Player Gender

    Keywords: SL description

This page discusses the use of gender in Sensei's Library.

At Sensei's Library we usually refer to White as "she" and to Black as "he" if the players are unknown. This simplifies the discussion of diagrams. (Not necessarily, debatable, see below.) See also: Wiki Etiquette, SL Conventions / White vs Black Discussion.

Discussion One

rubilia: The reversed gender player assignment suggested above as "SL standard" feels really odd to me. The Yin/Yang dualism is closestly related to the roots of go, and of course,

  • darkness == Yin == Female
  • light == Yang == Male.

We should not mix that up.

Matt Noonan: I was under the impression that Black was typically called "she" and White was "he". Isn't this more in line with the gender/color relations in the yin/yang sense?

Morten Pahle: I asked this question over on RGG some time (about two years?) back. However, with Deja being taken over by Google, I cannot seem to find the posts anymore. I seem to remember that the 'normal' use is Black:male and White:female, but that Janice Kim consistently uses the opposite. There was also someone who linked the actual yin/yang colours into the discussion, but my memory doesn't quite stretch far enough. Google is promising to bring the full archives back up, so maybe these fascinating posts can be resurrected.

Jonathan Cano: For what it's worth, Whole Board Thinking In Joseki (vols 1 and 2) by Yi-Lun Yang uses

  • Black == male
  • White == female

Anonymous: But Yi-Lun Yang has been living outside asia for decades now, and more Chinese know that: Black =yin, White = yang and yin = female, yang = male.

I think I've seen this convention in one or two other published books so I think it is good to stay with color/gender choice.

The only thing worse than a bad standard is a constantly changing standard.

Kevin Greer?: In the Translator's Preface for the book Essential Joseki by Rui Naiwei, 9 dan (who is a woman), the editor says that he reverses the Daoist convention of referring to the feminine as Black, as a way of honouring the author. Indeed, not many of us could play White against Rui Naiwei.

Hu: Why bother introducing gender and all its complications into an abstract game? Gender pronouns in Go are completely unnecessary and archaic. The convention is used one way in some books and the other way in other books. A duplicitous convention is worse than no convention. It is not hard to use gender neutral language:

  • Write "White" or "Black" or "W" or "B" explicitly.
  • Use the word "one", as in "One may play a shimari".
  • Using "they", "themself", and "their" in generic singular context is the original way of English until 18th century grammarians took it upon themselves to arbitrarily change the language.
  • Eliminate pronouns entirely.
    • "Black may play her stone at A" becomes "Black may play at A".
    • "Black will crush her opponent" becomes "Black will crush the opponent".
    • "White builds his wall" becomes "White builds a wall".

Chris Schack: For that matter, the passive sentence forms could be used. Instead of saying "<pronoun> may play a shimari", it's certainly possible to say "A shimari may be played". Of course, this may not be the most natural thing for some statements...

Neil: The last thing the English language needs is for people to encourage the use of the passive voice. Especially on this site, where japanese jargon already obscures the meanings at times, unnecessary passive voice would make things hard to understand.

Charles Matthews: Well, I have written a whole book in gender-neutral language. It can be done, once you have the knack. More impersonal, though. I still like the SL convention.

Tamsin: I don't think it matters whether Black is male or female, so long as the writer uses their own choice consistently or so long as which colour is meant is always clear.

I have no objection to gender neutral language, either, but using "he" and "she" does have a pleasing, personal feel about it, and that appeals to me.

Bill Spight: Mathematical Go uses masculine pronouns for White and feminine for Black, only accidentally in tune with yin and yang associations. It associates Black wth the Left player and White with the Right player, via Belle BLack and WRight White. ;-) It also uses feminine pronouns for players in general.

