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Sally Impossible: What could be more important than your family, Richard?

Richard Impossible: ...Science?

In a great deal of media, science and technology are portrayed as inherently masculine. Men, according to this trope, approach life as a puzzle to be solved by logic and reason. Women, on the other hand, tend to be in tune with their emotions and approach problem-solving by relying on their feelings and intuition.

If a show has men and women both from an academic background, the man will typically have a degree in science, math, or engineering, while the woman will have one in arts or literature. (This may be why so many mad scientists are male.) Even if both characters are scientists, expect the man to research physics or mathematics and the woman to research psychology or biology. (This particular aspect is currently Truth in Television -- men usually outnumber women in university courses in mathematics, engineering, chemistry and physics, while women outnumber men in the humanities and in social and biological sciences.) Even when a character works in a field not usually associated with their gender, gender may still affect the approach they take -- for instance, a female engineer may be portrayed as understanding machinery in an intuitive way, while a male gardener might see himself more as a botanist than as a caretaker who loves beautiful flowers. Even people in the exact same careers will often change their approach; female doctors in fiction are likely to view themselves as compassionate healers, while men in the same profession will often see themselves as problem-solving scientists. This may lead to Harmony Versus Discipline conflicts.

Note that which approach is portrayed as better varies widely; see Romanticism Versus Enlightenment. In many works that come down on the side of Enlightenment, you'll see women portrayed as hysterically irrational and easily manipulated, while their male counterparts' hard-nosed, pragmatic rationalism proves to be the key to saving the day. More Romanticist works, on the other hand, often portray men as cold, arrogant, heartless, and unable to appreciate beauty or emotional realities, while the women are more balanced, compassionate, and in tune with nature. In some works, it will be suggested that both approaches are necessary and have to balance each other. (Note that this doesn't entirely get rid of the Unfortunate Implications if it's still implied that your gender determines which approach you have to take.) Nowadays, due to widespread awareness of this trope and its Unfortunate Implications, it's increasingly common to see inversions, with a sensitive, emotional man and a cold, logical woman. Again, which one is portrayed as right will still vary, although works like this are perhaps slightly more likely to go with the "both sides are necessary for balance" approach.

This is Older Than Feudalism: ancient Greek thinkers believed that men were blessed with rationality and self-control, allowing them to handle tasks like philosophy and politics, while women lacked rationality and were controlled by their emotions and physical passions much like animals were. Unlike modern writers, though, the Greeks had no doubt which one was better.

Compare Clarke's Law for Girls Toys, Men Buy From Mars, Women Buy From Venus and Mars and Venus Gender Contrast. See also The Chick, The Smurfette Principle, Straw Vulcan and Strawman Emotional. Contrast Wrench Wench and Motherly Scientist (usually female, but not always).

Examples of Mother Nature, Father Science include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, protagonist Amuro Ray's father was an emotionally-distant Engineer who took his son into space. By contrast his mother is literally Closer to Earth, having chosen to stay there and work in a refugee camp, and she's shown to be pretty irrational.
  • Tweeny Witches has the all-female witches living in a lush, Miyazaki-flavored valley-town fueled by magic while the in-name-only warlocks and their banished witch wives live under the desert in an underground fortress (basically the one in Neon Genesis Evangelion), surrounded by technology and artificial food. There are a few actual warlocks who can use magic, but they're very old and live outside the fortress.
  • Ponyo's mother is a goddess of mercy, and her father a scientist. (Well, sort of a wizard, but a very mad-science-flavored wizard.) However, there's a bit of a subversion in that her father is motivated more by love for his family than anything else and cares deeply about nature, to the point of hating humans for unbalancing the ocean's ecosystem.

