Gender refers to the ways in which a community understands and codifies differences in biological sex. Gender has a strong relationship with sex, but not a one-to-one relationship. Ideas and attitudes about gender have changed significantly in the Fifth World, but the concept of gender itself remains.
Any community must fulfill two biological functions in order to survive: provide food, water, shelter, and other material necessities for the survival of its members, and ensure that the population can reproduce itself. The first task involves much greater risks, and so defines much more about how societies function and organize themselves (see hunter-gatherers and Horticulture). On the second point, communities mostly just need to make sure that they stay out of the way, so that individual attractions and relationships can do the rest. Gender represents the one major contribution that societies provide for this purpose, by helping narrow down the consideration of potential mates by at least half for most people.
With this assignment in place, nearly all communities then rely on gender to serve a second purpose, related to the first and more daily pressing task of making a living: using it as a way to divide labor.
#Sex and gender
Biologically, “sex” hides a wide variety of physical differences, including hormones, chromosomes, genitalia, and secondary sexual characteristics. These occur in a bimodal distribution. The two “peaks” of this distribution show that “male” and “female” represent real groups of biological difference, but the continuity between the two also shows that no solid, clear, unambiguous line could ever divide them. Some people will always have intersex bodies, mixing some biologically male traits and some biologically female traits. Moreover, more detailed biologically analysis often shows that the simplistic labels of “male” and “female” can obscure more than they reveal. For example, if a particular biological phenomenon actually correlates to testosterone levels, using sex as a proxy for this can create confusion, as males with low testosterone might have negative results while females with high testosterone might have positive results. Biologists often find it useful to look at this bimodal distribution of sexual characteristics in different ways, sometimes ignoring the aggregation altogether to focus on one, specific trait, or dividing it into more than two groups — or both.
Sex, therefore, while biologically real, also hides greater complexity than a simple male/female dichotomy. With this in mind, we can see sex as socially constructed, just like gender. The assignment of one sex or another involves a social judgment call, just like dividing up a color wheel.
So with gender, we have a complicated social mapping to an already complex biological phenomenon. Most individuals identified as biologically male will have a masculine gender, and most individuals identified as biologically female will have a feminine gender, yes — but by no means all. And since terms like “biologically male” and “biologically female” already introduce so much potential for shades of gray, it should not surprise anyone that a complex social layer involving such issues as sexual attraction, division of labor, and personal identity would only complicate the matter further. Given all these factors, the strength of the correlation stands out as much more impressive than the fact that an important minority of the population doesn’t quite fit into it.
#Patriarchy and its end
For two million years before the rise of civilization, hunter-gatherers had strongly defined gender roles, a strict division of labor by gender, and equality between genders — a combination that many later theorists would consider impossible. Often, these groups would expect men to hunt and women to gather. Critically, though, they knew that neither of these roles mattered more than the other, and so no gender's contributions meant any more or less than any other's. The overall necessity to maintain egalitarian relations within their bands no doubt played a major role in this, as individuals could hardly consider themselves equal without considering their genders equal as well.
Many legends try to explain the rise of patriarchy within civilization, but no one has a definitive answer. The traditional role of woman-as-gatherers may have led to their common position as land owners in horticultrual societies, but somehow, with the rise of civilization, men became land owners instead. Could this have had something to do with the rise of warfare, or the emergence of pastoralists? We can’t really know for sure. We know only that somehow men became the leaders of society. The role of women varied from one specific civilization to the next, but the valuing of masculinity over femininity, and the concurrent oppression and abuse of women, became something they nearly all held in common to one degree or another.
Misogyny did not immediately disappear as civilization began to collapse, though. Many held onto their sexist attitudes. These beliefs led them to systematically underestimate and discount the contributions that women could make. While they might have had the luxury to afford such dismissals in the heyday of civilization, under the pressures of the Rusting Ages such blunders became lethal. Those communities who valued what women could do found themselves with twice as many people able to work together and contribute to their common good, allowing them to survive. Those who discounted what women could do found themselves with half as many people to help. They typically could not survive under such conditions. Patriarchy died out during the Rusting Ages for the simple reason that it proved a severe evolutionary hindrance, and those who could not shed it perished for it.
Different parts of the Fifth World have different concepts of gender, though they nearly all have some concept of gender. Most communities recognize three genders, though two-, four-, and five-gender systems certainly exist. The role of gender in choosing mates makes it important to share a common gender system with one's neighbors, so these tend to differ by bioregion more than they do from community to community. The names for these genders differ from one such region to the next. In the descriptions below, we use generic names to refer to the general concepts these systems generally use, but each regional system will have different names and different specific ideas and beliefs attached to these genders. These concepts derive from the gender concepts of their ancestors, but have passed through four hundred years of intense change and pressure to become workable, sustainable systems. In other words, they will more often carry forward the names of ancient concepts than they will the actual ideas that those names once invoked.
In all of these systems, individuals choose their genders. Some allow for an assumption of gender in children, as this only rarely proves incorrect, but they also allow for children to correct these assumptions once they have grown. Others use a third or fifth gender for a child until they come of age and can choose a gender for themselves. Many communities expect a certain degree of gender fluidity (see below) from children in particular, which often settles into one gender or another as they reach maturity.
