Writing Excuses 6.16: Gender Roles–Black, White, and Gray

Keffy Kehrli joins Brandon, Mary, and Howard in front of a live audience at WorldCon 69 in Reno. He’s a Writers of the Future winner, a few votes short of being a Campbell Award nominee, and a female-to-male transsexual.

Mary leads us into this discussion, starting with how gender roles and gender identity lie along a continuum, defying the convenient descriptors that people typically employ, and how this can inform our writing. Keffy offers valuable tips, talking about what gets done wrong, and how to write it correctly.

We also talk about how this can apply to world-building, especially in fantasy where extended gender identities usually are not a consideration.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page

Writing Prompt: Take something that you do, something unique to you (and perhaps to your gender), and hand it to somebody in your book who appears unqualified for that task. Then qualify them for it.

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43 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 6.16: Gender Roles–Black, White, and Gray”

  1. Interesting topic! I’ve never incorporated transgender characters in my book, mostly because I think if I did I would inevitably make the transgender characteristic bigger than it should be. I’m not familiar enough with the culture and lifestyle to, honestly, write it without being stereotypic. But, then again, that can be with any culture that’s different. But as writers, I think part of our job is to be able to convey all parts of humanity, so it’s important to explore the topics we’ve never thought about exploring before.

    On the topic of gender roles in world-building, my first book was a fantasy that I’ve put aside for a while, and when I go back to revise it, I’m going to try and remember that gender roles shouldn’t just be automatic. They should be formed around specific rules just like everything else.

    Again, enjoyed the podcast. Can’t wait for next week’s!

    -Justin C. Key

  2. I’ve been curious to play with gender roles and expectations in my writing before, but I think now, I’d really like to throw out the traditional binary notions and build something else, something very different.

    Thanks gang for such a great podcast!

  3. This is the sort of topic that haunts me. Well, this and any kind of ‘writing the ‘other” thing. Because suddenly I realise…. I haven’t thought of anything for my book that covers XYZ topic.

    MUST INCLUDE! Somehow.

    …. but that could lead to tokenism…. hmmm. And if I just shoehorn stuff in, I run the risk of derailing my plot, and it could come out even more offensive than not representing, and… and…

    … and I’m taking a break….

  4. I haven’t even listened to this yet, and I’m excited. I’m genderqueer myself and can’t help but put that perspective into my characters, even when I don’t mean to. Looking forward to hearing what Keffy’s got to say!

  5. Some resources and things to consider.


    Challenging Gender Norms: Five Genders Among Bugis in Indonesia (Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology)

    I’d also consider trying The Raw and the Cooked by Levi-Strauss, though not directly about gender, it can help to free your mindset from the dichotomy that our culture tends to teach.

    Beyond the binary, there can be multiple genders defined by the society. Gender is not physiological. Sex is physiological.

    There is a tribe in Papua New Guinea that has wars where the men put in featers, do their make up. One war was recorded to stop because it was raining and the men didn’t want their make up to run. That same tribe tends to compare themselves with birds.

    Women? They do the hard labor, such as lift children, tend pigs, tend the garden. A good woman looks like a pig.

    The mistake I see often is that fantasy writers and Sci-fi writers thinks that gender must be like their society because gender is 100% scientifically proven to be a certain way. But if you look at the world different aspects are often assigned to different genders over time. It is true that in agricultural societies the amount of rights for women (rather than feminine) tend to go down. But other than that, people should play more.

    The opposite of a woman is a tree in one culture. Women in Japan are in charge of the money. Sometimes in Japan, the man takes the woman’s last name if she has more prestige (the children would, then take the mother’s name). In Korea, the woman never takes the man’s name, but keeps her own.

    Our culture has a tendency to say things such as gender are “scientifically” proven to be one way or the other or put things in binary. Look at the Bible. Opposite of man is woman. Dark or light… there is rarely a third way. (Our culture also tends to do that with socializations too–how to raise children and teach them language.) Because of hard science often trying to substitute soft science, we often take things like gender for granted as part of nature.

    Anthropology is a good way to free yourself from what you expect Gender norms to be. And also to free yourself of the notion that sexuality and gender are the same thing.

