Interactive Map: The History of Gender Diversity

This interactive map from PBS is a good starting point for people who would like to learn the history of gender diversity around the world. Although the information isn’t anything I would cite directly or take without a grain of salt, it’s a testament to the fact that gender categories are nowhere near as universal as many seem to believe they are. It also isn’t complete-there are many more peoples, cultures, and genders to explore beyond the map as well.

Related: Medievalpoc tagged “qpoc”

A really interesting resource to help fuel reflection and discussion about modern and ancient views on gender and its nonbinary nature (although I will highlight the concerns about accuracy and appropriation shared in some of the comments). For me, it’s encouraging to remember that trans and nonbinary gender identities are nothing new, and that a broader gender spectrum has been embraced in many times and places ❤

Too like the gender


Language Log has some excerpts from an interesting-looking book. I haven’t read it yet but now I’m thinking I might want to: 

Is this the future of English pronouns? Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning takes place in a world where he/she is as quaintly obsolete as thee/thou. From the book’s opening:

You will criticize me, reader, for writing in a style six hundred years removed from the events I describe, but you came to me for explanation of those days of transformation which left your world the world it is, and since it was the philosophy of the Eighteenth Century, heavy with optimism and ambition, whose abrupt revival birthed the recent revolution, so it is only in the language of the Enlightenment, rich with opinion and sentiment, that those days can be described. You must forgive me my ‘thee’s and ‘thou’s and ‘he’s and ‘she’s, my lack of modern words and modern objectivity. It will be hard at first, but whether you are my contemporary still awed by the new order, or an historian gazing back at my Twenty-Fifth Century as remotely as I gaze back on the Eighteenth, you will find yourself more fluent in the language of the past than you imagined; we all are.

Related: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, a novel which uses “she” as an unmarked gender pronoun, and Douglas R. Hofstadter’s A Person Paper on Purity in Language, a satirical essay that imagines what it would be like if we made racial distinctions in pronouns rather than gender distinctions. 

Too like the gender

Translating Gender: Ancillary Justice in Five Languages


A really interesting article interviewing five different translators of a book that does interesting things with gender, and how each of them dealt with that: 

In Ann Leckie’s novel Ancillary Justice (Orbit Books: 2013), the imperial Radch rules over much of human-inhabited space. Its culture – and its language – does not identify people on the basis of their gender: it is irrelevant to them. In the novel, written in English, Leckie represents this linguistic reality by using the female pronoun ‘she’ throughout, regardless of any information supplied about a Radchaai (and, often, a non-Radchaai) person’s perceived gender. This pronoun choice has two effects. Firstly, it successfully erases grammatical difference in the novel and makes moot the question of the characters’ genders. But secondly, it exists in a context of continuing discussions around the gendering of science fiction, the place of men and women and people of other genders within the genre, as characters in fiction and as professional/fans, and beyond the pages of the book it is profoundly political. It is a female pronoun.

When translating Ancillary Justice into other languages, the relationship between those two effects is vital to the work.

After reading a comment by the Hungarian translator, Csilla Kleinheincz, posted on Cheryl Morgan’s blog, we wanted to know more about this. We invited the translators of the novel into Bulgarian, German, Hebrew, Hungarian and Japanese to discuss the process, with particular interest in the translation of gender. What emerges is an insight into the work of translators and the rigidity and versatility of grammatical gender in the face of non-standard demands. Where necessary, translators turned to innovative and even inventive ways to write their languages.

(Read the whole thing.)

Previously about gender in Ancillary Justice

This is SUPER COOL! I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately about the challenge of gender-neutral pronouns (and speech more generally) in languages like French or German which are just crammed with grammatical gender, and this addresses the issue in a way I never even considered. I wish my German was up to the task of reading this book in more than one language (actually, I wish I could read Bulgarian, because of all the approaches, that one seems the most exciting to me)!

