Online Gender Workshop 2*

You’ll note that we now have a separate thread for each exercise set. I won’t go back (if it’s even possible) to pull out exercises 5-8 and your responses from the first thread, but starting now we’ll be able to have people continue one discussion (on say, the video exercises, where it looks like Sundays wasn’t a great day for a lot of people) while the next begins.

Today’s exercise may be technically difficult for some of you, so I expect fewer people to complete it, but I hope everyone that joined us last week engages in the discussion. On the plus side, it requires a bit less time commitment than the video exercises, which may allow some people to catch up.

Exercise 9: Think of a gender neutral object. No. Not that one. Because gender, right? Exactly. That other one. Now you’ve got it. Ready? Sketch it. Sketch it without any context whatsoever to keep ideas about gender in relation to the object free from distractions caused by gender in relation to the context in which the object is drawn.

When finished drawing, upload that sketch somewhere (I recognize this won’t be possible for everyone).

Exercise 10: 3rd Report. Narrate a bit about choosing an object (whether or not you were able to post your sketch). Was it easy? Hard? Did the first thing that came to mind remain your choice? Now talk about the actual process of drawing. Did you stop, erase, and/or redraw at any point because of concerns that the sketch might not communicate gender neutrality?

In this report, provide a link to your sketch if you were able to upload an image.

Exercise 11: Discussion. Look at a number of the uploaded images. If there are any choices (or implementations of choice, through the image in the sketch) with which you disagree, say so. Provide an argument for gendering the object someone else considered gender neutral. If there are none with which you disagree, find someone’s comment that does disagree with one or more choices. Read that person’s argument and respond. Are you persuaded? Why or why not? You are welcome to defend your own choice in discussion, but if you do, you must do it using new arguments than the ones you made in exercise 10 when you initially discussed your choice and process.


Previous workshop thread. Next Workshop Thread.

*must. not. type. “:Electric Boogaloo.”

Damn you, Ed Brayton!


  1. wirebash says

    Well that was harder than I expected. I’ll try to write up my thought process.
    “Think of a gender neutral object. No. Not that one.”
    Dammit, I thought of a dildo. Because both sexes can use that, right?!
    Next object. A cube. No, that’s to masculine, because sharp corners are ‘masculine shapes’
    Same goes for a sphere. That’s feminine, because… you know why. Except in germany the word ‘Der Ball’ is masculine, because every male got a pair… The next thing I thought of was a line. I discarded that because it’s not a shape.
    So I choose a microphone. Why? The idea crossed my mind because I’m listening to a concert of SOAD. Men and women both use the same object to enhance their voice.

    Some reflection: a microphone is a utility for a function that both genders can perform equally. Other objects that fit this description are likely gender neutral too.
    Keyboard. Remote control. Phone charger. Backpack.
    No, not backpack. I’ve seen backpacks specifically targeted to females. They’d look weird if a male carried them. On the other hand I can’t conceive of a backpack that is male-only. Backpacks are either sex-neutral or female. Or is it gender-neutral? Physique-neutral?
    Some, but not all, backpacks are gender-neutral.
    I can think of products that have a feminine and a gender-neutral version and products that have a feminine and a masculine version. Does someone know of a product that has a gender-neutral and a masculine version?

  2. David Marjanović says

    Except in germany the word ‘Der Ball’ is masculine, because every male got a pair…

    Well, no; we don’t call them “balls”, we call them “eggs” like in Spanish… and das Ei is neuter.

    “Beard” is feminine in French, and [ehem] colloquial French even has a feminine word for “penis”… was explained to me as “because that’s your girlfriend in times of loneliness”. :-)

  3. gmcard says

    9. Done, but can’t upload.

    10. I chose “stapler”. Choosing an object was easy. As a native English speaker, I didn’t have to worry about the weird gendered nouns of some languages, I just had to pick any object that doesn’t have a sex. And since I’m sitting in my home office, “stapler” was the first thing that came to mind and there was no reason to change it. I sketched a basic Swingline. There was no need while drawing to make any edits to communicate gender neutrality, since I didn’t sketch an anthropomorphic stapler.

  4. opposablethumbs says

    Thinking of an object ….
    a plate? hmm, no, men and women are “supposed” to have (and often do have) different relationships to eating.
    a book? ditto for reading
    a desk? not sure; desk connotes studiousness and/or authority – ditto the above re different assumptions.

    I finally settled on a cloud. Partly because I am shit at drawing but also because people don’t interact with them directly at all, and everybody gets rained on.

    This reminded me of a conversation a little while back in the Lounge (already referred to by Tony!), talking about whether there are any activities that are not gendered; Tony! proposed going for a shit, and we all agreed that this can in fact also be gendered in terms of what is expected/permitted/associated with this for men and for women.

    We have gender associations of one kind or another with a vast range of things, which are in the vast majority of cases entirely divorced from practical necessity of any kind. We don’t need to gender clothing or makeup, let alone food, books or desks. But in actuality we gender things unless it’s practically impossible to do so – and even then we tend to gender things …

  5. Caroline says

    First I chose a block of wood because Zen and then my next choice was a toothbrush because I need to brush my teeth and go to work.

