According to Society & Fiction, I Still Don’t Get This Female Thing

May 20, 2016 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | Books, Chatterbox, Features


So I was in the kitchen last night, getting stressed over the tasteless pasta I was making that happened to be both undercooked and soggy at the same time, and I came to a realisation. I don’t think I’m ever going to enjoy cooking or being in the kitchen. It’s something that I’ve always envisaged suddenly enjoying “when I grow up” but newsflash, I’ve grown up now and it still hasn’t happened yet.

It occurred to me how female gender roles have been hammered into us from a very young age – women are the caretakers, they spend time in the kitchen, they keep the house clean and look after the kids. My parents were very traditional and raised me to do chores and look after the house.

But as I’ve grown up, as I’ve become more independent, the focus on my career and pursuing my passions (such as this blog) have really taken time away from developing my cooking skills or devoting time to that sparkling clean house or that extensive herb garden. When is that maternal instinct going to kick in? When am I going to look like I’m getting it together without stressing every single weekend when the house is a mess?

Now there’s the very likelihood that it’s not going to happen. Which brings me to my point – in media, in books, in TV and movies, we often see that the same societal female gender roles that my parents have raised me to strive towards. This often features a stay at home mother, wearing an apron, who sends their kids off to school with their lunch bag, or the working mum who still somehow has a sparkling clean household. Sometimes it features the upmarket career woman who spends all her money socialising, hunting for Mr Right and shopping, who never devotes a thought to when her laundry is getting done or how she feeds herself. I often find this frustrating and misrepresented because where’s the everyday ‘me’ in books and in media, who has the same worries and stresses and getting the house together?

Maybe that’s why I prefer fantasy books, because I’m always frustrated with female representation in contemporary books. I’m obviously not a teenager anymore, but the older sister, aunt or mother always seems to be fictionalised to a traditional typecast. If the older females are struggling for survival, hunting demons or living on a space ship, there’s no way I can compare myself to what they’re going through. The search for more realistic fictional females in their 20s will continue.

Do you have the same struggles that I do about fictional females? Have you got any book recommendations that do represent us well?


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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Tiktok@happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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49 responses to “According to Society & Fiction, I Still Don’t Get This Female Thing

  1. alwaysopinionatedgirl

    I think this a really interesting point. Women in fantasy often tend to more empowered, which I think is because the sexism against them is really blatant and shocking so they feel as if they have to stand up against it. Whereas in contemporary, the sexism seems more subtle and therefore almost easier for female characters to accept. I love female characters who are empowered and stand up for themselves, regardless of which world they're in.

  2. I believe what you're describing is the 1950's marketing ideal, designed to make women feel inferior, so they'd buy products in an attempt to keep up with the joneses, as it were. Nobody actually functions like that, outside of the movies and TV. And cooking is a great skill that everyone without their own chef must have, and it requires practice and patience (like any other skill). So…fight against the marketing concepts being forced on you, and refuse to believe they're societal standards. Because they aren't, and you shouldn't be wasting time and energy comparing yourself to them, even figuratively for the sake of a blog post. I can't think of a single well-written book I've ever read where the female embodied that 1950s housefrau identity. It's a charictature, and lazy writing, for one. I don't read a lot of contemporary YA, but Catch a Falling Star featured what felt like, to me, a genuine female contemporary character. And I'm sure there are others.
    My recent post Mermaid Hair Indecision

    • I should add, this is coming from a US perspective. I know different cultures have different standards (for instance, a female Indian friend of ours was blase about the fact that Indian mothers cook every meal for their grown sons until they marry. It's the norm, although it appalled me (but then, my brothers and I were all taught how to cook, do laundry, etc. so we wouldn't be reliant on others to survive when we moved out of our parents' house). So if you're looking for contemporary novels where the protagonist is 20, female, and doesn't have her shit together, I'd lean more toward US authors, I guess?
      My recent post Mermaid Hair Indecision

  3. Cyn @ Bookmunchies

    Great discussion post, Jeann! I totally can see where the frustration comes from since society's expectations of women are not always the greatest (sigh). My parents are also pretty traditional, but I've also just learned to do my thing, haha.
    I think I have to agree with you with the search for realistic fictional females in their 20s will have to continue. I find that NA books that have 20-something it's always about the sex/find the Mr. Right, which I mean I love romance novels, but me being in my late-20's, that's not what I'm doing :/

    Have you tried Julie James FBI series? The heroines in that are usually late-20's. Successful lawyers etc. but still have those regular people issues from what I remember, haha.

