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Viewer Gender Confusion

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Hey everyone, it's time to play "Guy or Girl?"note 

Snake: [Yoshi] lays eggs and throws them, right? …then it must be female.
Otacon: ...actually, it's a "he". At least, that's what it says.
Snake's Codec conversation on Yoshi, Super Smash Bros. Brawl
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You have been watching this series for a while, be it since childhood or since yesterday. You are just in the middle of an exciting scene where Miss Lovecuddles reveals that she was actually behind everything that… wait a minute, Miss? He's not a boy?

Congratulations, you've just become a happy victim of Viewer Gender Confusion!

Sometimes this is because a cheap dub uses badly Cross-Dressing Voices, sometimes because the language you're enjoying your story in doesn't have gender differentiated pronouns, or because they have a name rarely used for that gender, or it was clear from the beginning and you were just holding the Idiot Ball for the day and missed it fabulously.

Compare She's a Man in Japan, where the character's gender actually was changed while adapting. Also compare Bifauxnen, Samus Is a Girl, and Female Monster Surprise, where you are expected to be mistaken at first, and Ambiguous Gender Identity, where the character's sex is (probably) known but their gender isn't. Contrast (or compare?) Dude Looks Like a Lady or Lady Looks Like a Dude when it's other characters who are confused.

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See also Ambiguous Gender for characters who have no canonically stated gender, and Viewer Species Confusion for when it happens to an animal or other non-human character. May be solved with the use (or lack) of Tertiary Sexual Characteristics. Can be seen as the viewer-perspective version of Unsettling Gender Reveal. Anything that makes the character's sex obvious may act as a Gender Reveal.


Examples Subpages:


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Examples:

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    Asian Animation 
  • Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf:
    • Many people thought Jonie is a boy goat, due to her voice and being a tomboy.
    • Wilie's Cutesy big eyes and higher voice probably makes him seem more like a female.
    • Little Fairy's gender is still technically unknown, but it looks more like a lady.
  • In the Chinese animated film Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (1979), the title character is a little boy but he looks and acts more like a little girl—the hair style, clothing, and voice don't help either.

    Arts 
  • Nearly any modern portrayal of Mori Ranmaru falls heavily into this if you aren't already aware of the historical figure. Historical artwork of him is a bit better.
  • Recent artwork of Hindu gods or goddesses tends to portray them all as quite androgynous. This is only partly true for historical depictions; while male figures were still drawn or sculpted as lithe, slender, and smooth-skinned, the secondary sexual characteristics of females were… much less ambiguous.
  • Renaissance-era depictions of The Beloved Disciple (John) and sometimes even John the Baptist (!) show beardless pretty boys who could be taken for girls.
  • The Last Supper's depiction of John is often mistaken for a woman due to Leonardo's attempt to convey youth through John's his long hair and lack of a beard. This confusion has lead to wild mass guessing that Leonardo's John is supposed to be a depiction of Mary of Magdala, although this idea leaves Jesus with an Apostle missing from his supper.

    Comic Books 
  • While Siobhan from Anya's Ghost does have a feminine name, it's a very obscure Irish one, and she dresses in a male school uniform, complete with necktie, for the entire story. She isn't even referred to with female pronouns until well past the halfway point of the book.
  • Xarcce Huwla of the X-Wing Series is an alien Tunroth, making her big, muscular, and with a very inhuman face. Since these comics were drawn with minimal concern for Fanservice, even when sparring in tight clothing (Xarcce Huwla wearing red in the picture) her body is easily taken for male, and since she's largely out of focus pronouns only come up a few times. It's much the same with Ibtisam the Mon Calamarian, who looks almost exactly like (male) Admiral Ackbar if you discount her having light blue skin instead of red.
  • In the graphic novel Level Up, one of the angels (the one with orange hair) appears to be a girl, but when she reveals her true form as a Pac-Man ghost and Dennis eats her, she is referred to with male pronouns. However, he/she may have No Biological Sex due to being not a human ghost, but an Anthropomorphic Personification of a broken promise Dennis's father made to his dad.