  6. rpjohnston says

    Well, I thought of an apple at first, since that’s pretty much the first thing that came to mind. Though I suppose it would probably be argued that that’s “feminine”, since that’s a fruit. Which really makes no sense to me. Like, why are ships and things referred to with a feminine pronoun? It’s…an object. In the case of a ship, assigning gender in English is absurd; in the case of an apple, superficial and tangential at best to the human concepts of “gender” and “sex” [I know vaguely why ships are “feminine”; I took Latin in highschool, all nouns are masculine, feminine, or neuter, and the feminine designation for ships is a traditional holdover from classical languages that makes no sense in modern English). But the point is, pretty much anything that isn’t a human is gender-neutral to me, regardless of its sex.

    If I can’t still use apple, then…keyboard.

    I haven’t drawn either, I’m exhausted from work and do not want to expend more effort.

  7. anne mariehovgaard says

    Not very creative I guess, just looked around and sketched something I could see. First choice was the cat in my lap/on my keyboard, but he’s male. Next: ottoman type thing, but it’s homemade and that’s typically considered a suitable activity for women, not men. My tea cup? Had to think about that one a bit. “Kopp” is masculine in Norwegian, but my dialect has “common gender” for masculine/feminine, so that’s OK. Drinking tea is considered typical of women in this country, but 1. in my family everyone drinks/drank tea, and 2.the tea I drink is more British style “builder’s tea”. But a cup can be a symbol for a vagina… TV remote? No, “a thing is a phallic symbol if it’s longer than it’s wide” ;) So I chose my laptop… at least it was easy to draw.

  8. EveryZig says

    The first thing that came to mind was a sphere, and after some thought I think I will stick with it. I think there are various gendered connections to a sphere, but since a geometrical shape is rather general they can more or less balance out.

    I think people’s tendency to gender objects probably comes from a mixture of hyperactive pattern recognition and slight anthropomorphization of objects, though it is weird how it tends to be specifically gender for so many things rather than some other characteristic.

  9. besomyka says

    Exercise 9 Link

    So, I chose a mug. The coffee mug on my desk in particular. I’m no artists, but I think it was okay for a sketch.

    The first things to mind when asked to think of a ‘gender neutral’ thing, were various daily items that I use. I found myself looking to see if there was something gendered there, and it turns out I could probably rationalize any object to either gender. The mug could be feminine because it’s warm, rounded, and comforting to me. It could be masculine as one of the images ‘coffee cup’ brings to mind is a sort of 50’s father drinking coffee behind a newspaper.

    I decided I might be trying to hard, and intuitively I don’t have gender association with my mug.

    Umm… I didn’t really think about gender when sketching. For me, once I start looking and trying to draw out something, I’m pretty focused on the angles and lines in very narrow bits (the way the handle met the body, for instance). I used pen and didn’t erase anything.

  10. Brad says

    I came up with pencil almost immediately. While there are gendered pencils, mostly aimed at kids, the default yellow pencil with pink eraser and whatever color metal band (I have green in my head) is equally acceptable for use by anyone.

    I just noticed, erasers are one of the few pink things “acceptable” for boys’ use. In fact, I can’t really think of much else. Gum?

  11. says

    Ex. 9: I chose a light bulb.

    Ex. 10: I’ve already participated in an [unofficial] exercise similar to this, so I’ve had a bit of practice thinking about how objects (and activities are gendered). That doesn’t mean I’ve definitely come up with a gender neutral object, but I was able to rule out other possibilities and I’m confident in my choice. A light bulb was actually my second choice (not sure why I didn’t go with my first-a fan-nor why my second worked better for me).


    As an aside, I much prefer this format for the workshop. I understand why videos were chosen for the second workshop, but I have difficulty parsing meaning from lyrics while paying attention to the video itself*. It’s a challenge that I don’t feel suited to.

    *Heck, even without a video I have difficulty parsing meaning. I can listen to a song and “know” the lyrics…even sing them. But to comprehend the meaning, I have to sit down and either look at the lyrics, or make a conscious effort to listen to each word (which then prevents me from enjoying the song). I’ve found that when I make a conscious effort, a few of the songs I’ve enjoyed in the past have an annoying religious message behind them. Oddly that hasn’t detracted from *some* of the songs I enjoy.

  12. astro says

    La segunda pregunta es: Que es mas macho, lightbulb o schoolbus?
    Uh, lightbulb?
    No! Lo siento,
    Schoolbus es mas macho que lightbulb.

  13. Dhorvath, OM says

    Bike. I mean, seriously, anyone who knows me knows that when asked to ‘think of an object’, that’s the first thing that enters my mind. I am at work, where I fix bikes, am surrounded by them, and generally think about them quite a bit. Tools have never seemed gendered to me either, maybe a hex key could do as well.

  14. says


    Tools have never seemed gendered to me either, maybe a hex key could do as well.

