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"Look at Miss Darcy, swanning around owning property, riding into town at will, choosing whether or not to ask someone to dance – the bitch!"
December 23, 2011 7:00 AM   Subscribe

Miss Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of her burial was signed by the clergywoman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Miss Scrooge signed it: and Miss Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything she chose to put her hand to. Old Miss Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
Genderswitching the Classics is a project by Kate Harrad where she takes classic works of literature and changes everyone's gender. So far she's done A Christmas Carol, two Sherlock Holmes stories, a Father Brown tale and, most ambitiously, Pride and Prejudice (first seven chapters are here). Harrad is now at work on James Eyre. She wrote about her project for The Guardian.
posted by Kattullus (131 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm so glad he took the time to do this, what a wonderful man.
posted by Fizz at 7:03 AM on December 23, 2011 [47 favorites]


It seems like she's changing the gendered pronouns, which means she's switching the sex of the characters primarily.
posted by clockzero at 7:06 AM on December 23, 2011


I see no reason to assume that she's switching the sex of characters, actually.
posted by koeselitz at 7:13 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I kind of think the Ghost of Christmas Past is hot, but then I've always been into chicks with chains.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:13 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I kind of think the Ghost of Christmas Past is hot, but then I've always been into chicks with chains.

Does the Ghost of Christmas Past have chains? I thought that was just Jacob Marley. I know for a fact that the Ghost of Christmas Past doesn't haven't have chains in The Muppet Christmas Carol, the definitive version.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:18 AM on December 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


I get what she says about this pointing out that a lot of fiction is male dominated especially when books that are now out of copyright were written, but is there some other reason for this project?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:18 AM on December 23, 2011


When I grow up, I'd like to be Kate Harrad.

But, then again, they'd have to change the pronouns when talking about me.
posted by thanotopsis at 7:19 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"He wrote about his project for The Guardian."

Returnabout is fair play.

Anyhow. Whatever effect the switcheroo has on the reader is probably determined by the reader's familiarity with the source material.

Although virgin readers might be struck by the strangeness of 18th and 19th Century English gender and power relations.
posted by notyou at 7:19 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


If I were going to do this with movies, I'd start with Reservoir Dogs.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:20 AM on December 23, 2011 [13 favorites]


What kind of message does it send when our children read about He Who Must Be Obeyed?
posted by Bromius at 7:21 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I get what she says about this pointing out that a lot of fiction is male dominated especially when books that are now out of copyright were written, but is there some other reason for this project?

I'm sure someone else can put this more eloquently, but what it does for me is make more obvious the assumptions we make about how men and women respond and feel and speak differently and, in the converse, how we speak and feel about men and women in different ways. In other words, it helps us identify the more subtle elements that otherwise we would miss.
posted by slmorri at 7:33 AM on December 23, 2011 [18 favorites]


A few years ago, I'd have thought this was silly. "Is literature really that sexist?"

But then I ran into Bechdel's Test and I was embarrassed how gross the disparities were in film. So, all power to her for this project.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:40 AM on December 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


Interesting that the author chose "Miss Scrooge", not the more neutral "Ms. Scrooge".
posted by LordSludge at 7:40 AM on December 23, 2011


I'd like to see this done with something that's really, overtly male-oriented. Like a Raymond Chandler novel.
posted by griphus at 7:42 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Interesting that the author chose "Miss Scrooge", not the more neutral "Ms. Scrooge".

It would be anachronistic - Ms. didn't exist till the second half of the twentieth century.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:43 AM on December 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


I double dare her to do this with Jane Austin, Moby Dick, Othello
posted by Postroad at 7:46 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad I'm one of the good genders so I can just laugh at this nonsense.
posted by planet at 7:47 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Postroad, she's doing Jane Austin - Pride and Prejudice.
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:49 AM on December 23, 2011


Ha, when reading to my eldest daughter I used to switch the genders of charaters all the time because even in children's books there is a preponderance of active male characters and passive females. Doing this with fairytales, which have gendered archetypes that have seeped into our collective conciousness is a real head trip.
posted by saucysault at 7:50 AM on December 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


See this Chrome extension.

It's very good. And thorough.

IE: "The patriarchy cuts both ways" becomes "The matriarchy cuts both ways."

It's probably trivial to make one in Greasemonkey.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:50 AM on December 23, 2011


Screw Othello. I want to see this pulled off with Macbeth.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:50 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is one of those ideas that while interesting to discuss, is a pretty big waste of time to actually execute. Seems to be way more about her ego and lack of talent as a writer than anything that is going to make our daughters more self assured. Frankly I just can't see any benefit to this project at all, other than her getting her name in the paper now, and getting mentioned in a footnote of some freshman college reserach paper 20 years from now.
posted by timsteil at 7:51 AM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]




Interesting that the author chose "Miss Scrooge", not the more neutral "Ms. Scrooge".
posted by LordSludge at 7:40 AM on December 23 [+] [!]



It would be anachronistic - Ms. didn't exist till the second half of the twentieth century.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:43 AM on December 23 [+] [!]


Scrooge always was a bachelor, "miss" is a most appropriate word.
When given three words to choose from, I'd always choose the most specific.

But I've never been a big fan of the brutalities inflicted on language in attempts to battle social inequalities.
posted by Stagger Lee at 7:51 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Top Gun. Volleyball.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:52 AM on December 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


“A merry Christmas, aunt! The Goddess save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Miss Scrooge’s niece, who came upon her so quickly that this was the first intimation she had of her approach.

Meh. Trying to stay open-minded here. The switching of the characters is sort of interesting, but seeing The Goddess in the middle of it seems a bit too jarring.
posted by jquinby at 7:53 AM on December 23, 2011


This is one of those ideas that while interesting to discuss, is a pretty big waste of time to actually execute.

She should be leaving snippy and dismissive comments on the internet instead. Now that's time well spent.
posted by Zozo at 7:54 AM on December 23, 2011 [28 favorites]


The switching of the characters is sort of interesting, but seeing The Goddess in the middle of it seems a bit too jarring.

This is the point.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 7:55 AM on December 23, 2011 [26 favorites]


Does the Ghost of Christmas Past have chains?

I don't play hard and fast with facts when it comes to my fantasies.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:58 AM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Scrooge always was a bachelor, "miss" is a most appropriate word.
When given three words to choose from, I'd always choose the most specific.

But I've never been a big fan of the brutalities inflicted on language in attempts to battle social inequalities.


While I totally understand the need for the word Ms. and I use it (especially in formal writing), I hate, hate, hate the sound of it. It's offensively tepid. It's just so...nothing. You barely have to move your mouth to say it; it's the sound of the air rushing out of empty pipes makes. Ugh.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:03 AM on December 23, 2011


I don't mind mz so much as "herstory" but that's because I'm a word nerd, and has nothing to do with my politics or sympathies.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:04 AM on December 23, 2011


Seems to be way more about her ego and lack of talent as a writer than anything that is going to make our daughters more self assured.