Comic Books

  • In the Batman universes, Poison Ivy and Catwoman are great examples of this trope. Poison Ivy can control the growth of plants with her mind and is often depicted as being mothering to plants and so in harmony with the natural world to the point that she hates just about anything man-made. Catwoman is not so obvious, but she has an unexplained and very odd affinity with cats. In some continuities, even tigers will discard habitual ferociousness if she gives them the right look. In contrast, the logical/sciencey villains like Mr. Freeze or the Riddler tend to be male, although the Penguin does have an affinity with birds.
    • Then again, Poison Ivy is usually portrayed as a mad biologist. Maybe women go for the natural sciences.
      • Which is still this trope.
    • Even Penguin shows this when compared to Catwoman. Both have an affinity with an animal (Birds and Cats respectively), Penguin shows a higher preference for high tech gadgets (like his trick umbrellas) than Catwoman who relies on a plain whip, claws and acrobatics.
    • And then there's Harley, the mad psychiatrist. Oh, the irony...
      • To elaborate, she may have started off as a psychiatrist, but she is driven by her insanely emotional devotion to The Joker.
  • In the Superman comic book story "Father Nature's Folly" a male alien arrives on Earth, and claims that he and his mate were the creators of life in many worlds. He claimed to be unhappy with the result of his mate's work on Earth, and would have mutated all life into bizarre forms had Superman not stopped him.
  • In From Hell, Sir William Gull gives a rather deranged, yet convincing Nietzschean speech about the Ancient Greek beliefs mentioned above, rationalising his actions as ensuring we would have a logical, Apollonian and masculine future of science and order instead of being dragged backwards into an emotional, Dionysian future of insanity and emotional female rule. It was well-argued enough that author Alan Moore talked himself into becoming a magician whilst writing it.

Film

  • In Spider-Man 2, Doctor Octavius (later Octopus) and his wife Rosalie are both college professors, but whereas Otto specializes in nuclear physics, Rosalie teaches literature.
  • Inverted in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Flint Lockwood's mother was supportive of his scientific endeavors, while his father is mostly confused by anything more complicated than a fishing line.

Literature

  • Discworld is very complex and goes back and forth about this. Equal Rites brought these ideas to the fore.
    • Wizards are urban and associate with the Unseen University, thus are some variety of academia parody. They are often silly old duffers or giant nerds, but this does give the luster of hard science to their magic, and were more powerful once in Disc politics. The leading wizard, Ridcully, is pretty pompous but macho too (and ironically was thought to be Closer to Earth, but was actually an Egomaniac Hunter). In earlier stories they tended to assassinate each other a lot. They're also celibate because of the possibility of Sourcerors.
    • Witch stories focus around the trio of Nanny Ogg, Magrat, and Granny Weatherwax. Granny is a cynical, hardbitten, practical one who thinks wizards waste time with their 'jommetry' and 'supreme arch-whatever' just to look important. Nanny Ogg uses Obfuscating Stupidity and is a touch louche. Magrat is romantic and a little New Age and drippy. Overall, they're rural, more folk-magic, but closer to everyday concerns and problems than the wizards.
      • A few Witch characters have been seen to use wizard magic, which is a variety of Rule Magic and so there is really no reason why not. No wizard has been seen to use Borrowing or any other of the Witch specialties, but on the other hand there has never really been any suggestion that they couldn't if they wanted to. Granny once fought a magical duel with the then-current Archchancelor, and they fought to a standstill.
  • Frankenstein constantly refers to nature as female, and the title character says he wants to "penetrate the secrets of nature". Subtle, Mary Shelley.
    • Which is actually similar to the criticisms of "patriarchal" paradigms of science by some feminist philosophers.
  • Diane Duane's Young Wizards series follows this. Nita's magic relates to nature and living things. Her male partner Kit tends to do better with technology and inanimate objects like rocks. However, later on Nita's sister subverts the whole thing by being a computer wiz with a magical affinity for technology and silicon-based lifeforms, and both Nita and Kit eventually grow out of their original specialties into others, which is apparently common for wizards. It's left open whether their initial foci came from awareness of the trope, but newcomers to magic in the books do tend to get it in a form which behaves as much the way they expect it to as is practical (without breaking Magic A Is Magic A).
  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel Lungbarrow, which explains the mythology of Gallifrey; the three scientists (Rassilon, Omega and the Other) are male and good. The Pythia (bad) is a witch and a woman.
  • In the novel Enduring Love, Clarissia is "mother nature" to Joe's "father science".
  • A notable early aversion of this trope is ETA Hoffmann's 1816 story "The Sandman" (no relation), about the superstitious, (over)sensitive proto-Emo Teen Nathanael and his hardheaded rationalist girlfriend Clara.
  • In The Belgariad prequels, Polgara notes that her mother encouraged her to learn by accepting, whereas her father taught her to question everything.

