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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Fri 08
Jul
2011

Dogs and Smurfs

What Max Reckons This has been a great year for male writers, with women shunted aside for major prizes and all-new hand-wringing about why it is so. Because, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but male writers get taken more seriously. Also, stories about men, even if written by women, are considered mainstream, while stories about women are “women’s fiction.” This despite the fact that women read more than men, and write more, and are over-represented generally throughout publishing.

As the father of two girls, one aged five and one ten months, I know why. It’s because of dogs and Smurfs. I can’t understand why no-one else realizes this. I see these knotted-brow articles and the writers seem truly perplexed. Dogs and Smurfs: that’s the answer.

Let me walk you through it. We’ll start with dogs. I have written about this before, but to save you the click: people assume dogs are male. Listen out for it: you will find it’s true. To short-cut the process, visit the zoo, because when I say “dogs,” I really mean, “all animals except maybe cats.” The air of a zoo teems with “he.” I have stood in front of baboons with teats like missile launchers and heard adults exclaim to their children, “Look at him!” Once I saw an unsuspecting monkey taken from behind and there was a surprised silence from the crowd and then someone made a joke about sodomy. People assume animals are male. If you haven’t already noticed this, it’s only because it’s so pervasive. We also assume people are male, unless they’re doing something particularly feminine; you’ll usually say “him” about an unseen car driver, for example. But it’s ubiquitous in regard to animals.

Now, kids like animals. Kids really fucking like animals. Kids are little animal stalkers, fascinated by absolutely anything an animal does. They read books about animals. I just went through my daughter’s bookshelves, and they all have animals on the cover. Animals everywhere. And because publishing is terribly progressive, and because Jen and I look out for it, a lot of those animals are girls. But still: a ton of boys. Because of the assumption.

Here’s an example: a truly great kids’ book is Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. I love this story, but on page 22, after being called “it” three times, an otherwise sexless penguin twice becomes “he.” This would never, ever happen the other way around. The only reason a penguin can abruptly become male in an acclaimed children’s book without anybody noticing is because we had already assumed it was.

Then you’ve got Smurf books. Not actual Smurfs. I mean stories where there are five major characters, and one is brave and one is smart and one is grumpy and one keeps rats for pets and one is a girl. Smurfs, right? Because there was Handy Smurf and Chef Smurf and Dopey Smurf and Painter Smurf and ninety-four other male Smurfs and Smurfette. Smurfette’s unique personality trait was femaleness. That was the thing she did better than anyone else. Be a girl.

Smurf books are not as common as they used to be, but Smurf stories are, oddly, everywhere on the screen. Pixar makes practically nothing else. I am so disappointed by this, because they make almost every kids’ film worth watching. WALL-E is good. I will grant them WALL-E, because Eve is so awesome. But otherwise: lots of Smurfs.

Male is default. That’s what you learn from a world of boy dogs and Smurf stories. My daughter has no problem with this. She reads these books the way they were intended: not about boys, exactly, but about people who happen to be boys. After years of such books, my daughter can happily identify with these characters.

And this is great. It’s the reason she will grow into a woman who can happily read a novel about men, or watch a movie in which men do all the most interesting things, without feeling like she can’t relate. She will process these stories as being primarily not about males but about human beings.

Except it’s not happening the other way. The five-year-old boy who lives up the street from me does not have a shelf groaning with stories about girl animals. Because you have to seek those books out, and as the parent of a boy, why would you? There are so many great books about boys to which he can relate directly. Smurf stories must make perfect sense to him: all the characters with this one weird personality trait to distinguish them, like being super brave or smart or frightened or a girl.

I have been told that this is a good thing for girls. “That makes girls more special,” said this person, who I wanted to punch in the face. That’s the problem. Being female should not be special. It should be normal. It is normal, in the real world. There are all kinds of girls. There are all kinds of women. You just wouldn’t think so, if you only paid attention to dogs and Smurfs.