Well, that's a rather nasty accusation to lob at someone.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:06 AM on December 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


> You barely have to move your mouth to say it; it's the sound of the air rushing out of empty pipes makes. Ugh.

Miss requires even less movement (because the s is unvoiced)...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:09 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Interesting that this should get huffy comments about being wasted time. How many Chthulu variants and others genre rewrites do we get here? How many of them are evaluated this way?

Anyway, I would want to read her recasting of Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret.
posted by argybarg at 8:11 AM on December 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


Do Lolita.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:11 AM on December 23, 2011 [13 favorites]


Seems to be way more about her ego and lack of talent as a writer than anything that is going to make our daughters more self assured.

Well, that's a rather nasty accusation to lob at someone.


Well, I did read some of her columns before I came to that conclusion, so it's not just being snippy.

Biggest take-away from her work?

"I am Womyn! Hear me Bore!"
posted by timsteil at 8:14 AM on December 23, 2011


This reminds me of this revisionist version of "A Christmas Carol" I heard on NPR a couple of years ago. The short story was narrated by Scrooge who was now a Jew who incurred the wrath of his Christian assistant (who tried to demand extra days off for the holiday I think) and then was visited by three "ghosts" who were really just increasingly anti-semitic thugs who wanted Scrooge's money and to give payback for the assistant. I think one was a Klansman. They tie him up and make him renounce Judaism or something to that effect. It's a great short, truly heartbreaking and very very uncomfortable.

It's been a while since I heard it and it's early so my description may not be doing it justice. I've not been able to find the story or even it's title. Searching for "Scrooge" "Jewish" just brings up the lyrics for the Chanukah song.
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 8:16 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]




Interesting that this should get huffy comments about being wasted time. How many Chthulu variants and others genre rewrites do we get here? How many of them are evaluated this way?


What the hell is she doing wasting her time when she could be writing SteamPunk-Chtulhu stories? ;)

Anyway switching gender pronouns like that can be awesomely insightful as part of a editing/writing process or as an exercise for writers. It might be less valuable to a reader, but sometimes starting a conversation is goal enough.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:17 AM on December 23, 2011


A few years ago, I'd have thought this was silly.

Oh it is, it really is. It's breathtakingly silly. This is what happens when ambition outstrips talent and one has time on one's hands, dahling. It's actually part of a long-established moneyed middle-class English literary tradition known as "pretentious bollocks masquerading as profundity" - curator-in-absence: V. Woolf.
posted by gallus at 8:17 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


She's not pretentious at all. The negativity and nasty feminist stereotypes are really uncalled for here.

Ugh.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:19 AM on December 23, 2011 [49 favorites]


I, for one, think this is pretty awesome. But I guess I count as both a "Ms." and a "womyn" and have quite brutalized the English language myself once or twice, so my opinion may be dwarfed by that of (primarily) men who think this is a great waste of time.

It's not. It's actually eye opening. I think it would be quite valuable to students to have a genderswitched classic as required reading in, say, high school. Work on your assumptions of masculinity and femininity in literature, kids (and adults)!. They are pervasive and underhanded and we should probably figure out how to better our writing and our perception of gender asap.
posted by lydhre at 8:20 AM on December 23, 2011 [8 favorites]



I, for one, think this is pretty awesome. But I guess I count as both a "Ms." and a "womyn" and have quite brutalized the English language myself once or twice, so my opinion may be dwarfed by that of (primarily) men who think this is a great waste of time.


Just to clarify, although I find "womyn" kind of obnoxious, I don't think this piece is a waste of time at all. The reason that those terms bug me is mostly that they seem to rest on a total misunderstanding of the root and etymology of the words. Exploring language and gender however is fruitful and entertaining, so I'm all for that.

Hopefully you're not referring to me, but I made a couple comments about language there, so I just want to clear the air.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:24 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I like the idea and while I've only had time to read A Scandal in Bohemia, I thought the result was quite good.

Especially since that is one of the more sexist and patriarchal of the Holmes stories, it was fascinating to see it inverted.

I do think "Goddess bless you" would have been better than "the Goddess bless you" though. It isn't as if people say "the God bless you".
posted by sotonohito at 8:28 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


In her blog post, she stresses that this isn't a creative writing excerise and she compares it to doing a crossword puzzle. I have zero interest in reading the results, but calling this a waste of time is silly. This is the internet. It's where people go to waste time.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:28 AM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


timsteil: “Frankly I just can't see any benefit to this project at all, other than her getting her name in the paper now, and getting mentioned in a footnote of some freshman college reserach paper 20 years from now.”

... said the jealous, bitter writer.

“Biggest take-away from her work? ‘I am Womyn! Hear me Bore!’”

Ooh, that's a good one. Maybe it'll get your name in the paper.
posted by koeselitz at 8:30 AM on December 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


Just to clarify, although I find "womyn" kind of obnoxious, I don't think this piece is a waste of time at all. The reason that those terms bug me is mostly that they seem to rest on a total misunderstanding of the root and etymology of the words. Exploring language and gender however is fruitful and entertaining, so I'm all for that.

Stagger Lee, I don't use "womyn" either, or "herstory," or anything like that. I have a healthy respect for etymology (and a fascination with etymology besides). I do understand, however, the impulse behind using womyn and herstory and all the rest. Language is gendered not just in construction but in our relationship to it and changing it deliberately is one way to bring attention to its other, numerous, inequalities.
posted by lydhre at 8:34 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


In other news, raising issues of racism is completely boring and "breathtakingly silly" to old rich white guys.

Personally I'm very familiar with several of the works in question, and I'd be absolutely _fascinated_ to read through the revised versions. I'd like to feel for an hour or two what it would be like to live in a world where I get to have the default gender. I'd like to know how it would be if it was just normal for a woman to be the protagonist of a story - a story that isn't chiefly about finding a man so that he can be the protagonist instead.

I'd like to cross my fingers that our grandchildren will find themselves in this new world for real, and that they will read these stories and say "I don't understand. What's the big deal?"
posted by emilyw at 8:36 AM on December 23, 2011 [21 favorites]



In other news, raising issues of racism is completely boring and "breathtakingly silly" to old rich white guys.


Hey, to be fair, assumptions about gender are a double edged sword. There are some really damned conservative women out there, and some pretty hip old white dudes.

I'm saying that not as an accusation or because I'm offended, but because you really risk alienating potential supporters with that kind of sweeping jab.

I have no idea what gender 99% of the people on this site are, and really don't care. (Or I try not to, anyway. Life is a work in progress.)
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:39 AM on December 23, 2011


Yes, that was an uncalled for sweeping generalisation, I shouldn't go posting while cross. I'd like to rephrase to "some old rich white guys".

If there are ladies who also think this stuff is completely pointless and unnecessary, I'd like to go and live where they live.
posted by emilyw at 8:43 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Miss requires even less movement (because the s is unvoiced)...

Also, "syphilis" is a beautiful word...

