"If a smash hit has mostly male characters, nobody raises an eyebrow, but if it has mostly female characters, it's a Great Big Anomaly worth several trees' worth of shocked speculation."In media, male is the default, "normal" form of humanity, while female is a special subcategory reserved just for women. This meta-trope is Older Than Feudalism and is found not only in fiction, but is ingrained into many human societies and cultures. The technical term for this is "androcentrism". Take the English language, for example. The terms "Man" and "Mankind" are often used to represent humanity in general, whereas "Woman" and "Womankind" only ever refer to humans of the female gender. Many job titles, such as fireman and mailman, assume maleness, even though there are female firefighters and mail carriers. People often specify that someone is a "female doctor" or "female author", but generally don't say "male doctor" because that is already assumed.note If the gender of a person is unknown, the traditional proper pronoun to use is "he" (e.g. "Everybody take out his pencil") – the "singular they" goes back to Geoffrey Chaucer, but remains controversial even today, reflecting this trope. Certain languages like French and Spanish take this concept even further, having two words for "They"; a masculine and feminine form, but if there is a mixed group of men and women the masculine is the default. In fact, this is correct even for a group of any number of women, and one single man. The trope can be observed in many different elements of society and culture. "Unisex" fashion tends to be built around men's fashion; jeans and shirts are worn by both sexes, but dresses and skirts are exclusive to women in most of the Western world. T-shirts are typically sold in two cuts, women's and mens, but men's T-shirts are sometimes sold as "unisex tees." Many health clubs have women's gyms, but never men's gyms, since men are considered the default group and just use the main gym. Most androgynous names (like Jordan or Taylor) started out as men's names. The restroom sign for a man is a featureless stick figure, but the sign for a woman is a stick figure in a dress. (One could imagine an alternate universe where women are represented as a featureless stick figure, and men are represented with a cowboy hat.) In the eyes of society, male is default, and women are basically men plus or minus something else. This phenomenon carries Unfortunate Implications for both male and female characters when used in fiction. The main problem for male characters is that maleness is not special in the way femaleness is, and is often undervalued to the point of being disposable; men's actions are less likely to be judged based on their gender, which gives them more freedom to act, but the consequences for their actions are likely to be magnified. The implication for female characters is that femaleness is special in a way that maleness isn't or, to put it more bluntly, being male is "normal", while being female is "abnormal", which can either mean superior to men or inferior. This leads to the Smurfette Principle, in which a character's femaleness is the most important and interesting thing about her, often to exclusion of all else. It also tends to result in works failing The Bechdel Test, because if there's a potential character who doesn't have to be any particular gender, the role will probably be filled by a male character by default. It may or may not be the result of Gender Rarity Value. Likely exacerbated by the fact that Most Writers Are Male. Probably the parent to Men Act, Women Are and Men Are Strong, Women Are Pretty. See High-Heel–Face Turn for when being a woman becomes a Chekhov's Gun for a Heel–Face Turn. Compare Men Are the Expendable Gender.
— Sarah Morayati, author of the Interactive Fiction work Broken Legs, in an interview discussing gender in fiction
ExamplesAnime and Manga
- Dragon Ball Z
- Cell technically has no gender, and is only referenced in the English manga as an "it". In the anime, however, Cell has a male voice actor and is only called a "he". However, this can be explained by the fact that, with the exception of Piccolo, all of his known genetic donors are male.
- Piccolo and the other Namekians, a One-Gender Race who reproduce asexually, but are only referred to as male.
- A Justified example from Attack on Titan. The "Female Titan" is given her name simply due to being female and she's certainly considered special. But, before she showed up, Titans were only known for resembling males so it actually made sense to simply distinguish her by gender. And a part of what made her even more unique is that she was much more intelligent and physically fit than the typical Titan.
- In The Transformers, all the Transformers were considered genderless, but were referred to with masculine pronouns... until one story in which the Autobots created Arcee, who is considered female and is described with feminine pronouns. Arcee was actually created, in story, as female to respond to the sexism that people saw in the perception of the Autobots as male.