  6. One thing that annoys me is the complete LACK of gender roles in some sci-fi and fantasy stories. People don’t work that way. There are differences.

    No culture is going to be 100% gender blind, especially that species of giant insects you’re using. ;-) Any higher level life form is going to have sexual reproduction. You can’t have amoeba’s that build spaceships. Well you could since it’s your story but it’s not realistic.

    Anyway good podcast.

  7. Back, having listened to the podcast over my lunch break. So much good stuff!

    I liked that Keffy mentioned the Big Reveal mode of outing transgender characters, because it’s pretty unrealistic. Discovering my asexuality didn’t happen with a bang, it just sort of trickled in over the years. First I assumed I was straight, like everyone. Then I wondered if I was gay, but thought, nah, can’t be, I’m not really attracted to women. Then I thought about it and realized that, weirdly enough, I wasn’t really attracted to men either. I complained about my confusion a lot in my journal, and I anxiously asked my friends for their opinions several times, but there wasn’t any “puking in the shower” moment. It was all pretty mellow. Life tends to spin out more organically than the Big Reveal trope would suggest.

    I think if someone had written a story about me, my sexuality wouldn’t be the plot. I’d be a character who is in the middle of an extremely clever plan to take over the world, and oh btw, also happens to be asexual and genderqueer, natch. There are people for whom this isn’t the case, for whom the plot of their life WOULD be mostly or entirely concerned with their sexuality or their gender identity, but I suspect that they are the (vocal) minority. And even for them, it’s definitely not the only part of their identity, just the part that’s biggest and easiest to latch on to.

    I’m reminded of a particular strip from A Softer World: “I like to climb trees, that’s normal, right? I like to play dice. I like to knit. I like to rollerskate. Everyone gets so hung up on me dating a zombie.”

    In general, I think the notion of “other” is the biggest barrier towards being able to actually write the “other”. Gay people are still people, not much different from you. So are asexual people, transgender, etc. The important thing is that they have a different view of themselves and the world than you do. As Keffy said, just say to yourself that this is a person with a different background than yours. Well that’s okay. People write mercenaries and elves and aliens and, hey, people of different or opposing gender, all the time! What’s the difference? You’ve never experienced being an elf either, so how do you write an elf? Well, get inside their culture, get inside their head. Find out what’s important to them, what scares them, how they believe that the world works. Exactly the same as you would do for any other character.

    You can’t assume that you can write a transgender character as just being you with a mask on, saying “I am transgender!”, but you can’t get too caught up in the idea that there’s this weird mystical unattainable “other” that you will never understand, either.

  8. @Matthew

    I don’t understand why sexual reproduction is necessary to have higher levels of life. It’s really just a mechanism to introduce some change every step of the way that could be handled hermaphroditically with a non-sentient additive.

  9. I was so happy to see this, before I even listened to it. I’m also a trans man, and I was excited to see another FtM on Writing Excuses. I really loved this discussion, and I’m especially glad that you guys talked about non-binary genders and people whose orientations don’t quite match what you would expect (I identify as a gay man). Thanks for making my day. You all rock.

    For everyone wanting to write characters outside the binary, or just challenge your conventional thinking, I highly recommend the website genderfork.com for research. Its all about trans and gender variant people expressing themselves, through quotes, profiles, pictures etc. Its fairly clean as well.

  10. @Matthew: I’m going to have to agree with @Duke on this point — while it’s possible you’ve stated a scientific truth, we don’t have any actual information on non-Earth life to test the hypothesis, so there’s not very much support for absolute statements like “any higher level life form is going to have sexual reproduction.”

    Sexual reproduction in conjunction with mutable genetic information and natural selection — the key elements in evolutionary mechanisms for letting Life problem-solve on a grand scale — might not be the only way to accomplish evolutionary problem-solving. Good science fiction can explore that.

    Also, there’s no reason to assume that sexual reproduction requires two distinct sexes. You writers should be able to conjure up hermaphrodites who exchange impregnation, with each member of the pair filling the roles of both inseminator and egg-layer/term-carrier/whatever.

