Genders 102: Gender Roles & World Building!

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Brovo, Mar 13, 2016.


What do you think of this guide?

  1. It's great! I learned things!

  2. It's good, I can see how others would learn things, but I already understand this.

  3. I am confused by something... (Please leave a question below.)

  4. This has a lot of flaws, but at least I can see what you were trying to do.

  5. This is complete rubbish! What were you thinking?!

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  1. Disclaimer
    The definitions of certain words (gender, sexuality, et cetera) can vary from conversation to conversation, from person to person, and even from topic to topic. So I'll do my best to define them as concretely as I can, and if they differ from your own personal definitions, that doesn't render them wrong: It just renders them different.

    As is per the usual with my guides, this is the part where I disavow any sort of ethos-based credentials to speak about the topic. Think for yourself, and take this guide--as well as any other you see on the Internet--with a grain of salt. It's meant to be helpful, and it's researched information on my part, but any guide can have errors in it. This guide is no exception.

    Also keep in mind that this guide is written around the ideal of teaching useful skills related to role playing, nothing else. This means information as it relates to characters, societies, plots and premises, world building, and so on. This guide is not out to teach you “the one true gender spectrum,” or to proselytize you into any particular political world view. It will not try to tell you what's “real” and what's “not real.” It will merely do the following:

    1. Teach the definitions of things.
    2. Teach how to wield and potentially subvert those things as per those definitions.

    Truly, that is all. :ferret:

    Oh, and one last thing. While this guide is centred around gender identity (ie: Males/Females on the social level), it can and will bring up examples of sexuality as well. A lot of the advice here can also apply directly to LGBT content: Society's interpretations of how men and women should be also extends quite often to how they should sexually behave. Which obviously affects everyone who bucks whatever standards the society in question possesses.

    Sexual Disclaimer
    The following guide contains references to sexuality, gender identity, and so on. While there will obviously be no depictions of sex in graphic detail (because it wouldn't be useful and it would be against the rules of Iwaku), it will reference certain human body parts you've probably learned about already if you've spent more than a few minutes on the Internet.

    Part 1: Read The 101 Guide

    I'm not kidding, I define a few things there that carry-over here. You can read it here. The 101 Guide covers the basic but essential biological differences between males and females, covering primary sex hormones and strength differences that can affect a character on an individual basis. The 102 Guide tackles applying genders to world building: In species, cultures, laws, and so on. It's a thick topic and I cannot possibly hope to address every single group that has ever existed across every cultural motif that has ever been a thing, so, keep that in mind.

    Part 2: An Empire's Values

    In the previous guide it was noted that there are biological differences between males and females, and depending on the technological level, these differences became more or less pronounced. As a general rule of thumb: More technology = a person's sex becomes less relevant. A fighter pilot needs to survive heavy G-forces, so males have the distinct physical advantage, but an operator behind a drone just needs reflexes and training, which either sex can acquire with similar levels of ease.

    So let's use a fantasy medieval society as an example of how gender roles might be constructed, and under what circumstances they may end up being constructed. What values does this society have? What does it consider most important? Survival, or honour? Courage, or cunning? Progress, or tradition? Why does it hold these values? Is it because of fables? Is it because of practicality? Was it by random chance? Did these values help them in the past in some way?

    Now apply these values to the two sexes. Take what you've learned about the biological differences, and ask yourself what would people in this particular society you've crafted feel about it all? A more staunchly traditional society would probably reject and disdain anyone that did not conform to whatever that society's interpretation of gender roles might be. A society focused on survival might make the cold hearted decision that because women are child bearers, and it takes nine months to make a baby + additional months to feed that baby with breast milk, that women should not ordinarily be warriors. Contrast to a society which holds progressivism as a core value: People rejecting the status quo to improve their lot in life would be seen in a positive light rather than a negative one, or at least would be protected from the backlash of more conservatively minded people.

    You can even combine elements to create twists on the typical male-female gender roles without abolishing them entirely. You could still have women who stay at home, but they're highly educated and physically fit, like in the Spartan way of life, Agoge. You could have a society which sees fit to put women in roles of espionage, or government, or religion, or even in hunting outside of warfare--like Native Americans. You could reverse the gender roles and make men stay at home while women march off to war, akin to the fantasy society of the Amazons.

