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[Sex & Sorcery] Male and female story types

Started by GB Steve, October 23, 2002, 04:31:34 PM

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GB Steve

Do you have anything more general on what you mean by "male" and "female" story concepts?

I live with a sociologist and she's always interested in what people construct these two terms to mean. Are they linked to particular settings?

For example, in one setting, the male archetype is the Provider, the female the Destroyer/Creator and in another setting the male is the Public and the Female is the Private (or, in both cases, vice versa).

Or do you create some overarching concepts, one called Male and one called Female that you explore in different settings?



Ron Edwards


Some say, "Well, let's just be human and not talk about masculine or feminine at all." People who say that imagine they are occupying the high moral ground. I say that we have to be a little gentle here, and allow the words masculine and feminine to be spoken, and not be afraid that some moral carpenter will make boxes of these words and imprison us in them.

R. Bly, Iron John

The first thing to understand is that what I'm presenting are not the male and female story types, and frankly, they have nothing to do with Jungian or similar "archetypes." They are, instead, just two types of stories, plucked out of the myriads of potential types, which typically have male and female protagonists, respectively.

The second thing to understand is that in order to discuss them, they are "shaken out" slightly - that is, as presented, they are a bit more focused and simple than most stories out there. In application, real stories are richer and more conjoined with other themes and story types. I have abstracted (or extracted) the issues out of real stories and, for lack of a better term, examined in isolation from their usual applications.

The third thing to understand, and I mentioned this briefly in the Excerpt thread, is that reversed protagonists are possible, but they are not "just" substitutions; doing so has specific consequences.

On to the meat of it all, so to speak.

The "male" story that I'm talking about concerns trade-offs among individual needs (mating, kids, self-preservation), family/kin needs, community or society needs, and "humanity at large" needs. I've discussed this in detail in previous Adept Press threads (if someone could provide the link, that would be nice). A good example is the undercover cop who struggles between friendship/loyalty to the hoods he's lived with vs. the responsibilities to the overall society that he accepted as a cop.

The "female" story that I'm talking about concerns trade-offs among reproductive decisions: assessing and choosing mates, being assessed and chosen, when to have kids and when not to have them, dealing with others' input into the topic, and similar stuff. As I described in previous Adept Press threads (thread hunt, if someone would, please), "power" is gained either by affirming or by denying any element or aspect of these decisions. Good examples include strength-through-motherhood stories (e.g. Aliens, Losing Isaiah), romantic comedies in which a woman affirms her worth and attractiveness to herself and then "lands" a man, and any stories in which a character's power is gained in large part by withholding/denying sex or never maturing sexually.

Again, both of these story types contain plural views of Humanity.


P.S. Steve, to me, male and female refer specifically and only to the relative size and motility of gametes (sperm and ova, in animals). A "male" human is better understood as a "human who may produce only male gametes," which in complex social mammals like ourselves, results in a huge number of secondary features (e.g. a penis, certain types of aggression profiles, etc) that are male-associated, but not in and of themselves male.

Debates on these issues are best kept to private email unless they can be shown to affect or involve Adept Press stuff.

Blake Hutchins

Very interesting.  As I read Ron's last post, I was thinking of the first book of Tomoe Gozen, having just finished it.  According to my reading, it shares many features of a male story under these criteria, a transgender role-reversal that posits a woman warrior operating essentially as a man in the male-dominated culture of Naipon.  Tomoe is concerned with masculine themes, not feminine ones.

Ron, out of curiosity, what taxonomy would you apply to stories about female characters like Tomoe and Jirel who occupy masculine roles?



Ron Edwards


You nailed it. The Tomoe Gozen example is already in the text of Chapter 2 as the classic woman protagonist engaged in a male-type story (as defined here, emphasis on the "a" rather than "the").

The second two books of the Tomoe Gozen trilogy illustrate the "edge" or nuance of this situation - her reproductive conflicts (marriage, pregnancy, widowhood) become, themselves, "edges" that throw her societal conflicts (which remain primary) into very high relief, in a way that alienates her from those around her. In many ways, Tomoe is one of the most frightening characters in fantasy literature - forever herself, but forever unable to "be anyone" to anyone else.

If you'd like to see a male protagonist in a female-type story, check out Hedwig and the Angry Inch, quite likely my favorite movie of the year. It's not about a transvestite. Whether Hedwig as a person represents gaining or losing power from his condition (which involves a "denial" of a reproductive aspect of his life), is a trenchant question.


P.S. I think Jirel is a female protagonist in female-type stories, for the most part. Most of her stories are about attraction/interaction with male characters as potential or implied-potential partners. Don't confuse "story type" with "protagonist's role in society."

GB Steve

The book that this brings to mind for me is The Warrior Who Carried Life by Geoff Ryman. In it our heroine belongs to a tribe that chose to spend a year as their totem animal, she chooses "Man".

I can't but agree with your biological definition of Man and Woman but I  think that "female-type stories" and "male-type stories" are very culture-sensitive terms.

I'm not saying that's a bad thing, just that beyond the obvious differences of giving birth, and not being able to, any further differences between male and female are difficult to abstract from their cultural background. In this respect what you see as a "male-type story" may appear to somebody else as a "female-type story".

This doesn't mean to say that I'm not interested in exploring this game. I'm quite getting into Sorcerer at the moment, albeit conceptually.


Tim C Koppang

Quote from: GB Steveany further differences between male and female are difficult to abstract from their cultural background.
I think that the definitions Ron chose are general enough to satisfy most audiences, especially in western culture.  And furthermore, I'd argue that as long as the book provokes thought on the topics of male and female "stories" then it will have achieved at least one of its goals.  I also like Ron's distinction between roles and stories and I think that it's an important one.  Although the roles women and men fulfill in different cultures vary, the fact remains that the two sexes see the world through very different eyes--a lot of which has to do with tradition and conditioning, but some may argue that basic genetic differences play a larger part in the rift.

Ron Edwards

Hi Steve,

The two story types I've described (and remember that they are but two out of dozens of types, and that real stories often represent combinations and blends) are found across human cultures. They characteristically star the genders that I've tagged, including that "edge" in cases of switched-gender protagonists.

With respect to everyone, I'm inclined to disallow discussions of culture vs. genes in the public forum. Very, very few people have the necessary background to discuss them in this kind of medium, in large part due to misinformation during college education. Biology is almost universally badly taught and anthropology/sociology, as disciplines, are in disarray.

If anyone's interested in addressing this stuff with me privately, feel free, but (a) be prepared for unfamiliar concepts and (b) realize that you're keeping me from working on Sex & Sorcery.