Created By: Troper2011September 5, 2011 Last Edited By: Troper2011September 11, 2011
Troped

Gender Misdirection

When an unseen character is implied to be male but is actually female, or vice versa

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Trope
(Examples May Contain Spoilers)

Gender Misdirection happens when an unseen character is referred to by gender-neutral nouns and honorifics (Doctor, President, Judge), or also nouns generally associated with one specific gender, causing the viewers to assume the character is male when they are actually female or vice versa. The Reveal that they are the opposite sex is generally treated as a surprise by the other characters, and if the twist is done correctly by the writer the reader/viewer should have the same reaction.

This trope loses its subtlety in languages that have gendered definite and indefinite articles. The use of the character's name instead of pronouns is a major giveaway that this is the case. This is, however, also possible to subvert by using diminutives usually associated with one particular gender (Alex is usually a male short form, but it can also be for Alexandra. Sam can be a short form for Samantha).

See also Samus Is A Girl, which is the same but with a character who has appeared on screen prior to the reveal, and contrast with Gender Neutral Writing.


Examples:

Anime & Manga
  • In Scrapped Princess, Mauser is referenced throughout the series either by name only or as "Lord God Mauser". Mauser's name even sounds like it would belong to a male. In the end, however, not only is Mauser revealed to be a woman, she looks like a twenty-something version of Pacifica!
  • In Bleach, the heroes talk about the rumored Kuukaku Shiba as a guy until they discover, err, proof of the contrary.
  • In Happy Yarou Wedding, Todou refers to Chiharu, Kazuki's tutor, as being a "substitute mother" to Kazuki. Yuuhi assumes he's a woman because of this ambiguity, but he ends up being a man.
  • In the One Piece fandom, Dadan was speculated to be a man, but eventually proved to be a woman. An ugly woman but still a woman.
Film
  • In Ghost Busters Gozer is assumed to be a man but appears in the form of a woman.
  • In the 1998 film The Avengers, the head of the Ministry's codename is "Father"... but she's a woman.
  • Hitch has characters repeatedly referring to Allegra Cole's "best friend," Maggie, who is a designer. Everyone assumes Maggie to be a female, but when Albert finally meets "her," Maggie's a man.
Live Action TV
  • During the first episodes of Prison Break, we learn that Lincoln was framed for killing the Vice-President's brother. Behind this conspiracy, there's a mysterious unseen and unidentified woman, only heard and usually seen doing seemingly household chores, who seems resolute to expedite Lincoln's execution. Later it runs out that she is the Vice-President.
  • During most of the first season of Alias, Sydney and SD-6 run up against an organization led by a mysterious character referred to as simply "The Man." In the season finale it is revealed that The Man was a woman... Irina.
  • In Lost, Danielle Rousseau abducts Sayid thinking he was one of those who had kidnapped her daughter. She questions him about her whereabout, but only refers to her as "Alex" and "child." The ambiguity of such nouns were conveyed onto the DVD set foreign subtitles that translate "child" as "son." In season two, we meet a girl who only later is revealed to be Alexandra, her long lost child.
  • In The X Files this was planned for Mulder's new contact (after Deep Throat is killed) (and an actress is even the one providing the silhouettes initially) but this was changed at the last minute.
  • Done In Universe on The Commish, where Tony's new Number Two is a female but his wife doesn't realize that until she meets her, because Tony always refers to her as "Syd."
  • In the first Stargate SG 1 episode Captain Samantha Carter is intentionally referred to as Captain Sam Carter so that O'Neill can shoot his mouth off about having 'some new guy' added to his team as she walks in behind him.
  • Similarly on Las Vegas, famed Casino Host Samantha Marquez is referred to as "Sam," and thus assumed to be a man by Danny.
  • In an early episode of 30 Rock Jack sets up Liz with a friend of his named Thomas, who turns out to be a female named Gretchen Thomas. Jack thought Liz was a lesbian.