    Once you have a baseline idea of what the society interprets is best for the genders (if you've chosen anything at all--abolishing gender roles entirely is acceptable as well, if you don't want to deal with this kind of stuff), you can work on how that affects the general disposition of the people. Thus, when you create a story and bring player characters into it, you can create several unique interactions as a result of who the player characters are, and the player characters can adjust their character's history and personality to reflect either an acceptance or rejection of the society in which they were born.

    For example: If you based your fantasy kingdom off of medieval Europe, women would be largely illiterate and uneducated, and would prepare their whole lives for the concept of marriage, childbirth, child rearing, and so on. The state and the church would highly encourage, if not outright enforce through law, that these positions made for women by society be maintained. Whether it be for malevolent reasoning or ignorant, well-meaning chauvinism, is up to the GM. Meanwhile, player characters can have incredibly rich and nuanced interactions occur as a result of understanding these elements of society.

    A female player character who is a warrior might not want to frivolously display this in plain sight of a priest, who might punish her for it. A male player character who travels with a female compatriot might try to cover up her behaviours as eccentricities to try and avoid her getting into trouble, or might hold some chauvinist-lite™ views himself. A player character who adopts more masculine or feminine traits--opposite of their gender--might find themselves in the position of constantly having to disguise these things, or suffer the consequences of displaying them.

    In an Amazonian kingdom, you can flip these standards on their head. Make it so the males are generally discouraged from warmongering and are encouraged to raise offspring, and women march off to war. What cultural practices might arise as a result of warriors carrying pregnancies? How might this affect the general psyche of the populace, and how would that drive or modify interactions with player characters who interact with them?

    As a general rule of thumb, keep the following three points in mind where it concerns world building and genders.
    1. Grey Worlds Only: A bit of a soft rule, as you can portray gender roles in a black and white, good and evil sort of way, but it's a strawman at best, and outright comical denial of reality at worst. The fact of the matter is that genders and the concept of a gender is fluid and ever changing. Therefore, to portray one idea of it as completely flawlessly right, and the other end of the spectrum as only being held by baby eating scumbags, murders any of the depth that could have been created as a result of exploring this concept. The entire point of even talking about this in a story is to have different characters approach it from different walks of life with different beliefs, most of which would be their version of ideal: Not evil. The priest who wants women to be child bearers probably wants to spare them from the horrors of war and continue the human race as he best sees fit, not hurt them “just because they're women.”
    2. Use these to flavour cultures, not to punish players: More of a tip to GM's wanting to learn subtle world building like this. Use this stuff to flavour your nations and only make brief mentions of it. Try to avoid restricting too much what your player characters can and cannot be, or can and cannot do as a result of their gender identity or sex: The less your players can do, the harder it will be for them to continue the story, and the harder it will be on you to provide viable choices. In most instances of a character conflicting with their gender role, make it a verbal conflict, not an outright obstruction to the plot. Note, "most." The occasional side plot conflict arising as a result of bucking social norms can enrich your world and pull your players deeper into the story. Just don't overdo it. :ferret:
    3. If you have multiple empires, flavour them differently: This should probably go without saying, but if you have multiple major culture groups, give them different interpretations of gender roles. It can easily serve as a stirring pot for conflict and gives players the opportunity to have unique interactions with each other based on where they came from. If you have only one massive empire, consider having multiple cultural groups within it. Like how the United Kingdom has the Scottish, the English, the Irish, the sheep shaggers Welsh, et cetera.
    Part 3: The Non-Human

    Here's another angle to explore when considering the role sex and gender plays on the social level: One's own species. Insects would have a wildly different and altogether alien concept of social hierarchies, and that includes gender roles. So too would lizards, or Arachnids, or tentacle monsters Invertebrates.

    Let's use Dwarves as an example. They're a fat, alcoholic, jolly people who live in cave homes. The depiction of their males and females is often that they are extremely similar or outright the same in physical ability and appearance. With little to no sexual dimorphism, how would this affect their construction of gender roles? Would they even have them? How would they interpret humanity's sex differences or gender roles? How would humanity interpret theirs?

    Also consider the biological connotations on a society-wide scale: An insectoid race, even if it was sapient like humanity, might very well accept readily the disposable nature of male workers/warriors if they make up 99% of the population. How would that mold their psyche? As a result, how would that affect their interactions with the genders of other races? Suddenly, a female PC might be treated like a borderline goddess, whereas the males might not even be extended the courtesy of a right to life unless the women in their group commanded that they be left alive.

