If Someone Gives Me Another All-Male Cast, I'm Gonna Ancillary Justice 'Em

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

I’m reading Ancillary Sword, the sequel to the most excellent Ancillary Justice, which has a “hook” that’s confused a lot of people:
All of the characters are referred to as “she.”
Not that the universe is all-female, of course; it’s just that the lead character in the Ancillary series is actually a computer AI given a fleshy body, and in this universe gender clues are both subtle to spot and socially painful to get wrong.  And since the book’s told from Breq’s viewpoint, she just assumes that everyone’s a “she,” even if they have a beard or an Adam’s apple or a chest as furry as a black bear in heat.
This has gotten a lot of pushback as “stunt writing.”  Who is Ann Leckie to just gender a whole universe?  It’s confusing!  It’s crazy!
But in other news, Mark Lawrence made a post where he was very proud of publishing a (successful) book with an all-male cast, which led to a discussion of how a lot of fantasy writers just sorta forget to put female characters in except when it’s time to fuck.  All the leads are male.  All the shopkeepers are male.  All the politicians are male.  One wonders how these universes breed, when women are all hidden like cockroaches, not venturing into the light until one of the very manly testosterone-producers waves his magic schlong and they all arrive from whatever hidden chick-village they hole up in.
That’s unrealistic.  So the next time I read a book where it’s all-dudebro, all-the-time, I’m just going to assume that the lead character is, like Breq, actually psychologically incapable of spotting the difference between men and women, and we are hearing the strange story of a man who is so in love with his muscles that he has accidentally misgendered a whole world.  It’s not that women don’t exist here; it’s that he is incapable of recognizing the female nature of someone who’s not sexually attracted to him personally, and these bold adventurers are actually severely psychologically dysfunctional in a way that they, sadly, cannot recognize.
These poor souls!  But now that I’ve just Ancillary Justiced their plight, I can feel their pain.  This isn’t bad writing that presents a completely unrealistic world artificially warped to service the needs of very manly men; it’s just very subtle characterization, where the author is drawing attention to how stunted the world view is of so many heroes.
It’s a service, guys.  Thanks for providing it.

2 Comments

  1. ellixis
    Jan 7, 2015

    I’d like to point out also that in the world of Ancillary Justice, the culture from which Breq hails doesn’t have gendered pronouns – it is all defaulted to one. So she’s operating under not only a personal handicap but a social one when it comes to identifying gender.

  2. Yet Another Laura H
    Jan 8, 2015

    I try to use “he or she” as much as possible, because I am a feminist and do not wish males to feel like they don’t matter in my discourse. I do, however, hold great affection for “she” and “woman” being the default, because they contain the words “he” and “man”— a little verbal Venn diagram.
    I like Mr. Steinmetz’s solution to monogendered worlds, though, and think I shall adopt it.

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