14 October, 2012

Gender Roles

In many of the Aboriginal tribes across Australia, there are traditional gender roles. Some things are simply designated as men's business, while others are designated as women's business.

Modern anthropologists might look back on these groups and find the cultural dynamic sexist, perhaps the men went out and hunted and the women did work around the hearth. Modern feminists might be offended by the notion that women were relegated to certain roles within the community, but men were similarly relegated to predetermined communal roles.

If you were a man, you would undertake men's business. If you were a woman, you would undertake women's business. Men didn't talk about women's business, and women didn't talk about men's business. Some groups may have had strict taboos, but in most cases the roles were simply ingrained cultural mores. It wouldn't cross a man's mind to engage in women's business, it's just not what is done.

In Walkabout, the spirits derive their strength from universal constants. Some spirits hunt, others protect; some spirits deal with vast forces on a cosmic scale, others are far more intimate and personal. Often the most innocuous looking spirit may be the lynch-pin in events far more dramatic than first appearances might indicate. 

The spirits of the setting derive from the ancient ways, stretching further back into history than modern notions of gender equality or equal opportunity. These concepts are a tiny blip on the radar of recorded history (and recorded history itself is a tiny blip on the cosmic scale). With this in mind, it makes sense that many spirits would still be linked to the concepts of men's and women's business.

For less attuned spirits, this might manifest in the form of a bias or persuasion (a bonus to deal with characters of one gender, and a penalty when dealing with characters of the other gender). For spirits closely linked to this concept, one gender might be completely banned from working with the spirit. A when you consider that these spirits are intrinsically linked to the concept of gender (rather than the appearances of clothes and make-up), a male character can't simply put on drag to deal with a female aligned spirit. 

This raised fascinating questions about gender identity. What do the spirits think of a male who identifies as a female, or a female who identifies as a male. In certain Polynesian cultures there is a "third gender", comprising males who are taught the female duties (and more rarely females who are taught male duties). In a post-apocalyptic setting, the option for gender reassignment surgery isn’t really an option, and in the outback you could easily see the scenes portrayed in the movie “Priscilla: Queen of the Desert”. Being transsexual in the outback has complications of its own. It’s not a sexist outlook, it’s just the ways things are. People are too focused on surviving with what they’ve got to fantasize about the body parts they don’t have. The people from the glass and steel arcologies and secluded military bunkers of the ancient past might have the option for gender reassignment, but these people have their own issues in the outback.

The thoughts here are one of the reasons why I’ve deliberately included both male and female versions of the character sheet. Some characters may deem themselves asexual (or a member of a “third gender”), but no character may consider themselves both male and female. A player deliberately choosing to play a “third gender” role would find themselves with a reduced penalty against spirits aligned to both males and females, and would find a penalty dealing with any society who doesn’t understand the character’s ways (only the “outcastes” and the “primitives” would be likely to accept them).

Far more easily, a circle of wayfarers would contain both male and female characters.

The second issue here is the discussion of male and female business. As a male, I can’t respectfully write about women’s business. Even if I were a female (or had my wife write the women’s business parts of the book), I couldn’t include these aspects of gender business because a woman’s business shouldn’t be read by males, and conversely a man’s business shouldn’t be read by a female. I’d love to get into specifics to really help define the world, but every tribe defines men’s and women’s business differently…and the definition of these respective businesses often goes against their oral traditions. The easy option is to loosely allude to men’s and women’s business, use the spiritual bonuses and penalties bring these effects into the game mechanisms, and allow specific groups of players to define the specifics of gender business.

The problem is that I’ve seen this sort of stuff done so badly in the past, and I really want to get this right.
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