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Girls and boys

“‘…Kitti Ping made the choices gender imperative.'” (Dragonsdawn, p 352)

Gender preference is perhaps the most visible quirk exhibited by Kitti Ping’s creations in their Impression choice. Queen dragonets only choose female riders. Bronze, brown and blue dragonets only choose male riders. The system would be straightforward if not for green dragonets who, early in Pern’s history, proved themselves quite willing to flout Kitti’s imposed programming. In this, as in so many of the factors that affect dragon choice, dragonets demonstrate that their will to survive is stronger than their need to conform to Kitti’s vision.

The gold, bronze, brown and blue dragons do behave as Kitti intended – selecting riders of their own sex – and this is frequently interpreted within both canon and fandom as evidence that gender preference is foremost in a dragonet’s mind. It is, after all, a far more observable and quantifiable criterion than such intangibles as “telepathic potential” and “openness”. Yet green dragonets would not choose boys if gender preference were truly their primary concern: in that case a girl, any girl, would be favourable, whether a female candidate standing for a queen egg or, failing that, somebody in the stands. We know this is not so from the undeniable evidence that greens have chosen boys to the complete exclusion of girls throughout most of Pern’s history.

Why, then, do green dragons exhibit this willingness to defy gender convention in choosing their riders? It seems highly unlikely that Kitti had the prescience – or, indeed, the breadth of mind, given how frequently her traditional tendencies are mentioned – to foresee a need for greens to choose boys, let alone the time to programme such a clause into the dragon template. Neither is there any evidence to indicate that green dragonets are simply too stupid to distinguish between male and female minds. While few green dragons are developed in much detail in canon, much less male-ridden green dragons, no suggestion is ever made that greens mistakenly believe their male riders to be female.

The answer to the problem of why only greens choose riders of the opposite gender is much simpler: the availability of female candidates was severely restricted from a very early stage. As if the need to populate a new planet with a limited gene pool were not reason enough, the initial Threadfall losses made a woman’s childbearing ability her most precious commodity, and this conflicted with the lifestyle of a fighting dragonrider.

With fifty percent of dragonets hatching out green and a diminishing number of girls on hand to Impress them, green dragonets experienced a clash between their natural survival instincts and Kitti’s directive that they choose riders of their own gender. Instinct won. Green dragonets started to choose boys when there weren’t enough girls, and this in turn fuelled the decline in female candidates, for there was little reason to have girls Impress fighting dragons when boys could take their place.

Yet given a choice between a boy and a girl, both meeting the initial criteria of telepathic ability and receptivity, a green dragonet will choose the girl – in this case the compromise of choosing a male rider, against Kitti’s programming, is not necessary. It is for want of receptivity that this is seldom seen in canon until Mirrim’s Impression of Path. After centuries of boys, and only boys, Impressing fighting dragons, what girl would believe herself able to Impress a green? And a female candidate on the sands for a gold egg might have both the requisite telepathic potential and the desire to Impress a queen, but would not consider herself a candidate for a fighting green. In Mirrim’s case, the idea of Impressing a green had already been planted in her head by Brekke. Believing herself capable of Impressing a green opened the way for Path to find her.

Fandom frequently protests that, if boys Impress greens, girls should Impress blues, but this is flawed logic. Greens began to choose male riders not on a whim, but because circumstances – a lack of female candidates – forced it. For a blue dragonet to choose a girl as his rider, the reverse – a lack of male candidates – would have to be true. Should this situation ever occur, then blues, and indeed, browns and even bronzes, would most probably begin to look to girls as riders rather than die unimpressed, but the likelihood of a massive drop-off in the number of boys available to Impress is very low. Unless a male-specific plague wipes out all the men on Pern, odds are that there will never be a female blue rider.

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2 responses to “Girls and boys”

  1. Céline .S. Sauvé says:

    I wonder how this series of articles would have went with the newer Pern books from Todd changing the rules.

    • Faye Upton says:

      I haven’t read any of Todd’s books, but as I understand it, trying to reconcile Todd’s take on things as well as Anne’s would be even more problematic!

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