Most of us go through life never thinking much about our gender or how we express it. We might feel it is something we were born with, something absolute and immutable. We might think there are only two genders and that we are one or the other.
‘But aren’t there only two genders?’ I hear you asking.
Nope. Male and female are only two ends of a vast spectrum. Also it helps not to confuse gender with sex. Sex is biology/physiology and even then there are intersex persons whose bodies are not clearly one or the other.
“When we think of gender, we often think of male or female; that’s only half of understanding gender. The denotations of male and female actually refer to biological and physiological sex. Gender is a sociological construct of values, ideals, and behaviors about what it means to be either male or female, and are often regarded in terms of masculine or feminine, respectively. Many people use sex and gender interchangeably, but one does not have to be male to identify as masculine, and vice versa.”
In addition to exploring the sexual orientations in the coming months we’ll be looking at different gender identities . We’ll discuss gender identity and expression and how you can use these to make your characters more diverse.
‘Why? Can’t I just have my character be male or female?’ You ask.
Of course you can but you’re here so you’re obviously interested in being more diverse in your writing.
The Culture of Gender
Have you ever thought about how your favorite book or movie might have been different if the main character had been a different gender? What would have made it different? Why?
In our society (I’m speaking as someone who lives in the US) identifying as male or female comes with a host of gender specific expectations: men are macho, women are feminine, men don’t cry, women are emotionally compromised, men like cars, women like shoes, ad nauseam. These gender stereotypes are social constructs and have little basis in biology or psychology.
“Gender theorists point to the variations in gender roles observed among different cultures in arguing that gender – our masculinity or femininity – is a social construct rather than an innate biological characteristic. Because there is no universal “right” way to be a man or a woman, they argue that our ways of “doing gender” are shaped by social cues and influences.”
This is why we as writers need to be more cognizant of the variety around us. Challenging these stereotypes can help us broaden our social consciousness and that of our readers.
‘But why should I worry about gender when I only write men or women?’ You wonder.
Because even cisgendered persons, or persons whose gender identity aligns with their gender assigned at birth, are impacted by society’s gender culture and expected to conform to certain norms. It’s not enough to throw a bunch of ‘masculine’ traits into a character’s personality and call her a ‘strong’ female. And conversely taking a female character and switching to masculine pronouns won’t give you the sensitive male you are looking for. They each will have skin-deep traits and no real depth to them.
It’s my hope that you’ll find the following articles interesting and maybe a little enlightening as we study the wide variation of genders and sexualities and how we can accurately write these identities.
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Do you struggle writing a certain gender? Why do you feel that is the case? Have you ever written a character and then decided to change their gender? What prompted the change and how do you feel it turned out?