Is it the positive role model thing? Because I don’t want only positive female role models. I want the spectrum. Angry girls, happy girls, mean girls. Lazy girls. Girls who lie and girls who hit people and do the wrong thing sometimes. I’m pretty sure my daughters can figure out for themselves which personality aspects they should emulate, if only they see the diversity.

It’s not like this is hard. Dogs and Smurfs: we’re not talking about searing journeys to the depths of the soul. An elephant whose primary story purpose is to steal some berries does not have to be male. Not every time. Characters can be girls just because they happen to be girls.

P.S. Don’t talk to me about Sassette. Sassette was like the three millionth Smurf invented. You get no credit for that.

Comments

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shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 1020 days ago

no wonder most chicks I come across are so "gassed up"... :)

Machine Man subscriber Mathew Coad (#4029)

Location: Wangaratta
Posted: 1020 days ago

Very true Max. I hadn't noticed actually, but just looked over Amelie's bookshelf and realized at 4 years-old she calls everything "him" unless certain otherwise. Ethan is only three months so he doesn't like books yet.

Sven B. (#2792)

Location: Paris, FR
Quote: "If you did not make it, don't try to fix it."
Posted: 1020 days ago

Brilliantly explained. And you're right about Sassette: baby Smurfs don't count.

Rodney Addamo (#3735)

Location: Victoria, Australia
Quote: "blues12@bigpond.com.au"
Posted: 1020 days ago

Oh Max, mate, you had me until The Smurfs. Your stance on those ASEXUAL little buggers tells me you've never seen my favourite movie, Donnie Darko.

As Donnie said;

"First of all, Papa Smurf didn't create Smurfette. Gargamel did. She was sent in as Gargamel's evil spy with the intention of destroying the Smurf village. But the overwhelming goodness of the Smurf way of life transformed her. And as for the whole gang-bang scenario, it just couldn't happen. Smurfs are asexual. They don't even have... reproductive organs under those little, white pants. It's just so illogical, you know, about being a Smurf. You know, what's the point of living... if you don't have a dick?"

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1020 days ago

Smurfs are obviously male. Pappa Smurf has a beard, for example. His lack of a dick doesn't matter. Although I don't know how Donnie knows whether Smurfs have reproductive organs.

That said, Donnie Darko is an excellent movie.

Sven B. (#2792)

Location: Paris, FR
Quote: "If you did not make it, don't try to fix it."
Posted: 1020 days ago

I have to disagree: whether asexual or not, every Smurf has a distinctive trait and the Smurfette's unique characteristic is being The Chick.

They might be asexual, they're not *genderless*. They might have been before the Smurfette appeared, but once she steps into the picture, it's over. By introducing the one clearly feminine character, every other character maps to "male" in most people's mind. And that's assuming most people didn't already think of Smurfs as boys before the Smurfette was created, which is a hell of an assumption to make especially when the Smurfs' leader sports a beard and is called *Papa* Smurf.

Chris (#3581)

Location: Melb
Posted: 1020 days ago

I raised my offspring proper by replacing he with she no matter what the gender. EVERYTHING was female, which was my attempt at counteracting the assumed maleness i knew to saturate kid culture. but then, that was back in the days when i spelt women as womyn, so i guess i kinda had an agenda.

I'm female and not particularly concerned about the women-in-books thing, because women writers have won plenty of awards. they just don't happen to be in the limelight at the moment. And i just finished reading The Zookeeper's War, by Steven Conte, and his Vera was a chick, and she won him the PMs lit award, despite not having a penis. so there. to insist the women be represented is to insist on tokenism as opposed to merit.

as for smurfette - i've always hated her. i think i still have her in my smurf bucket (yes, i kept them). you've made me want to go and stick her with pins.

lu77 (#5471)

Location: melbourne
Quote: "everything is simple, nothing is as straight forward as it seems."
Posted: 1020 days ago

fuck I love you.

it's true, society conditions even the most aware of us. all the time you'll see passivity and aggression in people and think of it as normal, but if you swapped it, the girl was leaning over the boy like she owned him, or the two boys automatically walked around the business woman, rather than the other the 'normal' way round we'd notice it and think something was really wrong with that behaviour.