    Oh tools are definitely gendered. It is still expected in many social circles that men do maintenance work. There are many that feel (consciously or not) that women are expected to stay clean and dainty; that working with tools is tough, sweaty, labor intensive work best suited to a man. I think of the times I’ve heard a man say words to the effect of “here little lady, don’t get your hands dirty changing that tire, let me {a man} do that”.

    (the above does not in any way reflect my opinion; I am disgusted at the notion that any activity, occupation, object, etc are gendered)

  15. says

    Exercise 9:Park bench. I can’t conveniently upload a sketch, and am short on time for one, but here’s a much better sketch than I could make that I found online.

    Exercise 10:I waffled around a bit between various public amenities until I decided on one I could potentially sketch.

    Exercise 11: I’ll quibble with Dhorvath; many bikes are explicitly gendered, although as wirebash noted in the first comment there’s unisex and women’s/girls bikes really, although I still sometimes see them in big stores as girls and boys for kids’ bikes.

  16. Dhorvath, OM says

    I am a mechanic and have been for a significant portion of two decades, I have worked with one woman mechanic in that time. This is not something I seek, but it’s surely something that I cannot help but notice and acknowledge as being the current status quo. However, I would point out that is talking about using tools, not the tools themselves. I know a large, although not comprehensive, set of people for whom cars are considered women while driving is considered a man’s pursuit.

  17. says


    I know a large, although not comprehensive, set of people for whom cars are considered women while driving is considered a man’s pursuit.

    I was thinking about this the other day. I find it problematic that men often gender their cars (as women). For many men, a car is a status symbol; a possession that reflects their actual or perceived social status. That cars are considered feminine, that men covet and want to own them, that men want to take them for joy rides…maybe I’m reading too much subtext into this, but there’s something disturbingly sexist there.

  18. sammywol says

    Argh. Yes. Technically challenged alright. Cannot upload a sketch from here.

    Object Choice –
    My mind went to my kitchen as it’s a fast day and I’m hungry. Cucumber! Er … nope. Bell pepper? Well technically a fruiting body so possibly too feminine. Pepper grinder? Phallic symbol again. Bread knife? What is this? Some bizarre stream of consciousness of phallic symbols? Breadboard?
    I settled upon my breadboard. It’s old, has slightly rounded corners, is almost but not quite square and is a bit cracked where one of its baker’s ends is starting to spring loose. I can’t upload a sketch but have tracked down a similar one in an image on ebay – hope the address is not too long for browsers – and am reeling slightly at the price someone might be willing to pay for my old breadboard.

    I suppose it could be gendered because it is mine and because of kitchen, makemeasammich type associations but it was originally a professional baker’s doughboard (grandfather in law) and so more commercial, masculine in association in its early life. However it is basically a flat lump of wood. That’s as ungendered as I can get tonight.

  19. sammywol says

    Looking at some of our thought processes here reminds me of a tutorial at college on Spenser’s Faerie Queene. We were working our way through Book 2 and 3, not fun territory for a feminist, and got to a bit where the two sexes are symbolised by a circle and a triangle. As teenage idiots we were all a bit ‘hur hur’ over the obviousness of the imagery only to be gobsmacked by our tutor’s explanation. Circle = male because perfect and unbroken, image of God etc.. Triangle = female because it is the least regular and most disordered of the Euclidean shapes. Moral learned: ‘obviousness’ is mutable but perennial.

  20. says

    Exercise 9/10:

    I have no idea what to do with this exercise.

    My first thought was a heavy work-out bag (y’know, punching and kicking and whatnot). But of course punching and kicking is heavily, heavily gendered to be masculine … to a lot of people.

    I’m not sure how else to put this; I don’t think that’s right, though. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever keeping someone of any gender from working out with a heavy bag. A heavy work-out bag is factually completely gender-neutral.

    … but that’s why I’m doing this, to kinda try and learn why some people would think that a punching bag is a gendered object.

  21. says

    My immediate first thought for the most neutral object there is was or ever shall be was the international prototype kilogram.

    There now exists a crude MSPaint drawing of the IPK:

    After drawing it, I realized that it’s a cylinder nestled inside two domes. So, yeah. Paging Dr Freud…

    In my defence, I had no idea what it looked like before starting this exercise. Had to look up some pictures.

  22. sammywol says

    Re Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop! at 20
    Fair point.
    I rather think that is the heart (or one of the points) of the exercise. To realise how deeply pervasive gender associations are in all aspects of our lives. A friend of mine once had a rant about how any plural noun could, with the right framing sentence, become a synonym for breasts and any singular noun could stand for either penis, vagina or both.
    Sorry to be a bit spammy but my PC time is very limited and I probably won’t get to post again until tomorrow evening.

  23. Antiochus Epiphanes says

    I’m not trying to be difficult, but can an object be said to have a gender?

  24. khms says

    Exercise 9: Think of a gender neutral object. No. Not that one. Because gender, right? Exactly. That other one. Now you’ve got it.

    Huh? I think you lost me.

    Ready? Sketch it.

    I’ll skip this step; drawing stuff is not my forte. If I ever get an idea what kind of object you are asking about.