  11. I am reminded briefly of Jackie Kay’s Trumpet…Which has a transgender as its main character, and supposedly was based off a real person.

  12. Addendum to Howard’s post: in Ursula K Le Guin’s ‘Left Hand of Darkness’ there is an alien species who spend much of their time as gender-neutral. They experience sexual urges once a month, and they assume a physiological gender to accommodate their partner. I think they called the gendered state, ‘kemmer’. The main character was an Earth man, and the locals jokingly called him ‘the Pervert’ because he was always the same gender, always in ‘kemmer’. I think there was also something mentioned to do with sibling relationships, but I don’t remember the specifics…. possibly that romance was considered acceptable between siblings, but not a kemmer, or sexual, relationship.

    It’s been a long time since I read any of the book, and I actually never finished it. I was kinda young when I first picked it up, possibly too young to appreciate things like ‘Pervert’. I should look at it again. Wonder where it ended up.

    I know this is probably nothing new to most people here, but I thought it illustrated the point. Gender roles and identities CAN be challenged in sci fi.

    Insect people, for instance, are often depicted as hive-based. The queen produces offspring, there are ‘males’ who do nothing but breed with her, and worker ‘males’ and ‘females’ who have different tasks depending on their physiology…. ie, the cho-ja in Feist’s Tsurani world have worker ‘males’ who are artisans and the like, and the smaller, winged worker ‘females’ are near mindless, using their wings to provide ventilation for the underground tunnels.

    One last thing, which is something I have been considering for a while… plants are not really male or female in general. Flowers have characteristics of both. Plant PEOPLE, therefore, might well follow the same path.

  13. Last time I looked–and I’m not current on this–two genders was thought to be optimal. There were some mathematical models involving three sexes and–using a sexual reproduction model–these proved to be unstable.

    However, that was preliminary work from twenty years ago. The models might have turned out to be flawed or contained hidden assumptions that only came out later, or there might be a local point or set of circumstances where it’s not true. (In fact, I can think of a case where it isn’t in the higher organisms: certain species of lizards are parthenogenetic in narrow environmental niches.)

    Now, having shot my mouth off, I’ll listen to the podcast (surely it has finished downloading on iTunes now).

  14. G.K. Chesterton said, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

    I was disappointed with this podcast. I had assumed, with your religious affiliations, that you had more moral clarity and wisdom. I am not really interested in taking advice on gender issues from such a poor soul who is so obviously and deeply confused.

    I hope this isn’t the direction you go in the future.

    Hoping for grace as well as truth in these issues.

    Blessings on you all.

  15. Being an overly analytical person and in constant contact with friends all over the gender and sexuality spectrum I’ve hobbled together this simple system to help me make sense of it all in an objective as possible way. I’m not saying it’s going to illuminate every issue about gender, but it helps me:
    Ff Fi Fm.
    If Ii Im.
    Mf Mi Mm.
    There’s F=Female, M=Male, and I=intersex.
    Then there’s the two parts.
    The capital letter is what the person looks like, use that huge list of cultural markers you know by heart to idetify gender (primary, secondary, and tertiary sexual attributes).
    And the lowercase letter is what that person can do with their biology. Can they give birth, do they make sperm, and neither/both are the same just to make it easier since it’s rarely if ever both and mostly if always neither.
    Where’s the sexuality part? Well, just put two of these graphs next to each other and draw a line between the interested parties.

    The real trick is to realize it’s not just 9 genders, but a spectrum (even if biased to the corners). That you can easily go up and down, but going left/right is more costly… for humans. (Use a tic-tac-toe 3×3 grid and it’s easier to visualise)

    Sure it doesn’t do the heavy lifting for you, but it might help to give the thing a coherent framework to jump into or off of.

    Oh, and shameless self plug:

  16. Dear J,

    My dictionary’s definition of “grace” doesn’t include the word “bigotry”. Does yours?

  17. @J. I could have chosen not to approve your post, and may regret allowing your comment through. I may also regret what I’m about to say, but your unkindness merits a point-by-point response.

    To everyone else: I apologize for the unpleasantness.