I'm down with "Ms." - it's incredibly sexist to distinguish women based on their marital status when the same is not done for men. Maybe "womyn" (damn iPhone keeps trying to autocorrect it to "woman", hmmm) will achieve wider acceptance, but for now it just seems so jarring to my eye. Even "womon" (die, iPhone, die!!) would be better.
posted by LordSludge at 8:55 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


but is there some other reason for this project?

Because some of the really good stuff doesn't inherently change the storyline (ie a Christmas Carol) other than the mental imagery of she-Scrooge in thirty pounds of austere but professional petticoats and makes a good test case against default male heroes in modern stories, that are even less ludicrous (because these days a shrewd moneylender could easily be a woman).

Miss Scrooge, who was dearly loved by Miss Marley in the sense of lifetime best friends, even if they were both bitter assholes, and did not marry the man she loved because of financial concerns and is respected by her clerk Mrs. Cratchit (who she's a horrid boss too) while having bitter feelings about an awful mother and a deceased beloved little brother Freddie (or whatever "little Fan" becomes in this version), if just as good a character for your moral fable as a Mr. Scrooge.


Interesting that the author chose "Miss Scrooge", not the more neutral "Ms. Scrooge".


I think Miss Scrooge wouldn't care as long as you pay her on time. She left her partner's name up because she was too cheap for paint more than sentimentality, and even answers to "Marley" if it'll streamline things.
posted by Phalene at 8:55 AM on December 23, 2011 [7 favorites]


I want to read the book where Harriet Potter and her friends Rhonda and Herman fight against She Who Must Not Be Named.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:58 AM on December 23, 2011 [17 favorites]


This project reminds of a group some years back that made explicitly non-humorous Christian parodies of popular rock songs. The group had a written statement about how it was important to them to not make the resulting songs funny in any way. All they did was change the lyrics to that of Christian praise. Harrad has an obviously different political project, but it has the same laborious, quixotic quality. It's interesting.

Harrad's project works best the first go-round, when you see how wholly female-dominated her version of Victorian London is. How bizarre it looks - how jarring "the Goddess" is - but of course the point is that it's weird to have society be so entirely dominated any one gender, whether it's male or female. As the project continues and continues, it goes from making good points about gender and privilege into something else, also interesting - a sort of "just because" art project.

It's also interesting that these stories feature women in roles where there isn't any "need" for the main characters to be women. Sherlock Holmes isn't "about" Holmes being a man. Father Brown doesn't fundamentally change by dint of being a Sister. And yet how many more modern stories about women are actually about women Being Women, as opposed to how many stories with men as a protagonists are simply about them doing their jobs, facing struggles, saving the world, etc.?

To take a pop culture example, Pixar's new movie Brave features its first female lead. She's a girl who's a hunter and a warrior. There's friction over her, as a girl, doing such manly/boyly things. Even in a story that is consciously meant to have an egalitarian message, the main character is still heavily gendered - look, women can do boy stuff, too! But in other Pixar movies, like, say, Toy Story, the male leads are just solving problems and goin' 'round doin' stuff. There's nothing in there about them Being Men. Being male is just the default gender for main characters, and in order to make the main character a female, they have to make the story in some way about her being female.

Contrast that with a gender-swapped Christmas Carol. Is there any logical reason why Scrooge can't be a woman? Nope. Not at all. So why is it strange to imagine her as a woman?

So, yeah. This project. I thought it was sort of stupid at first, but having thought about, it makes a lot more sense. It's not about saying, "here, Holmes is now a woman, it's now better." It's about making you see something different. Gender-swapping all of Pride and Prejudice seems like overkill, but it's the kind of overkill I can get behind.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:00 AM on December 23, 2011 [65 favorites]


timsteil: “Frankly I just can't see any benefit to this project at all, other than her getting her name in the paper now, and getting mentioned in a footnote of some freshman college reserach paper 20 years from now.”

... said the jealous, bitter writer.
“Biggest take-away from her work? ‘I am Womyn! Hear me Bore!’”


Jealous? No. I don't admire people who piggy back onto other people's classic works and try to think they are re-inventing them. It's hackery, and wankery that is more about themselves than anything. In this particular case, I maintan this does nothing for anyone but her. I would prefer my kids read the actual classic, because there is reason it is called a classic.

Bitter? Maybe, in the respect that I hate to see unoriginal chumps with little talent, no respect for the language, and a chip on their shoulder get accolades when there are so many truly good writers, from thoughtful, throughly researched book-length academic work, to the person who can just absolutely nail a 1000 word Talk of the Town, or Op-Ed or such. Life is too short to waste time reading absolute tripe by hacks with an agenda.

Ooh, that's a good one. Maybe it'll get your name in the paper.
posted by koeselitz

The first time I saw my name in the paper, I faxed it to everyone I knew. The hundredth time, I tossed it in the recycling.

Let's see her re-write Huckleberry Finn, as a black kid. That might take something beyond find and replace, and cut and paste.
posted by timsteil at 9:04 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I were going to do this with movies, I'd start with Reservoir Dogs.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:20 AM on December 23 [6 favorites +] [!]


Rule 36
posted by chavenet at 9:06 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Technically that's a rule 36 but I think in this case it's more notably a rule 34 of a rule 63. But more to the point you should check out the trailer for a charmingly earnest rights-dodging soundalike take on "Stuck In The Middle With You".
posted by cortex at 9:10 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Didn't someone on this board mention having seen an all-female version of Glengarry Glen Ross?
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:13 AM on December 23, 2011


The first time I saw my name in the paper, I faxed it to everyone I knew. The hundredth time, I tossed it in the recycling.

LIKE A BOSS
posted by hermitosis at 9:25 AM on December 23, 2011 [10 favorites]


Sherlock Holmes isn't "about" Holmes being a man.

I think I have to disagree here, although I don't think I agree with the rest of what you're saying. If we're working with classic stereotypes/archetypes, Holmes is something of an ubermensch, in the most literal way. He is the ne plus ultra of many traditionally (that is, assigned and encouraged) "male" characteristics: presence of mind, logical thinking, minimization of emotion, and the stories are all built around these faculties of his. So turning Holmes into a woman, you would end up with a story with a much different sort of story than you would with, say, Scrooge.
posted by griphus at 9:25 AM on December 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I think I have to disagree here, although I don't think I agree with the rest of what you're saying. If we're working with classic stereotypes/archetypes, Holmes is something of an ubermensch, in the most literal way. He is the ne plus ultra of many traditionally (that is, assigned and encouraged) "male" characteristics: presence of mind, logical thinking, minimization of emotion, and the stories are all built around these faculties of his. So turning Holmes into a woman, you would end up with a story with a much different sort of story than you would with, say, Scrooge.