    Sketch it without any context whatsoever to keep ideas about gender in relation to the object free from distractions caused by gender in relation to the context in which the object is drawn.

    *Scratches head* Why would there be any gender context? Sounds as if I’m not getting something important. *Re-reads* No, still not getting it.

    Exercise 10: 3rd Report. Narrate a bit about choosing an object (whether or not you were able to post your sketch). Was it easy? Hard? Did the first thing that came to mind remain your choice? Now talk about the actual process of drawing. Did you stop, erase, and/or redraw at any point because of concerns that the sketch might not communicate gender neutrality?

    Huh. Still sounds as if I’m not getting something. In any case, let’s do a fork. (The one used for eating.) Let’s assume I manage to create something recognizable (which is not a given).

    I have no idea why I’d need to do anything to remove gender from this one. Still seems like I might not have understood what you wanted.

  25. khms says

    After reading the comments, my reaction is that people are definitely overthinking this. I’m sure you can assign some gender to pretty much any object if you want (like some languages do because their grammar demands it), often any gender you want (German: moon=male, sun=female. French/English: moon=female, sun=male. QED.) – but that doesn’t actually assign any non-grammatical gender to the object. I certainly don’t usually think of the sun or the moon having any (non-grammatical) gender. (And German for girl – “Mädchen” – is neuter, but I certainly don’t think of a girl as something neuter!)

    This probably mattered a lot more to the people around when languages first assigned gender to objects – but I am not one of those people.

    Some objects are strongly associated with gender culturally (a skirt usually means female, except be careful in Scotland – and yes, I’m aware that they don’t call it a skirt). Most, however, aren’t. Unless you really want them to be, that is.

  26. says


    Not too long ago, I was confused about objects and activities being gendered. The following link will take you to a discussion in the Lounge about activities being gendered, and a discussion of why. You may find it illuminating. You’ll want to continue on through the next page. There’s a good number of comments, but most are relatively short. I can’t see it taking too long to read through them. It was a nice activity that many of the Lounge regulars took part in.

  27. Fred Bloggs says

    Dear fucking christ. When I went to university in 1976 I was confronted by many serious types operating various societies who wanted to tell me and everyone else that we had everything wrong. I left university with a medical degree and have worked all hours in a remote community since then. I see that nothing has changed in undergraduate circles, which will win you no friends and explains why my first visit to Pharyngula in over a year (I gave up in disgust) will be my last for at least another. Don’t you idiots see that life is much simpler than you propose? Treat every human being equally, and treat them as you would like to be treated. That’s all. No contortions about gender/cis/trans/intersectionality/rape/fairness/victimhood/feminism/patriarchy. Just be nice to people—end of subject. Now get on with whatever else your life consists of doing. Oh? You don’t have anything else? I see, that explains a lot. No doubt you can make up for that by banning me and congratulating yourselves endlessly. Meanwhile I will get on with some real work and my real life. I have no sympathy whatsoever for preening self-declared victims of anything and everything such as the commentariat here. I’ll look in again in a year if FTB still exists.

    You’re not banned – for now. This comment certainly isn’t enough to make that happen. But this thread has a purpose, and you aren’t engaging it. So get thee to a nunnery (or a Thundery) or I might refer your comments to PZ to see what he wants to do about them. –Crip Dyke

  28. says

    Since you say so, Fred Bloggs is not banned, yet. But I did say I would not tolerate any nonsense like that in these threads — so the next idiot who whines about how understanding is irrelevant is going to get the hammer.

  29. cm's changeable moniker (quaint, if not charming) says

    Think of a gender neutral object.

    I’m being totally honest here, and just looking around. A pencil.

    No. Not that one. Because gender, right? Exactly. That other one.

    OK, since I’m in front of the laptop, a TalkTalk wireless ADSL router.

    I could upload a picture or I could just point you at a review.

    I’ve also got an LCD TV, its remote, an Ethernet-over-power plug stack, a window, an e-cig, a small pad of notepaper, a Kindle Fire, and a pair of Sennheiser headphones.

    I’m not quite sure where this is going, but hey, I’ll go with it. :-)

  30. says



    I don’t know if this download is working, but it’s a towel.

    I was trying to find an everyday object in my surroundings that wasn’t gendered, and discarded several as being used typically or more by women (e.g., handled hairbrush), and then discarded some more for *seeming* gendered (a goblet that seemed curvy and feminine). So I ended up with a towel.

  31. says

    1. Microphone. Seems phallic enough to be masculine to me.
    10 and 17. Pencils, too.
    13. There are men’s and women’s bikes–or at least, there used to be.
    22. The punching bag. Well, aggression and fighting are gendered male. And I still sometimes get funny looks when I ask for a heavy bag at the gym. And they usually put them with the free weights, which are also gendered male.

  32. Brad says

    Is a contextually genderable object neither* or both?

    A refrigerator in a kitchen and a refrigerator in a garage are associated with different gender norms, but refrigerators for sale in stores, or minis in dorm rooms don’t, unless you want to go down the more women graduate college rabbit hole I’ve been hearing about.