    Comic Strips 
  • Krazy Kat never displayed a specific gender trait of any type, but was in an ongoing love triangle of sorts between two identifiably male characters.
  • While this was less true in the early days, post 80s, some people begun to mistake Peppermint Patty from Peanuts due to a mixture of Schultz drawing her with shorts (rather than a skirt, to illustrate that she is a tomboy), longer hair on younger boys becoming more acceptable than it was in the 50s and 60s, Marcie always calling her "Sir", as well as her being voiced by an actual boy in the specials, Patty has been mistaken for a boy later on. This has, however, still contributed to a few popular theories about her and Marcie's relationship.
  • Zoe and Wren in Baby Blues. Shortly after the first comics of Baby Blues, Zoe was given three hairs on her head, so as not to make viewers think she's a boy. One comic had people calling Zoe a "boy", with Darryl repeatedly telling them she's a girl. Wren (a girl, not a boy) took this to the next level. Smart Practice's recall card description says "Full-color dental postcard features little Zoe explaining certain grown-up facial expressions to her baby brother, Wren.". 12 years later, Wren would later receive a redesign which now features a full set of hair instead of three, making her appearance look more like a young girl.

    Fan Works 
  • Yume Ni's official artwork from the Gensokyo 20XX series has her looking similar to a boy, aside from her eyelashes. We also get this Enoki, whose appearance was initially gender neutral, however, by 20XXV, she was identified to be female and had new picture, complete with Tertiary Sexual Characteristics.
  • From the Fan Webcomic Kill la Kill AU, if it wasn't stated or shown to a certain degree otherwise, you probably would have thought Mako was a boy, as she has pretty short hair but, otherwise, wears a dress. Likewise, same can occur for Shiro, who, despite his masculine clothing, has something a feminine hairstyle.