we accept every day, all day.

stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Quote: "DON"T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!!"
Posted: 1020 days ago

Surf-smurf, Max if you look at it psychologically [Freud and all that stuff] you will have to take bisexuality as a developmental stage - if you look at human conception there is a stage where there is no sexual differentiation {first six weeks of the impregnated ovum's meiosis and mitosis] My experience with my two children is that if you define your own sexuality clearly and so does your partner, your children will have a clear picture to identify with

As for smurfs, to me they show all the obvious characteristics of the seven Dwarfs - "same old, same old". If you trust in the organic blueprint, your children will turn out fine, don't unconsciously impress your angst upon your children

As to whether woman are as good story-tellers as men, this is an old saw, but it seems to me that stories transcend gender - just as life does - Rites of Passage and all that jazz. Yours S.

Judd Exley (#5009)

Location: South of the River
Quote: "If I didn't flush OR wipe, do I still have to wash my hands?"
Posted: 1020 days ago

Mate, when I'm not welding medieval swords and armour in my shed, I'm writing and bouncing my 2-mo boy on my knee, yet WITHOUT FAIL whenever there's a "Morning Tea" or other such get-together at my 4-yo's Kindy, it's "for mums... oh, or carers, because some of you nans out there could use a nice brekky too!" Fuck that. I rock up in my overalls, toting a tot and stinking of Male Essence. They love that.

You're spot on, fkn hilarious, and have awesome growing in tufts out of your socks, I am sure. This here world needs a bit more equality mate, this post was awesome.

Jonny Rueda (#3383)

Location: New York, NY, USA
Quote: ""I am far away from everything I took for granted""
Posted: 1020 days ago

It's funny that just last night I was watching the movie "Sucker Punch" and as I was half way into the movie I thought of my mom watching it, and for some reason I thought that she might feel uneasy by the raw kick-ass-chicks-fighters scenes, and here you are giving me the answer why she would, and will, feel that way.
When I was a kid I read this amazing book "SugarPink Rose" and as a gay boy, it open my eyes to my feelings of been trap in a macho society in wich you are supost to be one way and that's IT! Yet again you have the answer!!!

Jonny Rueda (#3383)

Location: New York, NY, USA
Quote: ""I am far away from everything I took for granted""
Posted: 1020 days ago

""SUGARPINK ROSE""
After I wrote my previous comment I decided to google the book, soo hard to find!!! then I checked on the author, her name is Adela Turin, an Italian living in France.
She happens to be a feminis children-books writer, she is also part of a movement named "A côté des filles" ("On the side of the girls) They promotes literature that is female oriented.
I am sure Fin would love her material!!!

NanCherry (#5380)

Location: CN/US/EARTH
Quote: ""A woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water." - Eleanor Roosevelt"
Posted: 1020 days ago

Max,
I understand your frustration! Gender role is influential.
Maybe it's time for you to start writing kids-story-books! I look foward to them!

Best wishes,
Nan

Brittany O. (#1688)

Location: Montana
Quote: "My love calls me Boom..."
Posted: 1020 days ago

I was a Smurf watcher and never knew there was any other "girl" but a Smurfette... The things you learn from Max.

Hans Miniar (#2600)

Location: Iceland
Quote: "~your love is made of happy, and sometimes exhasperation~"
Posted: 1020 days ago

Oh hey.

I'm a trans man and a parent to a little girl and I've become more and more political since starting out transition and becoming more and more comfortable in my own skin and I've "kind of" noticed the same thing.
I haven't been able to put it quite that well, but I have.

It's more apparent in the American produced movies and books than in our local ones. In Icelandic, every noun is gendered and while dogs and horses are "male" words, cows and cats and most birds are all female words. We have a lot of female animal characters in locally written children stories, but imported ones are nearly all without exception about male characters.

I really don't have anything to add though. Just, rambling on in reaction to the post.