    I’m also not sure of the difference between neither and both in the context of inanimate objects, though my understanding of those gender identities in people doesn’t get much beyond “some people identify as _____ and, since gender is a social construct, doing so is legitimate.” I’m leaning toward things for which we say unisex** (bathroom, t-shirt, etc) are both, and things which we don’t gender at all are neither, but it also seems like there’s probably more to it than that and, again, I’m not really seeing the functional difference. You could say “unisex pencil” and it sounds a little weird but is probably cromulent.

    *ok, none/all, but things (as opposed to people) that are gendered, at least in the cultures with which I am most familiar, are gendered on the binary (though a genderqueer anything would be fun for freaking out the norms, and non-binary gendered inanimate objects could help normalize non-binary gender identities)
    **or rather, when it doesn’t mean male as default. like t-shirts.

  33. Brad says

    Certainly some cylinders are phallic, but is the burden really that low? Is the straw in a bottle of soap masculine? What if it’s scented lotion? The tubes on a vacuum cleaner? Candles? Fingers are vaguely cylindrical and are even get inserted in various holes for pleasure, does the average person have 20 phalli on their hands?

    The yellow pencil is hexagonal anyway, if anyone reading this has a penis with six distinct faces, please see a doctor if you haven’t already.

    Again, to be clear, (for people who didn’t read my post 10) we’re not talking about pencils gendered by something printed on them*, just the hexagonal solids.

    *decorations changing the gender of whatever they’re on is probably distinct enough to be separate conversation.

  34. elltee says

    Exercise 10:

    I drew a tv remote control. It was my first choice, and it was not a difficult choice to make because it was the first object I saw when I looked around, it is truly a gender-neutral object to me, and it’s pretty easy to draw. I sketched it pretty quickly and didn’t need to stop, erase or redraw at all. I had no concerns that it could be seen as anything but gender-neutral.

  35. John Pieret says

    At a guess, this exercise is supposed to show that we tend to infuse everything with gender … and that might be close to true. Mother Earth, Father Time, cats are feminine (even when biologically male), dogs are masculine (even when biologically female), etc., etc.

    I’m no artist but imagine I drew an amoeba.

  36. anne mariehovgaard says

    @37/38 Brad:
    Imagine someone holding their hand up in front of your face, middle finger pointing up and the others bent. What do you think that middle finger is supposed to represent?

  37. says


    22. The punching bag. Well, aggression and fighting are gendered male. And I still sometimes get funny looks when I ask for a heavy bag at the gym.

    Oh yeah, exactly my point! Obviously I agree that society overwhelmingly puts punching stuff firmly in the “man” category, but that doesn’t mean that I agree with society.

    I infer from your comment that you, at least, don’t identify as a man (I’m sorry if this assumption is incorrect, but context seems to make it a safe bet), thus the weird looks you get if you work out with a heavy bag or free weights. Are these funny looks reasonable? Are these fellow gym-rats, and by extension, society, correct that it’s bizarre for a non-man to practice punching things?

    Aggression and fighting are gendered male … by our patriarchal culture, but I’m pretty squarely of the mind that our culture is just plain wrong about that.

  38. says

    I missed the last set (5-8). Can I answer anyway?

    Might as well try.

    Exercise 9:
    Can’t draw, sorry. I’ll just have to talk about it then. I picked a dress. I switched it out for a bus after reading the comments.

    Exercise 10:
    Well at first it was easy because all objects are genderless by definition. I’m not sure why I picked a dress specifically, but I suspect it may have had something to do with not-so-subtly protesting the genderisation of things. Then I read the comments and by other people’s answers, it seems “gender neutral” meant “no aspect of the object, or any activity involving that object, is associated with a gender, no matter how arbitrary or tenuous that association is.” That made it considerably harder, as almost every object I could think of had at least some nebulous association with genders— hat? No, men and women are culturally expected to wear different hats. Computer? No, women are sometimes stereotyped as having no technical skills. Car? No, banging on about cars is stereotyped as something men do. I ultimately picked “bus” because everybody needs to go places, and I figured that the idea of the housewife who never goes anywhere was dated enough that it didn’t count and/or that even they would have to go places, and unlike cars or trucks, the maintenance and operation of buses (though arbitrarily considered a “manly” thing by and large) is not nearly as associated with the word as with “bus.”

    Exercise 11:
    I could probably make some threadbare argument as to why literally any object is associated with a gender, but I won’t because I can’t bring myself to make an argument that I know is ridiculous. Objects don’t have genders and I’m not going to claim that they do.

    And since I missed Exercises 5-8, here’s the summary version of those (hopefully it’s appropriate to mention them here)

    I would describe all three videos as “someone producing a series of rhythmic sounds, including words that are set along with the rhythm, with pairs or groups of words that sound almost the same but differ at the very beginning appearing at specific points.” Being a Martian so unfamiliar with human thought processes and behaviour that they don’t know what a “gender” is, I’d be more concerned with explaining exactly what singing is and why people do it— the gender of the singers is irrelevant to them and is hardly important for me.