    Literature 
  • In Hungarian, pronouns aren't gender based, leading generations of The Lord of the Rings readers thinking that the Witch-King was killed by Merry, not Éowyn. And coincidentally, neither the appendices nor the prophecy (No man shall kill him—it was a Hobbit!) contradicts this. But it's clear in the original.
  • For a long time, half of the Harry Potter fandom thought Blaise Zabini was a girl, since he's just a name until book 6. (Specifically, a name which is masculine in Europe but usually feminine in the United States.) Some who wanted more Slytherin girls used "her" extensively as an O.C. Stand-in in Fan Fic. It's now known that "she's" a he.
  • If you're well-informed enough to know that the Groke of the Moomin series is female, try figuring out Thingumy and Bob, or the Fillyjonk's children from the anime. Too-ticky can also be misleading because of her appearance, but it's pretty clear she's a woman.
    • Too-ticky is at least partly based on Jansson's sculptor girlfriend, which may account for her relative butchness.
    • In the original Swedish, the Groke is called Mårran which manages to sound both feminine and threatening.
    • Thingummy and Bob wear dresses, and in the original are named Tofslan and Vifslan—so there is no "Bob" to confuse people. (Their particular way of speaking is an in-joke on the lingo Jansson and her first girlfriend, Vivica Bandler, used. "Tove" and "Vivica" become "Tofslan" and "Vifslan" when you speak like that...) The whole plot about the Ruby and the Groke is a metaphor for them having to hide their relationship back in the days homosexuality was still a crime and taboo in Finland.
  • A milder form of this occurs in Honor Harrington. The Royal Manticoran Navy has nearly 50-50 gender equality, and many characters are referred to as their title, i.e. Admiral, Captain, Exec., etc. To compound this, many of the women are given masculine nicknames, like Michelle becoming "Mike", while some men are given female nicknames, such as a Gervais becoming "Gwen". You may need to take notes.
    • Possibly compounding the issue is the fact—never explicitly stated—that almost any character, when talking about someone of unknown gender, will use their own pronoun (i.e., men call unknowns "he" while women call them "she").
    • Maybe more of Translator's Gender Confusion, but in Polish translation (where gender pronouns are everywhere) Patricia Givens was a man for two books because she was always referred to as "admiral Givens" or "Pat".
  • Max, from the Maximum Ride series. Considering that the book is written entirely in first person and her masculine name, it's no wonder. It's not clear at all that she's female until at least about fifty pages into The Angel Experiment, when she is finally referred to with a female pronoun.
  • Discworld dwarfs. Most of them look male, but that doesn't mean they are.
    • This is expanded upon with Cherri Littlebottom, a feminist in a race where discovering the other's gender is part of the mating ritual. She would wear makeup, but refused to shave her beard because to do so would deny being a dwarf.
    • Never really resolved in Unseen Academicals with Madame Sharn. She claims female terminology but never really a female identity, and her lover is a gay male (biologically human) dwarf. Thanks to the weird interactions between dwarf and human ideas of sexuality she could equally be male, female, transgender, or not fit cisgender terminology at all.
    • Many characters in Monstrous Regiment are very convincing crossdressers.
  • In the kid's magazine Muse, four New Muses are guys, four New Muses are girls... and nobody can agree what gender Egyptian-born Pwt (pronounced "pwit") is. Word of God confirmed that Pwt is a male, but some readers still think he's a girl.
  • In Goblin Moon, the anthropomorphized Nine Seasons are the setting's equivalent of gods. Four are male, four are female, and one (corresponding to mid-spring, a changeable season) is depicted as androgynous in religious art.
  • The first two chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird leave Scout's gender very much in question. (She's a girl.)
  • The Timothy Zahn novella Cascade Point is told in the first person, and the narrator's name is not gendered. Only the cover art assigns a gender.
  • The Cherub in L. Frank Baum's John Dough and the Cherub. The publishers wanted the author to end the confusion, so he agreed to a write-in a contest. Since the first two winners chose differently, the gender of the Cherub remains unknown.
  • Zom-B by Darren Shan: One of the two big twists at the end of the first book is that main character B Smith is a girl. The book had done a damn good job of leading the reader to believe otherwise, from the fact that most of B's friends are boys to the illustrations always showing her from behind (with a slim build and shaved head.)
  • In the original Winnie-the-Pooh books Christopher Robin wears flowing blouses and has medium length hair. While this may have been unisex looking or even masculine in the 1920s, to modern audiences he's easily mistakable for a girl. The more well-known Disney incarnation averts this.
  • In The Cosmere, the first time Bavadin was referred to, it was without a gender pronoun. Maybe because it was in the same sentence as (confirmed to be male) Rayse, but for the next two years, everyone was confident that Bavadin was a man until Arcanum Unbounded explicitly said "she". Also, Word OF God has muddied the waters since, implying that Bavadin's gender is a bit more complicated then usual, leading to some debate over the proper pronouns, though most fans stick with 'she'.
  • Warrior Cats suffers from the authors being confused. The series has several writers and Loads and Loads of Characters (over a thousand, mostly composed of extras and bit characters). Many characters suddenly change pronouns between books. For example, as a kit and an apprentice Sedgewhisker was male but she turned female once she became a warrior.

    Mythology 
  • Chinese Mythology: Nezha is a seven-year-old boy and is often depicted with long flowing hair with Odango, bright pink facial makeup, and wearing a Stripperific mini dress. Resulting in people easily confusing him for a girl at first sight.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Sesame Street
    • Big Bird is sometimes mistaken for a girl, thanks to his high-pitched voice, his lack of Tertiary Sexual Characteristics, the show's young target audience, and the puppeteer's Gender-Blender Name. Yes, Caroll Spinney is male.
    • The Dutch version of Sesame Street features a blue Big Bird called Pino, who started out being played by a man. When he retired a woman got the role, there was actually some debate among the creators about whether they should make the bird a pink girl and rename her Pina. In the end they chose gender confusion over gender bending.
    • The German version once got a snail called "Fienchen" note . Fienchen started out being male, but due to his "cute" name and high pitched voice, he caused so much gender confusion, they actually changed him into a girl. That's the one case where gender confusion would be appropriate. Snails are hermaphrodites.
  • Bear in the Big Blue House: Treelo's a boy and Ojo's a girl?
  • Lamb Chop's Play-Along: Lamb Chop is sometimes mistaken for a boy, due to her lack of Tertiary Sexual Characteristics and the fact that her "brothers" Charlie Horse and Hush Puppy are both boys.