Translating Gender: Ancillary Justice in Five Languages


Merriam-Webster adds “genderqueer”, “cisgender”, and “Mx” to its dictionary, pushes back against critics.

This is your periodic reminder that dictionaries are records of how people are already speaking a language and that every word was at some point being used before any dictionary added it

(Although apparently MW is also considering adding “ship” in the fandom sense, which would be pretty exciting.)

Fyeah Merriam-Webster!

Stories for all



A school librarian introduces me before I give an assembly. “Girls, you’re in for a real treat. You will love Shannon Hale’s books. Boys, I expect you to behave anyway.”

I’m being interviewed for a newspaper article/blog post/pod cast, etc. They ask, “I’m sure you’ve heard about the crisis in boys’ reading. Boys just aren’t reading as much as girls are. So why don’t you write books for boys?”

Or, “Why do you write strong female characters?” (and never asked “Why do you write strong male characters?”)

At book signings, a mother or grandmother says, “I would buy your books for my kids but I only have boys.”

Or, “My son reads your books too—and he actually likes them!”

Or, a dad says, “No, James, let’s get something else for you. Those are girl books.”

A book festival committee member tells me, “I pitched your name for the keynote but the rest of the committee said ‘what about the boys?’ so we chose a male author instead.”

A mom has me sign some of my books for each of her daughters. Her 10-year-old son lurks in the back. She has extra books that are unsigned so I ask the boy, “Would you like me to sign one to you?” The mom says, “Yeah, Isaac, do you want her to put your name in a girl book?” and the sisters all giggle. Unsurprisingly, Isaac says no.

These sorts of scenarios haven’t happened just once. They have been my norm for the past twelve years. I’ve heard these and many more like them countless times in every state I’ve visited.

In our culture, there are widespread assumptions:

1. Boys aren’t going to like a book that stars a girl. (And so definitely won’t like a book that stars a girl + is written by a woman + is about a PRINCESS, the most girlie of girls).

2. Men’s stories are universal; women’s stories are only for girls.

But the truth is that none of that is truth. In my position, not only have I witnessed hundreds examples of adults teaching boys to be ashamed of and avoid girls’ stories, I’ve also witnessed that boys can and do love stories about girls just as much as about boys, if we let them. For example, I’ve heard this same thing over and over again from teachers who taught Princess Academy: “When I told the class we were going to read PRINCESS ACADEMY the girls went ‘Yay!’ and the boys went ‘Boo!’ But after we’d read it the boys liked it as much or even more than the girls.”

Most four-year-old boys will read THE PRINCESS IN BLACK without a worry in the world. Most fourth grade boys won’t touch PRINCESS ACADEMY—at least if others are watching. There are exceptions, of course. I’ve noticed that boys who are homeschooled are generally immune. My public-school-attending 11-year-old son’s favorite author is Lisa McMann. He’s currently enjoying Kekla Magoon’s female-led SHADOWS OF SHERWOOD as much as he enjoyed the last book he read: Louis Sachar’s boy-heavy HOLES. But generally in the early elementary years, boys learn to be ashamed to show interest in anything to do with girls. We’ve made them ashamed.

I want to be clear; if there’s a boy who only ever wants to read about other boys, I think that’s fine. But I’ve learned that most kids are less interested in the gender of the main character and more interested in the kind of book—action, humor, fantasy, mystery, etc. In adults’ well-meant and honest desire to help boys find books they’ll love, we often only offer them books about boys. We don’t give them a chance.

Whenever I speak up about this, I am accused of trolling for boy readers when they aren’t my “due.” So let me also be clear: I have a wonderful career. I have amazing readers. I am speaking up not because I’m disgruntled or demand that more boys read my books but because my particular career has put me in a position to observe the gender bias that so many of us have inherited from the previous generations and often unknowingly lug around. I’ve been witnessing and cataloging widespread gender bias and sexism for over a decade. How could I face my kids if I didn’t speak up?

