This is a great question. As a historian, one of the points that I often find myself making is that whatever a culture or society produces reflects the sensibilities of that culture to some extent. For this reason, we can say that literary characters also reflect a society's view of what it means to be a man and woman or ideas about gender.
In light of this, I would say that the best approach is to examine not one literary text, but a whole gamut of literary texts to see how women and men are described. This will give you a clearer picture of how society views gender and gender roles.
Also keep in mind the dates of publication. As you know societies change with time. So, what is true of America, for instance in 1950, is not the same as today.
In conclusion, literary texts are a window into a society.