The Genderless Mind?

Cedar Sanderson's art
The cover art for Dwarf’s Dryad, and metaphorically, the difference between the hard man and soft woman.

The genderless mind is a myth. Even here in cyberspace, where we can be whatever, whoever, whichever we choose to be, we are still each of us male and female. Our words give us away. As writers, we can choose pseudonyms, write characters of the opposite sex, and yet, in doing so, we only reinforce the reality that is… men and women think differently. In order to write a male character, something I am doing in my work in progress, I must constantly check myself. Is he masculine enough? Am I conveying his personality in such a way that he comes across as the strong alpha male he is?

Does this mean you can tell what gender a writer is? No, of course not. A very good writer, one that is intelligent enough to embrace and use the differences in the male and female minds, can spoof most if not all readers. But in order to portray well-developed characters, we need to study and understand those differences in order to employ them in constructing a fictional character that is believable.

Neuroscientists studying the brain in recent decades have made some interesting discoveries about the physical differences in male and female brains, which understanding reinforces some generalizations we already intuitively made about men and women. Because a woman’s right inferior-parietal lobule is larger than a male’s, this directly relates to her ability to process senses better. For instance, she will better be able to hear noises while doing another task, while he will laser focus on what is in front of him.

In writing, this translates to a male character who may not hear the spaceship making a funny noise because he is working on a tricky engineering project. Or to a female character who senses more depth to a conversation with an alien because evolutionarily speaking, women are better at language and communication. In the time of hunter-gatherers, women had to work more at inter-personal relationships, while men had to have better navigation skills to come home safely from the hunt.

Taking all this scientific data and weaving it into character development may seem daunting, but we do much of it simply by intuition. Stereotyping an individual is bad, because each individual is unique, but if you take a group as a whole, characteristics appear that can be used to create a reader recognition of who or what your character is in a minimum of words from you. Studying people, learning more about what makes each of us tick, is a fantastic way to bring your fictional people to real life. For more reading on this, start here: with Dr. Sabbatini’s accessible and interesting meta analysis of the differences between male and female brains.

Men and women are different. Not lesser/greater, but physiologically and emotionally separate in behaviours and physical capacities. If we forget that and write a genderless utopian being, we lose some of what brings our stories to life in a real way. Viva La Difference!

 On a lighter note, I have two stories out this week! The Dwarf’s Dryad, a fantasy tale of a man and woman who are both trapped, but they can rescue one another… If she can steal the key to his magic, and he can get her to safety. And Naked Reader Press will bring out my novella Voyageur’s Cap, a science fiction romp in a universe where the Scout is revered and pirates threaten the rebirth of inter-planetary trade.

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  1. There’s also the fact that gender is socially constructed (I believe Ursula LeGuin did a story about that once or twice). I have transgender friends, genderf*** friends, and friends so straight you could straighten arrows on them. How do you write an androgynous male? An androgynous female? Someone portraying or living as the other gender? How do you portray the wide and weird variety of third-genders that exist in other cultures?

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