    G.K. Chesterton said, “Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

    In context, you immediately accuse all of us of propagating falsehood. In effect, you are calling us liars with this quote.

    I was disappointed with this podcast.

    Excellent! If we pleased everyone with every ‘cast we’d be doing something wrong. We expected some folks might have grumbles about this episode. It’s the sort of issue that engenders (ahem) reactions of all kinds. There’s no avoiding that.

    I had assumed, with your religious affiliations, that you had more moral clarity and wisdom.

    This accusation may be spot-on. It’s likely both unwise and morally unclear for me to respond to you in this way. Regardless, as imperfect mortals we’re always looking for additional moral clarity and wisdom, so I think this one sticks to anybody in the room.

    I am not really interested in taking advice on gender issues from such a poor soul who is so obviously and deeply confused.

    Here’s where you’re just outright wrong. We’re not offering “advice on gender issues.” We’re offering advice on WRITING.

    Our whole focus with these ‘casts is WRITING. In this episode we are trying to help people to WRITE about gender issues. Keffy Kehrli is powerfully positioned to offer just that sort of advice in this matter, and very generously offered up his time to ten thousand strangers. You do him an enormous disservice with your mean-spirited words.

    Maybe you don’t want to write about transgendered people. Maybe in the fiction you create you prefer to pretend they don’t exist. That’s fine. But if you decide to approach the issue you need to do so with more sensitivity and respect than you’ve exhibited in your post. Also, you need to hear what Keffy and people like him have to say.

    I hope this isn’t the direction you go in the future.

    We will continue to offer writing advice, and we will continue to broach difficult subjects. We will continue to seek out guests who have points of view that differ from our own. Anything else would be intellectual dishonesty.

    Hoping for grace as well as truth in these issues.

    Grace and truth: Keffy was very gracious with his time, and with deeply personal and private matters. I have no reason to believe he was anything but honest. That is both grace AND truth.

    Blessings on you all.

    Unless you are leaving us with an empty platitude, I have advice for you, and this does actually extend beyond writing. If you want someone to receive blessings, move beyond words of prayer and offer them the good things you want them to have. Many people like kindness and respect. Those would be wonderful blessings for you to offer in this case.

  18. All:

    May I respectfully request that we keep the remainder of the comments focused on writing interesting gender-related things in genre fiction? I think that would be the high road for us to take.

    I already took the low one. Let me have taken it for all of us.

  19. Just a random thought here that really has little to do with the theme of this podcast, but may I just say that as I woman I was extremely annoyed at the female gender roles in the WoT series! There’s a difference between having powerful, strong women, and having egotistical, controlling, self-righteous twits. It made me wonder if Robert Jordan was trying to over-compensate for a perceived lack of feminism in literature, or if it was a subtle cheap shot.

  20. @L

    I respectfully disagree. I thought Jordan’s WoT world poked fun at normal gender role assumptions. The whole Town Council/Women’s Circle conflict begs the question: who is really running things? And who is more effective? I thought it was at once hilarious and brilliant.

  21. I’m hardly a Wheel of Time expert, having only read a few of the books, and those I experienced in audiobook format. I found some of the women really annoying, but others I just adored. I had the same reaction with some of the men.

    @Tony I don’t think that Jordan was “poking fun” at normal gender roles, but that’s probably not how you meant to say that. He definitely approached those in a new way (at the time), and Brandon summed up how it worked during this ‘cast. Genre-fiction world-building is a great place to explore those sorts of ideas, and Jordan did it in a way that felt “true” to his world and to our own.

    Regardless, @L, I think much more highly of Robert Jordan than to believe that he wrote female characters and female POVs as a “subtle cheap shot.” Nevertheless, I don’t think his women are as well written as his men. And I recognize that it’s impossible for me to sort that opinion clear of the biases I’m sure I have.

  22. If Mr Jordan’s female characters implied a criticism of feminism, but did so in a subtle way, that can hardly be a “cheap” shot, surely?

  23. @ Ed, Robert Jordan’s CHARACTERS level heavy criticism BOTH to genders. That was the whole point of his world building: men and woman working with and against one another at the same time.

