Societal Norms: How They Affect Our Characters
by Joshua Hoyt
Prior to the ‘70s, it was believed that people were either male or female, black and white. Masculinity and femininity were polar opposite sides of a continuum. This meant that if you were born as a man, you’d want to be as far to the masculine side as possible to be deemed healthy. Women, on the other hand, should try to be as feminine as possible.
In 1937, Anne Constantinople claimed that masculinity and femininity are, instead, on two separate scales, low to high femininity and low to high masculinity. This means that a man could love to go hunting, play sports, and still enjoy cooking and being home with the family.
When we look at our characters, we must ask ourselves an important question: Do they generally exhibit society’s expectations of how they should act, or do brush against society’s expectations? Do we put our characters into roles that society expects of them or are our characters breaking society’s norms?
Another interesting question is how our characters are internalizing those expectations. How does it affect them to be going against the expectations of society? How do they view others who go against society’s norms and expectations?
Creating a character that goes against societies’ norms helps add tension to our stories and brings more life to our characters. It will give the story more meaning for our readers and help our readers think a little outside the box about their own lives.
Think of some of the main characters in the books you’ve read and how they behave within their communities. Think of all the heroes in your own life and how they have acted. Do they ever rebuff societal norms? Or do they follow societal norms to the T? Think about change for a moment and how hard it is to change and how difficult it is to challenge what others believe even though you feel differently. Many studies have been conducted on why soldiers in Nazi Germany followed orders, even though the orders were completely against their own beliefs. We will talk more about that in my next post.
Joshua Hoyt is a school psychologist by day, a father of four and a gamer when he’s not spending time with his family, and an author in all the other spare minutes. He is the author of How to Diagnose Your Character: Using Psychology to Create an In-Depth Character and Order of the Rose. Check out his blog where you can follow the exciting adventure of “The Old Man” and his website to be the first to learn about new releases.