- The same writer (Simon Furman) returned for the IDW-published new continuity, he again set all cybertronians as genderless but using male pronouns. When he introduced Arcee, it was presented as an experiment by Jhiaxus to introduce gender into the formerly genderless species. This ended up having loads of Unfortunate Implications as it both made being female "abnormal" and the fact that Arcee went insane (rather understandably, considering the experiment amounted to a forced sex-change operation) had plenty of potential sexist/transphobic implications. This would end up getting getting fixed (depending on who you ask) in later issues where Cybertronians from Camiens are introduced as naturally-evolving female Transformers.
- Surrounding the female subject of an Item Number with indistinguishable, uniformly dressed and coifed men was common in the early musical movie era. Marilyn Monroe's Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend (homaged by Madonna's Material Girl), is a famous example, but far from the first.
- In Going Postal, one of the golems gets named Gladys and given a gingham dress so that Miss Maccalariat will approve it cleaning the ladies' privies (prior to which, neither Gladys nor anyone else minded what "she" wore). In Making Money Moist compares Gladys to the generic "male" golems, and then has to remind himself that they aren't male, any more than Gladys is really female.
- Something similar happens to Rincewind in Interesting Times. After his Luggage (a sentient trunk on legs) starts following a more 'feminine' model (its toes are painted, etc), he is first bewildered at the general idea, then realizes that he's never had a proper reason for thinking of his Luggage as male. "True, it had a homicidal nature, but so had a lot of the women Rincewind had met."
- A similar point can be made with Discworld dwarfs. All dwarfs look like short, male Vikings. Male dwarfs in human society are content to look like short, male Vikings (except Casanunda, but he's a special case), while many female dwarfs are starting to adopt a "feminine" look along the lines of human society. (Dwarfish, like Inuktitut, has no gender-specific pronouns, but their non-specific ones are generally translated as "he", "him", etc.)
- As a twist, the Dwarf femininity issue is presented as cultural rather than sexist. It is simply considered un-Dwarfish and none seem to have a problem interacting with women of other races. A few dwarfs obliquely refer to the fact that dwarvish culture can look odd to humans, and they have no expectation that another culture to follow their rules... unlike humans.
- In the Honor Harrington series, the convention is for individuals to use their own gender as a generic pronoun, unless there is some indication otherwise. Many characters still, however default to "men".
- Inverted in Second Stage Lensmen with the "persons" of Lyrane II. They are all biologically female (but do not use the term "female"), and use "it" and "its" instead of "she" and "her". Meanwhile, the males (ratio of 1:100) are not considered persons, are implied to have zero intelligence, and are allowed to exist only for the continuation of the species via procreation. Until Kimball Kinnison shows up, the "persons" routinely kill any male humanoids who find their way to the planet and are not wearing thought shields. They are completely baffled by Illona Potter, because they cannot conceive of a female who is not a "person".
- Inverted in the Imperial Radch universe: the Radchaai don't have a societal or linguistic concept of gender, so the narration uses "she" and "her" pronouns universally. In-universe, Radchaai are known for referring to people as female unless told not to, and Breq struggles with gendered languages because she doesn't really understand how to identify someone as male on sight.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Metamorphosis", Spock modifies their Universal Translator to communicate with an Energy Being that has been maintaining the life and health of a man marooned on its planet. The device gives the Energy Being a female voice, which Kirk and Spock find worthy of note. (Perhaps the translator has a "gender neutral mode", but going by this exchange, it seems more likely that the crew would have considered a male voice "genderless").
Kirk: Feminine. No doubt about it, Spock.Spock: Yes. The matter of gender could change the entire situation.Kirk: I'm way ahead of you.Spock: Then it is not a zookeeper.Kirk: No. A lover. note
- Jerry Seinfeld finds this out the hard way. When he notices that his girlfriend enjoys being naked in his apartment, he tries to be naked too, but the girlfriend finds it disgusting. Later, he and George are told this by Elaine:
Elaine: Walking around naked? Ahh... that is not a good look for a man.George: Why not? It's a good look for a woman.Elaine: Well, the female body is a work of art. The male body is utilitarian. It's for gettin' around-like a jeep.
- Quite often in late-60s-to-mid-80s Doctor Who, where, due to the sexist blind spots of the time, characters were only women when there was a good reason for them to be, even if this stretched credibility. For just one example, Leela in "The Face of Evil" was conceptualised as coming from a society where sexism wasn't an issue and her status as a brave warrior was not contested, but we have to take her word for it since she's the only woman we meet on her entire planet.
