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  1. Seraph751

    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole... Contributor

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    Keeping a character gender neutral...

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Seraph751, Nov 21, 2016.

    Like that title says, I have a character that I want to keep gender neutral. Reasoning? None in particular other than I just want to. :p I am struggling with reference words to my character though as without she/her/he/his I am left with the plural form they/their/themself(?)/themselves. The character doesn't have a name either it is simply "the Writer" (no not me). :D
     
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  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I don't suppose the character is the first-person narrator? If so, then I'd recommend looking at Sarah Caudwell's Hilary Tamar mysteries--we never learn whether Hilary is male or female, and it takes a while to realize that, hm, you don't know. (My understanding is that Hilary is a gender-neutral name in the UK.) But it does seem harder if you're referring to them in the third person.
     
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  3. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    If you're MC is someone different, you could always address the issue in universe by making your MC all like "He... she.... whatever, it didn't matter" and then have that character choose a method of referring. Even if it's just always addressing that character by name, if you give a reason, the audience is usually willing to go along for the ride.
     
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  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    The "they" would drive me nuts, but it's the currently accepted way to be gender neutral.

    It'll totally tip off your readers that you're being deliberately gender-neutral, of course. In which case maybe you should try "zhe" or one of those variants? Honestly, those are less annoying to my eye, but... I think I might be a minority on that.

    You could look at the Ancillary Justice series where the feminine pronouns are used for all characters... it was kind of hard to get used to, but interesting...
     
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  5. Seraph751

    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole... Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak I am writing in third-person. So the Writer or Writer blah blah blah...
     
  6. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    How much action is this character involved in? You probably could avoid gendered pronouns if the character isn't used too often.

    I grab a book. This is from An Episode of Sparrows, by Rumer Godden. I want to see how hard it is to remove gendered pronouns.

    The original paragraph:

    Lovejoy knew how to sow grass. She had watched the men doing it when the new council flats were made; they had lawns, not asphalt, and she had seen the men sow the seed and then stretch nets over the places to keep off the sparrows and children. Lovejoy, of course, had no net but that was soon solved. She had stolen the money, so it seemed to make no difference now if she stole a net, and she took the cat net off a perambulator when the baby was put outide to sleep. First she unfastened the net--if anybody comes I can pretend I"m looking at the baby, she thought; they'll scold me but that's all they can do--then she waited, looking up and down the Street and into the baby's house through the windows; the moment came; she dexterously peeled the net off, slid it under her coat, and sauntered away.

    The rewrite, with a gender-neutral name and gendered pronouns removed:

    Chris knew how to sow grass. When the new council flats were made, they had lawns, not asphalt, and the men sowed the seed and then stretched nets over the places to keep off the sparrows and children. Chris, of course, had no net but that was soon solved. After stealing the money, it seemed to make no difference now to steal a net. The solution was to take the cat net off a perambulator when the baby was put outside to sleep. First was unfastening the net--if anybody comes I can pretend I'm looking at the baby, Chris thought; they'll scold me but that's all they can do. Next was waiting, looking up and down the Street and into the baby's house through the windows. The moment came; all that was needed was to dexterously peel the net off, slid it into a coat pocket, and saunter away.

    There's some awkwardness, but that's not because it can't be graceful, but because I'm just too lazy to completely polish it.

    (As a side note, I see that Rumer Godden isn't just the source of my fondness for a somewhat nonstandard style of dialogue, but also the source of my fondness for semicolons.)
     
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  7. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Call me old fashioned, but I just don't see what is gained by going through these rather tortuous methods. Not arguing, just don't get it.
     
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  8. cydney

    cydney Banned

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    I don't get half more than half of any thing, the questions we ask ???? Glad someone else said it besides me. :)

    BUT we do have the right to question, I suppose?

    Honestly, I don't think we really want what we're asking for, do we? ;)
     
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  9. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I'd stick with first person for this. For an example, see Jeanette Winterson's "Written on the Body."
     
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  10. Seraph751

    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole... Contributor

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    @ChickenFreak The writer is a main character. This is for a series of short stories not a novella etc. so there is some wiggle room there.
    @EdFromNY Lol I can understand that! However I feel that this is chance for me to instead of focus on the character themself (gender neutral!) I focus on their actions and the actions of those around them. There are characters who are defined he/she/even it (not in a derogatory way mind you). For me, this method has helped me overcome my writer's block- I did the write/cross out cycle repeat for two months until I just put down my pen. I wasn't happy with anything I wrote so I didn't write till I felt that I had something worthwhile to right about whether that be some small detail or something had a huge impact. Torturous at times yes you are correct, but this method has spurred my writing.:cool: I have been able to focus on ideas instead of the more complicated things that can come with gender identifiable characters.
    @cydney You always have the right to question. Growth starts when you ask that first question whatever it may be. "Is what we asked for what we want?" Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. I didn't think that while writing my high-fantasy novel that I would pancake imagination first against the wall we call writer's block. Nor did I think that all it would take to fix it would be a silly little prompt about names @Lea`Brooks that would drive me up the wall with ideas to the point where I would have to start a blog about a wonky cottage that exists on two planes. It took me 'meeting' (author meet characters, ya know what I mean) an overworked writer, a little dragon who isn't allowed to play with cell phones, and where contracts that allot for 'Mischief Clauses' are considered the norm just to get the overflow of ideas organized. Yet, it took just that. So, "Is what we asked for what we want?" is truly a fabulous question in my opinion.
    @Steerpike The writer is a character, I am merely writing their misadventures. In fact, think of it as more of a title, like Master (martial arts folks!!!:D), Sensei, or Doctor, but the writer can also be addressed as Mi'Scribe (think milord) or Scribe if referring to them in a professional manner.
     