Nathaniel Rounds?: My understanding of yin and yang is that black is yang and white is yin. (Because black represents all colors, or fullness, and white represents no colors, or emptyness.) I attended a Chinese Buddhist school in California, and that's what they taught me. Thus it seems like:
black == yang == male
white == yin == female

Sebastian: I wonder what made them say that. Firstly, black is not the combination of all colors. That would be either brown (in subtractive color mixture) or white (in additive color mixture).[1]

Black is indeed the product of mixing all colours subtractively (more specifically, if you mix cyan, magenta, and yellow, you should get black). You get other colours in practice due to imperfect colours
our light blues are never precisely cyan, our purples are never precisely magenta, our yellows are always the slightly wrong shade of yellow.

Secondly, as any dictionary will tell you, the characters themselves clearly mean:[2]

See also YinYang Principle.

Discussion Two

A gender discussion started on July 7, 2006 on White, moved here. The paragraph that started it was:

(a footnote cut from White page, [3]): In the Orient, White is traditionally associated with "he" (corresponding to Yang); MathematicalGo has adopted this convention. In western countries, White nevertheless is sometimes referred to as "she", e. g. on SL and by Janice Kim.

(a footnote cut from Black page): In the Orient, Black is traditionally associated with "she" (corresponding to Yin); MathematicalGo has adopted this convention. In western countries, Black nevertheless is sometimes referred to as "he", e. g. on SL and by Janice Kim.

DrStraw: This does not make it correct. When gender is not known the default pronoun in English is "he". "She" implies knowledge that the participant is female.

Bill: Guess who's not a feminist. ;-)

DrStraw: I'm a speaker of English. Feminism has nothing to do with it.

AndyPierce: Go has two players. Why not let it be assumed that these are male and female? It's nice.

Jono: I think there's been a shift from "he" as generic - it certainly feels wrong to me when it is used. Technical writers (I'm assuming SL docs are technical) suggest using labels instead , i.e. white, black, or mixing up he/she. See: [ext] gender neutral technical writing. Of course we have to be careful not to discriminate against males by using "he" for black throughout handicap games. ;)

Hu: The gender of the generic white and black players is hopelessly confused on SL and other places, with no consistent standard. Mixing up she and he introduces cognitive dissonance that interferes with the reader's comprehension of what is already a difficult subject. The best thing to do is to make the writing gender-neutral. It is easy to write in a gender-neutral way. I have always written that way on SL and many other places for years.

Dieter: Language evolves, caused by changes in society. There was a time that "flat screen" was not standard English, because it didn't exist. At that time one could say "I'm an English speaker. Futurism has nothing to do with it."

I will continue with the black/he white/she division. I don't think it is particularly confusing, even if the practice is not consistent.

Bill: Having been part of the relevant discussion, I disagree with Hu about having a standard. We do have a standard on SL, and it is as Dieter says. If we now want to change it, fine. Otherwise, let's stick to it.

Velobici: Agree with Dieter and Bill. Black == He. White == She.

blubb: I agree with Hu. As pointed out in the discussion (where I think this actually belongs to), I see no reason to promote an alleged standard proposed by a handful western Go writers, which ignores the entire background that has already been there in Asia for millenia and so only raises confusion. We have no chance to alter the associations black->yin->female and white->yang->male, but we do have a chance to care about consistency of standards by not further blowing up a home-brewed, contradicting convention which, as of now, has affected hardly 1% of the SL pages anyway. Just considering English units as an example, the unification of once widespread standards obviously can be much harder. Regardless of some persistent resistance, the metric system practically is the only candidate of choice for a consistent system of measurement, though.

Velobici: Hu argues for gender-free writing, which he calls gender-neutral (perhaps he meant neutered :) as in it). blubb states that he agrees with Hu, then argues that the gender associations are so strong that "we have no chance to alter the associations black->yin->female and white->yang->male". Which indicates that blubb is arguing for gender-based writing, albeit, color/gender reversed from what Dieter and Bill advocate, for the gender/color association are so strong that "we have no chance to alter" them. So it would appear that we have three choices: 1. no gender (Hu), 2. Oriental gender/color associations (blubb) and 3. Western gender/color associations (Deiter, Bill, Velobici). A rather confused discussion.

blubb: Personally, I use the established asian assignments sometimes, but I am fine with gender neutral writing which I�d regard as the best way out of this confusion.