Fair enough, but that still leaves the contrast of Father Brown - empathetic, intuitive, anti-logical, fond of paradox.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:27 AM on December 23, 2011


...although I don't think I disagree...
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on December 23, 2011


What is wrong with me... In the "Miss" vs. "Ms." discussion, I totally forgot about the old convention of calling a married woman's by "Mrs. Husbandfirstname Husbandslastname" -- e.g., "Mrs. John Smith". Really, really messed up convention we had there -- talk about losing your identity altogether! This sort of thing would be pointed out really well by this gender-switching exercise. Imagine "Mr. Jane Smith"!
posted by LordSludge at 9:48 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's strange to imagine Scrooge as a woman for much the same reason that it would be strange for me to wake up and have blue eyes. If you never met me, but were reading my biography with that one detail changed, it would still be really dull. Any other strangeness comes from a realization that yeah, women were pretty thoroughly repressed in the Victorian era, which isn't exactly a secret to anyone who is going to bother to look at what Kate Harrad is doing here.

Holmes is hardly emotionless, just different. Consider a world where the gender reversed version of "A Scandal in Bohemia" was the one that everyone knew. How much feminist angst would be generated if we kept being reminded that the most famous female character in all of literature spent a good portion of her spare time pining for the man she could never have?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:50 AM on December 23, 2011


Fair enough, but that still leaves the contrast of Father Brown - empathetic, intuitive, anti-logical, fond of paradox.

Speaking as a Meyers Briggs ENFP, I'm having a real hard time parsing this sentence. In contrast to what?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:52 AM on December 23, 2011


Genderswitching the Classics is a project by Kate Harrad where she takes classic works of literature and changes everyone's gender.

Pleasepleaseplease do this with the Bible.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:57 AM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Speaking as a Meyers Briggs ENFP, I'm having a real hard time parsing this sentence. In contrast to what?

Sorry, I should have been more clear. Father Brown exists in contrast to Sherlock Holmes. Father Brown is empathetic and intuitive, whereas Sherlock Holmes is measured and deductive. As such, Father Brown's qualities are less stereotypically "male" than those of Holmes.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:04 AM on December 23, 2011


In this particular case, I maintan [sic] this does nothing for anyone but her.

This thread has had several people who claim this "does something" for them. Are they lying?

I would prefer my kids read the actual classic, because there is reason it is called a classic.

Nobody is proposing the gender-flipped versions replace the originals; nobody is forcing your kids to read them.

Life is too short to waste time reading absolute tripe by hacks with an agenda.

And yet here we are, reading your comments.
posted by Zozo at 10:10 AM on December 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


This might have been a more worthwhile project if flipping the character's genders changed their actions/interactions/perceptions/intepretations and the story. I was surprised to find that it was literally just changing he to she, gentleman to lady etc etc and thats it. I read through the revised GK Chesterton story, The Queer Feet - I've read the original many times before - and the gender-switching did absolutely nothing and seemed lazy. Maybe it would work a bit better with a story where gender relations were central to the plot, or maybe not. I suspect though that this GK Chesteron Father Brown story was simply chosen because the original had the word "Queer" in the title, so Harrad got very excited by that.
posted by Bwithh at 10:27 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


this is fine but i want to change everyone in the great gatsby into batman

"what foul dust floated in the wake of Batman's dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of batmen."

the great batsby
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 10:39 AM on December 23, 2011 [28 favorites]


This seems like a fun project for Harrad. More power to her for having fun while thinking (albeit less than critically) about gender. I don't think it deserves a Guardian article, really, but the worst sort of protest I can muster is a shrug of disinterest.

She calls it, after all, "one of those 4am ideas," which for me usually means nothing more serious than a speculative pre-bedtime tweet, which is probably all this should have been considering the actual gender-switched renditions are neither edifying nor challenging, but of course to each her own (or his), et cetera, et cetera.
posted by incandenza at 11:04 AM on December 23, 2011


I get what she says about this pointing out that a lot of fiction is male dominated especially when books that are now out of copyright were written, but is there some other reason for this project?

I think another reason for this project would be to see how readers react to certain personality types when in the bodies of people of an opposite gender. Does the powerful male leader come across as heartless when made a woman? Does the weak-willed toadie become a loyal servant? There's a lot of potential here to examine what we consider acceptable and admirable traits in men and women.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:12 AM on December 23, 2011 [12 favorites]


Wow. Just...wow. It's not as if I read one comment, maybe a second one, and thought, okay, this needs some refuting. I lost count. It's as if every fourth comment is someone going out of their way to say something offensively sexist.

I can write, with no hyperbole, that this thread has made me more angry than I've been on MeFi since I returned in August. I don't even know how to begin to respond.

But, well, I'll try to be constructive. If your impulse is to post a comment like "I am Womyn! Hear me Bore!"—and I've had impulses like that....you know, like right now—then wouldn't it be much, much better to not post it because what good will come of it? It's intentionally provocative; the people it will provoke will almost certainly be offended. That's the whole point of saying something like that. To offend. And when people are offended, and know that they've been intentionally offended, things heat up, quickly.

I don't think it's an accident that more than one person here has had an impulse to respond to this in an intentionally provocative and even intentionally offensive fashion. I have a very, very strong suspicion, well-founded both by experience and otherwise, that this has more to do with the feminism of the post and not the literary merit of the posts's subject, though that's been the ostensible target.

...Because with only a little thought it's obvious that a lot of sociopolitical relationships and social conventions and widely-held and unexamined assumptions are revealed when the perspective on a story set within one's own context is shifted in some relevant respect. That can happen just from learning about the particular historical context of when a book was written, because we read old books from our own context and apply that context to them, being very unaware of how that is very strongly affecting our understanding of the story...and, in the context of this particular discussion, when we learn that a book was written to include this or that thing because it actually meant something different to the writer and the readers of the time, we suddenly become aware of our own perspective, which is usually invisible to us.

It's pretty obvious, I think, that changing the socioeconomic status of characters, or their ages, or the locale that a book is set within, or any number of other things will transform in useful ways both our understanding of the work and, more importantly, the perspectives that we unknowingly are bringing to the work. The utility and interest in this project does not arise exclusively or necessarily from it being a feminist project. Certainly, I think that makes it particularly important and interesting and useful. But quite a few other, similar projects would be interesting and useful, too.

But you know what? Most of them wouldn't inspire people to write comments in response such as "I am Womyn! Hear me Bore!".
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:18 AM on December 23, 2011 [20 favorites]


Thinking more about this, why are the stereotypical male traits what they are? And by that I mean how much are they a result of the nature of over the top adventure fiction - the author knows what's going to happen, so the hero never has to guess wrong if the author doesn't have the word count for one more plot complication - or, in real life examples, a case of selection bias - we hear about the guy who made a really bold uncompromising decision and bet the family fortune on something that made it big, but try and find a biography on the guy who lost the family fortune on some dying technology because he thought the automobile was a passing fad. Occasional you'll see these, but they're usually written more as a business text, rather than a story.

In video games the stereotypical male traits work because you can save your game again and again and die as much as you want but at least you get your nose rubbed in the fact that your bold decisive actions have resulted in your untidy demise. Again.