Machine Man subscriber Dirty Davey (#2170)

Location: Carrboro, NC
Posted: 1020 days ago

I was sensitized to this at an early age in an unexpected way... our family dog was female, and even as a small child I was bothered by all the people who referred to her as "him". To this day I never assume a particular animal is male.

Maybe what we need to do is make sure more kids have girl puppies?

Jane (#321)

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "Which is worse: Ignorance or apathy? Who knows? Who cares?"
Posted: 1020 days ago

Thanks Max... thanks for being a human being and writing about gender equality. If only more humans would do the same thing, we might be able to deconstruct the gender divide!

The only thing is, after reflecting on your post a little more, I had one thought: Beatrix Potter! OK, so her most famous character (Peter Rabbit) is male but didn't he have three sisters? I haven't done a count, but I'd hazard a guess that there are about equal numbers of male and female animal characters, or possibly slightly more female ones, across all of Potter's books.

PS. Oliver Jeffers' books rock! We love 'em all!
Also, my 4 year old son insists on calling cows 'he'. I've given up arguing with him over it.

Machine Man subscriber Todd (#3429)

Location: New York
Quote: "It's fun to have fun but you have to know how."
Posted: 1020 days ago

Second the call for Max to write a kids book featuring girl (animals or what have you). Also: interested in a list of the girl-animal kids books on your shelf.

Joanna (#5296)

Location: Seattle, WA
Quote: ""The wise man despises no one. Instead, he watches him closely and tries to discover the roots of what he sees." (Gogol, Dead Souls)"
Posted: 1020 days ago

Very well said; agreed on all counts.

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 1020 days ago

Makes sense...and that's why the Jennifer Government movie was never made. The title has a girl's name in it, making it a girl's movie. I bet if you changed "Jennifer" to say "Max" and the title from "Jennifer Government" to "Max Government", they would make the movie. Strong male lead would fix it all.

And I'd put a zoo scene in it too. All the animals have to be male too.

-Adam

Machine Man subscriber Lance Mertz (#3541)

Location: Seattle
Quote: "It wasn't me, I wasn't there and did nothing."
Posted: 1020 days ago

I am due to have a grandson on September and I will make it my goal (his dad will agree with me) to make him a kick-ass little man. Guns, knives and things that go boom... If it were a girl I would want her to be a girl, but with an attitude. Guns, knives, etc. as well, but still a girl. Screw this crap about who is what... we are what we are.

Jonny Rueda (#3383)

Location: New York, NY, USA
Quote: ""I am far away from everything I took for granted""
Posted: 1020 days ago

Hey Lance, what about a girl that is kick-ass and a boy that is sensitive, poetic and passionate for the pretty things in life?

AJ (#1866)

Location: Portland, OR
Quote: "Who said life was fair (or some shitty thing like that)"
Posted: 1019 days ago

OK so.. you've used a blog post to make a point.. but what are you going to do about it?

Emily (#609)

Location: New York
Quote: "When in doubt, fuck it. When not in doubt, get in doubt!"
Posted: 1019 days ago

Thank you for writing this.

Nigel (#5420)

Posted: 1019 days ago

I kind of only agree with half of this blog. I'm not exactly sure which half though... but I do see your point. I think.

Machine Man subscriber Mapuche (#1184)

Location: Darwin, Australia
Quote: "Inconceivable!"
Posted: 1019 days ago

Whilst I agree with the dogs and smurf examples (apple wanted to change smurf to skirt), I don't think that the rest of the world is quite so bleak. ABC Kids: Franny's Feet, Pinky Dinky Doo, Peppa Pig, Olivia, Charlie and Lola, and that's without being exhaustive by any means. Those stories all have a female protagonist, or present very balanced views. However, there was an episode of Charlie and Lola where the two girls played with their farm animals, and it was all "Mr Goat, Mr Giraffe" etc, so that tendency certainly is pervasive even when attempting to provide balance. BTW I also have 2 girls, 6 and 2 and have been very aware of the gender influence since your last blog on this subject. That's too much to type on an iPhone.