Hu: An important thing to note about gender-neutral writing is that anybody reading it will generally not notice it and it will not interfere with understanding. Gender-specific writing about Go will cause cognitive dissonance in a significant part of the readership, depending on whether they are used to the she-black/he-white or he-black/she-white or gender-neutral conventions. I usually don't remember what is the convention when an SL writer uses "he" or "she" and I spend time puzzling it out. Good writers write for maximum reader comprehension, and gender-neutral writing is the best way to achieve this.

Phelan: I think what is most important is that the page is consistent not only by itself, but with its neighbours. Still, I think it is simpler to use Black and White, since there is no doubt about which is which. Using genders might create situations where one refers to a male player as 'she', or a female player as 'he'.

Discussion Two-a

  • (1) Using 'he' or 'she' is confusing, especially for beginners; a similar situation exists in books where authors comment games by referring to the player's names, forcing the reader's mind to map names - typically strange or foreign ones - to colours all the time. In the end, the human mind has to do the mapping back to Black/White anyway, so why introduce additional complexity? All this is certainly not helping beginners. IMO, I think that the main reasons why people want to introduce gender is either a totally misplaced attempt to draw ideas of equality of sexes into Go, or a form of snobism, a way to express "I am able to take this extra hurdle". For me, gender is unneccessary baggage (just like Roman numbers, for example); Go has already by far enough to offer intellectually. The "tradition" argument is weak, as traditions invariably will, in a distant future, become outdated and forgotten, as everything evolves and memories fade. So one can better pass on the essence of knowledge, and not burden future generations with questions like "why on Earth did they call White 'she'..." etc. And as far as I know, this doesn't happen in other games, but I could be mistaken.

axd: I'd like to refine my tradition argument: the point I try to make is to not systematically accept tradition as something that has to be respected at all times, only that some traditions (e.g. having to play in the upper right corner, or even the traditional handicap placement) have a high [ext] dogmatic value and are more ballast than anything else, partly because there are no objective reason to maintain them, other than "because it used/uses to be like that". And therefore, tradition must be looked upon with much suspicion, rather than blindly accept it as a cultural phenomenon, as something that enriches the game. (See also Religion)

blubb: This certainly is just a side issue, but since I am the one who stressed the asian tradition here, allow me to add a further comment. I wouldn`t suggest that tradition per se, i. e. the mere historical phenomenon, deserved much weight in present decisions. The argument, "it has been this way all the time, so let`s keep it" is as valid as its counterpart, "it has been this way all the time, so let`s change it". However, established conventions as live social phenomenons do deserve consideration. We could suddenly start to refer to the color corresponding with a vacuum wavelength of 700 nm as "green", and to 530 nm as "red", but that hardly would make things easier. Due to the limited rate at which conventions can be spread and socially established, they need some continuity - not just over topics, but also over time - to be useful as communication simplifiers. Hence, the question about a change is, if its inherent flaw of discontinuity is outweighed by the gains or not. (Yet another question is, whether the concerned topic should be ruled by a convention at all.) Back to subject: My argument is not pro associating colors with genders, but about the way to go IF we did. I guess we better don`t, anyway.

Discussion 3

ElfKing: I believe that there is poetry in Go. The use of genders play a pivotal part in the language of Go to convey the intimacy of this game for the players who play it. It's the sheer balance of Go and its closeness to depicting life and death that makes it a unique experience.

The battle between stones represents the struggle of lovers to encapsulate each other not just a rivalry between players. There are poetic and aesthetic reasons to keep the use of gender specific language. Being consistent is, of course, useful. As far as "gender neutral language is appropriate for technical writing" well I humbly disagree. Personalized language is invariably easier to understand when conveying new concepts.

Moreover, isn't Go a very personal game for the players? I believe it to be personal. It resonates within the souls of the two player as well as those who watch the game and brings together all of the emotions, desires, inhibitions, fears, delights of living and dying for an unfeeling unrelenting stone. The beauty of a perfect play, the dance of thought against thought, will against will.

