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Monday, February 4, 2013

Constructing genders: some questions

(checks empty mailbox) All right, here we go...

If you're building a unique culture for your story, thinking about gender roles will cover a lot of territory. These are some questions to get your brain burbling. I'll answer them with regards to women in current American culture -- since it's something we all know about. I'm just laying out a pattern, so let's not argue specifics.

What's the ideal, in this culture? 
We all have an idea what a "super-mom" is like -- that attractive 30something woman with the wonderful hubby, a great career, well-behaved and smart kids, squeaky-clean house, and always has time to whip up super-delicious cookies for the school bake sale.

At what point does "ideal" become too much? 

When does having it all become unreal? Dangerous? "You can never be too rich or too thin," they say...

What allowances are made for reality? 
Perfection does not exist, and we all know it. How many flies in the ointment are allowed? Is a woman still Super-mom if she has a bad hair day now and then? If she came home to find the kids put Palmolive in the dishwasher and there's sudsy water all over the floor? What if Super-mom turns into a bitch every month because of PMS? Or she has a pack-a-day smoking habit? Where does she stop being Super-mom and become "ordinary"?

What's completely unacceptable? 
When would an ordinary bystander call Social Services? Surely if we saw a mother beating her child with a belt -- but what about a light swat on a diapered bottom? Everyone has their own parameters here, but step back and look at culture in general.

What's marginally unacceptable? 
As with the boundary between Super-mom and "ordinary," what's on the low side of acceptability? Yesterday's dishes piled in the sink? Kids are getting in trouble at school? Everyone's 20 pounds overweight?

What is considered "ordinary"?

This is the hazy area that we're trying to define by way of negative space -- by defining the boundaries around it.

The underlying theme here is what society as a whole consideres important in people (in general) and a gender (in specific). That opinion is shaped by many forces: religion, government, tradition, popular philosophy, charismatic individuals... things you'll have to wrestle with in the process of defining gender roles in your created world.

I've also kept to surface-level behaviors here. What about sexuality? Does Super-mom have dozens of orgasms in missionary position, or can she enjoy being on top too? Where do whips and chains fall on the acceptability scale? Playing with food?

Not for you, for our culture in general. It's a moving target, yes.

Other behavior patterns in play: clothing/modesty, aggression, kindness, substance use/abuse, showing emotions...

How are each of these categories of people perceived?
And how are they treated? Are those close to the ideal showered with adoration and opportunities? Hated? What about the unacceptable ones? How are they portrayed in the culture's own stories? How much pressure is put on them to conform to society's standards? What form does it take -- shunning? harassment? legal action?

Your turn
Apply these questions to men, whether in here-and-now reality or your created world. Post it in the comments! And ask questions! This will be a kinda free-form week. If something good comes up in comments, I'll run with it.

I'll make a case study of one of my cultures, if someone asks for it.


RaShelle Workman said...

Excellent info. =)

Charity Bradford said...

I always love how in depth your world building is. You really leave no stone un-turned and it shows in the quality of your story.

Think I'll mull these questions over for a while.

Liz said...

There is so much to this...