Technically I meant to title this as “Amber is the Color of my Sex” to be scientifically accurate but I figured it might attract the wrong kind of attention. Yesterday on Twitter, I was reading a really interesting discussion on the nature of Klaxxi gender. The reason for the speculation was because, despite Blizzard’s past laziness with regards to gendering their non-player races, it could easily be left open to interpretation with a bug race like the Klaxxi.
World of Male-craft
Unfortunately my skepticism that Blizzard made a race that wasn’t populated with dudes unless otherwise specified (Grand Empress Shek’zeer) is high. While Blizzard is exceptionally clever and the Mantids have been left open to interpretation, I don’t think it was done on purpose. Warcraft constantly defaults to “maleness” as the norm when it comes to NPCs unless there’s a reason to duplicate women elsewhere (in the case of some NPCs that have player races.) This isn’t surprising at all given that it is way cheaper on both resources and development time to only create men. Why?
Their logic seemingly is that in a world of war and aggression, wouldn’t most women die or be hidden away so you can perpetuate your tiny little race infinitely after adventurers slaughter billions of your kind every day? On top of that, they seem to not quite “grok” how to gender models as women without extensive time put into it if a model doesn’t have tits or a pink bow on it’s head. Those two facts make representation in the game world a fairly open-and-shut-case. There are notable exceptions to this: Centaur, Naga (who have explicit male/female models), Dragonkin (at some levels), and Harpies/Dryads (who are exclusively female.) The rest are seemingly neutrally gendered or typed male, even in the face of actual logic. That’s just how gameplay will always clash with lore.
This is the largest point in the idea that Blizzard may have made the Mantid at large a mixed gender race. However, this doesn’t stop us from using their lack of detail to our advantage to speculate otherwise.
BUGS, BUGS, BUGS
I’m not an entomologist but insect societies, which the Mantid and such seem to based on, wouldn’t necessarily conform to Blizzard’s “all men all the time” rule when it comes to NPC races. By setting up a female Grand Empress with an unclear line of succession (there’s combat and corpse eating but it doesn’t say if it is matrilineal or what) as well as offspring being sired by her (presumably), they seem to leave the door open for contradicting themselves with their own male bias. Insect societies that behave with a “queen” being the mother figure (see: Grand Empress Zek’hara) like ants and bees do not have an overwhelming majority of their society as male. Most of the workers tend to be female drones, with some breeding males groomed for the queen. It would stand to reason that if the Mantid were similar to these species in terms of being colony insects, that most of them (including the Klaxxi) would be women. However, a couple of facts about the Mantid move them away from being simple colony insects.
1.) They are fearsome in the singular, more-so if fighting in a swarm.
Insects that are typically colony-based do not have individual characteristics such as these, whereas Mantid seem to be capable of doing great damage all on their own, moreso if any group of them stick together. A single Mantid is able of making personal decisions as well as defending themselves, and could live away from the group.
2.) They do not communicate via collective.
Unlike the typical sci-fi/spec-fi convention, Mantid and Klaxxi talk to eachother using technology via sound frequencies boosted over large areas and developed language, rather than things like scent markers, swarm intelligence or the ubiquitous “hive mind” where all members in the society are linked telepathically to the central power and do not think independently.
These two indicators mean that it is very possible that Mantids are not specifically majority female and may perhaps be a mixed-gender population (which is still not majority male.)
Not So Much Man-Tids: Meritocracy Within an Aristocracy
My strongest case for there being mixed gender despite Blizzard’s plans to leave a fairly non-dimorphic insect species mostly male is the cycle of the Mantid Swarm.
Mantid assaults on the Serpent’s Spine are a terrible thing to experience, both as a defender, and as a mantid. Only the smartest, strongest, or most agile of the mantid survive this encounter, and pandaren defenders are slaughtered outright in terrible numbers.
Mantid survivors make their way back to the great trees, often bearing trophies of their conquests. There, they are welcomed back into the mantid society, and take their place among their civilization according to the level of their deeds. The purpose of this rite of passage is unclear. but those who travel beyond the wall are forewarned: any mantid you encounter beyond the wall is a hardened veteran, to be feared and respected.
— Mantid Swarm lore scroll in-game
In short, the Mantids and by virtue the Klaxxi, are a merit-based insect society. Those that we see in-game that are not throwing themselves against the wall as cannon fodder are the highest achieved in Mantid culture. At no point are these best and brightest codified as male, even those who are pegged as the most strong. Blade dancers, manipulators and bladeguards alike are, despite the game’s norm, potentially female. Due to WoW having no dimorphism in body types among the Mantids (save for the Empress) means that we have a potential for yet another mixed-gender NPC race. Granted, I still believe that this is by accident, but the idea of the Mantid society defining themselves by accomplishment seems more a true reflection of the Warcraft gender politics than even us as player characters are. In this vein, it’s very possible that the Empress ascends to the throne by virtue of being the most accomplished female within the group, rather than strict familial succession. We could conjecture even further and say that gender is fairly irrelevant as how Mantids define themselves in all aspects other than the singular Empress hierarchy. Gender as a societal construct seems fairly irrelevant to them and solely a biological indicator of sex. What a Mantid does during and after the Swarm cycle is far, far more important and is the pinnacle in individualism.
In this respect, despite Dread Wastes giving me the major wiggins, I find the Klaxxi/Mantids very exciting and hope that we see more lore about them in the future. As someone who uses the game to escape the ridiculous gender politics of reality, seeing a society work solely on individual merit makes me gleeful.