12

While it is probably quite arguable whether or not the Asari are actually female, I think a separate question remains open as to when and why did they begin calling themselves female.

Though they do appear distinctly feminine, they are only so in comparison to bipedal mammalian species - especially from Earth - which do have male and female genders. The only Mass Effect races whose females actually resemble Asari are Humans and Quarians. In almost all other cases, it is difficult to tell males and females of other races apart at all except for their voices.

Even before addressing a point of reference for comparison though, there is still the question of a need for the Asari to identify with any gender at all. Unless Thessia is home to other species that do have distinct genders, the Asari would not even have realized a need for any terms to describe male or female until they met an alien race that did have separate genders. Even if other Thessian creatures come in male and female varieties, such terms would only be reserved for discussions about those creatures - similar to how we have special terms to describe hermaphrodite species like earthworms and slugs. The Asari would not at all have had need to describe themselves with such terms unless they met another intelligent race that did.

After this point, the question is left as to why they would choose to be "female"? Again, the Asari only distinctly resemble the females of Human and Quarian races - and, based on known Citadel history, it's not likely that those were the first intelligent extra-Thessian races the Asari encountered. (Much more likely would be the Turians, Salarians, Volus, or Keepers.) Also, most non-Asari races are male-dominant cultures.

As far as I can tell, there is not anything in the Mass Effect Trilogy that covers this piece of Asari history. There also seems to be little if any information at all, in the Trilogy, regarding other Thessian creatures and their biology. Is there anything I have missed in the games, or anything in the comics or other Mass Effect literature that would help address this?

  • I would bet that there is no information on when/where the Asari began to refer to themselves as female. And until such time as Bioware creates the story of Asari meeting their first extra-terrestrial interstellar species (the Salarians I believe), that knowledge is likely to be unavailable. – Xantec Jan 29 '13 at 17:38
  • @Xantec Indeed, an answer to that effect from someone familiar with all or most of the works in the Mass Effect series (not just the games) would be understandable and acceptable. – Iszi Jan 29 '13 at 17:40
16

Looked at logically, "female" is an English word, so the Asari would only have started using it once contacting humans, and then when speaking English. The relevant dictionary definitions of "female" and "male" are:

Female: an organism of the sex or sexual phase that normally produces egg cells.

Male: an organism of the sex or sexual phase that normally produces a sperm cell or male gamete.

Since an "egg cell" is what either produces an egg in egg laying animals, or what grows in a womb of live bearing animals, it stands to reason that the definition of "Female" applies to the Asari as they are live bearing animals, who presumably create egg cells.

The definition of "female" does not require that a "male" exists, and there are a couple of species on Earth where there is no male. (See parthenogenesis)

Note that a species of only males is a logical impossibility, though a species of asexual beings (who reproduced through budding or something) is theoretically possible.

  • 5
    +1 for that first point. This isn't a sociology issue, it's a translation issue. The Asari we meet are (by the usual movie magic) speaking English. So we only really know how they're translated among humans. (That bar conversation in ME2 suggests Turians and Krogans see them the same way, but that's not surprising - Turians are similar to humans psychologically, and Krogans would see giving birth as the important point.) – Tynam Jan 29 '13 at 17:54
  • Parthenogenesis isn't really applicable to the Asari, as the Asari do require a mate to reproduce. – Xantec Jan 29 '13 at 20:48
  • It depends on what the "mate" is actually for. My impression is that the Asari didn't use the mate for actual biological fertilization of an egg...parthenogenesis is when an egg develops without fertilization. The games don't describe the biology of it in-depth. – Steven Burnap Jan 29 '13 at 20:57
  • Indeed. In fact, we don't even know that the Asari have eggs. It might be more along the lines of budding, as you mentioned. – Xantec Jan 29 '13 at 21:18
  • 1
    @Monty129 This is actually more than just a title for an individual. It refers to a stage in the life of every Asari. The Matriarch stage is basically the age when Asari become very respected for their experience and wisdom and begin to share this with the rest of Asari society. The previous stages are Maiden and Matron, again both ‘female’. Maiden are the ‘wild years’ while Matrons tend to settle down for a while and have children. – Sebastian_H Jan 30 '13 at 9:49
4

I want to say that Liara briefly touches on this in conversion during Mass Effect 1. But I cannot verify that presently.

You're right in that, unless there are bi-sexual species on Thessia, the Asari would have no need to identify separate male/female sexes prior to developing interstellar travel. However, they would still have had to have some way of identifying "mother" and "father" terms when it comes to reproduction, as only one of the parents in a coupling will bear the offspring, similar to two sex partnership. This at least would have allowed for a base of understanding when presented with aliens that have male and female differences.

However, according to wikia, Asari refer to themselves as a mono-genender race, which is true. They are all the same "sex", in whatever way that term applies to an alien race, but they are neither male or female. They do, however, have maternal instincts.

