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How to Recover the Harmony Between Men and Women in Fiction

May 13, 2024

Male authors’ bungled characterizations of women (and vice versa) is a running joke in the writing industry. The examples are often hilarious—and equally frustrating. Even the most talented authors struggle to depict what’s unfamiliar to them. Fortunately, dozens of articles and books offer advice for overcoming this challenge, such as Maddie’s post about how different genders process and express emotions. My aim is not to add tips to that pile but to delve into a unique aspect of gender roles that Christians can bring to the discussion. 

 

We aren’t stuck with the gritty realism of inter-gender conflict, sprinkled with the occasional moment of romance or rapport. Instead, we have an ideal we can point toward, one the world has obscured as it roils in uncertainty and embraces confusion.

 

The Forgotten Dance

The dynamic combination of the imago dei reflected in men and women is a waltz between protection and nurture, dominion and cultivation, judgment and mercy, wild prophet and gentle mother. The union of man and his mirror form the finale of God’s creation. But sin disrupted the melody that pulsed through the garden in the beginning, and over the centuries, the echoes have faded more and more, replaced with the dissonance of chaos, anger, and misunderstanding. 

 

The dance, however, can be relearned. Its rhythm is ancient and divine, fusing opposites into one and creating new life, as well as increasing all that is good, true, and beautiful. Once we recognize how human beings manifest masculinity and femininity per God’s original design, we can begin to reverse the dysfunction.

 

The Impact of the Dance Partners 

Humans, both male and female, are made in God’s image. Yet each gender is distinct from the other, which leads to our starting point: masculinity and femininity display God’s nature from two angles. Scripture refers to God with masculine pronouns, but many of the attributes we define as masculine and feminine are simultaneously ascribed to Him. See Psalm 103:13 and Isaiah 66:13 for instances of each. 

 

The simplest way to describe the balance these principles provide is that the feminine archetype is like a garden, whereas the masculine archetype is the walls around it. Without women, men guard an orderly but barren desert. Without men, women’s overflowing garden is prone to destruction. On their own, neither the masculine nor the feminine can function optimally. But together they can produce flourishing families, communities, and cultures.

 

Individual Influence

Everyone has masculine and feminine elements in their personality. Growth occurs when a person acknowledges and develops their whole self. Although one’s experiences can significantly affect behavior, it does not absolve the responsibility to seek inner equilibrium. Men and women are dissimilar by degrees, not by kind, since both contain traces of the divine harmony. 

 

Familial Influence

In the family setting, the distinctions between the masculine and the feminine crystalize around the topic of procreation. Although both genders can (and should) participate in the upbringing of their children, biology dictates their approach. Fathers nurture by creating an atmosphere that reduces the mother’s stresses and protects her from harm. Mothers directly nurture the infant before and after birth, turning the safe space the father established into a home where the child can thrive.

 

Throughout the parenting process, these back-and-forth motions follow a similar pattern. The father and mother may juggle a variety of tasks that don’t always fit neatly into stereotypes, but their overarching roles remain consistent, giving the child an opportunity to enter adulthood with a vision of how the masculine and the feminine can coalesce. 

 

Cultural Influence

In the societal arena, the physiological and psychological features of men and women affect the positions they occupy. On average, men’s muscular structure and drive to achieve makes them suited for manual labor, law enforcement, and professions in STEM fields. Whereas the demands of childbearing and rearing causes married women to focus most of their energy on their immediate households. In general, the feminine inclination to connect with others makes them gifted at healthcare, teaching, and people-oriented trades. 

 

Personality diversity within each gender means these are not hard rules that can be universally applied. But the tendencies that repeatedly appear are natural, positive traits. Harmony doesn’t result from being identical but from pursuing the same goals as a team.  

 

Resuming the Dance

Although the interplay between masculine and feminine was intended to be symbiotic, Adam and Eve’s disobedience led to shame and derision that set them against each other. Open communication disintegrated. Men and women have different priorities and strengths, and the division of the fall warped these assets into flaws and vices that are difficult to regulate without the presence of the other dance partner. 

 

However, as we craft stories that aim to accurately portray the fracture between the genders, we mustn’t ignore the hopeful backdrop of God’s original design. Through His grace, human beings can repair the chasm, and with a few key touches, fiction can convey this reality too. 

 

1. Showcase the Dance at Pivotal Thematic Moments

Conflict and tragedy, either within the family sphere or the larger sphere of society, will often intersect with (or be triggered by) the strife between men and women. Scenes revolving around catharsis, growth, and forgiveness, however, have the power to reveal what reconciliation looks like. A subtle journey from unhealthy to healthy interactions over the course of a story can emphasize the blessings of the dance without detracting from the plot or theme. 

 

In The Magician’s Nephew, Digory and Polly argue just before he rings the bell that awakens Queen Jadis in Charn. Similarly, Eustace and Jill tussle before he tumbles off the cliff at the beginning of The Silver Chair. In contrast, the final battle against the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe demonstrates how men and women working together can unlock the gates to success. While Peter and Edmund fight the enemy army head-on, Susan and Lucy slip behind the lines to accompany Aslan in gathering unexpected reinforcements: the statues in the Witch’s courtyard. Reviving these victims secures their victory. 

 

North! Or Be Eaten, the second book of the Wingfeather Saga, spotlights the synergy of characters Janner Igiby and Sara Cobbler. With Sara’s help, Janner is able to escape from the horrible Fork Factory. Later on, his courage inspires Sara to lead a rebellion that liberates many other children. 

 

2. Remember the Parents

Plunging young characters into a valley of grief and forcing them to navigate life without adults to guide them can generate plenty of drama. But orphans and singles do not represent the full range of human relationship. Since mothers and fathers are the central figures of the dance, their perspectives ought to be explored and shared, whether as protagonists, supporting cast, or even villains. Because of how integral they are, these characters will organically introduce both the problems and the delights of gender coexistence in a sin-laden world.

 

3. Use Culture as a Barometer 

The harmony (or disharmony) between the masculine and the feminine determines the condition of a culture. A society that devalues women’s cultivating role might relegate them to the status of lesser citizens, stripping them of purpose so they resort to subversion and seduction in an attempt to regain it. Or the conflation of masculinity and femininity might undermine the family unit.

 

Widespread rejection and distortion of the dance will unleash a cascade of consequences that can last for generations. Unsure what kind of fallout to include? Examples abound on the streets, the news, and the internet. 

 

4. Imitate Christian Authors of the Past and Present

Although classic authors like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien may not directly address gender roles, beneath the surface of their stories, they have a strong grasp of God’s original design, which equips them to shape male and female characters in complementary, resonant ways. The effectiveness of their methods is a testament to their wisdom and warrants further unpacking

 

Let the Song Commence!

Stable, flourishing families are a sign of harmony between the masculine and the feminine. In light of that, I leave you with two charges: first, be counter-cultural in a world that is casting aside the divinely instituted dance. Defend what should not have to be defended by heralding its beauty and worth in your daily life. God wired us for family and community, and when we collectively lean into this truth, greatness happens.

 

Second, write stories confirming the relationships that sustain generations instead of tearing them down. Acknowledge the mess and the pain, but also allow glimmers of joy, hope, and unity between men and women to shine.

 

When you paint pictures with words the way that God has painted pictures with people, the potential for and future promise of wholeness will leak through the canvas despite all the imperfections. 

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