  24. …skirting all the above arguments…

    Just wanted to say I’ve really been enjoying “The Great Queen SeonDeok” over at Hulu. It’s chock full of powerful women (both the main antag and protag, plus a lot more), but they largely function within traditional women’s roles, which isn’t something I often see done (one girl does get mistaken for a boy because of her desert clothes and spends some time fighting, but she’s not very good at it — instead she gains networking and loyalty for her political moves later). It’s based on Korean history, which I’ve now been reading up on. (Show also has awesome martial arts and addicting plot twists)

    Often in fiction, for women to be interesting/powerful, authors give them male roles, which kind of sounds like saying women aren’t worth anything unless they’re trying to be men. I liked Shallan from TWoK a lot for the same reason — she’s not oddly 21st century, instead she’s awesome within the rules and constructs of her society.

  25. Personal Note to Howard


    I know you are not liars on “Writing Excuses.” I’ve listened to most of your podcasts and have enjoyed them immensely. I like you guys, laugh at your humor, and look forward to your information about the art and craft of writing. Right now, I’m finishing Brandon’s “Way of Kings” and seeing how he puts to practice what you and Dan discuss.

    But we can all fall prey to fallacies without being liars. I’m sure you can see that. One of the greatest fallacies popular today is that we can create whatever “reality” we want, without consequences. The belief assumes that no objective morality exists, grounded in a Creator, Lawgiver, and Redeemer. Keffy is a sacred soul made in the image of God, and loved by God. Qualities we all have in common–no matter who we are, where we come from, or what we’ve done. I know there are all kinds of people in the world. I also know we can write about the decisions they make: teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, violence, adultery, etc. But we don’t have to write about them in a context of applauding it. Valuable souls can make terrible decisions. Do you applaud every desire and action of the people you love? Surely not.

    Jesus Christ, the greatest lover of humanity, talked to the Woman and the Well, expressing deep concern and love for her. He wanted to give her life, acceptance, and love. But He did confront her about her sin: having five husbands and living with a sixth man who wasn’t her husband. He brought the issue up because she needed to change her mind about her sin, stand against herself regarding it, and receive the grace (forgiveness) of Christ who would die for her sin–and rise again. I’d love to hear the Woman at the Well give a talk about the grace of Christ, but I probably wouldn’t attend her seminar on long-term relationships.

    Christ spoke truth, objective morality, and offers grace to all of us who’ve violated it–his perfect righteousness as a free gift received by faith alone. He loved sinners and disapproved of sin. It is possible to do so. Although I’ve been a recipient of such grace, I confess I may have more to learn about communicating it more effectively. But “love rejoices in the truth.” It doesn’t applaud as someone walks over a cliff, or applaud when someone has landed at the bottom. It grieves–which was the first emotion I felt at the top of your podcast. Thank God that He meets us at the top and the bottom of the cliff!

    I honestly assumed you believed in objective reality because you all talk about violence with such care. I also assumed you believed in right and wrong because of your religion. Maybe I was wrong. (Most of the culture today is existential in its thinking.)

    I don’t throw platitudes. I prayed for you all today and wish for God’s blessing on your life. And I have prayed for and hoped for your (plural) best.

  26. @J.

    Thank you for the clarification.

    Specifics of morality aside: Keffy was our guest, and whether or not we agree with the decisions he has made, we should all pay proper respect to him for his willingness to talk about it openly. That action SHOULD be applauded, because it was brave and it was helpful.

    Ed. That was neither brave nor helpful. I’ve redacted your post. Please don’t make me lock the comments here. That would be embarrassing.

  27. @L

    It seemed obvious to me that Jordan gave a lot of thought to gender roles in the WoT and for the most part, treats them as equals, including having both men and women in roles that (in the WoT world) are usually deemed for the other. My only complaint is that by the last couple of books he did, all the women characters started to blur together and exhibited the same characteristics. Writing strong women means more than just having them all crossing arms and tugging braids, and I wonder how much of that was a result of the series dragging on at that point.

    As for the cast, once again I applaud the group for bringing up something I hadn’t given near enough thought to in my own writing.