In real life things are complex and making a decision and staying the course often leads to surprising revelations regarding the nature of icebergs.

I understand what Harrad and Bechdel are on about, and I can't say I blame them, but I think the great equalizer is likely to be a bunch of unrealistic movies about a woman in a tight fitting leather body suit and rappelling harness fighting terrorists or The Golden Girls in space and I can't see those making either one of them particularly happy not want to vomit.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:26 AM on December 23, 2011


The first time I saw my name in the paper, I faxed it to everyone I knew. The hundredth time, I tossed it in the recycling.

Ooh, listen to her.
posted by omnikron at 11:30 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know you're being facetious, but mother of god I would pay good money to see -- have seen, I guess -- Golden Girls in Space.
posted by griphus at 11:32 AM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would wager that the readership for these "updated" books is precisely zero. Idea is amusing, execution is pointless.
posted by ellF at 11:52 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm down with "Ms." - it's incredibly sexist to distinguish women based on their marital status when the same is not done for men.

Actually, I'd like to go back to when we did distinguish men in this way. Being called "Master Snider" seems like it would be pretty awesome.
posted by asnider at 11:52 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Unless you know something I don't, "master" was used for boys too young to be referred to as "mister."
posted by griphus at 11:53 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Screw Othello. I want to see this pulled off with Macbeth.

Kid Charlemagne, don't screw Othello. His track record suggests that's a highly dangerous form of recreation.

Also, don't screw Othello's woman. And don't pretend to.

In fact, let's just slip some damn prozac into his wine, and avoid talking to him at all.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:56 AM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ivan Fyodorovich: I don't even know how to begin to respond.

I'll admit I was surprised when I came back home from Christmas shopping and found this amount of vitriol and dismissiveness in this thread, and from MeFites who I have a high opinion of. I thought I had a decent feel for how MetaFilter responds to posts, but this caught me completely off guard.

I read far into the Harrad's Christma Carol with interest, and started to compare it with the original. It's surprising just how much difference it makes. Part of what makes it so startling to me is that I would never have thought of A Christmas Carol as a particularly gendered work (well, besides the creepy view of young women you find in Dickens) but reading it with genders reversed it suddenly is plain to see just how gendered it is. If A Christmas Carol is this gendered, then everything is. And intellectually I knew that already, but having it so starkly demonstrated made me know it experientially in a way that I didn't before.

So yeah, I was really surprised to see it blithely dismissed.
posted by Kattullus at 12:24 PM on December 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's pretty obvious, I think, that changing the socioeconomic status of characters, or their ages, or the locale that a book is set within, or any number of other things will transform in useful ways both our understanding of the work and, more importantly, the perspectives that we unknowingly are bringing to the work. .


Charles Dickens: Christ what an asshole.
posted by timsteil at 12:27 PM on December 23, 2011


I want to read the book where Harriet Potter and her friends Rhonda and Herman fight against She Who Must Not Be Named.
It's cool, but Sirius is a bitch.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:27 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everything is gendered, and we take for granted things that surround us on a daily basis. That's why projects like that are interesting, they jar us, which gives us a fleeting moment of distant and perspective on the subject.
posted by Stagger Lee at 12:28 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is this one of those cases where the job could be done by a small shell script?
posted by Joe Chip at 12:44 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I was playing the Zelda games with my friend's little girl--we started when she was around 3-- her parents and I really worked at calling Link, Zelda, because she identified with the character so much and wanted to be the one shooting the arrows and swinging the sword and not the princess in the tower waiting to be rescued. It helped that Link wore a dress and earrings. So up until she started reading, we had her convinced that Zelda was the heroine of the stories. But I really had to be on my toes when reading the dialog!
posted by agatha_magatha at 12:44 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I would wager that the readership for these "updated" books is precisely zero. Idea is amusing, execution is pointless.

Don't wager much; I'm pretty interested in looking at these.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:45 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I want to read the book where Harriet Potter and her friends Rhonda and Herman fight against She Who Must Not Be Named.

In praise of Joanne Rowling’s Hermione Granger series
posted by Ian A.T. at 12:45 PM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Unless you know something I don't, "master" was used for boys too young to be referred to as "mister."

You just had to ruin my dreams, didn't you?
posted by asnider at 1:24 PM on December 23, 2011


So I'm sitting here wishing the technology was available so that a schmuck like myself could easily replace the images and voices Clint Eastwood with Bea Arthur, etc. to teach Griphus to be careful what he wishes for and something else occurred to me. The issue with this is, really, it seems too much like a stunt to keep people from reading through it without digesting it.

So how is it that forty-five years ago, Diana Rigg being an artistically talented corporate managing chemist karate master not feel like a stunt. At least not any more than Patrick Macnee being a suave classic car driving sword fighting wine connoisseur with an armored bowler. Particularly given that the people running the show were of the sort that might pay Miss Rigg less than the camera man?
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:05 PM on December 23, 2011


I know all the stories she has transformed well, and I didn't expect to be as intrigued by this exercise as a I finding myself. It is fascinating how the change of pronouns is changing my experience of these old familiar stories.

Of course, it can go a little too far--I don't know if it was intentional, but changing "demand" to demadamed" in the Sister Brown story cracked me up!
posted by agatha_magatha at 2:08 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kid Charlemagne: “I understand what Harrad and Bechdel are on about, and I can't say I blame them, but I think the great equalizer is likely to be a bunch of unrealistic movies about a woman in a tight fitting leather body suit and rappelling harness fighting terrorists or The Golden Girls in space and I can't see those making either one of them not want to vomit.”

First of all, the point of fighting sexism isn't to improve pop culture and make mainstream movies more fun to watch. The point of fighting sexism is to end sexism.

Also, Space Cowboys would be awesome with the cast of the Golden Girls instead. Don't go dissing the Golden Girls. They are great comic actresses and worthy of much more respect than they often get at the hands of a patriarchal society which thinks of old women as not having any worth.
posted by koeselitz at 2:15 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


And, yeah, I'll say it: Bea Arthur was better than Clint Eastwood. A better actor, a quicker wit, and a hell of a lot more fun to watch.
posted by koeselitz at 2:16 PM on December 23, 2011 [6 favorites]


Even in a story that is consciously meant to have an egalitarian message, the main character is still heavily gendered - look, women can do boy stuff, too! But in other Pixar movies, like, say, Toy Story, the male leads are just solving problems and goin' 'round doin' stuff. There's nothing in there about them Being Men. Being male is just the default gender for main characters, and in order to make the main character a female, they have to make the story in some way about her being female.

Thank you, Sticherbeast, for articulating that so nicely. I've commented before about how attending a women's college and being exposed to all the alumnae history as well as my classmates' activities "made being female and doing stuff in the world seem really normal, and not exceptional nor a PC add-on to a male-dominated history." In a way, the "notable alumnae" portraits and literature around campus could be read as a genderswitched version of American history, though they're not actually genderswitched so much as gender-filtered.
posted by Orinda at 2:22 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


First of all, the point of fighting sexism isn't to improve pop culture and make mainstream movies more fun to watch.
posted by koeselitz

It seems like that is EXACTLY the point, to update old works to agree with modern sensibilities. It is revisionist history.

