Science Fiction Today – Gender

GI have heard Gender described as the civil rights fight of the next century. Well, that means much of the fight is in the future – Science Fiction time! Of course, first I think I want a definition of Gender.

Let’s peel some definitions apart. There’s “sex,” which is physically male or female. Then there is “gender” – often used as the word instead of “sex” – which is about masculine or feminine traits. Definitions on those traits are probably beyond the scope of a short post… Then there is “sexuality” which is about what sex one is attracted to… well, also probably which gender. All of these elements taken together could perhaps be called a “gender identity.”

Between all of those elements, there are a great many laws being passed – that increase or decrease freedom in these different areas. Laws like ones being passed in some countries against homosexuality. Or like laws being passed in the United states – in some states, allowing homosexual marriage… in others, trying to stop it. It’s a hot enough topic that I don’t think I can fully say what utopia or dystopia would look like with this – so let’s look at three possible future states.

Gender Difference Illegal

One way that the dice could fall is for the laws blocking any forms of gender difference – anything outside of masculine males who like women, and feminine women who like men – would be illegal. Parts of the laws to get to this point are already in place in many places.

Depending on how these things are defined, though, what would life look like? For instance, take the geeky things that we love here on the blog. They tend to be considered “guy” things – comic books and their movies, video games – but not “masculine” things. So who would get to enjoy these things?

Gender as a Non-Issue

Then again, there’s the other extreme – gender differences are all made legal, and we have all moved past them as an issue. But how likely is this? After all, there’s the hope that the same could be said of race, but that doesn’t seem to have happened…

Indeed, while many of the apparent legal barriers have been removed, racial tensions still exist. So while on one extreme there are legal pressures against difference, on the other extreme having none of those legal pressures does not inherently mean that society is cured of what ails it.

So how even do you get to a point where it’s a non-issue?

Genderless Society

Of course, if we really want to talk science fiction, then it’s not a legal remedy one way or another. It’s science. And I could see genetic engineering, eugenics, or some form mental or physical controls being used to “solve” the gender question.

Okay, if I’ve already mentioned race, then let me mention the book I just finished reading,Β The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin. In it, a character could change all of reality through dreaming. At one point, he dreams about a solution to racial difference – and he dreams that everyone was grey, that everyone had always been grey. No racial difference.

Okay… so is a solution like that utopian or is it dystopian? You tell me.

Historical Note: Though I used it as the conceit for this post, it is an oversimplification to think of gender identity as the civil rights battle of the next century. Even just thinking the last 150 years of American history, the basic narrative could at least be seen as race and slavery… then women’s suffrage… then race again… then feminism… then gay rights… to today, where honestly it feels like all of these things are in play. And it was probably the same in the past: all of these things were in play at once. None of them are a “start” and “stop” dialog, and there is no clear “end” to them either.

This post is part of the April A to Z Challenge, and also part of our occasional series on Science Fiction Today. You can read an explanation of both here. We are striving to keep these posts short, and know that we have not covered every example or angle – plenty of room for discussion!

44 responses to “Science Fiction Today – Gender

  1. really, there should be no issues. the problem arises with those who cannot let go of false assumptions born from personal interpretations of historical texts and “holy” books. Mankind has always been all about himself/herself instead of for those around them. It has always been his view, not compassion, that has ruled his heart and created the hate between himself and his fellow man. He has always missed the true lessons that were being taught in his “religious” texts, and supplanted them with his doctrine of hate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If we want to talk about historical texts, one way to look at American history, at least, is that we continue striving to actually match the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” At the time it was written, it ended up being applied mainly to white, propertied men. However, it moves closer and closer to how I see you using it: “men” as the English-language catch-all phrase as a shortening for “mankind” short for “humankind” short for “everybody.” Where it is a constant movement as we try to get closer to the “everybody” standard to make the Declaration true. Are we there yet? Nope. Has it always been religious texts in the way? Nope.


  2. Speaking of Ursula K. Le Guin and staying on topic, have you read ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’? If not, read it πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have not. I am slowly in life working my way through reading some books by all the great science fiction authors, and Ursula K. Le Guin was my next stop. The Lathe of Heaven seemed like a good stand-alone novel. You definitely hear about The Left Hand of Darkness more often – but I noticed it’s in the middle of a series. Maybe. Would you say it’s a good read on its own, or one I should read in-series?


