This post is the second part of my thoughts following the “Strong Female Character” discussion that I posted yesterday. The thoughts here are less well-formed, but still important.
I talked about the characters that exist because that’s the way the discussion went among the other participants. One of the brief snippets of that conversation does warrant a full post though: Gender.
Gender is a social construct. The more studies there are, the more they prove that gender is more due to nurture than nature. That the pink aisle and the blue aisle in the toy store have to do with normative values, and not what kids want or care about.
I could launch into a diatribe about gender construction in our own world, in the present day. But I won’t. The reason I won’t is because this was originally brought up in a single context: Science fiction.
What are constructs if not the playthings of sci fi writers?
One of my Twitter friends brought up Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy. The Oankali had a third gender–ooloi. I haven’t read these, but they have been bumped higher on my list. There are a number of single-gender worlds and stories, often this is seen as a requirement for Utopian conditions. Ellen Kushner writes transgender and gender-blending stories.
They exist. Perhaps there aren’t enough of them.
Babies are born with unique configurations of genitalia all of the time. They are often surgically pushed into one gender or another. In some cultures there are not two genders, but five. These things and more examples like them lead me to think that male and female are a false dichotomy. A logical fallacy. There are not only two options. There are many.
The real world, if we open our eyes to it, does not exist in a male and female only space. There are many many stages beyond and between those areas, and it lessens us as people to try to shuffle others into one or the other where they may not truly belong.
At its heart, I believe that science fiction exists to provide a social commentary. I think sci fi should show a moral compass, to provide the “what if” questions and ideas that people are afraid to entertain outside of the realms of fiction. Dystopias show where we are headed if we continue down X path.
Science fiction writers are the oracles. We predict the future.
My urge for science fiction writers, and for myself, is to think outside of the known. To think outside of the familiar, and the comfortable. When it comes to gender, it makes sense that we – in the realms of fiction – can be as creative and mind-blowing as we want to be.
So why aren’t we?
Why are we still talking about casting females and giving women characters depth and breadth? Why are almost all of the aliens in Star Wars and Star Trek recognizable by one human gender or another?
I love that Captain Jack Harkness has given birth, and is the face of Bo. I love that he is a she is an it. Props to Dr. Who writers for keeping us guessing about Capt. Jack.
I’ve got a WIP that could do with some gender bending. In fact, that might be the tiny bit of existential crisis it has been missing all along.
Stepping outside of black and white definitions isn’t safe. But fiction shouldn’t be safe. It should be a little terrifying to write, and it should be a little mind-bending to read.