Seriously, where from here?

The Founding Mothers?
The Virgin Harry?
Honest Mabel Lincoln?

This particular case is, as people mentioned upthread, a "4AM idea", "a fun project." Let's not confuse that with scholarship, or originality.
posted by timsteil at 2:25 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seriously, where from here?

To challenge your expectations and assumptions, the ones that are so deeply embedded you don't even realize you have them? I'm sorry you think that's worthless, but it clearly has that effect on lots of people.

When I graduated from my very boyzone college and got a job working at a women's college, I spent the first few weeks being amazed at how surprised I was to see that then entire editorial staff of the school paper was female, and the head of the student government, and every other leadership position on campus - all women! I knew, intellectually, that this existed and so on, but to be in an atmosphere where that's how it was and that's how it had always been - it was just, you know, normal - was a revelation.

If reading an all-female version of Dickens doesn't do it for you, okay. But if you get a chance to really experience this, you should, because it's pretty mind-blowing.
posted by rtha at 2:33 PM on December 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


It is revisionist history.

No, burning the old copies would be revisionist history. This is cultural commentary in context. I'm not sure how this is a legitimate point of confusion; you seem willing to belittle the idea on its merits, so simultaneously aggrandizing it on the demerits is a weird inconsistency from where I'm standing.
posted by cortex at 2:41 PM on December 23, 2011 [20 favorites]


Let's see her re-write Huckleberry Finn, as a black kid.

If I was a poor black kid, I would... rewrite Huckleberry Finn?
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:43 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


timsteil, I think we all get that you think this is nonsense. Perhaps you could leave some room in the thread for the people who actually are getting something out of the exercise.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:44 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


timsteil: “Seriously, where from here? The Founding Mothers? The Virgin Harry? Honest Mabel Lincoln?”

I really don't get this – are we supposed to be impressed with the audacity? Are we supposed to find our sense of propriety wounded by these examples you've thrown out? It sounds distinctly similar in tone to the common canard about 'if we let men marry men, then men will want to marry dogs or cats next!' Aside from the obvious point that nobody is actually revising history here – just literary works – what horrors are you suggesting await us?
posted by koeselitz at 3:09 PM on December 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


I really don't get this

Incredibly obvious, but thanks for admitting it.

are we supposed to be impressed with the audacity?

You can be impressed, disgusted, or flatulent for all I care. I stated my opinion. You don't agree. What's next?

Are we supposed to find our sense of propriety wounded ?

I hope so, because if for nothing else, it has you talking about the issue enough to care. Now when that caring equates to something other than a knee-jerk reaction about how all our history is like totally bogus man and old white men were dicks because they were old white men with dicks when they wrote their classic texts, then you got yourself a ballgame.

It sounds distinctly similar in tone

I always thought Horse With No Name was by Neil Young, but I learned different.

what horrors are you suggesting await us?


Bad, uninspired writing, getting passed off as something relevant, for the most part.
posted by timsteil at 3:46 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is revisionist history. ... This particular case is, as people mentioned upthread, a "4AM idea", "a fun project."

???

I'm with cortex on this one. You seem to be scrambling so hard to come up with reasons to hate on this that you're starting to at once inflate and diminish it at the same time.

The point of this isn't some "in your FACE, patriarchy!" juvenalia. It's to ask the reader to think about what attitudes, behaviors and social statuses we consider acceptable for men and women, and to think about the power plays involved in narratives we hadn't considered before.

But if you can't even be consistent in what you find wrong with this, I guess it'd be nigh impossible to ask that you find anything right about it, so shine on, you crazy iconoclast, I guess.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:49 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now when that caring equates to something other than a knee-jerk reaction about how all our history is like totally bogus man and old white men were dicks because they were old white men with dicks when they wrote their classic texts, then you got yourself a ballgame.

That whooshing noise? That was the point blowing right by you.

The point isn't that our history is bogus, man. The point is that we make, understandably, a lot of assumptions about sex and gender roles, and a pretty simple exercise like this one can make you go wait, what? Oh! Maybe make you think a little. Please note that I am using the general "you" here, not talking about you specifically, since apparently all it did was make you weirdly defensive, and then weirdly offensive.

Nobody's saying that all old dead white dudes suck so we should pretend they never existed. Open your mind a little, and stop making assumptions.

As cortex said, this is cultural commentary, not an attempt to rewrite history.
posted by rtha at 4:17 PM on December 23, 2011 [9 favorites]


Dear Penthouse,

I never thought I'd be writing to you, but I'm so damn confused I had no choice.
posted by Bonzai at 4:22 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


timsteil:It seems like that is EXACTLY the point, to update old works to agree with modern sensibilities. It is revisionist history.


These are works of fiction, not historical texts. Nobody is suggesting that these treatments replace the original, or suggesting that there should be some vast conspiracy to make it seem as if they were always written in this way.

I don't get why the existence of a thing on the Internet is making you so angry, but you are starting to sound kind of like a crazy person.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:33 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


[Timsteil, it's probably time to step back a bit and let this thread become less about you and your opinions. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 4:33 PM on December 23, 2011


As a f'r'instance of why these might be useful, I'll contribute an experience I've had on MetaFilter.

Sometimes when I was writing a response to someone's comment, I'd realize I didn't know whether they were a woman or a man (or something else), or straight or gay (or something else). And honestly, sometimes when race was at issue, whether they were 'white' or 'black' (or something else).

So I had to ask myself: why that would matter to how I would write? Why did I feel I needed to know their 'identity'? What ways was that going to affect how I related to them? It turned up a lot of assumptions I was making that I hadn't previously been aware of.

I don't think the writer intends these to replace the original works. She's using them as a tool to let others address similar questions. If you don't enjoy these kinds of questions, you can continue to read the originals.

[On a completely different note, does anyone else think the word 'Genderswitching' looks German?]
posted by benito.strauss at 4:55 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow, TimSteil. I'm not familiar with your writing, but count me in as one who will avoid it in the future.

It's disappointing--though unsurprising--that a professional writer such as yourself would prove to be so ignorant of literary history, and the history of writing. To have such an simplistic (and wrong) view, for example, of why works are in the canon and why others are not reveals your ignorance.

Your refusal to listen to the many users in the thread who have tried to point out that your bombastic assumptions are incorrect for x, y, and z reasons (and yes, assumptions can be incorrect, whether you want to call them your "opinions" or not) serves to highlight your biases, as well. If you are this unwilling to discuss and learn, why do you participate in a community forum?

With that said, I think the project is interesting, potentially useful though not brilliant. As someone who engages in literary criticism and analysis, I am not personally illuminated by Harrad's project. However, I recognize that many people do not go into a text with the intent of performing a close-reading, and for that reason I think this is really interesting due to the (important, useful) conversations it might elicit.

