Analysis / Men Are Generic, Women Are Special
Men Are Generic Women Are Special General Examples
- One of the most obvious consequences of this trope is the role of The Chick in the Five-Man Band. Males tend to have more diverse personality traits (The Big Guy, The Smart Guy) that may or may not fit the traditional defintion of "masculinity", whereas The Chick is often defined solely by her femininity/typically feminine character type.
- The tropes Women's Mysteries and Wondrous Ladies Room both depend on the idea that the female lifestyle is completely alien to men.
- Uni-sex clothing has the same cut as male clothing, impliying that male is the default body type. Also, a woman wearing "men's clothing" is more socially acceptable than a man wearing "women's clothing".
- Men Are the Expendable Gender.
- When showing groups of children, "boys'" toys will more often feature a girl playing with them in their advertising than "girls'" toys will feature a boy. One philosophy followed in the advertising industry is "If you have a product aimed at both boys and girls, and you can only use one child in the advertisement, you use a boy, because girls will listen to a boy, but boys won't listen to a girl."
- Tertiary Sexual Characteristics are more commonly applied to female characters than males. The implication here is that viewers will always perceive a cartoon creature as male unless given plenty of evidence to the contrary. Non-Mammal Mammaries may serve a similar function. Additionally, androgynous or sexless beings will often be portrayed as having a masculine physique.
- This trope also applies to sexual relations, where women are generally seen as "desirees" and men as "desirers". This has the Unfortunate Implications of goods (supply and demand) but it can also be described as follows: women "own" something special that men both lack and want.
- Even in shows that have a roughly even gender split in their audience, the viewer is usually assumed to be a heterosexual male by the production, hence most Fanservice being of the Male Gaze variety, and the prevalence of attractive lesbians having a relationship over attractive gay men.
- A philosophy adopted by some male writers and directors, such as James Cameron, is that the secret to writing a strong female character is to write her as a male and then change the pronouns. (Yes, the Unfortunate Implications of that could be discussed until the cows come home, but the ends justify the means.) What it means with regard to this trope is that it takes a lot of effort to write a female character that is free from all of these "special" characteristics associated with femininity.
- Additionally, characters originally written to be male can be easily changed to be female with few alterations; however, a character written to be female has to undergo more significant revisions to be re-written as male. Otherwise he might come off as a bit... "special".
- An unmet character turning out to be female can be The Reveal, but discovering that an unmet character is actually male can't. See Samus Is a Girl, Female Monster Surprise. The Reveal of a male character's gender is only a surprise when he has been previously implied to be female or if the character is in a role heavily associated with being female, such a cheerleader.
- Content ratings for media sometimes include 'Violence', and 'Violence Against Women' as two separate categories in the same work. Violence is expected in some kinds of work, such as action movies and most games, and it's expected it will involve men. Especially when Action Girls are not involved, violence against women is seen as a worse thing, and it's expected that men should be better able to defend themselves.
- Many languages use different versions of job titles for men and women. Traditionally, the male version is the generic term.
- In languages where nouns have a (grammatical) gender, this extends beyond professional titles. "Amigo" means friend or male friend, while "amiga" means female friend. If you had a room full of your friends, you'd refer to them as "mis amigos" unless you were sure that every single one of them was female — only then would they be "mis amigas." (There is a hint of flexibility in this.)
- Even in English, "Guys" is a traditional male term, but you can say "You guys" to your friends who are all girls, and even the colloquial "Dude" will work. If you tried a female group term like "Hey girls" to an all-male or mixed group, it won't work, unless you're dealing with a group of Vitriolic Best Buds. And when the coach, sergeant, or other team leader addresses his squad as "ladies", you know they're in for a scolding.
- In Irish, the word for nurse literally translated as "female nurse" (beannaltra) but was changed to simply "altra" to make it more gender-neutral.
- The feminine form of many professions in Irish is created in the same way, by sticking the word "bean" (meaning woman) at the front of it. So a male police officer is "garda", whereas a female police officer is "beangarda".
- In Dutch, the archaic word for "doctor" is "geneesheer", which approximately translates to "healing man". There is a gender-neutral word for it, "geneeskundige" ("healer"), but it's hardly ever used since people use the words "arts" or "dokter" instead... which are both masculine nouns.
- Many Russian actresses dislike the word "actress", prefering "actor" instead, even when they're speaking a language where it doesn't make much sense.
- In Chinese, all professions fall victim to this. Female doctors, police officers, drivers, etc. must have "female" tagged in front of the generic term. Inverted for nurses because females are dominant in the industry.
- Ido, an early 1900s revision of Esperanto, was designed to avert this. It includes "pan-gender" third-person pronouns, and unlike Esperanto, all words are gender-neutral, with optional suffixes for female or male instances (servisto is a waiter, servistulo is a male waiter, and servistino is a waitress).