  28. I don’t think I’ve posted here before, so thanks for all the podcasts before this one; your advice and tips have greatly improved my writing the last year.

    That said, I was always afraid you’d shy away from certain topics, given your religion. Imagine my delight when I saw this pop up in my feed. So, thanks. Whatever your beliefs on the issues discussed (I won’t presume to know how any of you feel), you handled this very respectfully.

    On the topic at hand…am I alone in feeling like I’m less constrained when writing female characters (despite being a man)? It feels like you can show a wider range of personalities and emotional responses from female characters. A stoic mercenary woman with an eyepatch and tons of scars will be a popular character, but an emotional male dancer with flowing hair…not so much.

  29. I wanted to post a few fantasy novels that I think deal with gender in interesting ways.

    The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling (first in Tamir Trilogy)

    The protagonist is a girl raised as a boy and, through magic, physically appears to be a boy. Her confusion and the confusion of her friends are well done, and while it isn’t the “point” of the story, gender has a great deal to do with the trilogy.

    Farseer Trilogy (1st book Assassin’s Apprentice) and Tawny Man Trilogy(1st book Fool’s Errand) by Robin Hobb

    These two are amazing trilogies (Also Liveship Traders, which I have not read, but is in the same world and is supposed to be wonderful) and throughout there is a character whose gender and sex are ambiguous. The character plays more of a role in Tawny Man.

    These books tackle talking about different kinds of love throughout: friendship, romantic love, parental love, mentor relationships, platonic, and all the grayness in between. While it isn’t gender, I think that love is another thing that tends to be simplified into ‘does’ and ‘doesn’t’.

    Also, a great set if you are looking at causing pain for your characters in writing. She gives everyone in her books rough choices.

  30. @Howard: I have tried to make this post ultimately about writing, but understand completely if you decide to redact/not approve it. This touches on something very close to my heart, and it isn’t entirely rational.

    I’m biased, but I believe I can learn lots from the story of The Woman at the Well.

    This story involves Jesus talking to a woman – that alone is enough to surprise the disciples. A woman who has had five husbands, living with a man she isn’t married to. A Samaritan woman – simply accepting a drink from her meant ritual uncleanness. Yet Jesus asks her for water. This passage took the gender roles of the time and ripped them to absolute shreds.

    After reading John 4:1-42 (New International Version, if anyone’s wants to check my source) several times this evening, I can’t find Jesus telling this woman to change. Jesus relates her life story, talks about water that can grant eternal life, and she tells other people about her experience. Amazingly, they listen. They go to hear Jesus’ teachings for themselves.

    There’s no mention of repentance – arguably there’s baptism, embodied in the water, but nothing about whether she goes through with it. Maybe she changes, maybe she doesn’t. Either way, she is good enough to bring the message the way she is.

    What do I draw from this? As a Christian, I should expect to find God anywhere and everywhere, even in places and people I think are totally apart from God.

    As an aspiring writer (which I see as a way of expressing my faith), the moral I draw is that everyone is worth talking to, and everyone has a voice worth hearing. If I want to realistically portray anyone other than myself in my writing, I should pay attention to those who differ from me.

    That doesn’t mean I should ignore or be permissive of evil. I believe in an objective morality, and if I believe something causes suffering, or devalues a person or group of people, I try to demonstrate the harm I believe is occurring. But the Woman at the Well is given the option to take it or leave it, and when I sit down to write a novel I should afford my readers the same respect.

    Do I succeed? Far from it. I am not perfect in any respect. For example, I wrote this to contradict an interpretation of the Bible I disagreed with. I could probably have done it more respectfully, too.

    I understand my view is not accepted by all, will even be offensive to many. I don’t apologise for what I believe, but I apologise for any suffering I have brought and will try not to cause any more in the future.

    Peace (with or without religious connotations, as you prefer).

  31. Regarding the morality of this podcast:

    All writing (including science fiction, horror, and fantasy) is a reflection of real life. As writers, our job is not to judge, but to be a mirror of humanity’s hopes, emotions, troubles, triumphs, and fears. In creating this podcast, the Writing Excuses crew weren’t making a statement on morality, but rather giving us the tools to reflect life more accurately.

