Not-So-Great Expectations

And on the subject on life inspiring art, I got this one from two otherwise awesome people getting my gender wrong in the same day. (For those of you who haven’t figured it out from the about page: I’m a girl.) Also influenced by the main question of this post; while I think it might be reading slightly more into the situation than is actually there, one can apply it to the world itself.

It’s not a subject I’m particularly happy about, but it is there: There are many positions, careers, hobbies and other sorts of things for which people will assume a certain gender unless proven otherwise. You talk about a nurse, a quilter, or a secretary, and don’t specify a name, most people will guess it’s a woman you’re talking about. Bring up a doctor, an automobile aficionado, or, apparently, a role-playing blogger, and they’ll assume male.

Now, annoying though this may be, it can also serve as an excellent world-building tool. And it doesn’t even have to be gender-based. Take the average D&D world. When you’ve got races that as a matter of crunch have aptitudes in different directions, it’s to be expected that certain types will gravitate towards certain fields—people expect alchemists to be gnomes, for instance, and tend to be surprised to see half-orcs in non-martial disciplines.

So where does this come from? Part of it, of course, is natural aptitude. While it can often be a reason for these kinds of presuppositions, it isn’t always: just look at the real world. (I’ll get to those sorts of stereotypes later.) Typically, these things are grounded in some sort of observable difference, whether it’s real, a result of factors that have little to do with inborn traits, cultural to one subset of a group and nobody’s bothering to tell the difference, or some other factor.

Then there’s examples where a certain role is foisted off on people, or barred to them. For a historical example, consider the association in many people’s worldview between Jews and banking. This one isn’t aptitude-based at all—it came from the fact that for quite a while in Europe, they weren’t allowed to do much of anything else. In time, what began as “You’ll do this because nobody else wants to/because you can’t do this other thing” becomes a tendency to fall into that role anyway becomes the assumption that the group occupying that role is somehow more suited to it.

Sometimes it’s just a societal feedback loop—take the preponderance of women with textile-related activities. Whether it’s actually true or not, hardly anyone hears about men doing it as often (aside from some of the Big Names in fashion, anyway).

Then we have combinations of the above, and for this we have the classic example of the female gamer; this article is one of my best explanations I’ve seen. It’s a number of factors: the fact that it’s been a “boys’ hobby” for a while, the stereotype about not being able to enjoy or understand the crunch and the infamous “DM’s girlfriend” stereotype, that sort of thing. But here it is, and what can we do to change it but be living counterexamples?

Are these sorts of expectations and stereotypes a good thing? Not on your life. Might they be an interesting way to give a world a little more color, make an NPC just a bit less likable to the group, or create obstacles for the PCs to have to surmount? Definitely. Is it worth it? It can be.

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