Stereotyping the Sexes

Some bird species are monomorphic, with no easily identifiable differences between the male and female birds, but other species are dimorphic, which means there are visible differences in appearance.

Female and male Red-winged blackbirds

Reading that information in my bird guide led me to thinking about how we portray male and female characters in our writing.

Female Black-headed grosbeak

If we women need a reason to rationalize why we sometimes feel dowdy and unattractive, the birding world has the nerve to flaunt proof that it’s the male who’s meant to sport the gorgeous plumage and strut around challenging other guys and courting the gals. The females are “usually duller, with less distinctive markings that make it easier for them to blend in to the surroundings while they mind a nest or protect young birds.” *

Male Black-headed grosbeak

Men might  love this, but the women? Not so much. Then again, literature makes reference to men who strut like peacocks, displaying them as characters with vanity or overconfidence and suggesting, as scripture does, that “pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. [Proverbs 16:18]

Ah ha! Maybe there is something about characterization in these birdy and biblical references that we can utilize in our novel writing. Or would that leave us open to accusations of stereotyping?

When you’re developing your characters do you layer traits that are specific to the sexes? How do you avoid typecasting?

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“Did St. Francis preach to the birds? Whatever for?
If he really liked birds he would have done better
to preach to the cats.”

Rebecca West
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“As a bird that wandereth from her nest,
so is a man that wandereth from his place.”

Proverbs 27:8

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“Yea, the sparrow hath found an house,
and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young

even thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King, and my God.”

Psalm 84:3

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Wandering Weekend Moments

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Squabbling squirrels abandon the birdfeeder, dash across the deck and chase in circles through mist-coated grass.

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And while they are thus distracted, the birds they were keeping at bay sneak back for a snack.

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Silly squirrels!

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“… God made the wild animals, the tame animals,
and all the small crawling animals to produce more of their own kind.
God saw that this was good.”

[Genesis 1:25 – NCV]

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