    Toys 
  • BIONICLE: The toys have little room for Tertiary Sexual Characteristics due to their modular nature (it is a LEGO product line), so the only reliable way to pick out which one is the girl is the series' color-coding — the blue heroes were mostly girls. Same thing in-story, but at least the characters can use voice and body language to tell genders apart.
    • Roodaka, despite wearing black instead of blue, is the only woman with an actual feminine figure — but males of her species look exactly like her, causing confusion in the other direction. One comic colorist tried to color-code a male by painting him green, but Word of God says that picture is non-canon, and all of the members of the species (the Vortixx) have the exact same colors. Yes, even the males have huge breast-plates, wide hips, a ponytail, walk around in high-heeled boots, and not one of them has any variation in their coloring. The only way you can identify the genders is that if you see a Vortixx suffering or doing some incredibly tedious and tiring work, it's a male.
    • Things wouldn't be so difficult if the female sets had been designed to look the part. Jaller Inika, for instance, was the manly leader of his group, yet he was the only one who looked at least a bit feminine — the real girl, Hahli, received a huge chin, a bald head, and a mustache and goatee in the form of breathing tubes! The Inika were of course a Deconstruction of certain Toa-related tropes, but only in the story. Sets could have followed a more conventional approach. Although there is nothing to suggest this wasn't the result of test groups' dissatisfaction with female-looking toys.
    • Hahli's infamous tube-stache wasn't the first instance of a female character receiving a misleading mask. There was Macku, who had this long, pharaoh-beard like structure on the underside of her mask. The first movie redesigned that mask-type so that it would have a mechanical "beard". Macku's movie-mask got a shortened version, but it still looked off.
    • Arguably The least feminine of them would be Gali Nuva Thats right, the one with dual battleaxes, wide chin and ahnold pecs is the female.
      • This is Gali Nuva again, in her Adaptive Armor. With her flat chest, wide shoulders, gorilla-arms, hunched posture, and broad, protruding chin, bald head, waffle-eye and jet-wing ears(?), not only does she look even less feminine than her "base" Nuva form, she doesn't quite look like anything else seen in the story. As a result, it's one of the most unpopular figures of the franchise, and perhaps the main reason why the "Mistika" set-line got such an unfavorable fan-reception.
    • One prime example was with the "Mistika" characters, as Word of God had said one of the three Makuta in the set was to be female, and since none of those three were blue the color code wasn't going to be any help. When the fanbase got pictures, many guessed it was Krika, a sleek white character with a feminine-ish name and an elongated head/mask reminiscent of a ponytail. It turned out that the female was actually Gorast; a short, squat, green-and-black hag with four arms.
    • And did we mention that when the series got ReTooled with a new setting, the color code ceased to apply to gender? (The girl is still blue, but there's also a male blue character.)
      • But at least that one single female character was designed to actually have some feminine physical characteristics, like a slender body, and... wait, that was it.
    • There are some subtle hints sometimes though, such as Nokama Metru's smoother mask design, Hahli Mahri's sleeker mask and her angel wings, and Gali Mata's inverted legs and extra chest-piece. But that's as helpful as it can go.
    • When the original line first hit, there was next to no supplementary material to educate buyers on which gender the characters were, but thankfully the narrator on the early promotional CDs, which only saw a limited release, made a point of referring to Gali by using female pronouns as many times as possible. On the other hand, he did call Nokama, the only other female set sold at that point, a "he", thus muddling up the then-introduced "blue=girl" rule.
    • BIONICLE's successor Hero Factory has Breez, who is female despite looking just as manly as the others.
      • It helps that her full name is Natalie Breez, though others mostly just call her Breez anyway. As for her looks, her helmet's eye-holes at least looked feminine at first. Then, she switched them to a generic design, along with adapting this huge, manly chin underneath.
    • The sheer number of occasions that LEGO and associates mistakenly or by necessity made men out of their women is enough to confuse every outsider. Besides the thing with Nokama on the promo CD mentioned above, Hahli also got a male voice in the online Toa Mahri mini-movie and in the video game BIONICLE Heroes (Roodaka, perhaps the only obvious female toy of the franchise, also received generic male grunts in that game), the Voya Nui On-Line Game referred to Dalu as a "he" at one point, and more recently, the web bio of Hero Factory's Natalie Breez also used masculine pronouns. Then, there are the Direct-to-Video movies, which gave random background Ga-Matoran (all female) male voices.
    • The 2015 reboot continues in this tradition: in addition to being ambiguous visually, Gali is named the Master of Water (and foreign translations also refer to her by masculine designations); and the online animations, which have a male narrator "voicing" all the characters, further this confusion.
  • The Beanie Baby Erin. Paired up with the Princess Diana bear. Green, as opposed to Diana's more feminine purple. Especially if you were unaware of the differences between Aaron and Erin (phonetically identical in some varieties of English) as a child.
  • The toyline-only character Sonar from Beast Wars is considered female by some fans due to the lack of gender-specific pronouns on the toy's bio.
    • Confirmed in the comics, which took advantage of the lack of pronouns to add another female to the ranks.
  • My Little Pony:
    • Mainly thanks to the cartoon adaptation many ponies were considered male, such as Gusty or Applejack. There are some collectors who played with the toys as kids in the 80s who still insist 20+ years later Applejack was male; it wasn't too unknown to see debates on it in the 2000s.
    • G1 is mainly known for being almost entirely made up of mares and fillies but males existed, most popularly the Big Brother Ponies. They're not that much masculine from the females, the only real difference having fetlocks and being associated with 'masculine' roles (American football, pirates, sailing, etc). They come in pastel pinks and yellows and have have long eyelashes.
    • Kingsley is a lioness with a mane and masculine name. Most people consider her male but everything official states otherwise.
    • Prince Firefly from G2 is purple and shares the name of the most famous Pony until G4. But he's not called "prince" for nothing.
    • Prism Glider, a background pony from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, is clearly a stallion in the show and on his collector's card, but his blind bag figure uses the standard female Pegasus mold (as opposed the male design used for Thunderlane, Flash Sentry, etc.). Likewise, Neon Lights' blind bag toy is a palette swap of Vinyl Scratch/DJ PON-3.