And here’s what I’ve witnessed: “great books for boys” lists, books chosen for read alouds, and assigned reading in high schools and colleges, etc. are overwhelmingly about boys and written by men. Peers (and often adults) mock and shame boys who do read books about girls. Even informed adults tend to qualify recommendations that boys hear very clearly. “Even though this stars a girl, boys will like it too!”

This leads to generations of boys denied the opportunity of learning a profound empathy for girls that can come from reading novels. Leads to a culture where boys feel perfectly fine mocking and booing things many girls like and adults don’t even correct them because “boys will be boys.” Leads to boys and girls believing “girlie” is the gravest insult, that girls are less significant, not worth your time. Leads to girls believing they must work/learn/live “like a man” in order to be successful. Leads to boys growing into men who believe women are there to support their story, expect them to satisfy men’s desires and have none of their own.

The more I talk about this topic, the more I’m amazed at how many people haven’t really thought about it or considered the widespread effect gendered reading causes. I was overwhelmed by the response to a blog post I wrote earlier this year. To carry on this conversation, I’m working with Bloomsbury Children’s Books to create #StoriesForAll. Each day this week we’ll feature new essays on this topic from authors, parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and readers. On twitter, instagram, and tumblr, join us with the #StoriesForAll hashtag to share experiences, photos, book recommendations. Discuss: How deep is the assumption that there are boy books and girl books? Does it matter? What have you witnessed with regards to gendered reading? What damage does gendered reading cause to both girls and boys? What can each of us do to undo the damage and start making a change?

I yearn for that change. For our girls and for our boys.


Shannon Hale is the New York Times bestselling author of over 20 books, including the Ever After High trilogy and the Newbery Honor winner Princess Academy. She co-wrote The Princess in Black series and Rapunzel’s Revenge with her husband, author Dean Hale. They have four children.


I can’t reblog this hard enough. This is a major issue and a major project that we need to undertake on a wide scale, not just during one week but every time we buy – or write – books for kids. 

And here’s the thing: it’s not just boys who are affected by gendered reading. When I was growing up, and even until fairly recently, it was a lot harder to sell me on books with female protagonists, because there was the implication that they would be about being a girl. And my life never felt like it was about being a girl; it was just my life, and if it was ‘about’ anything it was about being a person. Me as a kid, as a teenager, even me as an adult for a mortifyingly long time totally bought into the divide with “books for boys” being universal and “books for girls” being specific to, and solely about, the female experience. Which is obviously bullshit, but growing up as I did without ever strongly identifying with either gender made me shun “girl stories” since I couldn’t imagine ‘the female experience’ would have anything to say to me (any more than ‘the male experience’ would, but boy stories didn’t seem to be about that, they were just stories).

All that changed, like I said, embarrassingly recently, and I’m not sure what did it, but giving female protagonists a chance definitely played a part. I realized the obvious: that there are as many different kinds of women, and different stories about women, and different ways to be women, as there are women, and that sometimes authors (of any gender) get it right. And that’s changed me as a reader, as a writer, and as a person. So I strongly believe that we can do a lot by encouraging boys to feel comfortable reading whatever books they want, including books “for girls”. Because stories make us bigger. And the more we learn to see things from diverse perspectives, the more likely we are to treat other people – and ourselves – with decency and respect.  

So I have this theory about Disney/Pixar’s, “Inside Out:”



Actually my friend cassandracroft kinda came up with it together.

So throughout the movie we get quick glimpses into the minds of people other than Riley. There’s the mom, dad, teacher, other students, etc.

But something struck me as odd: all of the adults’ emotions seemed to be one gender. Meanwhile, the younger people had multiple.

We started thinking that maybe it wasn’t a coincidence (because Disney/Pixar is too clever for that).

Our theory is this: The reason the younger people have different-gendered emotions is because they’ve yet to have gender roles imposed on them, whereas the adults would have had a more archaic male/female upbringing and had their personalities assimilate into those standards.

