Worldbuilding From Reality
Does It Matter If Arousal Is Gender Specific?
Previous parts in the Worldbuilding From Reality series:
When building a fictional world that an audience will find "immersive," stealing a few bits from Reality -- the shared reality among members of that audience, and your own reality - is the easiest way to go
So looking at old cliche aphorisms and sayings can be very productive.
- "The way to a man's heart is through is stomach."
- "Seeing is believing."
- "Love at first sight."
- "His eyes are bigger than his stomach."
- "Flattery will get you everywhere."
For centuries, mothers have been teaching daughters that the way to "get" a man is to present yourself with whatever "appearance" (style, manner, dress, speech, hip-sway walk) was currently deemed proper-but-hot by the extant culture, and social circle.
In other words, if you want the part, dress the part.
Clothing, hairdo, perfume, matching shoes, makeup (even if you're too young to need it), walking with a book on your head, speaking only when spoken to, diction, modulating voice, sitting with knees together, crossing legs at a slant, precisely correct undergarments (used to be corsets pulled tight), are all necessary, all things taught in "finishing school" to give the impression you are a woman who "knows her place."
Oh, boy, has the world changed.
Good grief, has nothing really changed?
Today, sexy-long-hair worn loose -- a style from 60 years ago -- is back, but this time with short, tight, shrink-wrap dresses cut down to here!
The pants suit has given way to body-clinging skirts and dresses of stretch fabrics that really do what people tried to do with thin-knit wool.
All this fussing (expensive fussing with hair, dye, makeup, premium diet food, gym memberships) to present a vibrantly feminine appearance.
All of this is based on the oldest old-saw, that males are turned on by VISUAL CUES. They will follow their eyes.
But women are different. Women want something else (which has not been adequately defined. Admiration, attention, protection of strength, a good provider, praise, exclusivity? Women differ from each other, and change throughout life.
In science fiction world building, we take ONE (and only one) settled, irrefutable, well proven, widely accepted fact about reality and challenge it.
Science fiction is a busman's holiday for scientists. It is entertainment for the adventurous thinker who is entertained by intellectual stretching.
So we have the suspension of disbelief - which is easy if there is one and only one thing to not disbelieve. If the writer lards on a whole series of randomly selected premises, the systematic thinkers in the audience will just leave - drop the book in the trash, bad-mouth it to colleagues.
If the writer focuses tightly on refuting one, and only one, known fact, then builds a world where that single element differs from the audience's reality, and pursues that difference to a rigorous, logical conclusion, then the Stephen Hawkins's of this world will devour that novel and talk about it loudly.
We have discussed targeting a readership in great detail:
When discussing screenwriting, and the how-to books in the SAVE THE CAT! series by Blake Snyder, we discussed "High Concept" storytelling.
The "concept" is the core of the pitch a writer uses - one sentence, one paragraph, the elevator pitch - to sell a project to a publisher. And the publicist uses a different description of the same work to sell it to the prospective audience.
The Concept is a topic of interest to a segment of humanity, stated in terms that are comprehensible to that segment.
We are currently (and once again) wrestling with the entire concept of I.Q. - of intelligence -- or just of what is it that defines what we recognize in each other as a difference.
We all can enter a room full of people and instantly recognize if we belong there, if "they" will accept us, or if there's any reason to accept them.
We see, know, and recognize differences, and act on that inner knowledge.
More than a century ago, the concept I.Q. - a mathematically measurable trait to define that "difference," - was invented to make it easy to tag people objectively.
It didn't work. It doesn't work. But very clearly there is promise that something science can measure WILL eventually work. We have pursued genetics and now neurological brain studies, and all sorts of spiritual and scientific paths of investigation .
Bottom line -- we are clueless!
Nevertheless, we persist. This means here is an area where fiction can inspire new generations to innovate, create new options that can change everything - for real.
Here is one graphic that turned up to my attention on Quora, on one of the many threads about I.Q., that I keep pondering from a world building perspective.