  • Averted: On the episode "All Mixed Up" of Cougar Town they do a similar thing with Jennifer Aniston's character who repeatedly brings up "Gabriel" while discussing Jules' son. Then it turns out Gabriel was her dog.
  • In one episode of How I Met Your Mother Marshall and Barney keep on telling Ted stories about a wild coworker named Sam. Sam's purported to have done many things, like telling bawdy stories, drinking heavily, and participating in eating contests. Since the show is narrated from Ted's point of view, the scenes involving Sam show an enthusiastic, overweight, and middle-aged man (presumably what Ted imagines Sam to look like). Of course, later on, Sam is revealed to be a woman, causing Ted to mentally replay the scenes in his head, but this time a woman in the place of Sam (thus causing some of the scenes to take on a decidedly different tone).
Literature
  • In the Malloreon, everyone just assumes Zandramas is male until Salmissra spills the beans.
  • The Quarters series by Tanya Huff often refers to minor or background characters by their occupation — "two guards," "a secretary" — a few lines before the gendered pronoun is used. The reader then realizes that the guard or secretary to which s/he had unthinkingly assigned the "conventional" gender is, in fact, just the opposite.
  • In The Lost Symbol, Langstron assumes that the head of the CIA's Office of Security, Inoue Sato, is a man before meeting her.
Video Games
  • In Metal Gear Solid we hear about Dr. Clark, who turned Gray Fox into the Cyborg Ninja. In Metal Gear Solid 4 we discover that Dr. Clark is a woman, Para-Medic from Metal Gear Solid 3.
  • In Mass Effect, you don't see "Jack", the deadly Subject Zero, until the end of the mission. You've heard a number of people in the nightmarish prison Purgatory refer to Jack in terror up until this point. When you release Subject Zero from the cryogenic cell the notorious criminal's been sealed in as a safety measure, most players were probably a little surprised to find that she's a small young woman in her twenties.
Western Animation
  • In the Phineas And Ferb episode "Oil On Candace", Dr. Doofenshmirtz is awaiting a visit from his old evil science professor, "the mighty Dr. Gevaarlijk!" No pronouns are used to refer to Gevaarlijk before she appears, and she turns out to be a diminutive older lady.
Community Feedback Replies: 40
  • September 5, 2011
    Spark9
    I think this is covered under Samus Is A Girl...
  • September 5, 2011
    Troper2011
    Nope. That's for characters that have been introduced/seen, and due to their looks/mannerisms seem to be male. This one is for unseen characters that we assume to be male because of the nouns with male connotation used to refer to them: leader, "man," president, etc.
  • September 5, 2011
    thegrenekni3t
    • In the Phineas And Ferb episode "Oil On Candace", Dr. Doofenshmirtz is awaiting a visit from his old evil science professor, "the mighty Dr. Gevaarlijk!" No pronouns are used to refer to Gevaarlijk before she appears, and she turns out to be a diminutive older lady.
  • September 5, 2011
    MiinU

    Anime

    • Scrapped Princess - Mauser is referrenced throughout the series either by name only or as, "Lord God Mauser". Mauser's name even sounds like it would belong to a male. In the end, however, not only is Mauser revealed to be a woman, she looks like a grown up version of Pacifica!
  • September 5, 2011
    Antigone3
    Literature example: In the Malloreon, everyone just assumes Zandramas is male until Salmissra spills the beans.
  • September 5, 2011
    BooleanEarth
    I feel like this should either be combined with Samus Is A Girl or made a subtrope of it. They're basically the same except for whether or not the character is shown.
  • September 5, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Before you do anything else on this, read this TRS that is working through all the gender reveal/confusion tropes: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/posts.php?discussion=1313849009036597600&page=1
  • September 5, 2011
    JonnyB
    The Matrix.
    Trinity: My name is Trinity.
    Neo: Trinity. The Trinity? That cracked the IRS dbase? Jesus.
    Trinity: What?
    Neo: I just thought um... you were a guy.
    Trinity: Most guys do.
  • September 5, 2011
    Lyendith
    Anime & Manga: In Bleach, the heroes talk about the rumored Kuukaku Shiba as a guy until they -- and we -- discover, err, proof of the contrary.

