Gendered Writing


The other day I came across an article titled “Writing and Gender.” I tried to leave a comment, but of course my internet chose right then to act up. I lost the article and could not find it again, so I decided I’d write my response here. The article discussed the prevalence of gender in writing and the authors hope to write a novel in first person while attempting to avoid making character  gender obvious. I applaud the author for their willingness to attempt such a feat (if you read this, I’m sorry but I can’t remember who wrote the post). I also have a similar goal in mind. Gender is a big issue for me, and I attempt to always write characters that defy gender roles. I have also dabbled in some short stories where I avoid gender simply by using gender-neutral names and the singular of they. It is not an easy task, but it’s doable. My end goal is to do a graphic novel where the characters all look gender-neutral. I want to see how people respond when they look at the characters and can’t determine their gender. My curiosity arose from a study done where parents dressed their infants in gender-neutral clothing and refused to tell people their gender. In the study, some people where driven so crazy by not knowing that they would go as far as to try to undress the children to find out what their sexes were.

How would you respond to a story where you were unsure of the characters gender? Would you care? Would it take away from the story or distract you? Why?

Would you be willing to write a story where you refused to gender the main character or all of the characters? Do you think it would be possible? How would you do it?

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19 responses to “Gendered Writing

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  • rita kowats

    Such good questions. Thank you for this and thank you for your follow.

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  • anonymous dyke

    Love the idea of the graphic novel. I’ve written a couple of gender neutral short stories, as well as stories in which the character descriptions were completely void of physical details (no race, hair color, eye color, weight signifiers) and all descriptions were of emotional and behavioral details. People bring a tremendous amount of societal expectation into what they read and the majority of readers I talked to after they had read the pieces thought the characters were cis white folk and were kind of shocked when I told them that there was no description anywhere in the texts.

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  • Jesse LaJeunesse

    Amazing idea! I suspect in the case of that graphic novel or story I would at first not notice, and then be curious, and then be a bit distracted, and finally be incredibly intrigued when I realized it was deliberate. I would love to read it, though, because I suspect it would reveal some of my own conceptions about gender of which I am currently unaware. I have certainly had my perceptions change when reading a story where I had a false assumption about someone’s gender, and sometimes in unexpected ways.

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  • PrismaticCorvus

    I enjoy reading stories where I am unsure of the gender of characters, I think it brings an interesting dimension to the development of those characters and an interesting dynamic in the story.
    I wrote one story where the main character’s gender wasn’t mentioned. The character had a gender neutral name and I wrote it first person perspective, present tense. I didn’t realize until I let other people read it that no one could tell what gender the character was. It was interesting to see how people projected their expectations onto this character, most people assumed the character was whatever gender the reader was.
    Unfortunately, that story was hand written many years ago and I lost it through a series of moves.
    When you create your graphic novel I would love to read it.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      That sounds very interesting. Do you remember anything about the story?

      The graphic novel is a bit ahead of my abilities right now, but I’ll be sure to keep everybody updated on my progress.

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      • PrismaticCorvus

        I don’t remember enough about the story to rewrite it. It was a short story that was a day in the character’s life, I knew the character was female, but she didn’t conform to any social norms. Her personality was based a lot on my best friend from the year before I wrote the story and that person was male. Gender and sexuality didn’t figure into the story at all because the main character had other things on her mind.

        It was a lot of fun to write because the character’s voice was very strong in my head and I had more faith in my ability to write back then. I wrote it in 1997, when I was a teenager.

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  • Khai

    Have you ever read the story of X?

    It’s my favorite thing in the world. I love non-gender, a-gender, bi-gender, genderqueer characters.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      Thank you for reminding me about that story. I had completely forgotten about it. I have not read it myself, but I had parts of it read to me. It is an interesting book. I’ll have to look into acquiring a copy to read.

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