Also in all of these systems, while each gender has unique social roles and responsibilities, these all fit together to make the community function. The idea that one gender means more than another, or should have more power or respect than another, has become an anathema across the Fifth World. Sorcerers might sometimes whisper such heresies in their ongoing attempts to destroy the world, but all understand such myths as exactly that: an evil deception trying to destroy the community, which everyone must come together to squash immediately.
Let’s begin with the most common system, the three-gender system. This system provides three genders, each one rather broadly defined.
- Woman: A feminine gender, very broadly defined. These systems define femininity broadly enough to encompass huntresses, grandmothers, healers, storytellers, gatherers, and much, much more. While many societies have strict rules governing what women can and can’t do, these rules often involve elaborate systems by which an individual woman can find community recognition and support for nearly any major life choice she wishes to make, so long as she does so through the accepted traditions and protocols.
- Man: A masculine gender, very broadly defined. These systems define masculinity broadly enough to encompass scouts, scholars, priests, diplomats, traders, and much, much more. While many societies have strict rules governing what men can and can’t do, these rules often involve elaborate systems by which an individual man can find community recognition and support for nearly any major life choice he wishes to make, so long as he does so through the accepted traditions and protocols.
- Third gender: A non-binary gender, very broadly defined, encompassing everything that does not quite fit into the other two. With man and woman defined so broadly, the third gender does not typically include just men who present in a somewhat effeminate way or women with a masculine affect. Both genders have sufficient breadth to welcome such individuals. Rather, the third gender exists for those who actively resist such categorization — either by mixing masculine and feminine traits in a determined balance, or rejecting all gender markers altogether. The importance placed on one’s ability to maintain multiple perspectives in animism means that many societies consider third gender individuals particularly powerful, magical, or holy. Following the third gender often attracts the attention of local wizards, who will watch you closely to see if you show any signs of a calling to join them.
Most in the Fifth World consider two-gender systems particularly backwards and restrictive, though they offer far greater freedom than the two-gender systems of the past. These systems have one masculine gender and one feminine gender, defined even more broadly than in three-gender systems. They all recognize gender fluidity and they all allow children to choose which gender they belong to when they come of age.
Four-gender systems have more in common with two-gender systems than they do with three-gender systems. These systems have two feminine genders and two masculine genders. Each, naturally, defines itself more narrowly. What divides one feminine gender from the other, or one masculine gender from the other, varies greatly, depending on the values of the people who use the system. None of them accord any greater importance to any of these genders than any other, they all recognize gender fluidity, and they all allow children to choose which gender they belong to when they come of age.
Five-gender systems add a fifth gender to the four-gender system, much like the third gender in three-gender systems. Just as four-gender systems must necessarily define their masculine and feminine genders more narrowly to accommodate more of them, so too must five-gender systems define the fifth gender more narrowly than the third gender. As in three-gender systems, communities consider individuals who take the fifth gender particularly powerful, magical, or holy, and local wizards keep track of them as potential apprentices. Though the fifth gender has a reputation as a more magical gender, that informs its unique roles, responsibilities, and expectations, but it does not make it any more special, important, or worthy of respect than any other. Five-gender systems recognize gender fluidity and allow children to choose their genders when they come of age.
All societies recognize gender fluidity, or how one might change from one gender to another. Many expect a degree of gender fluidity from children, who usually settle into one gender or another as they near adolescence. Adults who continue to practice gender fluidity, like third and fifth gender individuals, may attract the attention of local wizards. Such fluidity might mark an individual as particularly powerful, magical, or holy.
Some stories do circulate about individuals who switch genders to avoid work. When the men go out to hunt, she becomes a woman. When the women go out to gather, he becomes a man. This selfish “fluidity” becomes apparent to the community pretty quickly, and they have a relatively easy time distinguishing it from a genuine experience of gender. Communities in the Fifth World don’t find any need to punish freeloaders, as they meet their needs relatively easily, so accommodating such a hypothetical freeloader costs them less than limiting anyone’s authentic experience of gender. Nonetheless, these stories generally lead to the layabout getting her karmic just desserts, or attracting the attention of a mischievous wizard who decides to teach her a lesson about playing with something so important for such selfish ends. Such people seem to appear in these humorous stories more often than they do in real life, though.
Many horticultural communities have lodges for each gender (e.g., a men’s lodge, a women’s lodge, and the third lodge). Only members of the given gender can enter these lodges, making them important locations for the political life of the community. Many backroom deals are struck in these lodges before they come before the community as a whole. With each gender having its own secluded spot, though, these communities can usually strike a balance. While the men might hatch a plot in the men’s lodge, the women can plot their counter-move in the women’s lodge.
Many bioregions, especially regions with many horticultural communities, have several secret societies that restrict membership by gender. These secret societies take the broad range of gender roles and focus on one, more narrowly-defined aspect of it, providing individuals of that gender to pursue a particular interest with others who share it. These secret societies mix elements of mystery religions, guilds, and social clubs. Common examples include:
- A huntress society, restricted to women who want to become the best hunters that they can.
- A scouting organization, restricted to men who want to become the best scouts that they can.
- A midwifery society, restricted to women who want to focus on healing and childbirth.
- A male fertility cult, restricted to men who want to conceive children or become better fathers.