- Male-to-female Gender Benders are seen as far more common than female-to-males, and are portrayed as being far more difficult to adjust to because of all the "special" behaviours they now have to adopt, whereas it is assumed that a female becoming a male would have little trouble adjusting - there's no "special" behaviours to adjust to because being male is "normal"! This seems to be a false assumption on the idea of male as default:
- There are many female-to-male trans people who will point out that to expect strangers to immediately recognise you as male, it involves changes to your voice, walk, the way you stand, your clothes...
- Norah Vincent went undercover as a male for several months as research for her book. She considered herself very butch, and her body type was fairly stocky, so she assumed she would have no problems passing herself off. All the men (and some women) she interacted with assumed she was an extremely effeminate male.
- Played with in Real Life. Embryologically (in mammals), the genitalia of both male and female fetuses arise from a 'genital tubercle' that resembles neither. The deciding point is the presence or absence of the SRY gene (usually located on the Y chromosome, though there are individuals who have them on different chromosomes due to gene translocation mutations). If the SRY gene is not present, then genital tubercle will become female genitalia. If it is present, then it will become male genitalia. The SRY gene does not contain "instructions" for making men; it acts as a biological switch that affects the expression of other genes (on other chromosomes). So the genetic material for making men and women are contained in everyone, but only men have the "male" switch.
- Mammals generally kind of invert it in terms of genetics, which is shown in mutation research; A person with one X chromosome only (XO) will default to basic female anatomy (although they are sterile so their female functions aren't 100% up to scratch). A person with a YO set-up (ie one Y chromosome) cannot exist because the X chromosome is essential. Other species which have 2 homogenous chromosomes denote a male (eg birds, snakes and some lizards) still need further research to see whether it truly is the 'default', as there are theories on their systems working differently to the mammalian (and other species like certain chameleons etc) XX/XY system.
- A wife taking her husband's last name is considered normal, while her keeping her original last name is seen as an exception to the rule, though it is becoming more common as women marry later and want to preserve the professional reputation attached to their name.
- A man taking his wife's name is largely unheard-of mostly . He and his wife may hyphenate their surnames or meld them into a new surname, but taking the woman's name entirely is extremely rare.
- It's perfectly acceptable for women to keep their last names after marriage in the former Soviet republics, due to the Communist ideology that all people (men and women included) are equal and must be treated as such. This becomes more of a problem if they move to a country where it's not as acceptable. Even women who change their last name will have it spelled differently, for the most part, due to Russian language rules (e.g. "Ivanov" for male and "Ivanova" for female).
- In Hungary, a lot of women take their husband's name, but almost none of those who are doctors or lawyers.
- This is unheard of in Arab cultures. An arab woman always keeps her last name, as the last name shows what family she comes from.
- Few games with a (primarily) first-person perspective will have a female as the protagonist. Unlike a third-person camera perspective, which distances the player somewhat from the character, (and allows the player to examine her voluptuous figure), most first-person games feature a male or ambiguous player character. This may imply that most gamers find it difficult to identify with being a female character at that level, while female gamers can identify with a male protagonist... either that, or the programmers decided that there's no point having a female protagonist if we don't get to ogle her.
- This may be why Chell from Portal drew quite a lot of attention. The game also uses a first-person camera, although you do get to see Chell through portals fairly often.
- The indie video game Slender features a female protagonist - though you don't find out until you run out of stamina and start to hear her strained female-sounding breathing. This tends to startle players, since they assume the character is male.
- Both Mooks and Redshirts are nearly always male. Female characters in the military are nearly always officers and likewise it is very rare for a female cop to be below detective.
- Female mooks do appear in fighting games like Streets of Rage, but they're far more likely to sport distinctive outfits and weapons (such as whips) rather than just trying to punch or kick you. They're also more likely to be mini-bosses.
- In many jokes where the gender of the character does not matter, the protagonist will be male by default (i.e. "a guy goes to the doctor complaining of a cold..."), and female only if it somehow pertains to her being a woman (i.e. "a woman driving by a country lake decides to go skinny-dipping...).
- Nudity taboos in general seem to represent this. There is something more pornographic about the female nude even in a completely nonsexual context, though in blatant fanservice the female is more represented.
- However, when it comes to full frontal, it is male nudity that is considered more obscene and as Fan Disservice.
- Inverted with content warnings: There is a content category called "male nudity." No category called "female nudity" exists; it's just called "nudity" and it is seen as the expected kind. This is probably related to the assumption of the Male Gaze as the default.