We discussed this one previously:
Notice how FEW people have very high or very low IQ. Low IQ people, the below 70 segment, are likely not going to be reading text novels. The high IQ segment, over 130, will likely spend their reading time (and they read VERY fast) focusing on their technical area of expertise, or kicked back watching football.
The segment between 90 and 120 is the biggest segment of the readership and just where you'll find an audience for mixed-genre such as Science Fiction Romance, Paranormal Romance.
Notice it's 100 (the average) to 110 who learn from written materials.
Those are an important segment of book-buyers, and many will buy Romance novels.
This segment of readers will buy novels that address topics where they'd like to learn something -- Historical Romance, Science Fiction, that have real world facts, but challenge one (AND ONLY ONE) of those facts to generate a world and a story that makes them think, re-evaluate reality.
These are the people who enjoy imagining.
Such novels are not "High Concept."
What Hollywood means by High Concept is a story springboard that is familiar and attractive, easily understandable by the vast majority of humanity.
Ideas that excite I.Q. 120 and above will not be comprehensible to I.Q. 90 and below. So they are low concept -- you can't spend a fortune making such a film and get your investment back on opening weekend.
However, most anything an IQ 90 audience can get their teeth into will be comprehensible, and sometimes even entertaining, to I. Q. 120 and above, if it has enough action, innuendo, and gosh-wow special effects.
"High Concept" means a broader audience, which requires an appeal to both high and low I.Q. because no matter what, humans come in that bell-curve spread of abilities.
Concept is almost entirely involved with world building -- the setting, the rules, the Character Relationships not too complex, and the humor.
I. Q. and that bell curve distribution by social and job outcome includes (theoretically) both men and women. These days, one assumes it is a jumble of "all genders." In fact, today the very concept of "gender" is finally being explored in depth.
Science Fiction has long explored the flippant way humans just toss off facts about gender.
More than 50 years ago, after it became known that some animals shift gender, Ursula LeGuin won both the Hugo and Nebula for The Left Hand of Darkness
featuring people who shift gender, and the emotional impact of that shifting.
And now science is exploring exactly how some animals shift gender:
Before I read Left Hand of Darkness, I took a page from some of the even older science fiction works exploring gender to create a tri-sexual species for some of my Characters in my Star Trek fanfic work, Kraith.
I used some of those concepts in my two novels, Molt Brother
and City of a Million Legends
One of the world building premises of my Sime~Gen novels is that when humans split into Sime and Gen, the difference between Sime and Gen far eclipses the male-female difference which still remains but is important only some of the time.
Gender, per se, has long been a topic of interest to science fiction readers because of the mysteries about sexuality left to be explored with science. And it is one of the science topics that I. Q. 90 and below can fully grasp. Therefore "sex sells" -- or gender based science fiction (e.g. science fiction romance) is high concept, and sells big time.
So recently, science has been addressing what science fiction long ago proposed as a key topic -- is there a difference between men and women?
From the point of view of an Alien from Outer Space, there might be no perceptible difference. Humans come in so many sizes, shapes, and colors that gender simply gets lost in the mosaic.
From the point of view of a human, and most of your readers are probably somewhat human, gender matters, big time.
Science, however, may be edging up to the conclusion that gender doesn't matter.
Here is a study of human brain activity (which may or may not actually be true) indicating that the male and female brains exhibit little if any difference when becoming sexually aroused.
We are more alike than we are different.
A science fiction romance writer should be pondering the next scientific discovery, the next big data deep dive analysis that will reveal what we've known all along -- or refute it -- that men respond more strongly to visual cues than women do.
Both men and women enjoy the sight of a potential mate in full feather. No doubt about that. But maybe social constructs, cultural myths made real, have conditioned us to exaggerating the male response to the sight of an eligible female?
Maybe the sight of a well-dressed, polished female does not render a male helplessly aroused? Maybe boys are raised (thus have brain circuitry configured) to assume they are helpless and so, during the teen years, do not develop selectivity.
