feb '13 4:11:29 AM from .0000001 seconds ago
Like this, but brown.
[up]I guess. It just doesn't usually make for particularly engaging media. By that I don't mean that women aren't engaging, but that the things we traditionally associate with "feminine" are kinda boring.

It's traditionally "masculine" to go out and slay dragons or bust up a gang or make a name for yourself or save a person in distress or whatever, and those can all be interesting to watch/read/whatever.

It's traditionally "feminine" to cook, clean, raise children, and be loving and supportive of the dragon-slayer. Not that such things can't be interesting, but they aren't usually. So sticking a man in those positions almost always has to be juxtaposed with a woman in the "masculine" position of doing the more interesting stuff.

I think there should be more of a push for everyone doing the "interesting" stuff than pushing one side to do the "boring" stuff.
THIS IS A PSA: As of 1/1/13 there is a 1-year moratorium on No Pants Thursdays. Instead, we shall celebrate No Pants 2013.
 17 Karalora, Sun, 10th Feb '13 7:29:58 AM from San Fernando Valley, CA Relationship Status: In another castle
Manliest Person on Skype
You can gender-flip any of the characters in the movie and thanks to the context we're given, all of them still remain believable.

My rule of thumb for both fiction and non-fiction is that if a situation seems normal by itself, but really weird when you Gender Flip it, it's probably sexist. And yeah, that means there's a lot of sexism floating around.

I second everyone who wants to see more stories with men cast in roles that are usually given to women...but we have to be careful. The problem, as Vericrat points out, is that many of those roles are passive by definition—Men Act, Women Are, after all—and a protagonist who doesn't do anything is hardly a protagonist at all. An Ordinary Day in the Life of a Middle-Class Homemaker is not going to be a gripping narrative no matter what sort of dangly bits the homemaker has.*

An example of a story that could be told about a man in a traditionally feminine role: Just Gender Flip the Lifetime Movie of the Week. (Oh, and inject some subtlety into the script. Jeez.) A male abuse victim, fleeing his wife with their children in tow. In addition to all the hardships a woman in that position would face, he would also encounter resistance from people who aren't prepared to accept the Gender Flip—people who disdain him for being a victim in the first place, social agencies for abuse victims that aren't equipped to handle adult men as clients, even kneejerk feminists who think he must be lying about the situation and characterize him as a kidnapper. Not only could it be an intense drama on its own, but it would serve to throw light on real social problems.
 18 drunkscriblerian, Sun, 10th Feb '13 11:28:10 AM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
And as another consideration, we've spent centuries not telling women's stories because the narrow roles society allowed them weren't deemed "interesting." It's not very fair to women to suddenly decide stories about those roles are interesting enough to tell after all...as long as a man inhabits them.

[awesome]This.

However there are ways around the "domesticity is not interesting" problem. For example, you can show a partnership where the woman is the doer and the breadwinner while the man is the housekeeper - and through context paint their relationship as good and healthy. I mean, it isn't like this situation is unheard of in real life. *

That kind of pair bonding - where one person plays a dominant role - isn't unbelievable or discriminatory by itself. It is all in how a creator chooses to package it.

edited 10th Feb '13 11:30:44 AM by drunkscriblerian

If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 19 The Bat Pencil, Sun, 10th Feb '13 11:41:31 AM from Glasgow, Scotland Relationship Status: I'm just a hunk-a, hunk-a burnin' love
I haven't seen Prometheus yet so I don't know if that got brought back or not

Hoo-boy. Let's just say you're in for a show.
I couldn't possibly comment.
 20 Oh So Into Cats, Sun, 10th Feb '13 11:53:11 AM from The Sand Wastes Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
Sure, the daily life of a homemaker, whether man or woman, is not really all that exciting. The assumption I'm seeing is that for a story to be interesting, the conflict has to do with the character's career, when this is not the case. Events conspire to drag the (usually heroine) into the plot without it being the main focus of her life before. I guess though these are peculiarities of women's fiction that men don't read, though.
"Beware of the wolves. They were raised by wolves."

Eidolonomics: ~60.4k/100,000 words
 21 drunkscriblerian, Sun, 10th Feb '13 11:59:37 AM from Castle Geekhaven Relationship Status: In season
Street Writing Man
@Cats: there are plenty of "ordinary guy gets dragged into extraordinary situation" plots out there too. That scenario is hardly gender-specific.
If I were to write some of the strange things that come under my eyes they would not be believed.

~Cora M. Strayer~
 22 GAP, Sun, 10th Feb '13 12:30:57 PM Relationship Status: Complex: I'm real, she is imaginary
Formerly G.G.
You know this whole playing with gender roles is a lot older than most people think. I know of Euripedes and his character Clytemnestra from the Orestria. Granted, she was an antagonist int he play but she is described as being a "he woman" when Agamemenon went off to war while she took control of things back at home.

edited 10th Feb '13 12:34:02 PM by GAP

“The continuous narrative of existence is a lie. There is no continuous narrative, there are lit-up moments, and the rest is dark.”
 23 Besserwisser, Sun, 10th Feb '13 1:47:58 PM from Planet of Hats
I actually like to see female villains. That's a role that's about as male dominated if not more so than the hero.

 24 Karalora, Sun, 10th Feb '13 2:17:05 PM from San Fernando Valley, CA Relationship Status: In another castle
Manliest Person on Skype
[up] Men Act, Women Are intersects with Villains Act, Heroes React. Female villains are usually motivated by some strongly female-coded drive such as envy toward the (prettier) heroine, revenge for being jilted by a man, overzealous defense of her children, etc. Most of the exceptions, especially in older works, carry with them the implicit understanding that she is evil because she is usurping a male role.

I would love to see more female Corrupt Corporate Executives, General Rippers, and gangsters. The trick is to avoid giving the impression that she falls under the "exception" category described above.
 25 GAP, Sun, 10th Feb '13 3:38:27 PM Relationship Status: Complex: I'm real, she is imaginary
Formerly G.G.
I would love to have more female villains but then the double standards rear their ugly head. How about a complete monster female villain whose Evil is on par with Xykon, Richard or Black Mage?
“The continuous narrative of existence is a lie. There is no continuous narrative, there are lit-up moments, and the rest is dark.”
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