- The stereotypical Mary Sue may be female for this reason, although the fact that Most Fanfic Writers Are Female could lead to females being more common as an Author Avatar.
- Old books about How To Draw the Human Figure typically show a man's body first, and then "modify" the proportions to show a woman's body - for example, we learn that a woman has wider hips, narrower shoulders, and a lower centre of gravity in comparison to the "default" male body.
- Also true of older medical texts, although current ones are trying to avert this bias by presenting equal numbers of male and female figures in illustrations.
- Most model skeletons, muscle figures, and other anatomical models still use the male as a default design, possibly with interchangeable parts for the different versions of the reproductive system.
- The famous museum exhibits "Body Worlds" and "Bodies: The Exhibition". has been accused of this. The exhibit features preserved human bodies, stripped of the skin but showing the bones and muscles. One complaint about both exhibits was that female bodies were only shown in "feminine" poses, such as those related to maternity, reproduction, and other poses and actions associated more with women. Male bodies, meanwhile, could do everything else. The complaints were not just about enforcing gender roles, but also enforcing this very trope: that men are the norm and women are something out of the norm.
- Men's names occasionally become unisex, but the same cannot be said of female names. Examples include: Mischa (Russian equivalent of Mike), Sasha (Russian equivalent of Alex), Kim (The character who popularised the name was male, full name Kimball O'Hara) and Meredith (which is Welsh for "Great Lord")
- A guy with a name that is considered nowadays to be a "girl's name" (even if it wasn't originally), such as Ashley, Leslie, or Marian is probably much more likely to be made fun of than, say, a girl with a masculine-sounding name or a masculine-sounding nickname like Alex, Sam, or even Charlie. Males in that situation are more likely to use a nickname, such as with Meredith. It's "Rodney", thank you very much.
- There's a special word for gay/homosexual women, "lesbian", but not one for gay/homosexual men that unambiguously means only men (apart from various slurs).
- To clarify, the word "gay", at least originally, means homosexual man. This still plays this trope straight as lesbian women can, nowadays, be called "gay" but gay men cannot be called "lesbians".
- In Video Games that feature a customizable protagonist who can be of either gender, the male version will be treated as the "default" form of the character, and will likely be the only one present in all the advertising (except for maybe one trailer and some screenshots made specifically to show off the female version). Often, the main character will be referred to as "male" for the sake of simplicity even though it can be either way. Also, if the custom character's gender is confirmed canon, chances are they'll be male.
Male Animals Are Generic Female Animals Are Special
As with humans, male is seen as "generic" and female is seen as special with animals. This leads to Tertiary Sexual Characteristics
put more on female animals than on male ones.
Animal Are Male Assumption
Animal Gender Assumption is guessing an animal's gender without actually knowing what the animal's gender is. Male Animals Are Generic Female Animals Are Special leads to the tendency for people to refer to any animal that doesn't look obviously feminine by a masculine pronoun like "he" and assume it to be male.
Examples come in three stock situations:
- Instances of characters seeing an animal and automatically referring to it as a male. For example, Bob sees a dog from a distance and calls "Here, boy!"
- Instances in which a character sees an animal that is obviously female, like a cow with udders or a bloodsucking mosquito and referring to it as male anyway. This leads to Animal Gender-Bender.
- Characters assuming an animal is male and then finding out otherwise.
Complicating this trope, we have Animals Lack Attributes
in drawn/animated works. In the case of mammalian animals, the characters
might be able to clearly see that an animal is male, even if the audience can't.
There is one main exception; any animal that has a baby in tow
is (usually) unanimously referred to as she. This could it confusing for the male penguins and sea horses who work as primary caregivers. Also, this is often inverted with cats as they are often associated with femininity. This is what leads to Female Feline, Male Mutt
whenever a cat is shown or partnered with a dog.
Results of Male Animals Are Generic Female Animals Are Special
Male Animals Are Generic Female Animals Are Special contributes to gender disparity among animal characters in which most animal characters are male. In fact, Florida State University's findings
show that this gender disparity among animal characters is worse than that among human characters. Its authors found that the number of male and female characters in children's books is only equal among human characters. Among animal characters, even cats, males are represented more than twice as much as females. This tendency of readers and viewers to interpret any not obviously feminine looking animal character as male exaggerates this pattern of female animal underrepresentation.
fictional examples, subversions, inversions, parodies, and aversions of someone assuming a gender neutral animal to be male and discussions about this trope only, please.
Subtrope of Men Are Generic, Women Are Special
and related to Pronoun Trouble
. Super Trope
to Your Tomcat Is Pregnant
, which is when a character makes this assumption and turns out to be wrong. Female Monster Surprise
is related trope. Results in Animal Gender-Bender
and The Smurfette Principle
among animal characters.
