What's the Difference Anyway?
“Tell me, how does the other sex of your race differ from yours?”
He looked startled and in fact my question rather startled me; kemmer brings out these spontaneities in one. We were both self-conscious. “I never thought of that, ” he said. “You've never seen a woman.” He used his Terran-language word, which I knew.
“I saw your pictures of them. The women looked like pregnant Gethenians, but with larger breasts. Do they differ much from your sex in mind behavior? Are they like a different species?”
“No. Yes. No, of course not, not really. But the difference is very important. I supposed the most important thing, the heaviest single factor in one's life, is whether one's born male or female. In most societies, it determines one's expectations, activities, outlook, ethics, manners—almost everything. Vocabulary. Semiotic usages. Clothing. Even food. Women … women tend to eat less…. It's extremely hard to separate the innate differences from the learned ones. Even where women participate equally with men in the society, they still after all do all the childbearing, and so most of the child-rearing….”
“Equality is not the general rule, then? Are they mentally inferior?”
—The Left Hand of Darkness
Ursula K. Le Guin
In her award-winning science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin describes the planet Gethen, where all the people are hermaphrodites capable of both fathering and mothering a child. The people of Gethen cannot comprehend the difference between male and female. When the Terran ambassador, Genly Ai, visits Gethen, he must negotiate with people who have never experienced gender. As a result,