The Genders of other races/species

DAgent

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I was doing some editing yesterday when I realised I had referred to an Elf and A Dwarf as being men in my prose. Now, technically, they are both males, but it got me thinking, how are you supposed to refer to beings from other races or species in terms of gender? Not in terms of He, She and They, but as their version of Male or Female or Man or Woman.

To clarify a bit more, if I am taking about races in general, I tend to refer to Humans as just that, rather than as being the Race of Man. But obviously if I am referring to the actions of a specific Human, I'll refer to them occasionally as either as He or She or Man or Woman doing whatever they might be doing. But is it right to refer to Elves and Dwarves and Klingons and Vulcans and so on, as Men and Women?

Just wondering where everyone might be standing on this.
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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The specific examples you list are all imaginary humanoid species, and are generally depicted as being either male or female. (Of course, even with people sex and gender are complicated; but I don't think that's what you're asking about.) Why not use the familiar terms, unless there is a good reason not to? Male Elf, Female Dwarf, and so forth. You probably want to avoid "woman" and "man" to avoid getting mixed up with humans, certainly, but this should be easy enough to do. Nothing wrong with "she" and "he" or "adult" or "child" (if that needs to be depicted) just like people.
 

Montero

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I am rather fond of T Kingfisher's fantasy, and in that she has a species called Gnoles. A bit like a waist high intelligent badger. They use pronouns according to role or caste, not gender, so everyone in a given profession is politely referred to as "she" whether they are male or female. Just a little something to blow your mind....
But with elves and dwarfs I'd go with what @Victoria Silverwolf said.
 

sknox

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Yes, another vote for having a look at The Left Hand of Darkness. Other SF works also take on gender roles, but I do think fantasy races are a thing unto themselves, with their own conventions.

Altearth has several intelligent species. There's male and female in each. The people of Altearth refer to all other intelligent beings as "people"--it distinguishes all from monsters and creatures (more or less interchangeable terms). Man and woman thus serve just fine for orcs, ogres, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and even humans. I do not call humans Men in the Tolkien style. It just didn't seem to fit properly. FWIW, I also don't call them races. I call them nations, following the original Latin meaning of a culturally cohesive group. The closest modern equivalent is American Indians, who were sometimes called the Sioux Nation or the Iroquois Nation. I don't use the phrasing often, because modern readers have been taught to confuse "nation" with "nation-state." But I wander.

In the end, I'd say just write it (my universal advice) and see how it feels. I treat all such considerations--be they names, invented words, or what-have-you--as auditions. It gets a tryout and I either say yes or no or I'll call you later.
 

paranoid marvin

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I think this is another of those situations where the most important thing is to make your work accessible and understandable to the reader, rather than 'authentic'.

In my opinion the narrator/author's job is to relate a tale to their audience in a way that they will understand, but which will not destroy the bubble of believability. So elves, dwarves, people from foreign lands and aliens all speak in the same language, and tend to look and act similar to humans. Obviously with some differences, so we know they are elves/dwarves/aliens, but in a way that is relatable.

My advice would be to focus on the story and characters rather than on the minutiae, because no-one really questions if Ford Prefect is a 'he', or why he looks human and speaks English when he's actually from Betelgeuse Five.
 

Dave

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why he looks human
You mean, other than the extra head? :unsure: (Not sure that's the best example to use.)

I'd also suggest The Left Hand of Darkness it's held up as a seminal work on this.

BTW to further illustrate PM's point, In Star Trek it apparently takes four Andorians to create offspring, but no one has ever explained how that works either. I don't see a large number of threads asking how and why here.

I'd also look to Earth species too - there are fish and trees that swap genders based upon environmental factors, and you have insects with Drones, Queens and Workers.
 

paranoid marvin

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You mean, other than the extra head? :unsure: (Not sure that's the best example to use.)

I'd also suggest The Left Hand of Darkness it's held up as a seminal work on this.

BTW to further illustrate PM's point, In Star Trek it apparently takes four Andorians to create offspring, but no one has ever explained how that works either. I don't see a large number of threads asking how and why here.


Think you mean his relation Zaphod?;) Who is a bit of an interesting chap, because the number of arms and heads he has varies from time to time, as does how he got/lost them. But zen, Zaphod's just zis guy, you know?
 

therapist

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A lot of our animal species have separate names for male/female. And a lot of these are repeated.
For example cow/bull can be used for camels, crocodiles, termites, elephants, giraffes, walruses, and whales.
Doe/buck can be used for deer, mice, and rabbits.
Hen/cock is used for chickens and lobsters.
Not sure how this answers the question, but I found it interesting.
 

paranoid marvin

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A lot of our animal species have separate names for male/female. And a lot of these are repeated.
For example cow/bull can be used for camels, crocodiles, termites, elephants, giraffes, walruses, and whales.
Doe/buck can be used for deer, mice, and rabbits.
Hen/cock is used for chickens and lobsters.
Not sure how this answers the question, but I found it interesting.


The female xenomorph in Aliens is apparently a 'bitch'.
 

Phyrebrat

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My tuppence/ten cents.

Tread carefully. Dealing with gender nowadays will draw comparisons to humans irrespective of how in-world your characters are.

If it’s something you’re particularly worried about, speak to non-binary, transgender or otherwise ‘othered’ genders; there’s nothing quite as privileged and offensive as CIS-gendered/heterosexual/non-othered people telling them how to feel or whether it’s offensive or not.

Having said that, I’m aware I may come across as fear-mongering which isn’t my intention: just research and be sensitive. And best of luck.
 

Dave

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Think you mean his relation Zaphod?
Of course! I must have been having a turn this morning. Sorry.
A lot of our animal species have separate names for male/female. And a lot of these are repeated.
For example cow/bull
This is not really relevant to the question at all, but I found out yesterday in a Christmas quiz that while a female deer can be a Doe, a Cow or a Hind, a female reindeer is only ever a Cow.
 

AllanR

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I find the sentence The neanderthal man walked into the cave. to be perfectly fine, even though a neanderthal is a different species. Neanderthal is very close to human so I think in speech or exposition it works. I don't remember how this was dealt with in Clan of the Cave Beer.
Now if in LOTR Gandalf had said 'Will a man step forward,' and after Bilbo steps forward, Gandalf could say something like the 'The only man here is a Hobbit,' and I would have no problem, however, if in exposition Bilbo is refereed to as a man, I don't think that would work. A hobbit is further removed from human than a neanderthal.
A chimpanzee seems too far removed, even from a the world like that of the Planet of the Apes, so I don't think it would work in dialogue or exposition.
 

cyprus7

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I found Barry Goodyear's 1979 'First Contact' novella (I haven't seen the Hollywood version), Enemy Mine, a fascinating read.
Lots to think about regarding (alien/human) gender, identity, and acceptance of differences.

 

Swank

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Why not just follow the pattern of men and women by calling them elves and telves? Elf and ailf?
 

Pyan

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Then there's the Ents, who apparently don't have a word for unmarried female members of their species, only Ents and Entwives...
 

paranoid marvin

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Then there's the Ents, who apparently don't have a word for unmarried female members of their species, only Ents and Entwives...

I thought this curious when I first read of them in LOTR. I got the impression that Entwives were an entirely different species to Ents, rather than just female equivalent.
 

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