    If I was pressed to name the singers’ gender specifically, I’d say:

    Video 1: Indeterminate. Voice and facial hair provide conflicting cues.
    Video 2: Female. Voice provides gender cue; nothing contradicts it.
    Video 3: Male. Voice provides gender cue; nothing contradicts it.
    Video 4: Female. Video description states that she is a specific person I know from other sources to be female; using only the video itself and not external sources, I’d say “indeterminate,” as children lack reliable gender cues.

    Incidentally, I was fighting the urge to refer to the hypothetical Martian as “he,” partially due to inescapable cultural prejudice to assume “he” is the default and partially because I wrote a story in which “he” evolved into a gender-neutral pronoun, leading writers to misuse “she” in the same way today’s writers misuse “thou.”

  39. says


    Incidentally, I was fighting the urge to refer to the hypothetical Martian as “he,” partially due to inescapable cultural prejudice to assume “he” is the default and partially because I wrote a story in which “he” evolved into a gender-neutral pronoun, leading writers to misuse “she” in the same way today’s writers misuse “thou.”

    I’ve been using xe as a gender neutral pronoun for years (I also find that ‘they’ works as well). Until I actually listened to women, I never knew that male is the default in society, so I never paid attention to articles and stories with male pronouns. Now I do it unconsciously. I notice those things I can’t stop myself. One of the ways I combat that is to use gender neutral pronouns, or even to use ‘she’ where ‘he’ has traditionally been used. When discussing women and men, as I’m doing in this sentence, I often flip the two so that ‘men’ doesn’t come first (it’s a little thing, I know, but I’m trying to train myself NOT to view men as the default in as many ways as possible; this exercise helps me).

  40. says


    “Xe” belongs to a list of words that sort of viscerally bug me for reasons I can’t always explain (along with “cisgender” and “atheist” among other things) so I don’t like to say it— and I wouldn’t like having to explain it.

    “They” is my term of choice (and the one I actually used) but although “they” as a singular is grammatically correct, it feels awkward in certain contexts.

    When referring to hypothetical people (where “he” is normally the default) I sort of randomly flip between he, she, and they. However, I always say “men and women” without reversal because it sounds more melodic; in common speech, it sort of gets compressed to “mennan wimmin” while the reverse would be “wimmin anmen” which sort of sounds awkward, since the “an” syllable has to be emphasised.

  41. Brad says

    That was quite the miss on my part. So that’s 1 out of 5 for the average person. Can we get the rest of them? The penetrative sex gesture is usually done with fist and indexfinger, so that’s two. Pinky and ring seem harder.

  42. whynot says

    I drew an asteroid. I have no gendered associations to spheres (as far as I know) so I started with a sphere. I was amused by the thought that asteroids have lumpy surfaces, but not lumpy in the way a female or male body is lumpy.

    What was interesting about the process of sketching was that the history of an object like an asteroid is written on its surface. Each added line was a record of an event in its past.

    I imagined that my asteroid had undergone a collision with something like a comet. The stress of the impact fractured the asteroid down the middle, and although its own gravity pulled it back together it reformed unevenly. Picture a globe cut in half along the equator, then glued back together with the bottom half shifted a few inches off center. The imagined result was something like a lumpy potato with a large crater at the equatorial fault line. I imagined also that smaller fragments of the comet had pock-marked the asteroid’s surface, cratered it, torn chunks off it and scored its sides with long parallel marks.

    It ended up as an image I would interpret as being about healing after trauma, and I was a bit disturbed by that result since that’s not what I’d consciously intended when I began. However, there is something I like about the idea of the broken pieces naturally finding each other and pulling each other back together.

    At one point I hesitated, wondering if the comet impact might be interpreted as some sort of Freudian metaphor. That is, I wondered if someone might imagine the asteroid to be female and the comet male (I suppose that association came out of my own imagination, though it is one I rejected).

    The shallow craters I drew aren’t particularly choric and the long scratches aren’t particularly phallic. Bisection just isn’t something that happens to human bodies, male or female, though it might be a good metaphor for a certain sort of psychological trauma. So, I don’t think the lines on the page suggest a gender either way, and gendering what I drew (or your gendering the story I’ve told here about what I drew) says more about the observer than it says about the sketch. If you found yourself gendering the object I described in paragraph two, that might say something about the way you subconsciously interrelate gender and trauma.

    Either that or I’ve done some LUDICROUS OVERTHINKING. I regret nothing. I’m going to play some Kerbal Space Program to clear my head.

  43. anne mariehovgaard says

    Have you never seen someone wiggle their pinky at a man as a taunt/insult?

  44. epiblast says

    Sorry, I can’t upload a sketch.