    (Also, I just wanted to say, I love love eating food, I would much rather have someone else cook it for me though, haha. And I definitely don't feel quite like an adult yet still lol)
    My recent post Review: The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye

  4. I actually love cooking when I have the time, but it's a definite NO to cleaning. And yeah, I mean, today so many women are pursuing careers instead of "learning" all of that stuff. My mum works full time and I work a lot as well so often the house is a CATASTROPHE. But in contemporary it's either the perfect mum who can do everything, the absent mother, or the awful mother. Kind of frustrating.
    My recent post TeenCon and an Epic Book Haul

  5. I don't know how to cook. Well, I do, but I hate cooking. There's too much timing that I can't really control. It's kind of why I have been an expert at making a grilled cheese!

    As to books, is it sad that I have accepted this stupid sexism/traditional roles? Like I'll definitely mention it in my review if I notice it, but if I don't then it's because it's too ingrained in my brain. Either that, or I haven't read as much contemporary. I feel like I definitely see sexism in fantasy books, but I don't remember 😛

    Awesome post Jeann! I wish I could give out recommendations, but I never looked out for this, so I can't!
    My recent post BEA Recap: Chicago Edition

    • Ohhh grilled cheese is the bomb, so you're already awesome Val! It's kind of sad that we've accepted that 🙁 because of the years of conditioning I think we're just used to it. Fantasy does have blatant sexism as well especially about sexy female characters or kickass ones like that. But yeah, no one has any recommendations!

  6. GAH so much yes. I am like, the antithesis of the "together female" in pretty much every way. I hate cooking and doing anything house-related. HATE. IT. If I wasn't broke, I would hire someone. Because no. And if I *wanted* to cook and wanted to learn, GREAT! But the fact that I hate it and yet am still somehow pigeonholed by society to think I "need" to like to do it? Not okay. I also am probably close to the worst housekeeper in the history of ever, so yeah, I want to see ME in books too! Like, none of the moms in books are ever just ugly crying in the kitchen because the washer is broken, or trying to collect themselves because their kids are just driving them INSANE, or trying to look for $20 to get takeout because fuck cooking. (These are things that happen to me at least every week?)

    I agree with you about fantasy- I much prefer the way women are presented there, it seems like it's much easier for a fantasy heroine to be a badass female than a contemporary one, and that is a sad, sad commentary. If I find this book with the mess of a woman who gives zero fucks, I promise to let you know 😀 FABULOUS post!!
    My recent post BEA 2016 Was a Thing: The Recap Part

    • Mannnn, hiring someone to do all this shit would be a major relief, but a shame none of us can afford that. I completely know what you mean, I mean I get asked all these questions all the time about when I cook and clean the house and stuff like that so on the weekends I stress out about it when that should be my time to relax after work! We've gone months without going to the grocery store because of how much take out we're having. But yes, I ask myself often about why life as a woman sucks sometimes?

      I completely agree, at least with the badass heroine it's frustratingly cliche but at least it doesn't make me feel bad lol. NO ONE can give me a book rec!

  7. Cynthia

    I get what you are saying. I have never been much of a cook and I have never enjoyed it. My grandmother once told me that I needed to learn to cook more to get a husband. Really? Well, I guess the joke was on her because I have a husband who does all the cooking. He is good at it and he LOVES it. He grew up with his dad doing all the cooking, so that's what he likes to do. Love that.

    • That's so wonderful to hear Cynthia! I find gender stereotypes so marginal sometimes but it's what the older generation have grown up with and preach.

  8. I was recently thinking about this in relation to a song. I like the song and it is on my iPod, but for some reason I noticed this week that the "strong" men were out working and the "strong" woman was making the coffee. The sad thing is that some of the most gender demeaning fiction I have read was written by women. I am reminded of the saying, "Be the change you want to see."

    • Oh man, that song just sounds so demeaning without realising it. I\’m so glad that today\’s women are more aware about gender stereotypes to hopefully make a change.