    In settings with aliens, or fantasy races like elves and orcs, the differences between the sexes and their interpreted role in society can be quite different from that of humanity and provide more nuanced and unique interactions with each other as a result. They don't all have to be different to the point of being alien, but even slight differences can make a huge impact in interactions!

    Part 4: Executing Well vs Executing Poorly

    Alright. Let's get the elephant out of the room: We've all seen (or even been the perpetrators of) the good ole classic “token diversity” trick. That is: Making a lesbian character for the sake of having a lesbian character, and making their personality “token lesbian.” Anyone who essentially falls under the Have I Mentioned I Am Gay trope applies here. The same applies to characters like the strong woman who is strong because she is strong, or the sensitive guy who is sensitive because he is sensitive. Characters generally need a modus operandi, a central set of tenets, beliefs, desires, or otherwise which can define their personality.

    Something which is, by its very nature, inherently not physical.

    So here's a list quickly running over some of the more common mistakes* when incorporating this kind of content, and some suggestions of how to fix them.
    1. All-consuming gender or sexuality: If your character is absolutely obsessed with their sexuality or gender to the point that it becomes their personality and central thesis for existing, you've probably gone way too far overboard for it to ever be played with some sort of depth. There are characters, and then there are caricatures: Don't be the latter if you want to be taken seriously. If your character is bringing up the fact that they're gay, randomly, in conversation, for seemingly no reason, they're an absurd and shallow extreme.
      • Let it arise when it would naturally: Simply allow the topic to come up only where it would make sense. If your character is taking a fancy to someone, it can come up then. If your character is rejecting a social norm related to their gender, it can come up then. If your character is hit with a biological situation that would only occur as a result of their gender, it can come up then. Let the situation dictate the appearance of gender or sexuality as a topic, don't try to force the situation to appear. It's far more natural this way. People don't just burst into random ballrooms and scream “I'M GAY!” They look at someone they're attracted toward of their own gender and go “hey good lookin'.”
    2. Gender Roles are not all consuming either: Most characters really should not be entirely defined by their gender role. It could play an important part of their life (like a princess trying to be beautiful by feminine standards, or a female warrior facing criticism for her more masculine behaviours), but it should never be the only distinct feature of the character.
      • Give them non gender or sexuality related ideals and desires: The princess could be a skilled diplomatic, linguist, pianist, herbalist, magician, whatever floats your boat. The female warrior might be a talented chess player, or might take a passionate love to her craft that caused her to defy her socially appointed gender role in the first place. These should be paramount in your character first. Add their reaction to their gender role and how their sexuality influences their lives after you define their interests, passions, hobbies, and skills. Gender should add to a character, not be the character.
    3. Fetishizing Sexuality: Often done by 1x1 players who are well meaning but otherwise oblivious to how unsettling this behaviour is to their partner. A straight person who sexualizes a gay relationship purely for their own enjoyment, rather than creating a gay character with depth, and nurturing a relationship over a long period of time. This also occurs within heterosexual couples as well, but I'd imagine by sheer statistical odds it's more prevalent among LGBT couples. Basically, imagine taking a part of your personal identity, which means a lot to you. Now imagine making it comically over exaggerated pornography, without warning, when that wasn't what you were looking for at all. Now you might see why this is an issue. :ferret:
      • Person First: First, imagine a person. Give that person a set of hobbies, like playing a guitar, or knitting, or dancing, or whatever else comes to mind. Now give them a profession, like being an accountant, or a mercenary adventurer. Once you define their profession, and their hobbies, define what they believe in: Like a religion, or a philosophy. Once you've done all of that, then go ahead and add their sexuality as the last point. Make sure they are more than just "the gay guy" and with some practice, you'll easily get the hang of how to write something which lays outside of your normal range of thinking.
      • Disclaimer: This is not an inherently evil behaviour at all. If two people want to write a pair of characters getting it on for no more reason than to exercise fetish fuel, nothing is stopping you. Just try to make it clear, from the beginning, that it's all you're looking for. Because some 1x1 players are searching for meaningful character relationships, and don't want to get drowned in a pornographic, dolled up version of what they physically, actually are.
    4. Backwards = Evil: Remember an earlier point made above, about grey worlds being ideal? You generally want to avoid demonizing people who, generally, tend to be well meaning and not cruel. This is especially true of fiction set in historical times. I've lost count of the number of times people have done historical revisionism to apply modern values to backwards people and portray them as monstrously evil as a result. People didn't want to protect women, no, they only wished to enslave and rape them all, for they were all evil! Evil evil evil!
      • Backwards = Earnest, but Antiquated: Generally a better way of going about it. Going back to the same medieval example, people sincerely did not believe women belonged on a battlefield in the medieval era. This wasn't out of some cruel malevolence, but rather out of the belief that women should be spared the horrors of war, that men had to endure it in their place. The well meaning chauvinist, or the well meaning misandrist, can be quite an interesting character to play as. Especially if they go through an arc where they slowly realize that they were wrong about the initially believed of their compatriots. The same applies to those who believe similarly about sexuality, or about masculinity vs femininity, or so on.
      • Disclaimer: No, this does not mean that all people who wanted to keep women in their place were good people. Horrible, malevolent assholes do exist. Like rapists, and power hungry bloodthirsty bastards. These people, however, within the context of a story, should generally be reserved to the role of antagonists. Intention is what matters here: A well meaning but ignorant man can be educated over time. A malevolent, manipulative monster cannot. As a rule of thumb, assume most people generally had good intentions. (Unless you want your story to be about genocide, because that's the only alternative.)
    5. Gender Superiority Sue: Actually portraying one gender as outright superior to another is generally a bad idea for numerous reasons, however, let's get a bit more specific with an example. “Mary Sue was the greatest warrior of the land, in spite of all her male coworkers doubting her. She cold easily murdereded any of the men, because she was a strong, proud, ubermenge woman, ready to strike down those evil sexist men!” Basically, Gender Superiority Sue is taking all of the above errors and doubling down on them into one, generally horribly awful character, whose moral message of “you can do anything no matter what” is usually lost under seas of “the other gender is dumb and inferior.”
      • Simply don't do this: Because it's a Mary Sue. If you're reading a guide of this level, you really probably don't need it explained why writing “genocide gender superiority sue” is a bad idea, so I won't insult your intelligence by explaining it. :ferret:

    As you can see, there's generally a fairly consistent pattern to all of these suggestions, which I'll address in the conclusion below.

    *Mistakes are subjective, and it's up to you to flavour your content however you'd like. These are just my opinions as a role player of several years.

    Part 5: Conclusion

    Phew. Over 3,000 words later, we have reached the end. So now it's time to wrap this up!

    The fairly consistent pattern above, is, quite simply, this.

    Gender Roles add to an existing nation or character, they do not themselves make the proper basis for a nation or character. Figure out a character's ideals, their objectives, their beliefs, and their skills. Then, after that, add physical features like gender. Use gender to modify the idea, don't use ideas to modify gender! GM's: Create your nations and then figure out, based on their values, what sorts of gender roles they would ascribe to their societies! Players: Create your characters and then figure out, based on their values and the world they grew up in, what sorts of gender roles they might embrace or reject from their societies!

    When done well, how characters deal with the subject of gender can help define how they view the world, and subtly shape how others interact with them both positively and negatively. It can help define how a nation reacts to problems both foreign and domestic, and how the people within that nation live and what sorts of things they might believe in. Gender, and how one personally defines it for themselves in contrast to the society in which they live, is one of the main aspects by which a character can find themselves either among brethren or a sisterhood, or end up feeling completely alien and alone. It's one element of what it means to be human: Not all consuming, but important as to how we see ourselves, and each other.

    Anyway, I hope y'all got to thinking a little bit more about what sorts of questions to ask when creating your worlds and characters, and how to go about the process of dealing with such topics in a respectful way. Beyond this, I have nothing more to add about how genders and world building work. So...



    And for those wondering, yes, there may yet be a 103 guide at some point, if it seems like there's more to address than this.
    #1 Brovo, Mar 13, 2016
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2016
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  2. *Picture of cat and ferret hugging*