Abgrund (#3357)

Location: Atlantis
Quote: ""Redeem your mind from the hockshops of authority." - Ayn Rand"
Posted: 1018 days ago

A lot of "feminists" encourage this sort of thing by promoting the glorification of women, and men generally like this just fine. When females appear in fiction, they sell better when they are sexy, smart, assertive yet sweet, and free of any individuality (the 999th gorgeous gun-slinging bi-curious demure lonely lovable assassin is not an individual). Villains, bumblers, walk-ons, unattractive characters, or those with real personalities - complex and flawed - are almost always male. Women are standouts, the center of attention; men are the crowd.

I noticed some time ago my own automatic assumption that drivers are male - in spite of the fact that rude drivers are usually female. I compensate against this chauvinism by calling everyone who cuts me off in traffic a bitch, instead of an asshole, until and unless I see a male face behind the wheel. Actually I still call him a bitch anyway, it just feels better.

Machine Man subscriber fellow_autobot (#4303)

Location: brisneyland, straya
Quote: "Max Power, that's the man who's name you'd love to touch, but you musn't touch! That name sounds good in your ear, but when you say it, you musn't fear. Cause that name could be said by anyone! - Homer J Simpson."
Posted: 1018 days ago

Can i jump in here and say the Ghibli films - Spirited Away etc - often have female protagonists. Check them out. You're welcome.

Rodney Addamo (#3735)

Location: Victoria, Australia
Quote: "blues12@bigpond.com.au"
Posted: 1017 days ago

I'm happier knowing you are a Darko fan mate :D

Although I'm now a little worried about the impending birth of our first child, a girl, due August 22nd.....

Jonathan (#3166)

Posted: 1016 days ago

I think you have to give Pixar credit for The Incredibles, too.

April King (#5509)

Location: Minneapolis, MN
Posted: 1016 days ago

Pixar's next film, Brave, features a female protagonist (finally): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brave_%282012_film%29

The English-speaking world could use a few more filmmakers like Miyazaki.

As for the English language? Who knows if it'll ever overcome its default he-ness. That's a lot of centuries of momentum to stop.

Wish we could crib Japanese's lack of a personal pronoun -- they just refer to things by their name. It's quite nice. Of course, the speaker patterns are significantly different enough to fairly quick tell if a speaker is male or female, but it's something at least.

Roberta Guise (#5511)

Location: San Francisco, CA
Quote: "Love what you do, do what you love."
Posted: 1015 days ago

The male default for animals (and any other living creature) has become linguistic laziness. Parents teach it to their kids. When someone male-defaults in conversation with me, I ask, "Oh, are you sure it's a male?" It does make them pause and think.

I speak Hebrew, and this is one heckuva sexist language. If a room has 99 women in it (or pick any number above 1), one uses the female plural "you" to address the group. Yet if you put just one man in the room with those 99 women, the "you" defaults to the male plural "you."

But progress is in the air: Recently in public places in Israel I've noticed "his/her" being used, instead of the male default. So a door sign that says "Please come in" would have male/female "come in" instead of the male default.

Mylène (#5513)

Posted: 1014 days ago

I think this twist in gender representations has a lot to do with the genderlessness of nouns in the English language. If I go to a zoo (I'm French), parents showing a giraffe to their kids are naturally going to say "Look at her !" Same for a turtle whereas a gorilla is still going to be referred at as "him".

But you have a very good point with the Smurfs (in France, they are called "Schtroumfs" which I find hilarious! ), and I agree with the general thesis.

Machine Man subscriber Toby O (#2900)

Location: Sydney
Quote: "You can't sell your soul to the devil if he's not buying"
Posted: 1013 days ago

Up next: books and movies which have people who happen to be Americans.

Aquila1nz (#5514)

Posted: 1012 days ago

It's the way western animation defaults too. When we draw animals, to anthromorphise we draw clothes on them. And then we have a male animal as person. To make it female we add secondary characteristics - eyelashes, lips, bows, frills. It's not cross cultural - in the same way that male as default isn't linguistically cross cultural - but Disney reaches far.

