In the book Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie most characters are indicated as female with the pronouns selected. There's some discussion about the main character being able to identify the sex because a language requires gender where as the normal language does not.

So is the ancillary, Breq, just assuming everyone is female, unless there's data to say otherwise, or are most characters really just female?

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    I got the book out of the library and don't have it anymore, so I can't back this up well enough to turn it into an answer. But my impression was: 1) the gender ratio in the book is probably not all that skewed; and 2) it's not so much that Breq can't tell as that she doesn't particularly care to try -- gender is not an attribute that she uses to mentally classify people, so she thinks of everyone using the same pronoun.
    – Micah
    Commented Jan 4, 2014 at 7:52

4 Answers 4


It's neither. Some characters (e.g. Seivarden) are definitely male, and probably there are as many female as male Radchaai (at least I din't find any hint about a gender imbalance in the book.)

We are essentially reading a (fictional) English translation of a Radchaai book. The Radchaai language does not mark gender in any way, but in English, we do not have gender-neutral pronouns, so the (fictional) translator has to make a choice. Usually, people chose the male pronoun in this case, but Ann Leckie chose the female pronoun.

Normal Radchaai seem to be able to recognize one's gender, but Breq has trouble doing so, maybe because a ship doesn't have sexual organs, and the ship had both male and female ancillaries.

I think this quote from the book shows this well:

Since we weren't speaking Radchaai I had to take gender into account--Strigan's language required it. The society she lived in professed at the same time to believe gender was insignificant. Males and females dressed, spoke, acted indistinguishably. And yet no one I'd met had ever hesitated or guessed wrong- And they had invariably been offended when I did hesitate or guess wrong. I hadn't learned the trick of it. I'd been in Strigan's own apartment, seen her belongings, and still wasn't sure what forms to use with her now.

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    Can human Radchaai can recognize each other's gender before they get undressed? They seem to genuinely not care: Breq never mentions gender when she describes the officers' interpersonal relationships or the clientage relationship. When Strigan asks how Radchaai reproduce, Breq's answer almost suggests that that's the first time Radchaai would stop to consider their gender combination (she says something to the effect that they would remove their contraceptive implant or visit the clinic; what does it matter?).
    – Pixel
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 18:13
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    I don't think that the Justice of Toren's lack of gender has anything to do with why she has trouble recognizing gender in others. I don't have fur, but I have no trouble recognizing animal fur types and colors. I think the real reason is that it is so rarely important to Justice of Toren that she had never needed to learn to do it without sensor data.
    – Paul
    Commented Aug 25, 2016 at 0:27

In contrast to the answer by Jim Davis, I posit that the lack of explicit gender-related questions is intentional and exactly the point. The author has kept it so deliberately vague that it highlights only our own questions and assumptions about the role of gender (both in the stories we read and society in general).

In terms of the fictional universe, I think most Radchaai have little preference in gender. Breq's difficulty in guessing correctly is a little odd, but not entirely implausible when you consider the following:

  1. She's essentially a different species. When you look at monkeys in the zoo, can you immediately tell their genders without looking at their genitals?
  2. Radchaai in uniform all dress the same and may have similar haircuts, lack of facial hair, etc... which would make it more difficult for a non-human to tell, even one who is very capable in other areas (such as combat and technical functions).
  3. Most of the time, Justice of Toren relies more on data from its sensors and implant-uploads about emotional states, rather than actual facial recognition.

Breq refers to at least two characters (Seivarden in chapter 1 of Ancillary Justice and Uran, the younger brother whom Queter tried to protect from Raughd's coercion by blowing Raughd up, in Ancillary Mercy) as he in other languages and she in Radchaai and in the narration, but she messes up at first with Uran and is forced to guess with a bartender. Brother and sister are used along the same lines for Uran.


Breq is actually female but it's not in the books; it's mentioned in the short story "She Commands Me and I Obey."

Seivarden and the tyrant are male (first book).

Queter is female. Uran is male (second book).

The rest it is not clear at all and, I think, depends on your own prejudices.

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    Hi, welcome to the site. You could improve this answer by editing it to include any relevant quotes as supporting evidence. Commented Jun 7, 2023 at 11:19

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