1. Passero
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    Passero Member

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    Gender confusion

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Passero, Jan 5, 2016.

    I am reading a lot of short stories lately and sometimes I notice I am confused by the gender of the protagonist in the story. Especially if the writer writes in the first person and the person has a gender neutral name like Chris, Charlie, or a completely made up name.

    These short stories come from anthologies composed of award winning authors so I am wondering, if this is intentionally? More often than not, the gender does not actually make a difference in the story. If you write the exact same story but make it a women (or man) it wouldn't change much so I don't see a point of confusing the reader about the gender.

    Shouldn't you be hinting the correct gender early on in these cases or am I missing something here?
     
  2. Aster
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    Aster Member

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    Without reading these stories for myself I can only make assumptions.

    If there is any ambiguity I would hope it was intentional. Perhaps to subvert your expectations.

    Gender can be hinted at in subtle ways. Context is important.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2016
  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why?

    As you say, the gender makes no difference to the story, so what's the big deal?

    I have written stuff in first person POV, no name mentioned, no action requiring gender assignment; but when I wrote it, in my mind, the character was female. Some people read the character as male. That may be because, being male, I was unable to put myself into a female mind enough to write a convincing female. Or, it may be because those who saw it as male made that assumption because, to them, a character is automatically male unless specified otherwise.

    You seem to be objecting to a "reveal" late in the story about the gender? Because, otherwise, how do you know that you're confused? Unless you're reading "Charlie" as male (default position?) only to see him doing something that you'd only expect a female to be doing?
     
  4. Passero
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    The latest story I wrote was "The Hand is quicker" by Elizabeth Bear. The protagonist is called Charlie and from early on it was revealed she had an affair with a women. Because of this I thought it was a man.
    It was only much later in the story that there was a reference to "she". It seemed odd because the confusion didn't add anything extra to the story...
     
  5. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    This is a different scenario to your original post, where it sounded like the gender of the POV character was never revealed. In that case, where it doesn't impact the story in any way, I see no reason for an author to shoehorn a gender reference in. I don't think I had a gender reference in my last POV short story, though it begins by showing that the MC is a police officer and quickly explains he had a relationship with a woman, so most people would have pictured him as male. It makes no difference if readers picture the MC as a non-hetero woman, though.

    But in this post you talk about building up a mental image of a POV character as a man (and most readers in the West assume that characters are white and male unless there are strong clues otherwise) and then being told halfway through that she's a she. Unless the author has done it deliberately to make a point about gender roles or whatever, I think they should put the gender reference in at the beginning. It will confuse and probably annoy the reader to have to completely change their mental picture after getting to know a character.
     
  6. Passero
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    That's exactly the issue I'm having with that story. I had a mental picture of a man only to have it change three quarters in the story... I'd rather have it like you describe, without having any strong reference so you can make whatever mental picture.

    Reason why I started this thread is because it's not the only story that I read where this occurs. Especially because this is coming from award winning authors, I was wondering if there is a deeper reason for this why they might do this?
    If it wasn't done on purpose, shouldn't this be something proofreaders or editors should notice?
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    It probably depends on the story. In certain circumstances that might just be sloppy description but it's certainly done on purpose.

    One well known recent example was John Scalzi' novel "Lock In" - which was from the POV of a patient who appeared who appeared to be in a vegetative state but was actuality fully conscious and "locked in" (able to hear and feel but not respond). In that case Scalzi purposefully kept gender undefined for the purpose of having the reader insert themselves as "Chris". He was really careful with pronouns and even had two versions of the audiobook released - one with a male narrator and one with a female.
     
  8. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    If they're a well known author building an image with what you think are masculine traits and then whacking you at the end with the fact that the character is female, they did that on purpose to make you question why you associate certain things with men.
     

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