Live Action TV

  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor's first two human companions: Ian taught Science while Barbara taught History.
    • The Rani is meant to be a genius, and is usually shown doing evil science of some kind, but still falls partially within this trope in that her field seems to be biogenetics, as opposed to the engineering favoured by both the Doctor and the Master. Romana, who is canonically meant to be cleverer than the Doctor, is an inversion, especially when she makes her own (superior) sonic screwdriver that the Doctor tries to steal.
    • In "The Green Death" we get an interesting play on it. We get Mother Nature (the hippie commune) and Father Science (Global Chemicals) BUT the commune is made up of research scientists trying, among other things, to breed high protein fungus to act as a meat replacement.
  • In Dona Barbara, the title character (a wealthy landlady) represents the brutish nature while Santos Luzardo (a lawyer from the big city) is the civilization.
  • ICarly: Expect Carly and Sam to solve problems in the natural (or the brawn) way and Freddie to resort to geeky gadgets and tech stuff.
    • Played straight with iGo Nuclear. Carly's projects involve a crude compost pit and an organic pesticide, while Sam used her fingers to rip an orange apart. Contrast Freddie's high-tech modern composter, Spencer's electric-powered scooter, and Cal's illegal nuclear power generator.
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: Dick is a physicist and his love interest and co-worker Mary is an anthropologist. On the other hand, Dick is a Cloudcuckoolander alien while Mary is a cynical Grumpy Bear.
  • In the initial cast of Farscape, there is Crichton, a scientist (if one given to explosiveness under pressure), and Zhaan, a priestess. However, this might also count as an inversion, because Crichton is very emotional, and Zhaan at least tries to be calm and logical.
    • For more, see "Inversions," below.
  • In the new Battlestar Galactica it seems that Head Six and Head Baltar represent spirituality and logic respectively -- while both agree they represent a higher power, Head Six calls it God and believes it demands religious worship, while Head Baltar seems to have a more abstract view of this power/entity.
  • The fourth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer follows this theme, with the Slayers' magic vs. the Initiative's research in dealing with demonic forces.
  • House is Father Science in contrast to Cameron/Cuddy/Thirteen/Adams/Wilson as Mother Nature.
  • The primary female scientists in The Big Bang Theory work in the fields of neurobiology and microbiology while the males take to experimental physics, theoretical physics, astrophysics, and aeronautical engineering.

Tabletop Games

  • Played straight in Eberron. In the Sovereign Host, Aureon the god of Lore and Onatar the god of Craftsmen are both males. Arawai is the goddess of Life, and is female.