Ah the romance of it all :) -- I play Go so that I may drown myself in its poetry -- I hope that every one who plays Go does it for a personal reason that sings within their soul.

Nik: Why is it even necessary to have a set convention? What difference does it make if in one hypothetical example, white is referred to as "she" and in another example, white is referred to as "he"? I don't even see the necessity of using different genders for both players. Why would there be any confusion if both players were reffered to as "he" or both as "she"? In fact, it took me quite a while to even realize that there was a convention.

Malcolm: My pennysworth. I think each should do as they choose, no convention is necessary. However I personally prefer to follow Conway and have Black a "she" and White a "he" (Belle Black, Wright White).

Velobici: Agreed that convention is not required. We can have one page that uses the feminine for Black and another using the feminine for White. The reader can check for himself that her understanding that Black is male and White is female is correct for this particular section. Its not a requirement; conventions do make is easier on that reader, he no longer has to verify her mapping of gender to color. Alternatively, we could use color only and not use gender at all.c

Discussion 4

Anonymous added "and makes us look stupid" after "This simplifies the discussion of diagrams".


[1] Hikaru79: I think it's safe to say that in 4000 B.C. or whenever Chinese Buddhism was at it's peak, there weren't any really advanced theories about subtractive color theory, etc. Black is dark, therefore it must have seemed like it was all colors. White is the color of paper, of light, therefore, no colors.

Anonymous The "peak" of Chinese Buddhism was closer to 400 A.D. Besides, the Yin-Yang system predates Buddhism by a thousand years or more.

[2] Quoted from Concise English-Chinese Chinese-English Dictionary, Oxford University Press (admittedly not a concise title;-)

陽 Yang: 1. (in Chinese philosophy, medicine, etc.) Yang, the masculine or positive principle in nature. 2. the sun. [...]

陰 Yin: 1. (in Chinese philosophy, medicine, etc.) Yin, the feminine or negative principle in nature. [...] 3. shade. [...]

The Shuo Wen Jie Zi, published around AD 200, and the standard for all dictionaries of classical Chinese since, writes about Yin's root: "侌。从今。从云。曾意。雲覆日也。" ("Yin: From 'presently' and from 'cloud'. That is: clouds are covering the sun.")

Seriously, though. For the sake of the great tradition of Go, I urge every author to stick with the convention that has stood the test of time for milennia.

Anonymous Why? By abondoning this practice, how is the "great tradition of Go" threatened in any way?

[3] axd: About these moved footnotes: as they are part of the confusion, I think they have a better place here, to be read by the interested. Otherwise they will only trigger more reactions on the original pages, adding to the confusion.

blubb: In my view, they just gave a brief and neutral view on the background(s), which seems perfectly fit to footnotes (as opposed to page bodies). I agree that the actual discussion at Black and White was misplaced. On the other hand, as long as genders are mentioned there at all, why not give a short explanation that would clarify the issue in place? Here, it gets lost in a lengthy dispute.

axd: The footnotes themselve are confusing: notice the word nevertheless. And check the actual pages: both mention "he ... or she" in the "addressed as ..." item. This is totally hopeless; I propose to put an appropriate footnote back once the smoke has settled.

blubb: Right, "nevertheless" sounds somewhat biased - it was that word which made me hesistate a bit when I called the sentences "neutral". But then again I thought, since the yin-yang associations are not just an arbitrary ancient tradition but very alive amongst millions, if not billions, of people, they could deserve the slight precedence provided thereby. Anyway, something like "On the other hand, ..." might do better. About the rest, I agree, too.

On the issue of which player is Yin and which player is Yang - forget the color of the stones and just consider who goes first. It certainly makes sense that Yang should go first, and Yin should answer, does it not? The first player then should be Yang (and "he") and the second player should be Yin (and "she"). So why are the colors reversed? Because they got switched, for whatever reason, quite late in the history of Go. In ancient Go, White went first. (Source: "400 Years Of Go In Japan"). -- palapiku from lifein19x19 forums

Player Gender last edited by on September 8, 2010 - 21:09
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