I have on multiple occasions wondered how people perceive the gender of simple faces like a smiley. I think that the more generic the rendition is, the more strictly gender neutral it is that I would still err on the side of regarding it as male – which is kinda lame. Not sure if that is because of my gender or something more from our culture or society. If you think about a vaguely humanoid statue made of snow by some kids – we refer to it as a snowman.

I would like to do some more scientific exploration of this concept, how female do you need to make a face before we see it as such. Being able to say a face is gender neutral is nice, but if pushed which way to people fall for something with as few clues as a smiley.

I did find a few articles/papers talking about different aspects of this, but not right on point. The virtual facial feminism site covers the topic from a different angle while my look at the Simpsons below shows how this style uses more blatant cues to distinguish gender. Check out the Simpsonized casts to see how they push the art style to make likenesses of male and female characters. In the corner I simply took away the eyelashes and shortened the hair, is the character still female? Do we need extra cues like these to set the gender.

Last night I was toying with this concept and the Golems for my game. I felt that despite them fundamentally being genderless there was something quite male about the concept sketches so far. So you can see below various explorations of adding female cues, how much is needed before they tip into being female? Eyelashes, lips, make-up, jewellery, smoother forms, pretty eyebrows etc all can be used to varying degrees to nudge things towards female or maybe get things to a better neutral spot.