Video Games

  • In ~Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri~, the hippie environmentalist faction is led by Deirdre Skye, a woman, and the scientific technological faction is led by Prokhor Zakharov, a man. Alien Crossfire then inverts this by introducing Aki Zeta-5, an Emotionless Girl leader of an entire faction of Spocks, and Cha'Dawn, a young man who is supposedly The Messiah, head of the Cult Of Planet.
    • The expansion also played it straight with the two alien factions: the Caretakers, led by a female sworn to preserve the planet, and the Usurpers, led by a male and hellbent on exploiting its power for their own gain.
      • However, the expert hackers (Data Angels) and the ultra-militaristic faction (Spartans) are led by women, while the humanitarian Peacekeepers are led by a man.
  • In the Myst series, Atrus is an avid scientist and total rationalist, while his wife, Catherine, is more emotional and spiritual, and their Writing reflects their differing views. Their children, Sirrus, Achenar, and Yeesha also seem to follow this trope.
  • Final Fantasy VII has Dr. Hojo, who tends to initially dismiss supernatural theories about The Promised Land, and tends to see everything and everyone in terms of facts or varibles. He is contrasted by Dr. Lucrecia Cresent who dedicated her career to ancient, magical occurrences within the planet. Significant in that Sephiroth is their child; the combination of polemical forces to essentially create the game's version of the anti-Christ. Though the addition of a Third Wheel known as Jenova, an Eldritch Abomination that eats a Planet's Lifestream also probably had something to do with it.
  • In Okami the Goddess Amaterasu is the Sun God and is in charge of restoring nature while her archnemesis is Yami, God of Darkness and creator of Technology.
  • Cooking Mama versus Science Papa
  • The siblings Animebona and Animenkhna, the spirits of Albion and Earth, also represent Magic and respectively science. They don't get along very well.

Web Comics

  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, Surma Carver could speak with the Guides, and she served as the mediator between the Court and the magical Gillitie Wood. Her husband, Anthony, was a surgeon and, according to Jones:

 Antimony: I had no idea [Surma] worked here. She never mentioned it.

Jones: Oh? That was your father's influence, I suspect. Yes, he never had patience for matters that didn't fall into a scientific category.

    • Though considering that Jones was deliberately trying to anger Annie, it's possible this is being set up for a subversion.
    • No mention of Gunnerkrigg Court would be complete without noticing that Kat, and her mother, both fall on the side of science.
      • Anthony's views on magic aside, Gunnerkrigg subverts the whole thing pretty soundly by treating magic as another form of science. It's explicitly referred to as the "etheric sciences". Kat's dad was able to cast that one shield spell because he's a sub-user on his wife's etheric computer.
  • Calamities of Nature makes fun of this stereotype about men and women in this comic about the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Western Animation

  • This trope is pretty much epitomized by Dexter and his sister Dee Dee.
  • In Gargoyles, Fox's parents are a male scientist/robotics engineer and Titania. Yes, that Titania. Queen of Faerie Titania. And yet it works perfectly, in part because Titania appreciates science as a kind of "magic".
    • Somewhat inverted in that Fox's father has a lot more integrity and good principles than her mother. He's a lot kinder too.
  • In one episode of The Simpsons, Bart and Lisa's school was split into Boys' and Girls' sections. The Boys learned everything pretty much the same way, but the Girls reverted to some absolutely bizarre New Age teaching methods. While the boys' teaching methods worked better, outside of class their side of the school looked like a scene from Lord of the Flies.

 Teacher: How do numbers make you feel...

  • The Secret Saturdays lives this trope. Doc Saturday is a scientist through and through, while his wife Drew is more a believer in the paranormal. Faced with any problem Doc will always seek a logical solution while Drew will explore more mystical alternatives. They're still Happily Married though so that's cool.
  • The parents of Kim Possible are both highly qualified scientists -- but her father is a rocket scientist and her mother a brain surgeon.
  • In Captain Planet, the Planeteers are led by Gaia, the spirit of the Earth. The main villains are almost all male, except for one --Dr. Babs Blight, a rare female Mad Scientist. The male villains tend to be in business, though Duke Nukem used to be a scientist as well.

Other

  • Paleolithic sites of Europe and the Middle East are filled with figures and drawings of either obese or pregnant women that are generally assumed to be fertility goddesses. From the Neolithic on, these goddesses are joined by increasing depictions of bulls or horned male figures that are rendered as personifications of agriculture.
  • In Myers-Briggs, the "Thinking" function is seen as masculine and the "Feeling" function is seen as feminine. It may or may not be a coincidence that there are more male Thinkers and female Feelers in Real Life.

