"...There's a river dividing men and women, deeper and wider than the ocean."
You know this trope. It's the one where people of different genders are treated as if they were more like different species
, and species that can't communicate or get along at that. Since characters in works using this usually don't live in one-gender worlds, and tend to be overwhelmingly heterosexual, they are nevertheless compelled to seek interaction with each other. This usually works out about as well for all involved as you would expect.
While often "officially" a Discredited Trope
, this is often also claimed as Truth in Television
, sometimes with an edge of brave speaking out against Political Correctness Gone Mad
, or with a Debate and Switch
or "Just Joking" Justification
Subtropes include Men Buy from Mars, Women Buy from Venus
, along with just about every "war of the sexes" trope in fiction.
Key signs that this trope is in effect in a work: you appear to have come into a world where
- The ways of men are by their very nature incomprehensible to women, and vice versa: a great deal of the dialogue will be attempts to decode the mysterious ways of wo/men ("What did s/he mean by [insert action/dialogue]"). This will rarely involve asking the particular wo/man in question, but will often involve the protagonist asking another opposite-sex character to explain their incomprehensible significant other.
- For extra bonus points, have the protagonist ask their opposite-sex best friend, who is secretly pining for them, to help them understand (and win) Alice/Bob.
- And for the grand prize, have them ask their same-sex friend, who claims to be an expert on the opposite sex and has no idea what they're talking about.
- The goals of women and men by their very nature diverge and may even conflict outright: even if a relationship between opposite-sex partners manages to get off the ground (not always the case), the ride will continue to be bumpy.
- Bonus points for this leading to a crisis about getting married and/or moving in together, and for complaining to third parties about the significant other's gender-specifically annoying ways, such as (according to gender and matching stereotypes) refusing to talk about their feelings/putting cutesy stuff and scented candles in the bathroom/never putting the toilet lid down/filling the house with shoes.
- Both these points will tend to be lampshaded, shape characterization, and drive the plot, whether Played for Laughs or Played for Drama, or both.
Characters need not be (entirely) flat
, but women characters will tend to be stereotypically female and men stereotypically male. Deviations from stereotype, where they appear, will tend to be plot points in their own right as exceptions that prove the rule, and are usually resolved by a return to something more stereotypical (e.g. Tomboy Wrench Wench
gets her man when she finally cleans up nicely
gender stereotypes are invoked may vary considerably, and inconsistently, even within the same work: (e.g. women want romance/men want sex; women want to talk about feelings and go to the opera/Men Are Uncultured
; All Women Love Shoes
/all men hate shopping; women are Closer to Earth
/men are all Man Children
, etc.) Stock contrasting stereotypes (hello, Betty and Veronica
) substituting for nuance will often also be in play. Outright logical contradiction between different stereotypes will rarely, if ever, be addressed.
Insofar as this trope tends to rely heavily on binary gender stereotypes, it also functions (in a somewhat complicated way) as a Super Trope
of several other Gender and Sexuality Tropes
: expect regular joint appearances by complementary tropes such as All Men Are Perverts
and All Women Are Prudes
The key point, whichever particular stereotypes are invoked, and even where they are/seem to be avoided, is that male and female characters align so as to allow the first three points to apply
. Whether men or women (or neither) come off better for the comparison may vary. Expect Double Standards
to apply fairly frequently if the work does
take a side for one or the other gender.
Works using this trope often also tend to outright celebrate the stereotypes they invoke (embrace
your inner Man Child
!), and see them as making an essential contribution to the value of opposite-sex relationships, which just wouldn't be as meaningful without this particular source of misunderstandings and tension. Conversely, though, even where this trope is combined with outright misogyny or misandry, obtaining (at least) one of the opposite sex as a partner is still
usually viewed as essential and urgent.
In works that use this trope as a central element, naturally, both male and female characters will also, as noted above, tend to be overwhelmingly or even exclusively heterosexual. Male homosexuals, usually of the Camp Gay
variety, may appear, often in a Pet Homosexual
role as a female character's
. Lesbians tend to appear even less frequently, except as fantasy objects
for male characters (and viewers): Bait-and-Switch Lesbians
may appear for similar reasons, but rarely get beyond a Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss
Characters male and (especially) female who are affected by this trope may occasionally get wistful about the idea of how much easier things would supposedly be if they could only get together with someone of their own sex, but this rarely goes anywhere lasting, and the work will rarely notice how many potential Unfortunate Implications
and internal contradictions there are in this line of thought. Transgender
characters are also rare, but not entirely excluded, though expect treatment of any Gender Blending Tropes
to reinforce rather than bring into question more traditional/mainstream gender binaries.
Almost unavoidable by definition in Chick Lit
and Lad Lit, and the corresponding flick genres, and pervasive if not quite inevitable in Rom Com
. Also frequent feature of Dom Com.
The presence of certain actors (Jennifer Aniston
, Meg Ryan
, Sarah Jessica Parker
, and on the Spear Counterpart
side, Michael Douglas
, Vince Vaughn and Seth Rogen
) tends to indicate this trope will come into play.
Also a common feature of observational Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy
. Oh, and there's just a tiny bit of this in Advertising
, too, as seen in Men Buy from Mars, Women Buy from Venus
. This trope is also most of the raison d'etre of magazines specifically meant for one or the other gender (Cosmopolitan, FHM, etc.)
Do not expect works that invoke this trope heavily on a regular basis to be shining examples of feminism; however, in a perverse way, they tend to do better than average on The Bechdel Test
, as in order to set up this trope they will normally introduce multiple female characters alongside the male ones, and by law of averages a few of the female characters' discussions will not be directly related to the opposite sex.
The Heteronormative Crusader
probably believes in this trope.
