The Norm of Gender Constructs in Fantasy | Which Sounds a Lot Fancier Than It Is | #WyrdandWonder

One of the things that I always wanted to hold to with kids is that I didn’t want to jump on board the whole blue is boy and pink is girl focus that there was for baby’s already. Let alone the pressure that is on them for the rest of their lives in that regard. It is why I didn’t want to ‘announce’ the baby’s gender before birth. I didn’t want to have a color coded collection of clothes for him already thank you very much. 

Our society is so fixed on things to be a certain way. Make-up is for girls, cars are for boys. And let’s just completely disregard non-binary or trans people in this fixation to divide. It is why I leave things open for Merijn. You want that pink hat, go for it. Especially in the Spring and Summer he loves to get his toenails painted. It makes him so happy. So I do it. I am letting him step out of that norm so he can be who he wants to be. I hope that is a message that comes across to him and that society won’t squash out of him. 

So what am I trying to say? I am getting at that. 

Gender in Fantasy 

High Fantasy and Epic Fantasy don’t take place in our world so it would stand to reason they wouldn’t have to uphold the norm of our society’s gender constructs. Yet one thing we often see is the same gender roles and the same approach to gender as our society has.  And sure, sometimes the gender roles get ‘twisted’ but that is all in response to things that happen in society. 

That America has yet to have a female president (the country of ‘freedom and opportunity’), that women still get underpaid and are seen as the housewives and caretakers of the children, is still something that highly resonates throughout a lot of fantasy. We rarely question this. We sit in this norm that society has created for us.  

Fantasy is the fantastical. Where anything is possible. Yet we are still so incredibly stuck in our own ways that not everything is possible in fantasy. Isn’t that funny? I don’t think it is at all. And you know I’ve fallen down that trap as well. It is ‘safer’ to write about what you know. But does that make it better? 

It doesn’t . Through fiction we can see learn how things could be different. We can learn how our strict society feels to those around us who don’t fit into that as neatly.  And when we learn we can create more room for them. Books are a great way to opening up these kind of topics without having to be too judgy or confronting. In real life many will walk away from these things because they are uncomfortable or haven’t yet learned to widen their perspective. But books can do this more gentle, even if change like this might make someone close a book. It will have still have gotten in their head. 

Stories Open the Mind 

Eefa has been a good husband, she knows, but now she is running.

The story that jolted this bit of musing was Do Not Look Back, My Lion by Alix E. Harrow. (Read the story for free here.) In this story the roles of wife and husband aren’t gender related. Both the wife and husband in the story are female. It is about what the person does that makes them a husband or a wife. It is a bit more complicated than that of course but it certainly gets you thinking. Even the term Emperor was used for the female.  It is an interesting look at these terms and gives more room for non-binary characters as well (though they are not in this story). 

the black tides of heavenIt also made me remember the Tensorate novella series by J.Y. Yang. While I have only read The Black Tides of Heaven it is also a fantasy that questions the gender constructs we have. Children aren’t born with a gender and at the age of 18 (If I remember correctly) they get to choose what they want.  But some know at 3 and others not until a much later time. Some undergo a surgery and others keep their breasts when choosing the male gender. 

This kept going through my head for a long time.  It is such a different way to approach gender. Where we let it be determined by genitals, here it is the choice of the person itself. Surgery or not, are not any kind of discussion points. They get to choose what they want and have the body they want along with it. 

Have you read any fantasy that changed the way you looked at the gender construct in our society?  

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19 thoughts on “The Norm of Gender Constructs in Fantasy | Which Sounds a Lot Fancier Than It Is | #WyrdandWonder

  1. Damn that was such an insightful post. Yeah you’re absolutely right, we call these genres ‘fantasy’ and get are so completely okay with the gender stereotypes they offer. I will definitely try reading one of the two books you mentioned. Thankyou!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really love this article! Even though I’m not a big lover of fantasy, I’m very interested in reading The Black Tides of Heaven.

    Books that immediately came to my mind whilst reading your post:
    • The Book of Joan – Lidia Yuknavitch; even though I didn’t really love the plot, I was intrigued by the way the surviving human of the planet’s now-radioactive surfaces have become sexless. The theme of the fluidity of sex and gender in this book is very interesting.
    • Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie; the main character is a nonbinary, asexual artificial intelligence and all the characters in this space opera are referred to with female pronouns.
    • The Wayfarers series by Beckie Chambers: The aliens don’t only look different, but each have different ideas on gender and relationships and this is so well done!
    • Pet – Akwaeke Emezi. I just read this book this month and I really really love it. There are monsters, but also a kickass trans girl as a main character. I love how her parents accept her the way she is. It’s not that groundbreaking maybe in the ‘fantasy department’. Trans people are very real in our society, but I just really really loved this book so I had to mention it! I think it’s very important for trans people to be represented in fantasy as well. And I just want everybody to read this amazing book! 😊

    I also recently red the classic novel Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, but while this book questions gender roles in society, it does so with almost a male gaze. So not as much of a ‘gender fantasy’ as it could have been. But still an interesting read. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin is still on my TBR.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Trans and non-binary characters are sometimes still so far to find in fantasy. Or at least not often that mainstream because of our society.

      The Book of Joan sounds really interesting.
      I’m kind of hesitant on picking up more by Le Guin because I picked up one of her utopia’s and thought it was just okay.


  3. Great post, Annemieke – and you’re so right! I don’t mind fantasy worlds that have some of the same prejudices as our own when they’re addressed – it’s often a great way to highlight the issues we have and let readers feel better about being uncomfortable with them – but I 100% agree that fantasy, which so often takes place in completely different worlds, shouldn’t always have the same prejudices we do.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mooie post Annemieke! Ik vind het ook super dat je Merijn zelf laat kiezen wat voor hem fijn aanvoelt. Gek genoeg schiet me niet meteen een boek te binnen als voorbeeld maar ik vind het wel heel leuk om tijdens het lezen te ontdekken dat er wordt afgeweken van het vastgeroeste rollenpatroon.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I hadn’t really thought much about gender in fantasy before, but when I read the first book in the Tensorate series I also appreciated the way it approached gender. And I’m curious to read Ancillary Justice (I saw it mentioned in a prior comment) because it seems it turns some gender norms around, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I agree with this so much!! And I’m SO frustrating that fantasy can imagine like talking dragons, for goodness sake, but they fall apart at overturning gender stereotypes. 😫I’m glad there are authors challenging things out there, but it’s such a sliver compared to the bulk. I want more for sure. And just at least some acknowledgement there are more than two genders in books?! (You are such a fantastic parent for your little one 💛💛)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seriously right? Everything is so fixed in certain ways. But the more that I read outside of those ways the more I am disappointed when books do stick to our ways. There are so many people that get discarded that way 😦


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