Discussions and Lampshades:
- The Great Assumption Guest Post from Feministing.com discusses how any not obviously feminine looking animal is usually assumed to be male.
- The Dogs and Smurfs blogpost by Max Barry talks about this trope and Smurfette Principle.
- Overcoming the “dog/Smurf” problem, a blogpost by The View From Helicon, talks about how this trope can be overcome and averted and shows how some species can be sexed.
- True Tales of Gender Essentialism at the Dog Park from Shakesville.com talks about this trope and gender essentialism in dogs.
- The Sex, Cats, and Stereotypes post on the Redeemed Reader blog not only talks about this trope and its effects with animal characters, but how women are seen as the steady ones and stabilizers in society. To many authors and educators, the way to gender parity is having girls behave more like boys, whether the characters are humans, Demi Humans, animals (both real and fictional), aliens, monsters, mythical and fantastical creatures, or deities.
- For example, the blogpost lists The Cat in the Hat, who is actually supposed to be androgynous, but readers and viewers see him/her as male. First, it takes a little more effort to imagine a female Cat In the Hat wreaking havoc in someone’s living room than a male one because girls being destructive seems more wrong than boys being destructive. We subconsciously rely on girls to be the steady ones and stabilizers and if they reject that role, we think that society will be toast. Second, he/she doesn't look overtly feminine or have overtly feminine facial features. In fact, he/she has big jowls, which are a typical tomcat facial feature.
- The Peanut Butter Fingers blogpost, Assuming Animal Genders talks about how dogs (and other animals, but focuses on dogs) are assumed to be male or female without knowing for certain.
- The DarmokTheGreen Experience blogpost, He-Animals and She-Animals talks about linguistic examples and inversions of this trope.
- The Boistrous Beholding blog's blogpost Default Genders of Animals also talks about linguistic examples and inversions of this trope.
In Linguistic Terms
In Secondary Sexual Characteristics
- "Cow," the word used to refer to female cattle, is very commonly used as a gender neutral singular term for cattle, but "bull," the word used to refer to (unneutered) male cattle, is not.
- Hens (as in female chickens) are often simply referred to by the gender neutral species term "chicken," while roosters (male chickens) are more likely to be called the masculine term, "rooster," than just a chicken (save for Chicken Boo from Animaniacs).
- Female ducks are simply referred to as, well, "ducks," but male ducks are called "drakes." Female ducks are also called "hens," but very rarely so.
- "Goose" is female or gender-neutral, "gander" is male only.
- The German word for cat, "die katze," is used both generically and to refer to female cats in particular, but "der kater," the term used to male cats, is never used generically.
- The video game, Red Dead Redemption calls male deer by the exclusively male term, "buck," but female deer (or does) are simply referred to by the gender neutral, "deer."
- Lions of both sexes can be maneless, but only males have manes.
- This means that a picture of a lion will almost always be a male, as a lioness could be easily mistaken for another big cat (by someone who is not an expert).
In Universe Fictional Animal Are Male Assumption Examples:
- Inverted in Ladyhawke, in which Phillipe assumes the horse is female until Navarre points out he's overlooked something.
- Kevin the bird from Up was mistaken for male at first, but it turned out that she had chicks in tow.
Stand Up Comedy
- In Priest-Kings of Gor Tarl meets the Priest-Kings, the Physical Gods of the planet, which are basically 20 foot tall locusts. Misk the Priest-King, his friend, shows him the last male Priest-King, which Misk had hidden away from those which don't want another generation of Priest-Kings to replace the current generation. Until he sees that male, Tarl assumed that Misk and most of the other Priest-Kings he met were male. Since this is the only male, he now assumes that they're female. But no, they're not female either, they're neuter. The Mother of the Nest is the only female, and the male is the only male. There is one female egg hidden away; finding it beomes Tarl's Quest in the following book.
- A routine by Dan Rowan & Dick Martin (later of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In) involves a discussion about bees, during which Rowan (the straight man) says of the drone "he is neuter. He is neither male nor female." In real life, it's the workers bees, who are all female, who are sterile and neuter. The drones in a beehive are reproductive males.
- The Simpsons: In the educational/propaganda film "Meat and You: Partners in Freedom" Troy McClure refers to a cow as a he. "If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about!"
Real Life Animal Are Male Assumption Examples:
- Averted, Inverted, or played with in Poland where animal gender is assumed based on gender of that animal name. For example Mickey Mouse (in Polish: Myszka Miki) is often mistaken to female and mosquitoes (in Polish: komar) are always asumed to be male even if female are one who suck blood.
- In a Real Life example, medieval beekeepers assumed that the Hive Queen bees were male, simply because they were bigger. Old records of beekeeping practices call them "kings".