  9. Jackie

    I've always considered myself to be an independent young woman and a feminist. But…I love working in the kitchen. I've been baking cookies and cooking up breakfast since I was eight. And I don't think it's because I was a girl either. Chores were actually pretty balanced in my househould (yardwork withstanding). I saw my father in the kitchen just as often as my mother. My mother taught me how to bake cookies, and my dad taught me how to scramble eggs. They just sort of played the role that was necessary because there was a time when my mom held a full-time job and was going to school to get her accounting degree. She wasn't around during dinner time, so my dad would have to cook (lots of chili during those days, which was fine by me). So, the love of cooking continues into my adulthood. I love baking. I love trying out new dinner recipes weekly. I practically do backflips when I manage to cook up vegetables in a way that is not only palatable but that I actually crave. The only thing I like more than cooking is eating everything (can eating be considered a hobby?). That's not to say all my meals are great. In all honesty, I almost always overcook the steaks, and sometimes my pasta comes out soggy and mushy too. And forget about that boxed mac and cheese you make with the powder– it's always soupy! But…I guess it's all kind of an adventure to me too.

    I don't actually read a lot of contemporary fiction. Although, I'm not sure if it's because I'm afraid I can't relate to it or if it's because I'm afraid I won't enjoy it. The closest thing I get to that is a cozy mystery novel. Sometimes the protagonists are baking geniuses, sometimes they're snarky museum owners who can't cook and prefer ordering takeout every night.

    • It's completely okay to love cooking and be a feminist and independent young woman definitely! But then I always seek to read about more people who don't have a clue what to do around the household and to scramble by. I don't really like a lot of contemporary fiction because I don't find it relatable for myself – maybe for another audience.

  10. Oh my gosh, Jeann, this is so true! And let me just tell you that I'm even more grown-up than you are, – and apart from the fact that I love cooking – there's nothing else around the house I actually enjoy doing. Which is why I'm happy we earn enough money to pay someone to clean the house for us… Because really, that's not something I want to spend my free time doing. There are still things that have to be done around the house every day, but between my husband and me, and the four kids, we manage quite nicely most of the time.
    My house never actually looks tidy, though. We all like to keep some of our things close, so the living room is full of books, papers, half-finished home-work, coloring books etc. That's OK, if someone shows up unexpectedly at our house, that means they know us well enough to not care about the mess anyway 😀
    I can't think of a single book off my head where female characters are depicted a bit differently. But like you, I read more fantasy and sci-fi than contemporary. And usually, in my contemporary reads, the home is kind of glossed over in many ways.
    Great post, Jeann!
    My recent post STS #134 Bought Borrowed and Bagged #84 BEA Haul

    • I'm glad to hear that you can make it work Lexxie! After a long week at work, the last thing I feel like doing is catching up on all those chores around the house but alas, I feel like it's an obligation. No one enjoys that sort of thing. Don't worry, your house kind of sounds like mine haha 😀 there's only so much tidiness we can do without forgetting about things that we own, so why hide them away?

  11. THIS POST SPEAKS TO ME SO MUCH! I thought I was rather alone in this feeling, so it's good to know that I'm actually not! I'm often wishing for more reads, especially now in my 20s, where the main characters aren't looking to check off society's dictated life skills. It seems to be – espeially in books like new adult romance or contemporary romance that you find a guy, complete study, get married, have babies, take your place in the kitchen. What about those of us who haven't done that? Where are we? I can't cook to save my life, but even when I read YA, the girls are already cooking masterpieces for their families or doing some sort of chore that is dictated as a feminine role. I guess that's why fantasies are so appealing? Especially the ones where the FMC is trying to break out of the stereotypical norm – like girls disguised and boys etc.
    My recent post The Things I Didn’t Say by Kylie Fornasier

    • You're definitely not alone here Hannah! It's kind of an unspoken especially with the conditioning that we've grown up with you know? All those new adult books are all geared towards romance and sex which makes it even more frustrating! I completely agree! That's why books like Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour completely speak to me, because I find it more relatable.

  12. OMG! we are sisters in this case I belong to a culture where women are supposed to do the whole housework thing no matter what and reading the same things in the books literally makes you frustrated! This is an amazing post like seriously amazing! This is something that authors should consider! 🙂
    My recent post Review Rant: Four's A Crowd by Maria Bradley

    • I'm so glad you can relate as well Haniya! It is really frustrating especially when instead of doing the laundry I'm trying to read a book yet stressing about it XD then seeing these women in the books makes it worse.