- Inversion: Some of The World of Darkness sourcebooks use female pronouns to refer to hypothetical characters of unspecified gender.
- Dungeons & Dragons has done the above too, as well as other methods of avoiding bias like alternating "he" and "she" (in one infamous instance for the same character) or basing it upon the Iconic that best represents the situation.
- One strategy in various games from the 1990s on was to refer to the Game Master as female and to the players as male in the examples.
- The Hasbro game "Guess Who?" invoked this trope when a six year old girl asked why the characters were disproportionately male.
- Magic: The Gathering tends to use gender-neutral terms for occupations, even if a female-specific version could be applied. Benalish Hero depicts a woman, for instance, but isn't called "Benalish Heroine." Also, a creature could be depicted as either male or female in the art as long as it's not a specific storyline character. There are two major exceptions to these rules: enchantresses, which are grandfathered (grandmothered?) in from the early days and angels, which are always female (with one or two very early exceptions).
- This can lead to translation shenanigans, especially whith terms that are genderless in English, but not in another language. For example, in French, the card elvish champion was first translated as championne elfe (a resolutely feminine term) because the illustration featured an elvish woman. When the card reappeared in a later edition, the new illustration was that of a man, but the French translation had to stick with the feminine word. There must be an entire gender study argument to be had on whether this is more inappropriate than having champion elfe be illustrated with a woman.
- In-universe example in The Dark Eye, male dwarves outnumber females by 4:1,note as a result, this trope is played straight in their cultures.
- Gen IV in Pokémon introduced aesthetic gender differences on members of the same species. In most cases, the "regular" design (i.e., the one that had been used in previous generations) went for males and the females got something different (One notable exception would be Xatu). Although the gender differences are quite realistic and reflect gender differences in animals in real life (for example, female Bug Pokemon tend to have wider thoraxes than the males), some Pokémon have a clearly "human feminine" traits like female Wobbuffet using lipstick.
- Pokémon Go originally had no genders except for the Nidoran family, just like Gen I... but it used the modern 3D models, which have gender differences. They were not used consistently, and sometimes the gender of a model would change for no apparent reason; for a while, you could evolve a Pikachu and it would apparently transform from male to female. When genders were (officially) added, the trope was played straight—all previously-captured mons with gender differences became male, and only new spawns of those species could be female.
- Pac-Man is an example of this trope. The original male Pac-Man character is a plain circle who doesn't even have eyes, while Ms. Pac-Man has added features.
- In Shortpacked! everyone refers to Ultra-Car, a talking car, as "he". It's not until U.C. gets a human body that we learn she identifies as female, and when people are surprised she points out that cars don't have sexes.
- Some of the Image Macro "Advice Animals" characters have been given Tertiary Sexual Characteristics, for memes dealing with female-specific issues. (For example, a Socially-Awkward penguin about period mishaps.) Others (such as Foul Bachelor Frog and Scumbag Steve) have an actual Distaff Counterpart.
- In Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012), April discovers she has a rare gift when she is able to "communicate" with a psychic mutant monkey. This gift intrigues Splinter and he offers to train her as a as a Kunoichi, who were traditionally trained with different skillsets than male ninja.
- This is played with Young Justice. There's a perfectly good strategic reason for Nightwing to send an all-female squad for the day's mission (they are dealing with Queen Bee whose powers bend men to her will), but he still presents it as though an all-female squad is a deviation. Batgirl calls him on it, on the basis that while Nightwing wasn't wrong to send an all-female squad, he was wrong to assume that the all-female squad would find the fact that they were an all-female squad strange and in need of explanation.
Batgirl: Oh, really? And would you have felt the need to justify an all-male squad for a given mission?
Wonder Girl, Bumblebee, and Miss Martian all glare at him.
Nightwing: Th-there's no... good answer for that, is there? So... Nightwing out.
- Esperanto, the Universal Language: Esperanto builds vocabulary by attaching affixes to root words. There is a feminine ending (-in-), but not a male ending, so all gendered nouns are masculine by default. For example, the words for woman, mother, and girl (virino, patrino, knabino) literally mean maness, fatheress and boyess.
- Men's fashion is not nearly as varied as women's. Take a look at any formal event where the ladies are all wearing unique dresses and gowns, while the men are in nearly identical suits and tuxedos.
- Not really Truth in Television, since 50% of the world is female.note