Another idea was that the reason the younger people had diverse emotional genders was that now, the idea of gender had become a much more fluid, non-restrictive concept and thus their psyches would not be confined to a single dominant gender trait.

We could be way off but it was fun to think about.

Too much fun. I love Pixar. This movie is the best.

I totally noticed this as well. Maybe I was not quite as observant because my impression was that only Riley had the diverse emotional genders (like, didn’t that boy at the hockey game at the end have just a bunch of boy-emotions in his head?), and so my initial thought was that maybe this was more about Riley than it was about the adults, but I like all of the suggestions mentioned above too!


How do we deal with gender when we process language? Do we take it into consideration when we hear words and sentences? In this week’s episode, we talk about gender and language processing: the different kinds of gender in language, how gender influences our ability to retrieve words from our mental dictionaries, and how our views on gender temporarily keep us from considering otherwise legitimate interpretations of sentences.

This was a topic we’d wanted to address for a while, and we’re looking forward to hearing what you have to say!

I’m really pumped about this episode, you guys. I was really surprised to learn some of the stuff that’s in here, and I’m actually really curious to see what would happen if we redid these experiments today? There’s still a crapton of gender normativity in the world but I feel like a lot of people are becoming more aware of different ways of doing things. I wonder how tumblr would fare on experiments like the ones mentioned here?

rewatching s1 for like the 100th time–at what point does all the brilliant animal sight gag stuff (eg the croc wearing crocs) get added? is it like, we need to have a croc wearing crocs, where can we fit this in? or do you start out by needing someone to guard the food and say let’s do a crocodile–hey, he should wear crocs? or some kind of total afterthought, or something else entirely? thanks. love the show, my favorite of all time.



Hello! I am going to answer your question, and then I am going to talk a little bit about GENDER IN COMEDY, because this is my tumblr and I can talk about whatever I want!

The vast vast vast majority of the animal jokes on BoJack Horseman (specifically the visual gags) come from our brilliant supervising director Mike Hollingsworth (stufffedanimals on tumblr) and his team. Occasionally, we’ll write a joke like that into the script but I can promise you that your top ten favorite animal gags of the season came from the art and animation side of the show, not the writers room. Usually it happens more the second way you described— to take a couple examples from season 2, “Okay, we need to fill this hospital waiting room, what kind of animals would be in here?” or “Okay, we need some extras for this studio backlot, what would they be wearing?”

I don’t know for sure, but I would guess that the croc wearing crocs came from our head designer lisahanawalt. Lisa is in charge of all the character designs, so most of the clothing you see on the show comes straight from her brain. (One of the many things I love about working with Lisa is that T-Shirts With Dumb Things Written On Them sits squarely in the center of our Venn diagram of interests.)

NOW, it struck me that you referred to the craft services crocodile as a “he” in your question. The character, voiced by kulap Vilaysack, is a woman.


It’s possible that that was just a typo on your part, but I’m going to assume that it wasn’t because it helps me pivot into something I’ve been thinking about a lot over the last year, which is the tendency for comedy writers, and audiences, and writers, and audiences (because it’s a cycle) to view comedy characters as inherently male, unless there is something specifically female about them. (I would guess this is mostly a problem for male comedy writers and audiences, but not exclusively.)

Here’s an example from my own life: In one of the episodes from the first season (I think it’s 109), our storyboard artists drew a gag where a big droopy dog is standing on a street corner next to a businessman and the wind from a passing car blows the dog’s tongue and slobber onto the man’s face. When Lisa designed the characters she made both the dog and the businessperson women.

My first gut reaction to the designs was, “This feels weird.” I said to Lisa, “I feel like these characters should be guys.” She said, “Why?” I thought about it for a little bit, realized I didn’t have a good reason, and went back to her and said, “You’re right, let’s make them ladies.”

I am embarrassed to admit this conversation has happened between Lisa and me multiple times, about multiple characters.

