Reinforcing Female Stereotypes in Literature

It is 2016 and almost every day there is a new story that shows how diversity is becoming more and more common in all aspects of life. Gender norms are being shattered. Women and men are experiencing liberation from the traditions forced upon us by Judeo-Christian values. During this time of social progress, we are still dealing with the propagation of potentially harmful gender stereotypes in litreature. It is important that we observe and discuss how gender is portrayed and whether or not such portrayals are harmful to progressive values. 

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James


Anastasia Steele has been regarded as the one of the worst female leads of all time. Her character is a classic caricature of a naïve women who’s looking for some prince charming to come sweep her off her feet. At 22 years old graduating college with a 4.0 GPA you might think she would have a bit more confidence. Instead, she is portrayed as “gawky, insecure, sloppy, and clumsy.” However, the book has helped bring BDSM culture to the forefront of conversation. 

The literature portrays negative roles for both men and women by encouraging the tradiational successful man looking for a submissive virgin woman. By labeling the overly domineering Clike Christian as attravtive, the reader becomes indoctrinated with an idea of how he or she should act in a relationship. Christian lures the naïve Anastasia in with promises of security, wealth, and escapism while at the same time he is constantly getting her drunk and even convinces her to sign a legal gag order. These are not the decisions of a strong independent woman.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer



Bella Swan falls squarely in limited role of a damsel in distress seeking to be rescued by a powerfully attractive male figure. Although reviewers call Bella a heroine, she never actually lives up to the title. Instead, she “displays very little courage, demonstrates very little fortitude, and is in constant need of reassurance or protection.” The story keeps her pitted as a fragile victim that requires the men in her life to do all the dirty work.

Just like in Fifty Shades of Grey the male character is also portrayed in a strange way. Edward is basically a stalker, and that truly is the last thing we want to encourage amongst men. Even worse however, Bella responds to Edward’s behavior by interpreting his actions as sexy and dangerous. In the real world stalkers are definitely dangerous and not in a sexy way.

In the realm of female leads in fiction, these two series unfortunately are amongst the most popular. The traditional conception of women being constrained to a submissive are no longer appropriate in modern culture. However, there is money to be made by exploiting the feminist movement. Avoid these books not only because they are reinforcing gender norms, but more plainly, single dimensional characters are just boring to read about. 

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