During a talk back after a puppet performance, one of the audience members referred to the puppet in it as “he.” As in, “when he spreads his wings.” I was intrigued by this because the puppet, in addition to spreading its wings, had also laid an egg and sat upon it. It would seem to me that if this puppet had a gender, it must, by virtue of the way childbirth works, be female.
But I understood the audience member’s interpretation of this puppet’s gender. It did seem male. Even, and perhaps especially, when it found a pair of breasts, put them on and did a sexy dance. But I think, more than anything, given the way our culture runs, when we don’t’ know for sure, we tend to assume maleness. That is, male is the default gender. Female is the deviation.
I’ve seen this in puppetry a lot. A gender neutral puppet is usually perceived as male until someone puts a bow on it or a little dress. Male puppets can just be a body. Female ones need accessories.
And as ever, puppets do tend to reveal a bit about being human beings. Our perceptions of objects can tell us a lot about our perceptions of people. The fact that a puppet could give BIRTH and still be thought of as male points to a tenaciousness of a perception that lives in so many of us. It reveals a strong default switch that may take some time to dismantle.
Is this body male or female?
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