The thinking comes from a place that the cleanest version of a joke has as few pieces as possible. For the dog joke, you have the thing where the tongue slobbers all over the businessperson, but if you also have a thing where both of them ladies, then that’s an additional thing and it muddies up the joke. The audience will think, “Why are those characters female? Is that part of the joke?” The underlying assumption there is that the default mode for any character is male, so to make the characters female is an additional detail on top of that. In case I’m not being a hundred percent clear, this thinking is stupid and wrong and self-perpetuating unless you actively work against it, and I’m proud to say I mostly don’t think this way anymore. Sometimes I still do, because this kind of stuff is baked into us by years of consuming media, but usually I’m able (with some help) to take a step back and not think this way, and one of the things I love about working with Lisa is she challenges these instincts in me.

I feel like I can confidently say that this isn’t just a me problem though— this kind of thing is everywhere. The LEGO Movie was my favorite movie of 2014, but it strikes me that the main character was male, because I feel like in our current culture, he HAD to be. The whole point of Emmett is that he’s the most boring average person in the world. It’s impossible to imagine a female character playing that role, because according to our pop culture, if she’s female she’s already SOMEthing, because she’s not male. The baseline is male. The average person is male.

You can see this all over but it’s weirdly prevalent in children’s entertainment. Why are almost all of the muppets dudes, except for Miss Piggy, who’s a parody of femininity? Why do all of the Despicable Me minions, genderless blobs, have boy names? I love the story (which I read on Wikipedia) that when the director of The Brave Little Toaster cast a woman to play the toaster, one of the guys on the crew was so mad he stormed out of the room. Because he thought the toaster was a man. A TOASTER. The character is a toaster.

I try to think about that when writing new characters— is there anything inherently gendered about what this character is doing? Or is it a toaster?


Wow~ Wonderfully written up.

As a creator I face this all the time too when crafting original concepts because we really want to be clear all the time, and adding more ‘traits’ can really detract from a message. It took me quite a while to really parse this in the context of women characters – that making someone female is adding a trait, and that’s what had bothered me so much about it. It shouldn’t be like that, and as creators we have to struggle with when to actively de-self-propagate this, and when we just need it to read ‘clearly’. It’s sad that this is the way things are right now, and hopefully soon this won’t be such a thing that leads people to hesitate either way when creating in the future. It’s 100% up to us as creators to dictate what happens in media, so ultimately, it’s up to us to de-propagate. I think we all just need to be aware of this as a Thing. Let’s keep this in mind.

I couldn’t agree more. This is definitely a Thing. I’ve fallen prey to it, as much as anyone else, and in spite of myself, it’s a thing I need to remind myself of when I’m writing. I mean, my short story A Hand of Palaver has four characters in it, one of whom is male, but my reason for doing that wasn’t just that there should be more female characters; it was because, well, why should a bunch of adventurers swapping stories around a campfire default as dudes? The point is that so many of our cultural norms of what a character is or should be are gendered, when really, there’s no reason for this except precedent and self-propagation. 

There is no way in which the story would have been weakened – or even changed that much, honestly – if the Potter books had been about The Girl Who Lived, instead. Gandalf could have been a lady. So could Peter Pan, or R2-D2. Like, why are robots usually default male unless they’re sexy robots? Because male is more basic, simpler. Making a robot female, even just using female pronouns, well, that’s trying to make some kind of statement, or complicating things more than necessary.

Except it isn’t. There is no way that male is inherently more default than female (heck, if you really want to pull science into this, don’t all embryos start out following a female blueprint before differentiating into sexes?). This is the thing that we need to actually work on, because the cultural default of a person being a straight cis white male is… creepy. It’s creepy, guys! There are way too many things that tend to be considered “other”, both in fiction and reality. Look around you. Talk to people. There isn’t really an “other”. And hey, guess what? Straight cis white males are every bit as complex and interesting as everyone else. The defaulting of that person type as being basic does no one a favour. So let’s try to remember that, especially when we write, and see what we can do to make things make more sense.