    PS: damn, the YKTTW page's textbox has problems with some characters... like diacritics or undividable breaks...…
  • September 5, 2011
    Troper2011
    The Matrix one doesn't really work here, because it was Neo's assumption, not ours...
  • September 5, 2011
    randomsurfer
  • September 5, 2011
    Lyendith
    Nope, Ambiguous Gender is when nobody can determine if a character is male or female even though they see him/her.
  • September 5, 2011
    Nocturna
    I don't know how often the inverse happens, but you may want to consider making this a gender neutral trope (i.e. unseen character is mistaken for the opposite gender until you actually see them). If inversions (male mistaken as female) are really rare, you could leave it as is; if they're relatively common (even if not as common as how it's currently written), it would probably be better to have it gender neutral.
  • September 5, 2011
    randomsurfer
    ^^Sorry, sorry. I meant to say,

    Gender Neutral Writing?
  • September 5, 2011
    SKJAM
    This used to be much more common back in the days when women holding down non-female-only jobs were rare, so referring to "the surgeon" or "the mechanic" would have worked well with assumptions the audience already had.
  • September 5, 2011
    ZombieAladdin
    Also in Bleach, Ichigo thinks Yoruichi is male until she appears in human form.
  • September 5, 2011
    Embryon
    Added example under literature. I originally wrote it for Gender Is No Object (which you may want to read, in case you want to link to it as a related trope). E.g. "Gender Misdirection may be commonplace in works where Gender Is No Object."
  • September 6, 2011
    Troper2011
    @randomsurfer: Gender Neutral Writing is probably more appropriate for this then Samus Is A Girl. However, I still think this is different, as there's a clear effort from the writers to stir the viewers assumption into thinking someone to be a certain gender through the use of generally male attributed titles and honorifics, as pointed out by SKJAM. Though the example of Lost probably belongs there.
  • September 6, 2011
    Bisected8
    This was planned for Mulder's new contact (after Deep Throat is killed) in The X Files (and an actress is even the one providing the silhouettes initially) but this was changed at the last minute.
  • September 6, 2011
    SKJAM
    And I know I've seen it at least once in an old sitcom with the gender inverse, where repeated references to "Nurse Daisy" or a similar name leads the patient to assume a Hello Nurse female medical professional, and it turns out to be a hairy male nurse with an embarrassing family name.
  • September 6, 2011
    whereismytea
    • In Happy Yarou Wedding, Todou refers to Chiharu, Kazuki's tutor, as being a "substitute mother" to Kazuki. Yuuhi assumes he's a woman because of this ambiguity, but he ends up being a man.
  • September 6, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Done In Universe on The Commish, where Tony's new Number Two is a female but his wife doesn't realize that until she meets her, because Tony always refers to her as "Syd." Tony says he never thought about it.
  • September 6, 2011
    TwinBird
    No, this is sufficiently covered by Samus Is A Girl, just with a specific means of deceiving the audience. It even says on the page "see The Faceless."
  • September 6, 2011
    Troper2011
    Sorry, I disagree. I don't think those pages cover this.
  • September 6, 2011
    pcw2727
    In Ghost Busters Gozer is assumed to be a man but appears in the form of a woman.
  • September 6, 2011
    MiinU
    @TwinBird - there's two things that distinguishes this trope from Samus Is A Girl:

    • 1.) Samus Is A Girl clearly states it's about Action Girls, this trope does not; though there may be some overlap. Further, SIAG is simply about the reveal, which usually serves no purpose other than to surprise the viewer.
    • 2.) SIAG is for characters we see and are assumed to be male until the reveal (ala Samus). This trope refers to female characters who aren't seen and assumed to be male due to misleading names, pronouns, or honorifics that sound more suited for a male; which is used as a plot point leading to the reveal.