    As writers, our values will no doubt show through our work. However, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and to our readers if we allow those values to paint a less-than-accurate picture of the world. Now, I’m not saying to sacrifice those values. However, we must be willing to examine all sides of an issue.

  32. Hi, I’m so glad I finally grabbed the time to listen to the podcast. Great job.

    Keffy, yep it’s Gerai, a small Dyak community in Kalimantan Barat (Indonesian Borneo). It’s important to note that for the Gerai gender isn’t particularly important and men and women are seen as fundamentally the same and genital obsession is a very western thing.

    It is important to note when world building that culture around gender can be much much important than what particular organs you have.

    If you are interested in the Gerai speaking peoples or gender seen through a non-western eye here is a good place to start http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue6/helliwell.html

  33. Umm…not just a “western” thing. The vast majority of the cultures I can think of, both New World and Asian (and the fewer number of African cultures I’m familiar with) do use male/female gender differentiation based on sex. I’m going to go out on a limb and say I have a fairly descent exposure to reading about other cultures (thank you, anthropology degree). There are a few that do things differently, but like the Gerai, these tend to be smaller population-wise. (I can think of one that allowed only male-to-female switching, and there are, of course, eunuchs, which oddly haven’t been brought up as a historic neither-male-or-female gender — their gender roles were certainly different than other men)

    The part of this conversation I thought was really interesting was how male/female gender roles differ. Mary mentioned flowers, and it immediately made me think of Aztec flower wars and the Korean Hwarang (“flower boys”) both associated with military. Flowers as a metaphor for young soldiers has cropped up in the US, too (“Where have all the flowers gone…”). There are also a number of cultures (including, historically, Western culture) that placed a larger emphasis on male beauty than we do today.

    Since I’m already being long-winded…I think when world-building, it’s also important to consider how society would function with different gender roles. I’ve seen a number of books where women are stuck in very different roles — for example, the primary military — but without any decent explanation of how society avoids a population implosion. Theorists think men tended to get the dangerous jobs because you need more women than men to keep the population going (Sometime I should do a statical analysis, but it seems like a lot of warrior societies actually treat women fairly well, perhaps because of the importance of a solid population growth when you’re often going to war — compare Sparta and Athens. Aztecs considered giving birth offering another captive into the world, and both Aztecs and Vikings equated an honorable death in battle with death in childbirth).

    And…that was probably long-winded enough.

  34. Hi, I’m new to your podcast but am slowly going through the archives; your writing advice is solid and entertaining, and I’m learning a lot!
    This episode was particularly fascinating for me, because I’m writing a novel with a transgender protagonist, and while I’m trans myself, my own experiences differ a lot from his, and I’ve been struggling lately trying to define what role gender plays in his life and how to show it in the story (which is about something else entirely). This podcast has been very helpful; thanks so much, Keffy! I’m looking forward to your writing now.

    Also? I really don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with being transsexual.

  35. I only recently got back into writing and when I decided to check out this site it seemed like synchronicity that the story I am writing involves turning gender roles upside down and this podcast was about that very topic.

    I was disappointed, however, to find out that the podcast only really covered transgender roles in fiction. I was hoping for something a little broader as my story deals with a society that has a 4-1 female to male gender ratio and the differences between that society and our world.

    I did get some very good advice when Mary Robinette Kowal made me realize that my female matriarchal characters were acting too much like “Grrlz” at times. I’m currently going over my story and trying to repair this “Grrlz” effect so that these tough women act more like they came from a culture that once considered males a valuable resource to fight over, yet at the same time is protective of the “weaker sex”.

    I’m also trying to lampshade certain aspects of male/female culture in our world without turning the story into a satire (harder than it sounds) and I could really use some advice on how to bring the humor without becoming absurd.

    All in all it was a good podcast, just not as helpful as I had hoped. I really hope that other aspects of gender roles are explored in future podcasts and I plan to listen to this one again as well as the preceeding one.

    PS: If it’s at all possible, could someone take a picture of Howard Tayler when he’s smiling for the site? His current pic looks like he’s either about to give someone a really harsh scolding or a terminally long lecture.

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