    I deliberately set out to make this difficult for myself by making even the faintest gendered associations I could think of disqualify the object as gender-neutral, even if there were associations with more than one gender. For instance, I thought of a clod of soil, which I discarded because earth has both masculine associations (e.g. strength) and feminine ones (e.g. the somewhat common association of the earth with a female deity in pre-Christian Western religions, and the concept of “Mother Earth”.) I eventually came up with a block of cheese. Unlike a great many foods (e.g. steak and beer as masculine, chocolate and mixed drinks as feminine), cheese does not have any gendered associations that I am aware of. Most of its sensory qualities similarly lack strong gendered associations, e.g. the range of colors cheeses come in are at best extremely weakly and inconsistently gendered. (All the basic color categories have some association in at least one prominent culture with at least one gender, and so if all of them are treated as disqualifying the exercise is impossible.) One could argue that various harder or softer cheeses are masculine or feminine respectively due to the associations of those textures with gendered qualities, but I have never heard this brought up for cheese before, and if we dig that deep we disqualify all physical objects. I am also ignoring grammatical gender in various languages, because again, unless the grammatical gender of the particular noun in question has a psychological resonance for speakers, if we use grammatical gender as a disqualifying factor this disqualifies everything.

    Although I deliberately avoided cylindrical or strongly concave objects, I’m not sure I’d agree that an object having one of these shapes automatically makes it not gender neutral. I applied a stronger standard to myself than I think was expected, and I think some of the other commenters did as well, or applied such a standard to others, particularly as regards the shape of objects.

  45. says

    -A box.
    “No. Not that one. Because gender, right? Exactly.”
    “Report. Narrate a bit about choosing an object (whether or not you were able to post your sketch). Was it easy? Hard? Did the first thing that came to mind remain your choice?”
    -It was easy, because objects are objects and have no gender. So yes, the first thing did remain, but I was very thrown off by the “Not that one.” I kept wondering if I had somehow misunderstood the concept of object? Objects can be manipulated and marketed as ‘gendered’ but I see nothing particularly male/female masculine/feminine about anything other than social and cultural associations. Even if some objects can be argued to have such strong cultural associations that it de facto makes the object gendered, why would it have to be a binary system? I don’t believe human gender is binary and see no need to artificially create a binary gender system for objects. I find this exercise interesting but frustrating.

  46. says

    You’re right that objects don’t have an innate gender, but gender is externally imposed by people. Just like activities and emotions are.
    -Men get angry
    -Women cry
    -Men are stoic
    -Women are emotional
    -Men eat meat and potatoes
    -Women eat yogurt and salad
    -Ballet is for women
    -Racing is for guys
    -Cooking is for women
    -Football is for men
    -Men do construction
    -Women are maids
    -Cleaning is for women
    -Child rearing is for women
    -Protecting the family is for men
    -Playing video games is for men
    -Getting dirty is for men
    -Manicures and pedicures are for women

    Cars, dolls, toy trains or trucks, purses, wallets, dresses, tuxedos, earrings, and makeup are just a few gendered objects.

    I do wonder about one thing: tattoos. Are they gendered?

  47. sammywol says

    Well if a man has a tattoo on his lower back I don’t think people call it a ‘tramp stamp’ the way they do with women.

  48. JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness says


    Well if a man has a tattoo on his lower back I don’t think people call it a ‘tramp stamp’ the way they do with women.

    Yeah, they do. I’ve never seen lower back tattoos referred to as anything but a tramp stamp, though in this case female is default and it’s specified for male. “Men with tramp stamps” and “Male Tramp Stramps” is what I find online, with only urban dictionary using “Man Stamp” instead.

  49. says

    In the same way clothes are*; there are stereotypes regarding what sorts of tattoos women have vs the sort men have, e.g. unicorns are often defined as feminine, while fouled anchors are coded masculine and for a while having tattoos was coded masculine (ca. the 1890s-1950s AFAICT). That said, much of that stereotype is merely extensions of other stereotypes (i.e. ‘women like horses/unicorns’ vs. ‘men are/want to emulate sailors’), rather than because people who wear tattoos actually reliably conform to said stereotypes. There are a shitton of heavily inked people around Portland, and I can’t say I’ve observed any notable correlation between tattoo content and gender presentation. Mostly the correlation is with cultural/subcultural presentation.

    *As with clothes, this is culturally specific; all of this applies to the U.S. and to an extent the greater Anglosphere and Western Europe, but other cultures will have widely varying values for these.

  50. sammywol says

    #54 JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness
    Really? Correction accepted. That’s new to me.

  51. says

    Exercise 9
    I drew a lighter.

    Exercise 10
    I chose the lighter because its form and function pertains to everyone (or at least everyone who needs flame-age), regardless of gender. During the consideration process (all three days), I was considering and discarding ideas, most based on “that’s too phallic,” “that looks like lady-parts,” “too much of a ‘boy’ thing,” “too girly,” “nope, that’s associated with (wo)men,” and eventually said “fuck it, I’m gonna smoke a bowl and let my brain unwind.” Several minutes later, I’m staring at my lighter going “Heyyyy… wait a minute, this isn’t gendered!

    Exercise 11
    I’m going to trust that everyone has their reasons for choosing the object(s) they chose. (And, upon reading the comments, yes, they’re all good reasons.)

  52. says

    Apologies for lateness…just got through what is “hell week” in my house (four birthdays back to back) ~ so I’m just now playing catch-up.