    Web Animation 
  • The titular Salad Fingers.
  • Happy Tree Friends:
    • Flaky is thought to be a boy because, unlike Giggles and Petunia, Flaky doesn't have eyelashes but is given a distinct feminine voice, it shows neutral characteristics for any gender but the voice actor suggests female, even the creators are undecided. It's even lampshaded a few times.
    • Cuddles can even be mistaken for female by some who are watching the show for the first time.
  • YouTube comments on newer Baman Piderman episodes frequently ask if Pumkin is a girl, perhaps due to his cute, awkward nature ever since gaining a body and his actions towards Piderman, despite him being unambiguously referred to as male In-Universe.
  • Breeze Rider from Dusk's Dawn is a boy. A cursory glance at the works trope page will show you how difficult it is for the audience to pick up on that.
  • Nerris from Camp Camp was mistaken for a young boy by several people watching the trailer due to her boyish clothes and hairstyle, with her most girlish feature (the eyelashes) being easy to miss. Even when she actually speaks in the show proper, her female voice actress could be mistaken for a case of Crossdressing Voices and the first line that establishes her gender is easily missable due to being said at the same time as another line. She's even this in-universe in the episode "Egg Benefits", when Cameron Campbell falters on whether to call her a mom or a dad.
  • Busy Beavers had a character named Baby Kangaroo, who was mistaken for a baby boy, due to her lacking eyelashes and a bow. It wasn't until the "Characters" song that Baby Kangaroo was actually a girl.

    Web Original 

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