  13. readingwishes

    I don't find this when I read, but I'm probably not so focused on the older sister/aunt/mum character, maybe? I don't think women should be forced into this old fashioned role and they have every right to make a passion-filled, fun life for ourselves. But I'm sure some books fall into the easily taken path and that can get annoying after a while. Not because it can be boring or disheartening to the reader, but also to the character because this may be that they're being limited. But I don't think being a mother or housewife isn't a valid choice. It's all about the choice and deciding what is best for you. Cooking requires skill and if it's not clicking, it's work, especially when you spend time in the kitchen and end up disheartened with your efforts! I've found the more I'm in the kitchen though, the better I am with cooking because it allows for freedom once you get the knack of things. Although I don't think a chef would be too impressed with my cutting skills (or lack of) haha. Maybe a cooking class might be helpful? Not so you can check it off the female checklist (haha, what even?!) but for yourself. Also, might be handy to look into slow cookers. Dump it all in and then be done! Sounds too good to be true, huh? P.S. I didn't meant to go off on a cooking spiel. Just thought it might be helpful advice. Will be interested to see if anyone leaves any recs though!

  14. I love to cook and I'm quite good in the kitchen. I can have a few roasts cooking, a stove full of cooking pots and still whip up a desert. But it wasn't always that way and you have to have a love of cooking. I've always been one of those people who needs order in my life. I need to cook, clean and keep the house neat and tidy (as much as possible), but I do it solely to appease my own compulsion. Yeah, I'm one of those USE A COASTER!! people. Only speaking for myself, but I think I'm a nester. I'm at that age where my body is ready to have a billion babies and I'm strutting around ruffling my feathers. Even in movies / books / TV, the 'little woman' seems to always be subservient, meek and often dotes on her husband. I love my husband dearly, but there's no doubt that I wear the pants here. The same can be said for the reverse. Women as a society have changed so much since the fifties and even in new adult I find characters incredibly unrealistic. I think a lot of authors cater for the wider reading market and probably take into account other cultures and customs and probably don't want to offend others? Who knows. It seems that any male character who cooks, is sensitive or supportive, readers latch onto as a book boyfriend when really, that kind of guy DOES exist, as does the working woman, the single woman who doesn't need a man and the 'little woman' at home who doesn't cower behind the husband. I think it comes down to real representation and authors as a whole need to start listening to their audience and break new ground.

    This post is MAGNIFICENT Jeann <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 MAGNIFICENT!
    My recent post Ruined by Amy Tintera

    • That's fantastic that you've gotten to that stage in your life where you're happy with being a nester and keeping the house tidy and in order! It feels so backwards that in this day and age, we're still getting gender and racial stereotypes in fiction. You would've thought that it would have caught up by now. Slowly but surely we're seeing more diversity and I hope that continues.

    • Thanks Lauren, it sounds like I'm not alone here which is great! There are so many books that paint a rosy picture of this time in our lives, or new adult where we're having wild sex apparently lol.

  15. Braine-Talk Supe

    I don't think you'll find this girl in fantasy or YA romances. You'll find a lot of them in general fiction, women's lit and realistic fiction. As I grow older I gravitate to books that has more "Me' in them be it age or struggles etc. Something relatable.
    My recent post Loved It: Secret Sisters by Jayne Ann Krentz

  16. keionda

    YESSS! I HATE how we women, are always subjected to the same stereotype of cleaning the house, working, cooking, taking care of the kids, and all that. (Even though al this is on us though, I still feel pretty awesome known that we are counted on for so much while the men.. .PFFT, AREN'T) But still, sometimes, a change in pace is good and I believe in having some equality in the house… I cook/clean on some days and my future hubbie will cook/clean on some days. 😉 It would make me less grumpy in the end too, I think. 😉

    • I know, it\’s the most irritating stereotype because it was always a \”when I grow up that\’s what I\’ll be expected to be like\” but now I am grown up! Equality in the house is always easier said than done, my fiancée is great at helping out when I need it but it isn\’t his immediate priority on the weekends.

  17. dvasso

    I'm so bad at cooking, but lucky for me my partner does all the cooking in our house. He likes to do it, i hate it. But I totally see what you mean about contemporary. I have such a hard time relating to protagonists in contemporary novels because their life doesn't really reflect mine. I would love to find some more realistic ones of women in their 20s, but I haven't had much luck either.

    • That\’s so lovely that you have found someone who can cook! Both my partner and I are equally bad at it lol. I guess we could always look for more adult fiction, but those ones I don\’t really find appealing, either.