      • I’ve only read a handful of her books. I think I’ve read others that were part of the same universe after I read The Left Hand of Darkness. It didn’t have any of the same characters or even the same planets….. But that was all years ago so i don’t’ remember the other book as well. I do remember Left hand – it’s one of my all time favorites. If there was background in another book, I didn’t need it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Good points, especially about those things that are seen as “guy” things but not really “masculine” things. I’ll have to think about that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Right? That goes back to my recent post on Gatekeeping:

      Some forms of media have been pigeon-holed as things that men (well, boys) do/enjoy. Why? I guess because they got there first? Could probably add things like role-playing games, tabletop war gaming, and a host of other things to a geeky list like that. Is there anything that makes them male-only? Nope. Not even in weak-argument sports terms. But even though they are male-sphere things in society, they are not “masculine” things. They’re more “childish” things, I guess?

      In a dystopia we definitely don’t get to keep reading comics, I guess. Oh, unless the dystopia is like Ready Player One…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think you’re right that they’re “childish” things. I haven’t read Ready Player One yet, so this might even be the idea there, but… Lots of dystopias offer some sort of purge or yearly violence… Wouldn’t it be interesting to see one offering a yearly LARP as a way to release the people’s imaginative impulses?

        Liked by 1 person

        • That would be fun πŸ™‚ But now you have me thinking of the Rush song 2112 in response. Quick backstory, it’s a dystopia, and the song protagonist finds a guitar and is amazed. He presents it to the leaders, and…

          Yes, we know, it’s nothing new
          It’s just a waste of time
          We have no need for ancient ways
          Our world is doing fine
          Another toy that helped destroy
          The elder race of man
          Forget about your silly whim
          It doesn’t fit the plan

          Control is so often a part of dystopia… but the idea of a one-day letting loose is interesting. Except… would it be a real-life LARP, real swords and such? In which case… The Hunger Games?


          • That’s awesome!

            I’ll have to think on that a bit. Sometimes it’s like the Star Trek episode “Return of the Archons” or the movie The Purge, where it’s one day of “anything goes” crime. Other times it’s like The Hunger Games where the violence is on a small scale, but intended for everyone to see and take a lesson from. Other times it’s like Ecotopia, with a semi-violent “game” people play more purposefully to let off energy. So I’m thinking eliminate the overt “this is for violence” stuff and focus on the roleplay/fantasy elements. with a rule that they can’t break character so the story would be about a set of people playing other roles and knowing all the others are acting too, but unable to do anything else… Or maybe it’s virtual. Or maybe the people don’t even know they’re temporarily in a fantasy, and it’s about discovering they’re not who they think they are…

            Liked by 1 person

          • This seems like a fun idea that could become an ongoing project. A webcomic? A collection of short stories by various writers? Hmmm…


          • I’mma make at least one short story happen. πŸ˜€ I love that collection of short stories idea though. Give them all the LARPing/day-of-fantasy idea and see what people come up with.

            Liked by 2 people

          • So it shall be written, so it shall be done.

            Liked by 2 people

      • This has me thinking of studies I’ve read about games, childhood games in particular. They’re often gendered in ways that reinforce gender norms. Boys learn about war, strategy, and prowess because those are qualities considered masculine, therefore good to cultivate in boys. Girls learn about dressing up and managing a household because those are considered feminine qualities—and they’ll (theoretically) help a woman find (and keep!) a husband.

        But there’s also an element of subversion to a lot of games, and that’s when the fun starts. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  4. So, I like the short story idea.

    Now I am going to hijack the thread for a moment to note that:

    1. Gretchen has a strongly-worded post today about equality and religion (marriage equality specifically)

    2. Suzie81 is also blogging about marriage equality today.

    3. Not ten minutes ago, one of the Write On! sisters send me a link by email to a blogger they’ve discovered from the list who used Feminism for her A-to-Z “F” post.

    Talk about synchronicity.


  5. Correction: The third one is not actually an A to Z post. A post from February that just found its way to my inbox. Here’s that one. I’ll get you Suzie’s and Gretchen’s in a bit. Ironically, I was already following this blogger on Twitter.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The dream where everyone turns gray is definitely a dystopian in my mind. That would be a terrible future for me… because it suggests that the only answer is to meld everything into one… which means after race, it would be gender, then age, then politics, religion, ideals…. basically, the word “gray” is apt. That sort of society would not cease until there was really no point in us living anymore (I imagine a tray of silkworms, mindlessly existing beside each other).