Likely the confusion arises from when humans (or any other bi-sexual species) try to classify the Asari. Presented with a race that has a single sex, and every member is capable of producing offspring, the natural classification would be label them as "female", as we understand the term. And once the other races call the Asari that, it would be easier for them to use the term as well, rather than try to continually correct everyone every time; especially if the other races have no single term capable of describing the physiology of the Asari.

  • Any particular idea which of Liara's conversations you're referring to? Would be nice to have some search terms. – Iszi Jan 29 '13 at 17:41
  • After she joins Shepard's crew, between missions, when you can talk to her in the cabin off of the medical bay. – Xantec Jan 29 '13 at 17:42
  • Damn. Ambiguity in recollection is a b****. – Iszi Jan 29 '13 at 17:43
  • Any reason for the down vote? – Xantec Jan 29 '13 at 20:23
  • Why, indeed? This answer is really no more or less plausible or canonical than the other. – Iszi Jan 29 '13 at 20:28
3

There's a conversation in Andromeda that shows that the concepts of gender do not exist in Asari culture, but some have chosen preference to one pronoun set over the most commonly used.

The conversation takes place at the Cultural Center on the Nexus between an Angaran ambassador and an Asari representative working in the Center.

Asari: Yes, the gender binary of other races is irrelevant to us.

Angara: I’ve been using feminine pronouns this entire time. Should I?

Asari: In my case it’s fine to continue. Thank you for asking, I appreciate it. Some asari prefer male pronouns, while others gravitate toward gender-neutral where language allows.

Angara: My people have several pronouns to identify themselves with. Perhaps I should prepare a document.

Asari: Please do.

  • 1
    I heard this conversation as well, but it seems like a reversal from previous games, honestly. – DCShannon Apr 25 '17 at 23:38
  • +1 to DCShannon. This question was specifically because all Asari in previous games appeared to self-identify as female, despite being biologically non-gendered. They even go so far as to call their elders by a feminine term - Matriarchs. – Iszi Apr 26 '17 at 1:11
  • Now, considering that Andromeda is set far in the future from the Trilogy, it's possible that Asari cultural norms regarding gender identity have evolved quite a bit. So, this answer probably speaks more towards the future development of the race (relative to the time of the question) than it does the historical origins of their traditional gender identities. – Iszi Apr 26 '17 at 1:16
  • It takes place centuries later, but the people in the Initiative were in stasis - the time taken to get there would seem instantaneous to the passengers. So I'd suspect there are no substantive changes to society, save for any that have happened since their arrival. – VBartilucci May 4 '17 at 14:59
2

I don’t recall if it’s ever clearly stated why Asari see themselves as female. As stated by others, it might be just their way of making communication easier. They might have used a different and very specific term before meeting other species and from then on considered themselves female because this is how they are seen by others. They might have started using the words father and mother for the same reason.

However, if we disregard the whole 'lost in translation' idea, there is still another possible explanation.

Not only do the Asari refer to themselves as female, they also once revered goddesses. Their god worship presumably predates their spacefaring. This would indicate that Asari have seen themselves as female for a very long time, before meeting the other races.

However, we know that the Asari goddesses (at least some of them) were actually Protheans. These Protheans were trying to uplift the Asari by teaching them new technologies. Among this might have been the written word. I’m not sure if this is mentioned in the ME3 mission in the temple on Thessia. I only vaguely remember something being said about agriculture.

It’s also not clear if the Protheans that taught them were male or female. I believe it’s not even cleared up if Protheans had a second gender. But if they had, they might have introduced the term female and might have classified the Asari as female when they were still a young race.

If so, considering themselves as female would have been anchored in their language and culture for thousands of years. Long before they became part of an intergalactic society.

Edit: I just read in the wiki that Asari are considered sexually female and have matrimonial instincts while Liara apparently states, that they have no concept of gender themselves and male or female have no real meaning to them. I vaguely remember this dialog.

So it might be a translation issue after all. But I think my theory about the Protheans introducing the concept of male and female is still plausible

  • An explanation for the downvote would be nice. – Sebastian_H Jan 30 '13 at 15:23
  • This seems to be almost pure speculation, which would elicit downvotes. – DCShannon Apr 25 '17 at 23:37
1

I would imagine it was after they branched out and became a space-faring race, once they began interacting with other species. In Mass Effect, most of the female members of the races have a lot of qualities similar to human femininity, and the males qualities most associated with masculinity.

I would imagine that not only did Asari immediately identify more with females of different species, but different species would instantly view them as female as opposed to male or monosexual, because of both their general demeanor, and their ability to carry children.

  • Care to expand in the comment stating that most other females have qualities similar to human females? As I've mentioned here and elsewhere, the Asari and Quarians are the only non-Terran species whose females come close to physically resembling human females. – Iszi Jan 30 '13 at 5:19

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