Where it comes to character generation, I've long held the belief that certain aspects of the character should not be chosen by the player. These would be things like the height and weight, eye and hair color, the profession of one's father, the total amount of coin available to the character at the start of the campaign, or the character's place of birth. I feel this way because these things are NOT a part of our choice as beings. No person gets to pick where they're born, or whether they're born poor or wealthy, or if one's father is a git or not. These are the breaks ... and a player should be pushed to play characters who are less than convenient. It builds, if the gentle reader will pardon the expression, "character."
If it happens that some players get lucky, and their character is a small lord in charge of a fiefdom at the start of the game, rather than a bum with no wealth whatsoever, then tough tookies. Life isn't fair. Overcome, adapt, win. That's the game.
There are two elements of character creation, however, that I do let the players pick, though it breaks the above logic. I would rather not make the concession, but until I get players who ask for it, the concession stands:
You get to pick your race, and you get to pick your sex.
I might put up another post about the race issue after this one. Race is one of those things that most players are flexible about. My place of birth tables, however, and the size of my world, and the relative rarity of demi-humans therein, would tend to favor humans for the most part. I could easily roll ten random characters by place of birth and have them all come out as human, particularly if the starting point were somewhere in central Germany, or India say. For the sake of players being able to play other races with more frequency, I make the concession.
But that is not the reason the concession is made regarding women characters in D&D. I think we all know the reason. Men are not for the most part comfortable playing women.
I have mentioned before, I have several women playing characters in my world, and they quite comfortably mix up the genders of their characters. They play men or women with equal interest, and don't seem to mind if I have NPC's hit on either, or if in my 17th century campaign I have male assholes make innuendos or generally insult them.
Men, on the other hand, seem to get their back up about that sort of thing. They seem to get quite uncomfortable over a whole range of potential sexual juxtapositions and circumstances.
This is not to say that male players rush to have their male characters rush into erotic circumstances, either. D&D is surprisingly conservative in the "love" motif. It's nice when eyes meet between a female and a male in the midst of a quiet moment while at the bar, listening to the local bard spin some tale. A few bits of chivalry and gentle friendliness are welcome interludes between slaughtering orcs. Nobody minds if Eowyn's eyes water a little when she finds Aragorn is alive.
But having Eowyn and Aragorn fuck hard and messy behind the king's throne in a few choice moments would spoil everything. We can be really sure that a typical male player isn't going to describe in detail how his female mage has a prediliction for cocksucking.
Straight up, I've played D&D with the same sort of people Zak boasts about, because I too have a long and questionable sexual history, nicely stored in the fuzziness of privacy now that I'm an old man not wanting to come across as an old lech. I've had players whose favorite moment for "backstabbing" was doing it doggy-style, and players who approached the game as an opportunity for quenching their cross-gendering sexual appetites. But this is NOT the norm. I think we all know this.
I think it can also be argued that many a face is going to fall uncomfortably when male players are told that, sorry, you've been a woman, and not a particularly attractive one at that. I don't have numbers, but I'd be willing to bet a study done on the subject would demonstrably prove an increase in female characters for male players when the charisma climbed above 15.
I'd like to live in a world where a male player could be handed a woman and see it as an opportunity, and not as an inconvenience. Granted, my world is remarkably sexist. I don't run a Gloria Steinum version of the 17th century. I do have women fighters and pirates and clerics and such, but they DO get pushed around a bit by sexist pigs in my world and they DO have to push back if they want to succeed. It isn't that I'm sexist, you understand. If a woman wants to play a man, and not get all that shit, they're free to do so. But my experience has been that women players who play women LIKE being able to bury their mace nastily into the skulls of their former male oppressors, and I'm not going to take that away from them. It is a vicarously satisfying victory, and I've had quite a few women who simply got off on it. Putting up a straw male chauvanist for a woman to cut down is just as satisfying for her as putting up the sort of straw asshole that he likes cutting down - namely, smug, self-satisfied villains.
The experience isn't as satisfying for a male player, however. He tends to wonder what the hell is wrong with me as a DM, and why is he stuck playing this obviously inconvenient stereotype (men, I am sorry to say, still view women as a stereotype). A woman has had a lifetime learning ways to circumvent morons. Men, not so much.
Do I sound like a chauvanist? Funny, I don't think so. I'm saying up front, women are more adaptable to this game where it comes to sex. They don't get uncomfortable if things get sexual. No matter what the NPC is like, women just cope with it, using the tools available, and move on. They don't get uncomfortable or embarrassed. That may have something to do with the sort of women who play D&D. I can think of conventions where there were 3,000 boys and about a 150 girls. If you're in this subculture, and you're a woman, you've already learned emotional tae kwan do.
Guys, on the other hand, have a huge flippin' blind spot where it comes to this stuff. No doubt, they'll deny it in the comments. A woman will run a male like a male, but a guy - if he runs a female character - will run a female like a male.
It's a bit disappointing. Yet so long as it exists, I will make the concession, and continue to allow players to choose the gender of their characters.
Sometimes, illogic is easier.