As to the user above questioning so-called male attributes: they are extremely embedded in Western culture. I am most familiar with France and the Querelle des femmes, a rhetorical tradition that thrived during the Renaissance and was re-invigorated during the seventeenth century. The writers participating in this querelle were most certainly concerned with what constituted "male" and "female," and it was most generally related to reason (a "male" trait), logical ability, control of emotions, etc. These traits themselves go back even further: look at how the Ancient Greeks (see Thomas Laqueur) used to define female sexual organs as stunted penises, the ovaries internal testicles. This was, according to the leading lights of the time, due to the fact that women weren't as "warm" as men (among other failings).

There are so many examples of this throughout history (many of which I'm certain a number of users on this site are familiar with) that it is a bit unfortunate someone would seriously ask where these gendered traits came from. I assume the poster asked in good faith, but I forget that this stuff isn't common knowledge.
posted by nonmerci at 4:59 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


> Seriously, where from here?

Re-film all the Miss Marple stories, starring the very old Elton John.
posted by jfuller at 5:24 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm mainly saying this because it's on the TV right now, but Fight Club. Now there's a thought.
posted by Grangousier at 5:33 PM on December 23, 2011


Fight Club is explicitly about male angst and issues, though. To me, that's much less interesting than taking a famous story which is not as obviously gendered.

Although, I would be okay with a double bill of gender-swapped Fight Club and gender-swapped Baise-moi.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:43 PM on December 23, 2011


Well, as far as Fight Club goes, somebody did this.
posted by koeselitz at 6:47 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I were going to do this with movies, I'd start with Reservoir Dogs.

I've got a copy of a student screenplay that does exactly that. I'm not about to post it anywhere, but I kept it because it's awesome.
posted by Auguris at 7:05 PM on December 23, 2011


Not only do I get something put of this, I will probably keep them around in some form for my daughter to read. Because there's nothing like children's stories to reinforce the masculine 'norm' (why does the pangolin have to be a boy, it's a fucking pangolin! Oh that's right, the girl pangolin comes in at the end...)

So for my daughter's sake I want to read these to her - she desereves a place in her life wheree women do stuff because it's cool. Not because they're a woman doiong cool stuff.

(also, I use Ms all the time because I like the political aspect of it and because I pref the feel - a lot more oomph than miss)
posted by geek anachronism at 7:42 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not going far enough I think, there needs to be species swap rewrites. Imagine The Maltese Falcon if all the characters were falcons or Pride and Prejudice With interstellar battle robots.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:53 PM on December 23, 2011


So for my daughter's sake I want to read these to her - she desereves a place in her life wheree women do stuff because it's cool. Not because they're a woman doiong cool stuff.

Oh god no please read her these great books as they were written. Over a hundred years ago.
posted by eugenen at 7:56 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think that it's pretty amusing that two of the people here countering timsteil's angry defense of what he misunderstands as some sort of attack on dead, white males...are myself and koeselitz who have educations from a school that is basically Dead White Male Central. You know, that place where the students do nothing but actually read the entire Western Canon for four years—not textbooks or survey courses, but the books themselves and that's the only major? If there were anyone here who would most likely have both the expertise and affiliations to want to defend the canon from those supposedly scurrilous feminists, it'd probably be us.

I won't speak for koeselitz, but I'm pretty passionate about these books—from Sophocles to Shakespeare to Austen to Tolstoy; Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Augustine, Descartes, Newton, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Smith...okay, I could keep going on and on. These are freaking awesome books, great books, and I am extremely willing to defend them on the merits.

But as a feminist and a fan and scholar of the western canon, I somehow manage to not have any trouble being critical of the sexism in our history and culture, and our cultural history, being critical of the patriarchy, being critical of the blatant and ugly and simple truth that these books do, in fact, largely elide or marginalize women in most respects...while somehow, at the same time, also believing that these books deserve attention and respect and that they are still extremely relevant.

A feminist critique of the sexism in a culture is not some all-encompassing attack on that culture, necessarily asserting that everything about it is evil and valueless. It may be politically convenient for some people to claim that this is true, but that doesn't make it so.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:13 PM on December 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


I got through half a page of the Pride and Prejudice rewrite. It's an interesting idea, but given how much of some novels turn on the limited options available to women in certain eras - Austen's work being a good example of that - genderswitching the leads seems a bit oblivious to what made some plots work in the first place. It also seems really lazy as a writing strategy and as a way to think about how really terrible it was to be a woman in the past. Why not rewrite the novel, like Wide Sargasso Sea did for Jane Eyre instead of doing a control-f-paste job?

There's a ton of interesting things one can do to show the gender issues in writing; this doesn't strike me as one of them. But well done her for getting herself in the Guardian on the back of it, I suppose.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:43 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I guess I just don't understand why a woman who's lucky enough to live in the relative freedom of a modern Western culture wouldn't write her own original work of literature that treats gender in whatever way she wishes. Maybe because it's difficult to create something new that can captivate a large audience. Pretty easy, as the "author" notes in the Guardian article, to "fiddle" with other peoples work. And pretty lazy when it's just re-treading well-worn ground that brave feminists pioneered 50 years ago.
posted by FeralHat at 9:14 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess I just don't understand why a woman who's lucky enough to live in the relative freedom of a modern Western culture wouldn't write her own original work of literature that treats gender in whatever way she wishes.

Harrad's original writing. Cleverly hidden on the same website.
posted by running order squabble fest at 9:50 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Harrad's original writing. Cleverly hidden on the same website.

Thanks, let us know when the author writes something original that captivates a large audience. I wouldn't know if the original work has any merit because this stunt doesn't inspire me to read more of this author's work.
Gender-trolling shenanigans are always good for a little PR bump, though. Maybe the author will get some eyeballs and captivate some readers that way. Pretty slick.
posted by FeralHat at 11:02 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What she's doing is a form of cultural and literary criticism, creating an opportunity for readers to experience a familiar book in a way that will cause them to think about it, and their own culture, differently than they otherwise would have. It's not a fucking attempt to write a new novel.

The point isn't in any sense to try to "write a work of literature that treats gender in a way she wants". She's not making a point about how she wants to talk about gender. She's not attempting to explore gender roles and the status of women using her own voice. She's re-framing something already familiar. It's very simple.

Criticizing what she's doing because it's not original and is a "stunt" is missing the point entirely and judging it on a completely inappropriate basis.

"Thanks, let us know when the author writes something original that captivates a large audience."

Yes, that a creative work is very popular is a reliable signal that something is worth your time. It's not a reliable signal for me, but I can see how that would work well for you.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:28 AM on December 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


Wow, I am sad. Much of this thread reads like a case study for How to Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ. You can read part of the prologue at the link, if you are so inclined.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:18 AM on December 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


I read through the revised GK Chesterton story, The Queer Feet - I've read the original many times before - and the gender-switching did absolutely nothing and seemed lazy. Maybe it would work a bit better with a story where gender relations were central to the plot, or maybe not.