Inversions

Anime and Manga

  • The movie Sailor Moon S has a female scientist and her emotional boyfriend who believes in myths.
  • In Naruto the only characters who can use Mokuton are male: Senju Harashima, Captain Yamato and Shimura Danzo
    • And now Uchiha Madara
  • Subverted in Princess Mononoke: Lady Eboshi provides food and shelter for the poor and sick, former prostitutes, and all other kinds of outcasts who don't have any other place to go...by running an industrial scale iron mine and expanding into advanced firearms development and production.

Comic Books

  • Zigzags a bit in Xenozoic Tales, featuring the very science-minded Hannah Dundee and the Earth mother father Jack Tenrec. Both of them have leanings for the opposite side. Jack, despite his undying devotion to the natural order, loves working on cars and other machines. Hannah, more subtly, believes in the mystic underpinnings of the world, but she considers they will be scientifically explicable, once they are better understood. There's also the indication that she's been chosen by the Grith for... wouldn't it be nice if the series had lasted long enough to tell us?
  • Zol-El and Alura, the parents of Supergirl. Zor-El is an artist and very kind and opened-up. Alura is a scientist and usually an example of Good Is Not Nice. A flashback revealed that she used to be an Emotionless Girl before her relationship with Zor.
  • Elf Quest has two major pairs of "sweet, mystical, peaceful boy" and "strong warrior woman" (Suntop and Ember, Redlance and Nightfall), and both are experienced as playing against type. An Animated Adaptation was proposed, but canceled when Executive Meddling demanded that the personalities be switched.

Literature

  • Everything Dan Brown has ever written. His hero is always an expert in some area of humanities, while the heroine is an expert in some mathematical field.
  • The Ents and Entwives in The Lord of the Rings. Treebeard explains that while the Ents delighted in nature and the wilds, and would roam for long periods communing with plants and animals. Whereas:

  [The Entwives] did not desire to speak with these things; but they wished them to hear and obey what was said to them. The Entwives ordered them to grow according to their wishes, and bear leaf and fruit to their liking; for the Entwives desired order, and plenty, and peace (by which they meant that things should remain where they had set them). So the Entwives made gardens to live in.

    • The Entwives then first taught humans agriculture, and how to farm the land. Their male counterparts remained wild, favouring a more intuitive connection with growing things.
  • In ~The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy~ the most prominent female character, Trillian, is a competent astrophysicist.
  • Big time aversion: coldly logical (and somewhat misanthropic) robopsychologist Susan Calvin of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot.

Live Action Television

  • In Stargate SG-1, Daniel Jackson is a linguist, archaeologist and anthropologist whereas Samantha Carter is a genius astrophysicist. She's also amazing at maths and engineering.
  • Agent Mulder and Agent Scully of The X-Files are classic inversions. Mulder is a psychologist, a believer in the paranormal, and relies heavily on intuition in his investigations. Scully is a forensic pathologist with an undergrad degree in physics, a total skeptic about paranormal phenomena, and works from logic and hard evidence. Furthermore, Mulder is usually the one who's unafraid to show his feelings, while Scully is The Stoic. Mulder gets to be right more often, at least about the existence of the paranormal, but the show suggests very strongly that he'd be a failure without Scully there to keep him grounded. This was all done very deliberately by the writers.
  • Booth and Brennan in Bones. A complete inversion. Brennan disapproves of anything that isn't discovered through logical analysis (usually while poking around a corpse), and dislikes psychology, calling it a "soft science." Booth, on the other hand, is perfectly willing to go out on a limb without facts to support him, and crafts plausible scenarios, the potential for personal bias be damned. Booth isn't on the side of Nature, but he's a far cry from the logic of the squints.
  • Farscape also this: D'Argo, the Proud Warrior Race Guy of deep feeling, and Aeryn, stone-cold Badass soldier. Over time, both become less and less like this, Aeryn's emotional growth (while not losing her self-control) a key part of the story, while D'Argo becomes more and more self-aware and almost meta in his thinking: "John, I'm going to tell you something I've never put into words. I really like shooting stuff. And I'm very good at it."
  • Chakotay and Seven of Nine of Star Trek: Voyager. Chakotay is a Magical Native American who likes going on vision quests. Seven is an Emotionless Girl who was raised by the Borg who refuses to go back to her human name. Her emotional growth is explored throughout the series. The romance actually happens in the final season.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The first season episode "I Robot, You Jane" has a sort of inversion. Giles is books and eye of newt, Jenny is computers and techomagic.
  • Eureka has Alison as the logical scientist and Carter as the emotional one with a stronger grasp of the human element.