    I haven’t yet read any responses…and I’m a lousy artist…

    For my #9 & 10…the first thing I thought of was a coffee cup, then the mental argument about a vessel. I thought of a paper, but then the mental argument about the “object” (F) to a pen/pencil’s “subject” (M)…and scratched that. Then I looked back at my coffee cup (it’s first thing in the morning, so coffee is usually my first thought anyway)…and thought about the coffee itself. Though I’m sure there can be arguments regarding the bean versus the drink…and language differences assign masculine or feminine articles…what occurred to me is that, really, it’s fluid. Which fit with how I think of gender…when I think of gender. So…the sketch (and like I said, I’m a lousy artist, so, there’s that.

    Exercise #11…(having paused to go through and re-read)…I chuckled at @9. besomyka’s cup (for reasons noted above about a vessel), at @10. Brad’s pencil (for reasons noted above about “subject”), and @11. Tony, TFQS’ lightbulb — because my first thought was that a lightbulb would be male by virtue of getting “screwed” into a socket. I was actually intrigued by @13.Dhorvath, OM’s bike…because — setting aside the feminine article used in, say, Spanish, I could “see” the neutrality of a bicycle.

    All of that said, I can also see/grasp reasons given by others for choosing the items that they did.

  53. Helena Bowles says

    Exercise 9 & 10 (scanner broken, can’t upload drawing)

    OK. I found these very, very hard because I really don’t think of any objects having gender at all so picking one to represent gender neutrality could have been pretty much anything and yet… the first thing that sprang to mind was a pen because I was holding one in my hand and I use one all the time. Men and women use them about equally and the most common kind are pretty neutral – which is not to say one can’t get pens decorated in what is considered a gender appropriate way, but that most of the ones I see and use are plain black/blue/red biros which carry no gender implications in my eyes.

    Then I thought… won’t someone say it’s masculine because it’s phallic? But even if the symbology *could* be used that way there is no context for the drawing so it’s just a pen… so, yeah, a plain pen.

  54. Helena Bowles says

    Exercise 11

    Again, very hard because, like other commenters, I really don’t see objects as gendered unless special care has been taken to make them gender-specific (mostly, but not entirely, kids things to my total disgust and frustration as a mother of a boy and a girl).

    However, if we’re going for objects that are socially associated more with one gender than another i’ve got a couple of comments:

    @13 Dhorvath, OM – tools are very definitely considered to be masculine things. They are marketed to men and there is still a strong social pressure on men to be the competent fixers and builders.

    @19 SammyWol – For similar reasons I think a breadboard is considered to be a feminine thing – men may be highly paid chefs in restaurants or on TV but cooking and kitchen work is very much something women are supposed to be skilled at and responsible for.

    @ 22 Christopher Stephens – even more so with the heavy bag. Yes, anyone can use one (and I have) but the kind of exercise where you use a heavy bag is associated with men (and rough, sweaty, smelly gyms where women dare not venture). It’s punching which is aggressive, active, violent and hard – all of which are traditional components of performative masculinity.

  55. sammywol says

    Re. #60 Helena Bowles

    Indeed. Almost anything kitchen equipment related carries stronger feminine gender associations than masculine. Not sure I would pick the same thing if I did the exercise today. But then there was Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop! at #20 with another perspective. Gender association with objects (and even with living things like plants and pets and the like) are very much projected by the observer I think.

  56. Helena Bowles says

    @61 sammywol

    I assumed Tony!THFQS wasn’t entirely serious with that comment. I could be wrong.

  57. says

    I hope it’s still ok to add here. I didn’t think this week would be quite as tiring as it was, and I didn’t get back here.

    Exercise 10:
    I drew a bottle cap: round and toothy. It seems a fairly genderless shape, and people of all genders can have (and lose) teeth. I had to dismiss some possible things, but I have bottle caps near me, so that idea came to me easily. I did have to erase and redraw a couple times, but it wasn’t because I was afraid it was gendered. I suck at drawing most things, including bottle caps.

    I don’t have the easiest access to a scanner from this computer, and I don’t think it would scan well from my notebook. You don’t have to see my really sucky drawing of a bottle cap. You can also decide whether it says “Reed’s Spiced Apple Brew” in yellow on red, is plain red, or is plain metallic with a logo using black to create a background for a dog above the name “Fentimans”, since those were the inspiring caps.

    I’ll look at other drawings and catch up on the latest exercises now.

  58. says

    Exercise 11:
    Oh wow. This is really interesting. I’m amazed at how many things can be gendered.

    I didn’t know that circles were supposed to be masculine; actually, I hadn’t really heard any genders for circles. That is a really interesting explanation, though. The one I’ve been exposed to is that upward-pointing triangles are masculine (phallic) and downward-pointing triangles are feminine (like a womb).

    @ Tony, #44 & Jake Harban, #45
    I used to use “xe” in writing, but it was awkward for me when spoken. I usually use “they” now with occasional lapses into “ey” (spoken only).

    I usually just say “people” and avoid “men and women” vs “women and men”.