  18. I totally get what you're saying! (Also I'm a disaster in the kitchen haha!) I wonder why there aren't any books out there will 'normal' girls who aren't completely one way or the other when it comes to domestic life. I'm also annoyed that most are either Tom boys or girly girls. Why no balance?

    • I know, everyone seems to have it together in books or it\’s some sort of cute quirk. We definitely need more representation when it comes to more realistic women!

  19. anotherafterthought

    Surprisingly, I've been told by varying generations that there's a shift in dynamics where more women are looking for men who balance out that caretaker role (re: who are adequate at cooking as well). Or it's just that everyone is a self-entitled "foodie" — I'll never know. Point is: it's definitely frustrating how fiction can often take the easy route and be extremely lackadaisical to the truer walks of life; which, of course, is fine because it's under that mantra of fiction, but still. If there's one thing in SF-F that's a hit or miss in being addressed (re food), it's that they either rarely find sustenance throughout the hundreds of pages of text and/or they rarely complain about the actual food itself (which I can imagine to be really shit because who said they're chefs??).
    My recent post [Top Ten Tuesday] – #107 – Books Picked Up on a Whim

    • Ah Joey, it makes me happy that as a male you\’re being told that sort of thing! Even now by my parents they\’re always \”make a drink for your fiancée\” \”let him eat first\” etc. but actually we don\’t really care about that stuff. I completely agree that fiction seems to need to catch up with the trends. Everyone seems to be an amazing chef in the books I read and of course everything they eat has to be delicious!

  20. The Filipino culture has always dictated that women are supposed to be subversive. And growing up in the Philippines, I was well on my way to being one. I mean, back in high school, the thought of standing up for myself to verbally abusive teachers would never cross my mind. I would stand there and take it. I also went to an all-girls catholic private school so it's just not something that I would do. When my family immigrated to Canada, I was pretty much the same person for about 5 years. But as I acclimated to Canadian culture, I realize that standing up for myself does not mean I'm being disrespectful. I think we have years ahead of us to reprogram ourselves about gender roles. But now that more people are talking about it, we are slowly educating our generation and the next generation.


    There was that time last weekend where I'd mistakenly poured two tbsp of baking soda thinking it was icing sugar on a cheese danish that I was attempting to make.

    My cookies always turned out rock-hard no matter how much lard I put in it.

    My kids always say, "grandma's better" on pretty much anything I cook that I force them to eat.

    Don't feel bad.

    There's always take out.
    My recent post [637]: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

    • Yes! My fiancée is Filipino and I\’ve heard a lot about the culture there and how women are always the lesser. But I\’m super lucky that he\’s also accustomed to the Australian culture where we all work hard and pitch in. I\’m glad to hear that you\’re slowly learning to break out of that gender stereotype. I\’m glad to hear that it\’s not just me! That one time I tried to make fudge was laughable. I can\’t bake for shit lol. Take out, what would we do without it?

  21. thebigfatf

    I totally agree because I hate (and suck) at cooking as well and sometimes I'm so frustrated because WHY. But then I realise we don't have to fit any kind of mold.
    It is interesting though why many female characters only break expectations through fantasy books. It's like we need another reality for this to happen when we can just change THIS ONE.
    HOW DO WORKING MUMS KEEP THEIR HOUSES CLEAN IN BOOKS THOUGH?! I can hardly keep my room clean and it's tiny.
    My recent post Love, Lies &amp; Spies by Cindy Anstey

    • Thanks so much Faith! Cooking and I are not friends. I completely agree, no one can really recommend a contemporary book where the females don't have it altogether. I have no idea, they are super women!

  22. I've actually not really struggled with this before?? I find there is TONS of sexism in almost every book I read (grrr…it bothers me that even fantasy worlds can't imagine things being different. Like WHY??! It's not like fantasy worlds are attached to our worlds, so why do they still have so much sexism??) but the heroines will still be doing things outside of their society's-dictated-gender-roles. I see more and more books shaking up the gendered roles. WHICH IS GREAT. I highly approve of that. 😀

    • I do think fantasy worlds have their own degree of sexism, but in a way it's like at least there's those badass characters in fantasy lol. I'm glad more books are doing this, hopefully it becomes the norm.

  23. Bec Graham

    I agree, completely. It's why I ALSO read fantasy and sci-fi. Because there's too much else going on for anyone to care who does the cooking or cleaning because everyone is just trying to survive.
    This is also why I usually avoid certain genres. I gind gender stereotypes, for every gender, crop up in some genres more than others.

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