    That said, I think this one is distinct enough to warrant it's own page.
  • September 7, 2011
    sky48728
    In the first Stargate SG-1 episode Captain Samantha Carter is intentionally refered to as Captain Sam Carter so that O'Neill can shoot his mouth off about having 'some new guy' added to his team as she walks in behind him.
  • September 7, 2011
    TooBah
    The movie Hitch has characters repeatedly referring to Allegra Cole's "best friend," Maggie, who is a designer. Everyone assumes Maggie to be a female, but when Albert finally meets "her," Maggie's a man.
  • September 8, 2011
    Strudel5
    Videogame example: In Metal Gear Solid we hear about Dr. Clark, who turned Gray Fox into the Cyborg Ninja. In Metal Gear Solid 4 we discover that Dr Clark is a woman, Para-Medic from MGS 3.
  • September 8, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In an early episode of Thirty Rock Jack sets up Liz with a friend of his named Thomas, who turns out to be a female named Gretchen Thomas. Jack thinks Liz is a lesbian.
  • September 8, 2011
    Troper2011
    On the episode "All Mixed Up" of Cougar Town they do a similar thing with Jennifer Aniston's character who repeatedly brings up "Gabriel" while discussing Jules' son. Then it turns out Gabriel was her dog. You think this should be included here?
  • September 8, 2011
    Ultrayellow
    In Mass Effect, you don't see "Jack", the deadly Subject Zero, until the end of the mission. You've heard a number of people in the nightmarish prison Purgatory refer to Jack in terror up until this point. When you release Subject Zero from the cryogenic cell the notorious criminal's been sealed in as a safety measure, most players were probably a little surprised to find that she's a small young woman in her twenties.
  • September 9, 2011
    Ryuuma
    In the One Piece fandom, Dadan was speculated to be a man, but eventually proved to be a woman. An ugly woman but still a woman.
  • September 9, 2011
    shimaspawn
    The Bleach example manages to misuse three different tropes. The character is not a Western style superhero, that Most Common Superpower does not apply. The character is not the strongest female fighter in the whole show, thus Boobs Of Steel does not apply, and Gag Boobs is boobs used for comedy. Not large breasts. Please remove all three Sinkholes.
  • September 9, 2011
    Ryuuma
    ^ I know the whole People Sitting on Chair thing or whatever it's called, but really, can't we just make a frigging trope regarding hotties with very large boobs and call it a day!? At least it will stop all this annoying "misuse". By the way, why only western style superheroes can have "superpowers"?
  • September 9, 2011
    Shnakepup
    (I might be misremembering some of the details here, but...)

    • Played with in How I Met Your Mother: In one episode, Marshall and Barney keep on telling Ted stories about a wild coworker named Sam. Sam's purported to have done many things, like telling bawdy stories, drinking heavily, and participating in eating contests. Since the show is narrated from Ted's point of view, the scenes involving Sam show an enthusiastic, overweight, and middle-aged man (presumably what Ted imagines Sam to look like). Of course, later on, Sam is revealed to be a woman, causing Ted to mentally replay the scenes in his head, but this time a woman in the place of Sam (thus causing some of the scenes to take on a decidely different tone).
  • September 9, 2011
    randomsurfer
    The POV Cam main character in the Music Video for The Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" is assumed to be a man until she looks at herself in the mirror at the end.
  • September 9, 2011
    IvoryVinyl

    Music

  • September 10, 2011
    Megaptera
    Sailor Moon has Haruka, who is frequently mistaken for a boy by Usagi as well as other girls. She's slender, tomboyish, gay, and quite frankly dashing.
  • September 10, 2011
    Nocturna
    ^Haruka is mistaken for a boy when she is seen; she is a Bifauxnen. This trope is about unseen characters who are set up to be one gender, but are revealed to be the other gender when they are first seen.

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