I think you probably need to read it at least one more time, if you can't see why it was selected.

[Spoilers]

The Queer Feet is, on one level, a story about class identity. Its central premise is that the way we perceive people is often derived more from socially ascribed norms than from essential features. Father Brown is the only person in the story to notice that, far from being radically different, waiters and gentlemen look exactly the same. In the story, the other characters perceive them as different simply because of their gait and the social attitude that it indicates, and they are unable to see that this difference is all their perception relies on.

It's a classic Chestertonian attack on a binary opposition. Waiters and gentlemen only exist, even in the context of a meeting of the most powerful men in the land, because of the opposition set up between deference on the one hand and unconcern on the other*.

Genderswitching the characters in this context harnesses the logic of the tale and uses it to suggest new possibilities. It also requires us to ask whether the same binary opposition exists or would exist within existing female society or a society where female was the default position. There are numerous other implications. What about the affectionate and humanising contempt with which the Twelve True Fisher(wo)men are described? Is this necessary in the genderswitched reading? Is it excessive? One could go on.

When you do something like this to a story like The Queer Feet, which has a surface simplicity but great underlying complexity, the effects achieved are complex and interesting in themselves. When you do it to this actual story, which it itself a challenge to false essentialism, those effects are magnified, as the story and its manipulation can be read as commentaries upon each other.

Merry Christmas everybody. Do yourselves a favour, read more Chesterton!

*As an aside, one might argue that these are representations of Master and Slave moralities. I was going to write my MA thesis on Chesterton and Nietzsche, before I realised how monumental a task it would be. One day...
posted by howfar at 5:37 AM on December 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'd like to see this done to Dream of the red Chamber.
posted by klue at 6:58 AM on December 24, 2011


On a completely different note, does anyone else think the word 'Genderswitching' looks German

Having been surrounded by German all week (I don't speak it), this word looks refreshingly English to me!

I first thought this seemed kind of lame, oh copy paste, yawn. But after reading and thinking more about it, I can see now how the simple gender change points out how unbalaced these stories are to begin with. I'm still going to enjoy Austen as originally written but it gives me an extra thing to think about when I do.
posted by shelleycat at 9:19 AM on December 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Huh. This is a topic I frequently think about. I am driven bats by the fact that characters in movies and books have to have a "reason" for being female, and are as default male. I think along these lines. But wow, I just read the first few paragraphs of one of those, and was pretty much shocked by how jarring I found it. Which makes the reactions of those who are dismissing this as juvenile claptrap more comprehensible for two possible reasons. First, obviously, is that they did not RTFA and assumed, as I did at first, that they pretty much knew how it was going to go. The second possible reason is that its very, very uncomfortable. Even I feel a weird inner tension trying to rethink that many cultural assumptions at once, and I've been trying to address such things as best I can since I became aware of them, at 14 or so. I value questioning social norms and consider it not only valuable, but also personally interesting. For people who do not, or have less invested in such evaluations and more invested in the status quo, I can see how it might be rage-froth-inducing. Not to say it should. But I can see how it might happen.
posted by Because at 9:31 AM on December 24, 2011 [7 favorites]


...And then it's fascinating when it *stops*, and the story suddenly becomes normal that way. (Though "demadamed" actually annoys me more than a bit. That's just tacky.)
posted by Because at 9:43 AM on December 24, 2011


I just finished the full Christmas Carol and found it exciting and enlightening, as well as the fun it seems they were intended for, going by the tone of the original blog posts. I'm really surprised at the anger and defensiveness this provoked, but I guess that only makes it more interesting.

Like a lot of bookish girls I had a habit of imagining myself as a boy, or as a special licenced girl, when reading these stories; now that I'm getting more crotchety I've taken to gender-switching main characters in my head. "The Mysterious Flame Of Queen Loana" was suddenly a lot better when it was about a charismatic 60-something female professor with a string of hot young lovers and a very tolerant gracefully ageing husband! But to have it there in black and white on these old classics, and so completely, is strangely thrilling for me. All these women, using their personalities and power so unapologetically! It's the side characters that made it for me- the fiddler at Fezziwigs or the two old weather-beaten women in the lighthouse. Honestly being told this is a trivial exercise by men is a it like being told by someone with an eight-figure trust-fund that it's shallow to worry about money. I wonder if you know how much power this rich trust-fund of stories and role-models and possible selves gives you? That's why this works with a classic the way it wouldn't with an original story.

It's particularly appropriate for Saturnalia and the solstice, where master and slaves change places! I might reserve another one to read on Twelfth Night.
posted by Erasmouse at 9:51 AM on December 24, 2011 [14 favorites]


I want to read the book where Harriet Potter and her friends Rhonda and Herman fight against She Who Must Not Be Named.

Would you settle for Harriet Potter and her friends Ronalda and Hermes?
posted by brookedel at 1:43 PM on December 24, 2011


I actually did this once with the text of Gawain and the Green Knight (with added puns - Gawain became Gawax, for example, and Lancelot became Lancelittle). I was really struck at the time with how strange it was for the female gender and women to be assumed to be powerful, important, in control, and worthy of respect - all of which the genderswapping caused (the motivation - for those who feel the need to insult we women because our motivations for our actions don't hit your lofty standards) was that our class filming the mini-movie we made was all women; I suggested a genderswap and realized the power of it later.

I wonder if some of the defensiveness of these books (like the author, Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorites; I'd never thought to genderswap it - but my what a change it makes! So many little put-downs toward the women int he story, all lit up with stark relief when they become men!) is because of the inherent discomfort in being seen as lesser that is part and parcel of being female and reading literature.

It would be fun to read these in rapid succession. I might do that with the Holmes story; one of my favorites!
posted by Deoridhe at 10:20 PM on December 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Somebody should rewrite all of George Eliot's novels as if they were written by a woman. Now that would be worth reading!
posted by omnikron at 9:04 AM on December 25, 2011


I think this provides a very interesting filter to view these works through, and I'm enjoying using the chrome extension for genderswitching to read men's and women's sites about dating.


I really have to say... genderswapping Harry Potter would probably be wildly offensive.
It'd be a story about an impulsive, whiny girl and her airheaded friend who get their asses repeatedly saved by the clever boy they both disregard who is the only one of the three of them to ever bother to do the homework.

Harry and Ron, in my reading, don't possess any positive character traits beyond a vague sense of 'nobility' and some hopped up macho bravery that borders on stupidity.

Hermione is clearly the true hero of the tale and it works now because "boys are dumb". With Harriet and Rhonda, we'd be asking "Why can't these girl's do anything right?" Protected from the evil Voldemora by her dying father's love!
Harriet vs. Severa Snape though (I was in love with your father and you're just like your horrible mother who always picked on me.)

Okay, maybe it would be hilarious but it's probably better that it wasn't the originally so. I don't think any of us would have stuck aroudn for 7 books of Joe Rowling's work.
posted by TheKM at 1:53 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


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