Mythology

  • Inuit mythology has two "nature" deities: Sedna, ruler of the creatures of the seas, and Torngarsoak, master of animals of the land.
  • Averted in Norse mythology, in which gender was used to represent different facets of both nature and logic/wisdom, rather than to distinguish them. Nature was represented by a plethora of gods, giants and spirits, most prominently by the siblings Frey and Freya, who represent male and female fertility, respectively, while both Odin and his wife Frigg were associated with the wisdom deemed appropriate for each gender, specifically in the roles as patriarch and matriarch. (Still gender-normative, yes, but Fair for Its Day.)
  • Inverted by the Dagda or the Green Man, a Celtic nature god. He appears today in a lot of leafy-carved garden ornaments.

Real Life

  • If Truth in Television can be an inversion: the view of nature as feminine is questioned by some modern Neopagan groups, where a Mother Nature figure, if present, is often complemented by male nature deities such as the Horned God, or the cycle of Oak King and Holly King. Nature as a whole is not completely the domain of either gender.
  • Interestingly, in both Greek and Latin 'scientia' (knowledge), and 'sophia' (wisdom), are female. Additionally, philosophy is one of the few humanities that remains male-dominated, especially in terms of faculty. Although philosophy heavily involves logic, it's generally classified as one of the humanities.
  • Ecofeminism and "difference feminism" generally play this trope straight, arguing that Western society has traditionally privileged "masculine" sources of knowledge and ways of approaching nature over "feminine" values like intuition, nurturing and respect for the natural world. Note that neither of these are really widely accepted by mainstream feminists these days, although they're still significant side factions.

Tabletop RPG

  • In contrast to the trope title, 'Father Nature' figures do occasionally crop up. Dungeons and Dragons third edition featured two nature deities; the all encompassing Obad-Hai, a male 'Father Nature' figure, and Ehlonna, a female deity specifically of the woodlands. Obad-Hai remained staunchly neutral, encompassing all of nature's aspects, while Ehlonna was good-aligned, and usually portrayed as subordinate to Obad-Hai. In the Forgotten Realms setting, the deities are similar. Nature as a whole is covered by Silvanus; so much a 'Father Nature' that his title is the Oakfather. Mielikki plays the same role as Ehlonna; she serves him, and while accepting that there's a natural cycle, out of tender-heartedness tends to intervene benevolently. There is a 'Mother Nature' figure, Chauntea, but she is described as specifically the deity of how humans interact with nature. Nature itself comes under Silvanus.
    • And yet played straight with the science half of things. Of the Greyhawk deities, Boccob is the coldly intellectual deity of magic and learning, and male, while Wee Jas is the female goddess of magic and death-but called a Witch Goddess of mysticism rather than enlightenment. Of the Forgotten Realms? All four of the deities of knowledge, invention, and learning are male (Oghma, Deneir, Gond, and Milil), Azuth, the god of wizards and academic magical learning is male. The only female deities who come remotely close are Mystra, goddess of magic, and Selune, goddess of the moon, and both have an extremely mystical bent rather than academic. The story is similar for all the non-human pantheons.
    • Averted, however, by the 4th edition pantheon, in which Nature and Magical Study are the domains of goddesses Melora and Ioun, respectively.

Video Games

  • Averted in Portal, where the science-loving G La DOS is clearly female.
  • In the Mass Effect series, the female Tali is an engineering genius and Wrench Wench, while the male Dr. Mordin Solus specializes in biology.

Web Comic

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