    Alex Hurst, A Fantasy Author in Kyoto
    A-Z Blogging in April Participant

    Liked by 2 people

    • Great, if awful, imagery there πŸ˜€

      She definitely used “gray” on purpose. Bland, boring, same. It was left to make us think, and to show that “equality” has its limits. She also makes it very specific: the protagonist had fallen in love with a mixed race woman, who, in this new reality, didn’t exist. And he fully understood it. She couldn’t exist. It was too much a part of her identity.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. um, I rather like that I am a woman. And I think I should have the right to like it and so should other people have the right to like what they are. Or did I miss the point here?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nope that sounds right πŸ˜€ I guess the question is – if that is true – what does the future look like for making a society where that can be true for everyone? Or will we swing back the other way, and no one will have that freedom?

      Liked by 1 person

      • IDK but, we need to start embracing who and what we are. “This above else be true to yourself, then thou cannst be false to any man.” I think Shakespeare had it about right. We need to start loving the differences in others. In my world of tomorrow, we realize that we need those differences to have an enlightened and flourishing society and planet.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Have you read John Scalzi’s “Lock In”? I’m just working on a review of it for my blog but it’s not finished yet.

    That book is really interesting on gender: in it some people use surrogate robot bodies in the real world & also interact in a virtual arena space. This tech is developed in response to a medical condition but I found it fascinating how little gender & race matters in the story as a result. It’s halfway through the book before I found out the protagonist’s race & their gender is never actually confirmed either way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh wow. I have not read any Scalzi so that sounds like a good starting place!

      Between biological work, virtual representation, and robotics, there are a lot of options already and more in the future for not having to work within our birth role. Whoa, that was a long sentence. Anyway – great example πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I hope it will swing towards acceptance of gender fluidity… I hope.

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was about to say there is also a swing towards gender rigidity, but I realized that may not quite be right. It may be more that there are people (and governments…) which do not actually recognize the very idea of gender fluidity as a thing. Some willfully, some ignorantly. Will be interesting to see how that changes over time, for sure – as the ignorance can be solved over time πŸ˜€


  10. Just going to pop in with some links and terms, because as a nonbinary bisexual, all the news on “gay marriage” and “homosexual marriage” excludes my experiences. The term the media should use is “homogamous” and “heterogamous” because my partners don’t me me “gay” or “straight” by default (and as someone who doesn’t really fall into the gender binary, that’s also confusing… Gender identity is more the gender you feel you are, which people may choose to manifest outwardly as gender expression (fashion, markers, gait, speech), and it can be a part of sexual orientation or not, depending on the person. :bursts into rainbows:

    ANYWAY. Gender in speculative fiction has been going on for sometime–even the Amazons in Greek mythology could be considered, if it’s not just scifi, but works like Herland, as well. The shift I perceive in my own little corner is that gender in sff is being written about in more ways than just a binary, and worlds in which aliens or future societies have more than “two genders” (of course there are more, but you know, our socialization bleeds into our work) or no genders, etc. One society in Ancillary Justice has no gender in language or in practice (all fashions and expressions are open to all and any Radchaai), but another society has one set fashion for all with gendered pronouns and the expectation the speaker always knows, which confuses the protagonist. Leckie’s social commentary is ON POINT, and it’s one of the best I’ve seen so far this decade, or ever.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Pingback: Book Review: Lock In by John Scalzi | Addaltmode

  12. Pingback: Science Fiction Today – Robots | Comparative Geeks

  13. Now this is an actually legit and relevant Chappie example. Spoiler…

    Chappie seems to be male and has a male voice, but this could be because his creator was male and/or because when he’s actively taught how to present, it’s by an overly-“masculine” gangster who wants him to look “cool” and “tough.” The weird part is that when Chappie designs a body for his “mummy,” he makes it look female. It’s right at the end of the movie and it’s not explained why. Does he think since she has a face etc., a new body ought to look the same? Does he wish he looked different from other robots too? Can robots have a gender? I’d say yes… but there’s no reason their genders would be restricted to male and female.

    Liked by 1 person

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