Gender construct and stereotypical roles

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Social beliefs and attitude construct the idea of ‘gender’. The essay firstly reflects upon the concept of “gender-a social construct”. It is evident that the term ‘gender’ is nothing but a constructed idea. Every culture has its own way of classifying ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. In general literature, a clear distinction between males and females can be clearly observed. Precisely, in the earlier eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the heroic role played by males in general literature was never interchanged with the role of women. For instance, a common trait of women in general literature was one who is quiet, a motherly figure, a subordinate, a sexual entity, etc. Arguably, the study demonstrates that the stereotyped roles of women in the earlier scenario were not standardized throughout the later time-frame.  The transition in the role of women was observed with the emergence of the feminist movement. However, the spiritual or rather the heroic nature of a woman was often portrayed as an individual with greed. In certain literature, the image of a woman reflected an aspect of moral tyranny. The basic stereotyped roles of women in general literature can be classified into two types, i.e. good or spiritual and a sexual heroine. Both the dark and good sides of a woman’s character have been depicted in most of the American and Latin literature. While exploring women’s literature, significance of stereotypical roles and gender construct is relatively high because such basic concepts enable a reader to understand various dimensions of a particular literature.


The essay will place emphasis on what it means to socially construct gender. Sociological and philosophical theories have clearly highlighted the ways in which gender roles are created by culture and society. Such roles are considered to be appropriate and ideal for individuals belonging to that particular gender. The essay will mainly focus on analyzing the significance of stereotypical roles and gender construct in context of exploring women’s literature.


Gender is a construct

‘Gender’ can be stated as an idea which is completely based on social belief. Social cues tend to create a difference between men and women. It can be claimed that social believes and attitude has defined women to be quiet, weak and shy. There is a difference between gender and sex. For instance, ‘sex’ indicates what human body is, whereas, ‘gender’ is the way one acts. A person can be male (in terms of sex); however, their personality, clothing style, etc. can categorize their gender to be female. The constructed meaning of gender means standardizing ‘boys’ to be competitive, rough and aggressive, whereas, ‘girls’ are considered to be emotional, quite and compassionate (Ahmed, 2011).  Every culture has different way of classifying how boys and girls will behave or act.

Two aspects of conventional images of women in literature

In general literature, the conventional images of women has changed with time. Social factors have played an integral role in developing such images of women. During 1970s, in American literature, the conventional image of women was depicted as being frivolous and evil. In, writer’s pattern continues in relation to developing a conventional image of ‘sexuality’ or a “sex object” while considering woman in literature (Wolf, 2013).  Arguably, the first feminist movement due to distinct cultural changes has also contributed towards transforming the image of women as depicted in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.  For instance, in late nineteenth century literature, women were classified as one who seeks a career, increased sexual freedom and suffrage. In, Margot Macomber is presented as a woman who fatally shoots her husband for obtaining freedom. , Faye Greener carries an image of a heartless and mindless lady who destroys acquaintances, friends and father in order to address own despair (Moi, 2008).  Therefore, the changing role of culture and society has been significant in terms of developing such conventional images. In one era, women had the image of being mere sex objects, whereas, feminism had made them exhibit an aggressive image in the general literature.

Two stereotyped women’s roles

In general literature, the two stereotyped women’s roles are centered towards dark or sexual heroine and light or spiritual human. The heroic nature of a woman is not one of the common roles which have been integrated by majority of the authors in the general literature. In novels, such as, ,  etc., depicts the role of a women either to be a sex object or a lady in distress. Arguably, the spiritual side is combined with the aspect of moral tyranny. Some examples of such stereotyped role are also observed in,, etc., where sweetness of a woman is well integrated with her greed to possess (Lauter et al., 2010).  However, in most of the literary evidence, female stereotypes represent characteristics such as selflessness, passivity, narrowness of character, formlessness, etc.

Significance of gender construct and stereotypical roles

Women’s literature consists of multiple shades which cannot be properly explored without considering influential forces. In certain literary evidence, the tyranny of a woman might create a negative perception within reader’s mind. Arguably, such perceptual image would carry a false interpretation throughout the story. In this context, stereotypical roles and gender construct tends to become critical factors while reading women’s literature. The stereotypical roles of women can be regarded as an important factor because it reflects the social consequences (Radway, 2009).   Hence, readers are able to effectively evaluate dual aspects of particular literary evidence. The significance of gender construct lies in context of understanding why feminine characteristics of a lady is submerged and heroic features are expressed in certain literature. In overall context, such aspects enable readers to understand the integral aspects of women’s literature.


From the above essay, it can be summarized that women have also been portrayed in a different way compared to men in general literature. Gender construct becomes an important factor in context of classifying roles of women in literature. Some examples of women’s literature has been presented where authors has focused on distinct stereotyped roles of women. The common images of women have always been either of a sexual object or a lady with greed.

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  1. Ahmed, S. (2011). Willful parts: Problem characters or the problem of character. New Literary History, 42(2), 231-253.
  2. Lauter, P., Alberti, J., Yarborough, R., Brady, M. P. and Bryer, J. R. (Eds.). (2010). The Heath anthology of American literature, volume C: Late nineteenth century: 1865-1910. London: Cengage Learning.
  3. Moi, T. (2008). I am not a woman writer’: About women, literature and feminist theory today. Feminist Theory, 9(3), 259-271.
  4. Radway, J. A. (2009). Reading the romance: Women, patriarchy, and popular literature. North Carolina: Univ of North Carolina Press.
  5. Wolf, N. (2013). The beauty myth: How images of beauty are used against women. New York: Random House.
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