    Last edited: Nov 22, 2016
  11. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    Man, I was sleeping! How'd I get here?! :bigtongue:
     
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  12. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    But isn't our gender part of who we are?
     
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  13. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Yes. But sometimes not specifying is part of the theme of the story, as in the novel I mentioned above. The fact that the narrator could be physically male or female and it doesnt make a difference to the story, which addresses sex, gender, and relationships, is part of the point.
     
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  14. Seraph751

    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole... Contributor

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    Yes it is, but do you let it define you? Does it play a major part in one's life, of course. So, who are you without your gender? It's a rough and somewhat strange question to ask. When answered well the first thing that goes away is the stereotypes that we have so ingrained in our gender identity, but how far do those stereotypes stretch in our psyches?
     
  15. Seraph751

    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole... Contributor

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    @Lea`Brooks lol your name prompt helped me break through a 2 month writer's block.
     
  16. Lea`Brooks

    Lea`Brooks Contributor Contributor

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    That's great!! I'm so happy to hear it. :love:

    That reminds me, the thread's been dead for a while.. May be time for a resurrection.
     
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  17. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Okay, I can see that.

    Define me? No. I would say, though, that it is part of the definition of who I am.

    I would say that, as a human, I don't exist without my gender. See above.
    I would argue that if two characters are drawn with exactly the same traits except for the fact that one is male and the other female, they will be perceived by the reader as markedly different, partly because of those stereotypical expectations (not referring to specific gender roles, which is a separate issue altogether, more in the way of expected characteristics.

    When I was a freshman in high school - an all-boys' Catholic high school - our religion teacher one day posed an interesting exercise. He asked us what we would consider to be ideal personality traits for a grown man. Then he asked for the ideal traits for a grown woman. The answers for one group were - resilience, determination, tireless, committed. The answers for the other group were - sensitivity, patience, compassion, forgiveness, caring. The former group of traits was for the women, the latter for men (compassion was my own contribution).[/quote][/quote]
     
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  18. Seraph751

    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole... Contributor

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    That is not what society who has defined for the gender roles expects for the most part unfortunately. By abiding in a role set by a group of people, one am limits not only who he/she/they are, but who and what they/he/she can be. Sooooo as far as gender neutrality goes if one thinks of it as not kowtowing to society's demands and precedents by their definitions of what a man or woman be then would not one be gender neutral? :superthink:
    Side note: I am thoroughly enjoying this debate!!!!
     
  19. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Alas, I'm not talking about roles at all. I'm talking about personality traits. And not society's "limits", but rather its perceptions of what sees. I would argue that "society" (whatever that is) has fewer palpable gender role expectations today than every before. Even the concept of "gender" is becoming somewhat foggy. It's interesting to note that transgendered people often see themselves as being in the wrong gender based on their personality attributes, and in many cases feel this way long before they are old enough to understand society's expectations.
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Of course, that's a very specific circumstance and purpose by the author. Outside of something like that, I would be wondering why the author is hiding it.
     
  21. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think people can be affected by society's expectations long before they can consciously understand them. There have been studies done in kindergartens and even pre-schools showing the different expectations from the teachers based on gender, and we've all seen babies dressed in ways that conform to stereotypical gender roles. If gendered clothes were just a matter of pink vs. blue it might not be a big deal, but frilly dresses are actually much less practical/protective than a good pair of pants, making it more of a risk for baby girls to crawl hard, stand up and risk falling over, etc. etc.

    I think once we're old enough to consciously understand society's expectations we're in a better position to resist them. It's the stuff that happens BEFORE that age that's most powerful.
     
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  22. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Our conception of male vs. female dress in very young children is of relatively recent vintage. In the 19th century, young boys frequently wore what could only be considered dresses until age 3 or 4. Including Franklin Roosevelt.
     
  23. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    And pink became a girl color during Mamie Eisenhower's tenure as First Lady.
     
  24. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Yes - I know. What conclusions should be drawn from that, do you think?
     
  25. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Mine would be that mode of dress in toddlers and pre-schoolers is not as impactful in shaping gender-based roles as one might expect.
     

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