Top 5 Gender Stereotype Crushers

30th Aug 2013

Top 5 Gender Stereotype Crushers
There seems to be a growing popularity in the work of authors who choose to manipulate gender stereotypes in their literature.

Admittedly this isn’t an entirely new craze; Shakespeare was always (perhaps a little too) eager to redecorate his female characters into men, endowing them with characteristics that were brazen for the time period.

While Shakespeare may have ignited the craze, the array of women writers who have carried manipulations of gender to a more modern audience appears to be growing by the decade.

Gender manipulation is becoming one of the nation’s favourite features in literature...With gender manipulation becoming one of the nation’s favourite features in literature, I present to you my top five authors who have explored this and the texts in which it has been achieved.

1. Radclyffe Hall

Radclyffe Hall, thought to be one of the first writers to introduce the world to a lesbian character, is the writer responsible for igniting my interest in this area of literature.

While Hall was responsible for many publications during her writing career, the most well-known is The Well of Loneliness, which was deemed so controversial and outrageous upon its initial publication, it was actually banned in the United Kingdom.

The novel follows the story of Stephen, a girl born to a father who was desperate for a son and, because of that desperation, he not only named her as a boy, but also treated her as one.

With Stephen’s younger years being devoted to rough play and a general disinterest in ribbons and female delicacies, the novel follows her complex life that is inextricably woven about the gender confusion that stems from her childhood.

2. Angela Carter

When addressing the topic of manipulation of gender roles, I, in true feminist fashion, can’t usually get through one of these conversations without mentioning the iconic Angela Carter. It is a firm belief of mine that feminists and gender analysts will never run out of things to say about this author.

This trend began with Wise Children and since then the likes of The Bloody Chamber and The Passions of New Eve have highlighted what a dominant feature this is within Carter’s publications.

3. Leslie Feinberg

Feinberg, whilst being responsible for a ground-breaking piece of literature in terms of gender, still seems to be somewhat underrated and under-acknowledged. Alongside being a transgender activist, Feinberg was also responsible for creating the mesmerising Stone Butch Blues.

The novel observes the life of a butch lesbian, Jess Goldberg, as she is forced to grow up surrounded by the confrontation and destruction of the United States, prior to the Stonewall Riots.

Alongside being an intriguing text from a gender perspective, the novel also has a glowing reputation amongst fans of LGBT literature.

4. Jeanette Winterson

The likes of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit make it impossible for me to discuss the theme of manipulating gender stereotypes without mentioning Winterson’s name. I refuse to consider this as merely a lesbian novel as many other readers seem to.

The novel follows the emotional and sexual journey of Jeanette, who is stifled by the religious obsessions of her adoptive mother.

Not only does the text contain intricate male-female relationships that bring certain questions to light regarding gender, but there is also an incident where this theme is explicitly explored in the text through the protagonist herself, who is accused of being too masculine due to the amount of responsibility she holds in the Church.

5. Virginia Woolf

The stigma attached to Woolf‘s literature, by some harsher-spoken critics, seemed somewhat unflattering, until the release of controversial novel, Orlando: a Biography.

While many readers and critics still hold an array of reservations about the author, this ’biography’ was successful in its role as a gender novel and in demonstrating a more brazen side to Woolf’s literature.

The tale, which follows the protagonist Orlando, introduces us to a young nobleman in the sixteenth century who spends his days seducing women.

While the opening premise of this text doesn’t offer a great deal for the mind to chew over, as we progress into the life of Orlando, which soon becomes a barrage of cross-dressing and ultimately sex-changing habits.

It soon becomes clear that Woolf was desperately trying to make a gender statement with this release. By opening the novel with a young boy, and closing it with an experienced woman, Woolfe has indeed made a statement!

Word count permitting, this list would span another three pages! The vast array of authors that successfully explore this theme is not only growing, but also becoming more intriguing (for both good and bad reasons) with every generation of literature.

What authors would make your top five? Have we missed anyone off the list?

Charlotte Barnes


  • Sophie Mayer says:

    All great writers! But there are women of colour unwriting & rewriting sex/gender too: Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Chrystos, Ismat Chugthai, Toni Cade Bambara, Octavia Butler, Maxine Hong Kingston, Trish Salah, Theresa Cha…

    I’d also recommend Matt Bernstein, Ali Smith, Nathanaël Stephens, Monique Wittig, Christa Wolf, and the magnificent, totally essential (and never essentialist) Joanna Russ, Ursula Le Guin, and Kathy Acker.

    • Charlotte Barnes says:

      Sophie, not only have you mentioned some brilliant authors, but you’ve also mentioned some that I haven’t even heard of yet! Perhaps I should branch out into some areas of literature and think about revising this list in the future.

  • Jasmine says:

    A great list – but bloody hard to read! Pink on a turquoise background?! Hard enough for me but please consider those with visual difficulties or dysleia for whom this would be impossible to read. That said, love the work this site does.