Therefore, men used to blame their behavior on women - because of how the women dress. Many still do, but there is cultural blow-back against this notion. The whole "sexual harassment in the workplace" issue is based on the idea that men are NOT helpless if they glimpse a tightly-dressed female behind.
There was a time when showing a bit of ankle, even clad in high-laced boots, was a sexual come-on before which the male was utterly helpless.
For most of human history, humans didn't wear very much in the way of clothing. The naked body is not, per se, a sexual invitation. The entire concept of "modest dress" depends on being able to dress at all.
Yet once clothing options became available, the choice of what to wear when in the sight of whom became a code for sexual availability.
By Biblical Times, there were already exacting standards of "modesty," of ways of saying, "I am not available to you."
Biblically derived cultures insist on men and women dressing modestly (i.e. as not-available) in public.
They all have different ideas of why we should dress modestly, and vastly different codes of what constitutes modesty, all of which shift drastically through the centuries.
Even today, women cover their hair to indicate un-availability. One excuse for this is that a woman's hair is sexually arousing. But men's hair is identical when allowed to grow.
In Star Trek, Roddenberry adopted the then-extant code of having unavailable women wear their long hair bound up, but down and loose when they wanted to be available.
In every era (so far) people have blamed intrinsic, unalterable, inexorable male response for the dress codes they have imposed on women.
Only now, science has shown there is no such thing.
Men are not more visually aroused than women. The brain patterns and responses just don't show a distinct difference.
So the imposition of dress codes (on men or on women) are clearly artificial, and thus subject to choice.
Your current potential audience is part of the current sweeping alteration in dress coding for availability.
How, where and when does a human signal sexual availability?
How do humans learn to choose when to become aroused, and when not to?
Just as it is possible for a woman to learn not to cry (military training imposes this by force), likewise it is possible for a male human to learn not to be aroused by female clothing, hair, exposed skin, even cleavage.
But what do you have to put a boy through so that the resulting man will have full command of that choice? Today, wouldn't that count as child abuse?
So the scientific facts, what the general public believes about the scientific facts of gender, and the cultural norms all matter when you build a world around themes derived from gender specific responses to stimuli.
How much is culture, how much is choice, how much is real? Does sexual arousal render humans morally unanswerable for the consequences of their actions? Where does Soul fit into physiological responses?
Is there such a thing as irresistible temptation? Or is there only human stupidity? Note that IQ graph page - higher I. Q. humans seem to be better at foreseeing consequences.
Here's another I. Q. article to ponder:
Higher I. Q. seems to protect from death. (note how it's the exception that proves the rule)
Clearly, this I. Q. measurement thing is onto something -- what that something might be is clearly unclear! This is the gray area science fiction romance was invented to explore. Romance (Neptune Transit) suspends the ability to make realistic, practical decisions, using I. Q. Smart people and intelligence-challenged people all together, all experience this Romance effect. Romance is High Concept - comprehensible to all I.Q. segments - but according to this Swedish study, a slender portion of humanity has a better chance at long life.
Romance is the Happily Ever After genre -- but according to that article, I. Q. does not correlate to Happiness. At least, not for humans.
In Romance, not all your characters have to be ultra-smart, but in science fiction, you need some really smart Characters for the scientists to identify with.
Build your world around gender, challenge one (and only one) premise we take for granted about gender, sexuality and the relationship between them, and write a High Concept, Mass Market Best Seller that can become the basis of a TV Series (the streaming market is huge and growing, as noted here:)
In Science Fiction Romance, you can invent Aliens whose culture is rooted in how "happiness" is in fact correlated with I. Q. (whatever that is for them).
So maybe your Alien is hired as a tutor for a Human who needs to learn to choose when to be aroused by the sight of an enticing female? Only it turns out the enticing female is the Soul Mate of the Alien?
Hoo-boy, the world is about to change! So apparently it will matter if arousal is gender specific.