The animal thing may be a more city raised thing. On farms the majority of animals are females. There's 100 hens for every rooster, fifty cows for every bull. Young male animals get fattened up for year, then they're gone, it's the females that stick around. And yet we still ended up with the male animal default. *shrug*

MrsAWiggins05 (#5515)

Location: USA
Posted: 1012 days ago

We have the opposite problem in my house. Our cat and my husband are male, but the rest of us are most definitely female. The bedrooms are pink. The clothes are pink. The toys are pink. The books are pink (mostly). The... everything is pink. I promise, this wasn't my choice; my favorite color is green. But my offspring all think that the moon was hung on the color pink.

Yes, every Disney princess lives somewhere in our house. In the toy room, on a bed spread, in the movie cabinet. We have Pixar movies. And Veggie Tale movies (also predominately male.) We have all the classic children's books with a preponderance of male characters.

And yet, every animal (including our cat) and every cartoon character and... everyone who is not a grown man is referred to as "she." I'm not sure how to combat this other than the gentle, consistent correction.

I'm not feminist. But in the world of three little girls under five, only girls exist.

kbryna (#5520)

Posted: 1010 days ago

I think Pixar's *A Bug's Life* also does a good job with gender: Princess Atta, the Queen (who is awesome), and Dot are all fairly central characters. There's also the very nice tweaking of gender expectations with Francis the male ladybug.

I once wanted to buy, as a gift for a small child, a play veterinarian set. The child, a boy, loved cats. At the toy store, I had a choice: the vet set, with a stuffed dog in a red & blue carrier OR the "beauty parlor" set, with combs and ribbons and accessories, with a stuffed cat in a pink & purple carrier.
I was furious.
There are a lot of kids' books out there with excellent female protagonists. But the perception remains that adult males can't read about female protagonists. It's utterly depressing.

Elaina (#5525)

Location: New orleans
Posted: 1009 days ago

Amusingly, I have a very poncy looking dog. It is a male lhasa apso mix, with long ears and a long fancy tail that he carries high over his back. Occasionally, he even wears bows. And people assume that he is female all the time.

Previously, when I had a dachshund, people never assumed that she was female. Too dog-like, I think.

In English, people have to make an assumption when it comes to gender, and there are repercussions to guessing wrong. People get upset when you use the wrong pronoun for them or their children or their pets. And somehow, it is more socially acceptable to call a woman a man than to call a man a woman.

Machine Man subscriber Adam Willard (#4231)

Location: Madagascar
Quote: "What unseen pen etched eternal things in the hearts of humankind... but never let them in our minds?"
Posted: 1009 days ago

You should add Google+ to your share options! (Google+ is way better anyway) and I'd love to share this with my friends on there!

Danette (#5535)

Location: Indianapolis
Posted: 1002 days ago

Female characters sometimes have traits too. There are usually two traits- pretty, and in need of a make over- but nothing deeper than that. You're right, there's usually no real personality, just the superficial.

Also, why has almost every male super hero gotten a major motion picture but Wonder Woman is only a tv show?

ann (#5539)

Posted: 999 days ago

i work in television. we're casting for the host of a show about pets and when i ask why we're not even considering looking for a female host, the answer is something along the lines of 'demographics. we're trying to attract male viewers.' i am alternately befuddled and revolted.

Ceals (#5542)

Location: Melbourne
Posted: 999 days ago

I always though Marge Piercy was onto something when she used "Per" in "Woman on the edge of Time". What would our society be like if we were all Person's instead of He's or She's?

SAO (#5599)

Location: Moscow
Posted: 972 days ago

The problem with this thesis is that Russian culture and literature is just as, if not far more, prone to preferring male writers over female, but the Russian language has the generic animal as a female. Some bugs may be male, but the generic term for most mammals is female.

Because the language is gendered and you refer to feminine nouns with a feminine pronouns, animals are automatically called she, as are other objects with feminine gender, such as streets, schools, potatoes and cars.