    Eeeeek! My diabetes!!
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  3. Perhaps an interesting thought is that pregnancy may have quite a lot to do with the mindset that only men should fight on a battlefield. For (in past times more relevant) survival-purposes it is more advantageous if 200 women and 100 men survive rather than 150 women and 150 men or even 100 women and 200 men, which may lead to infighting among other nasty things. This is just speculation, though, and none of these solutions are all that great.
    #3 Wolk, Mar 29, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2016
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  4. Treating 'progress' as if it were an actual, objective assessment of anything.
  5. Excuse me? I'll need clarification if you want a response to this.
  6. "Progress" is a subjective thing when it comes to society as a whole. Progress only means something if you have a set objective in mind and you're working toward accomplishing that; for example, if I wanted to make a video game, "progress" would be getting the battle mechanics sorted, or writing the first chapter. In terms of society, Progress means absolutely nothing. What some people view as progress, others might view as regression - I know several people who view the progress made in gay rights as society going down the drain, for example. If the progress is deniable, it can't be considered progress as a whole; only progress towards a set objective, because ultimately, progress in one direction means regression in the other directions.
  7. Oh. Well, in that case, when I say "progress" I'm referring to the political movement by the same name, not the literal textbook definition. I'll edit the guide for clarity in that respect, thank you.
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  8. Huh, educational. I had no idea such a movement existed.
  9. You can call yourselves 'progressives' but when your actual goals are segregation and ending freedom of speech, 'regressive' is a far more accurate title.
  10. #1: At no point did I call the ideology superior to any other, in any way. A person who rejects the society in which they live could be working to improve themselves, to the potential benefit or harm of the society in which they live.
    #2: Note the progressivism I'm referencing there links to a political movement in the early 1900's to avoid the political trappings of today's movements.
    #3: I'm not a progressive and I often disagree vehemently with most things the modern progressive movement stands for, but if it makes you feel better, you can pretend I am part of it.

    The mere referencing of a political movement and what it professes to stand for does not suddenly make me a supporter of it. Especially when it's referenced in the historical context of the term. I'm not going to annotate and "politically correct" each position to demonstrate one as superior or inferior when talking subjects as broad as empire building and gender identity. One should hope that the creator who learns to ask the right questions when building their world can figure out for themselves what their ideal fantasy world is and isn't.

    In short: Take your political diatribes elsewhere. They're highly inappropriate for this section.
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    • Nice execution! Nice execution! x 1
  11. You literally wrote that a society that does not force its women to fight and die as warriors is "cold hearted."

    You want politics left out of your thread, then don't introduce them in the first place.
  12. ... What? At what point did I say "forced." I'm talking about the individual there. That if an individual woman wished to do X, society might look at her for what she is (a woman who can get pregnant) rather than who she wishes to be (a warrior who wants to fight on the front line.) The same argument can be applied to men if you prefer: A man who wishes to be a stay at home father might be denied that via conscription to serve in the military, because the state has decided upon a cold hearted manner in which to survive.

    When a society decides for people what they can and cannot do, and what they should and should not be, for the express purpose of molding the population to be whatever it deems as most efficient, that's generally the definition of cold hearted. Again, it's not necessarily wrong, it just depends on your values, and on the situation at hand. If you're leading a medieval society, and your primary objective is "survive and grow as quickly as possible" you would need to limit women from warfare. You might not even have to do it for malicious reasons, you could do it out of benevolent intentions, which I mentioned later on in my guide.

    Since this thread is about gender identity it took a look at it through the lens of gender, but you can create the same kind of conflict out of economic circumstances as well: The USSR being a real life example of a state that tried to decide what individual people should and should not be.

    Again, you should cease with trying to "correct" a political position I don't have. It just makes you look foolish and derails this thread from its true intentions. Especially when you tried to quote mine via skipping all of the stuff inbetween the two statements, which was the reasoning for why a woman might be barred from military service. Reasoning which may or may not be evil according to your own views, but is ultimately cold hearted, as it is the state deciding the fate of a group of people based solely on whether or not they possess a vagina.

    Oh, and just because I called the state enforcing women out of military service as cold hearted, doesn't suddenly mean that I want the opposite of women being forced into compulsory military service: That would also be pretty cold hearted. Implying that of me is an assumption on your part, and a foolish one.
  13. *clears her throat*

    @Insomnant, the purpose of this thread is to define and explain different aspects of culture and how to apply that knowledge to worldbuilding in order to enhance one's roleplay. So naturally, politics will be involved because they are a part of any organised society. Nobody here is advocating any form of political leaning over another, they are merely here for information purposes.

    So, as Brovo said, this is NOT the place for a political argument or debate. If you have an issue or disagreement with how Brovo has defined it, ie. you don't think he has defined it accurately or correctly, then by all means have a civil discussion about it. But please do not derail this thread by implying or reading into any of the definitions and explanations presented here. If you really feel the need to discuss it further, please take it to PMs.
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  14. Excellent guide, thank you!
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  15. Bad sarcasm alert:
    Evolutionary Psychology = Sexism + Political Incorrectness

    Both 101 and 102 are well written guides. Nicely done, Brovo.
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