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- Vandread: Men and women are literally from two different but neighboring planets and have vastly different cultures. Then three men get stuck on a female pirate ship sent nearly a year from their homes. They must journey back together. Hilary ensues.
- Sex and the City and the whole He's Just Not That Into You spin-off industry.
- In Married... with Children Al goes so far as to form an organization dedicated to promoting the well being of men.
- Many episodes of According to Jim end with an Aesop about the differences of men & woman and what it means to be a good husband/wife, that are treated as universally applicable. One episode has Jim countering the new metrosexual trend by becoming a flannelsexual advocate for traditional gender roles.
- Cheers and Frasier both have tendencies to this, if less overtly so for Frasier.
- Home Improvement- a definite example of Men Are Uncultured as both something men are/should be proud of, as well as something that makes women Closer to Earth.
- In the universe of The Big Bang Theory, almost all nerds are male and their nerdiness can be awkward when trying to talk to women.
- In an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch Sabrina casts a spell on herself to become a boy because she wants to understand how they think. Hilda does the same.
- Many, if not most, episodes of Two and a Half Men rely on this trope to a large degree.
- David Byrne's "Women Vs. Men":
Women have their world, and men, we have ours.
We're into sports, and they're into flowers.
The women are talking. We do not understand.
They speak in a language we do not comprehend.
No one knows how it started, and God knows how it will end.
The fightin' continues, women versus men.
- Byrne also covered this topic with his band Talking Heads on the song "The Girls Want to Be With the Girls" from More Songs About Buildings And Food:
The girls don't want to play like that,
They just want to talk to the boys.
The just want to do what is in their hearts,
And the girls want to be with the girls.
- Pretty much the entire point of Cathy.
- Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes believes this, because he's at that age. At one point when witnessing Susie (gasp!) doing her homework, he finds the idea of doing it voluntarily so strange that he dubs girls "the gender from outer space!"
- The boys of Zits seem to believe this. It was done with nuance during the early years, showing that it's only true to a certain extent, but in later years, it seems to be played more and more straight.
Recorded and Stand-Up Comedy
Some comedians that rely heavily on this trope:
- The degree to which this trope applies to Catherine would be a good, essay-length discussion of how the game portrays the intricacies of gender relationships. On one hand, the central plot element is about a laid-back slacker trying to decide whether he'd be happier settling down or remaining unchained, with a Betty and Veronica Love Triangle externalizing his decision. Mars-and-Venus symbolism abounds: the planetary symbols are ubiquitous, one of the background tracks is a Classical Music remix of an ode to the planet Mars, and one of the worst things that can happen to the player is the "Curse of the Morning Star" (i.e., Venus). Most of the protagonist's friends don't "get" women, or make assumptions about the fair sex that are flat-out wrong. When their favorite waitress—the most approachable female character—tries to set the poor boys straight, none of them take her advice. Instead, they scoff because it's assumed she wouldn't get it either. Though this is because she is MtF. The other women don't get as much screen time, but don't fare any better: "Betty" is a straight-laced Ice Queen type, while "Veronica" shows early signs of Yandere behavior. So, what does the game ultimately decide about this Trope? It doesn't. You do.
- Questionable Content - full of Female Character X explaining to Male Character Y that "girls all..." and vice versa (though these seem like they're meant to be rules of thumb rather than statements of literal fact), and occasional examples of the 'men and women don't speak the same language' subtrope that usually lead to severe confusion, painful misunderstandings, or both in combination. It gets off pretty lightly compared to most of these examples, though, since none of the characters are defined utterly by their gender and the stereotypes thereof (although Steve sometimes comes close to being a stereotypical man, especially when drunk), nor is it Anviliciously heteronormative.
- Something Positive doesn't employ as many stereotypes as some examples, and has more non-heterosexual characters than most examples, but still portrays an inherent and quite deep divide between men and women.
- Sluggy Freelance has many such moments. Torg, Riff and Gwynn especially can be pretty stereotypical. And then there's Aylee, who sometimes naturally acts clearly "female" but at others still has huge difficulties understanding how that works in human society. Some characters are not affected at all, such as Sasha or Bun-bun.
- Present in this article here.Not a parody. For a Distaff Counterpart, see also . Note: these are examples of this trope because they both present the dynamic as being true to the fundamental nature of the genders, and of individual people as members of them - which is rather different than just saying some people like sub/dom dynamics on an individual level, or without the gender-based essentialism.
- The website Girls Ask Guys revolves around this concept, providing a place for people of either gender to ask questions and share their life experiences, in a general bid to attempt to better one anothers' understanding of the mysteries of the other side.
- Sharon and Randy Marsh in South Park, as well as the whole town when the plot asks for it.
- Spoofed in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Satan and Saddam Hussein are in bed together, and while Saddam Hussein is waving dildoes suggestively at Satan, Satan is reading Saddam is from Mars, Satan is from Venus and bemoaning their inability to communicate.
- One episode of The Fairly Oddparents has Timmy wishing he was a girl so he could figure out what his crush wants for her birthday. Justified, since the kids still believe that Girls Have Cooties. Chester discusses this when he sees Timmy as a girl going into an arcade and freaks out: "Boys like comic books, girls like dolls. Boys like video games, girls like makeup. We're different! That's why we have different bathrooms!"
- Parodied in Futurama with the Omicronians: "It is true what they say. Women are from Omicron Perseii 7, men are from Omicron Perseii 9."
- Hilariously subverted in Phineas and Ferb by Candace, who has a tendency to overcomplicate things by assuming this is the case.
I think it's going really well; he asked me to save him a dance. Candace:
He did? What do you think he meant by that? Stacy:
I'm pretty sure he meant he wants to dance with me. Candace:
Hmmm.... Men and their impossible endless riddles.
- And that's not even getting into the fake mustache...