If your theory held, Russian literature would celebrate woman writers.

blab (#1632)

Location: The Sandwich Isles
Quote: "Adventure is just poor planning"
Posted: 961 days ago

In no particular order for the 2 - 8 set:

the "Madeline" books by Ludwig Bemelmans
the "Frances" books by Russell Hoban
the "Eloise" books by Kay Thompson

the authors, Laura Ingalls Wilder,
Lois Lenski
Helen Lester
P. L. Travers
Suse McDonald
Satomi Ichikawa
Jan Brett

"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"China's Bravest Girl" told by Charlie Chin

Andrew (#5657)

Location: Australia
Quote: "[Insert Humorous Quote Here]"
Posted: 939 days ago

Have you maybe thought at all that presuming a creature is male is natural? Why else would everybody in every culture be subject to this presumption? If you ask me, people need to stop trying to change what just is.

juniper (#5768)

Posted: 871 days ago

Hi--

I actually read this piece months ago, when you first posted it. But I've been chewing over this.

"I have been told that this is a good thing for girls. “That makes girls more special,” said this person, who I wanted to punch in the face. That’s the problem. Being female should not be special."

I know that you are writing from the perspective of a father of a little girl. But as a woman who grew up reading all these things and becoming able to identify with people who were different from me, what I feel saddest in thinking about this piece now, months later, is that being able to grow up reading and watching only stories with protagonists like yourself is so troubling and limiting. It can create such a crippling sense of entitlement at the same time as it creates such a sense of defensiveness when faced with even smallest disagreement of deviation. And the world is filled with disagreements and deviations and difference.

Anyway, I appreciate your entire piece and enjoyed how well-written it was. It is always helpful when gentleman point such things out. Thanks!

tripleyew (#5769)

Location: Santa Barbara
Posted: 871 days ago

Hi,
I just finished reading Machine Man and came to this site for the first time. Big fan of all of Max's books.
I agree with Max's observations. I would add that a default value is not necessarily the most common value, however it is the preferred value.

One thing I've also wondered is why people care about the gender of a newborn baby. Arguably it's only later in life that gender becomes a primary attribute.

On the other hand, there are a number of inanimate objects that have been assigned genders (cars, ships, etc.). This presumably is an attempt to humanize such objects. In general I think a society defines a language to its liking, and for speakers of the English language - traditionally the Western world - the idea of a subject being a thing vs. an animal vs. a human is somehow less important than the perceived masculinity/femininity of a subject. Also don't get me started on corporate personhood...

I'm curious if the Internet will change this though. How do people generally refer to gender-neutral avatars? It gets tiring to say he/she (or write s/he).

Samuel X (#5775)

Posted: 867 days ago

Just read this today, and it's pretty encouraging considering I'm writing a female protagonist (while I am a male protagonist). The process has entailed long talks with my girlfriend about displaying femininity (and what that means, what it even means that we have to talk about it). Part of the problem is, of course, that I'm a guy so I don't have that baseline female mentality. But the other part of the problem is that women are, by and large, poorly represented in media.

I'm a guy and so I don't have a woman's perspective, but shouldn't media do a better job of educating me about that? You would think so. But when I was hunting for influences for my female protagonist, I kept coming back to dogs and smurfs.

The worst part is, you find a handful of "well-rounded female characters" and try to use them as inspiration--only to realize everyone else has done that because there's three of them and they're incredibly well known.

So! In order to do something different? Shit. Long conversations with the girlfriend.

Rokujo Lady (#5866)

Location: Silicon Valley
Posted: 832 days ago

Samuel X,
I think that's part of the problem. I think you're assuming that men and women have a different baseline of thinking. I disagree. I can think of a good many great characters where you can switch out the genders and the character is still believable. I mean, take your favourite story. I think I could take mine and make the main character a female and have the character be just as compelling. Why? Because there's not a baseline difference between how the genders think. Womens' thoughts are not inherently different than mens'. Neither are their daydreams, aspirations or emotions. Maybe, just maybe we think about "wanting to tap that" less, but that's a cultural difference too..

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