One Weird Old Trick to Undermine the Patriarchy
December 29, 2013 6:25 PM   Subscribe

"Bilbo, it turns out, makes a terrific heroine. She’s tough, resourceful, humble, funny, and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry. Perhaps most importantly, she never makes an issue of her gender—and neither does anyone else."
posted by Jacqueline (90 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of my FB friends posted this and I thought it looked like MetaFilter's cup of tea.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:25 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


The gender switch also works for Azog the Defiler, which is great in a different sort of way.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 PM on December 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


"...and uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry."

So, uh... women, they're particularly jewelry-focused? That was an oddly genderrific one-liner in a piece that I otherwise think is pretty great.

Or, if it wasn't meant that way, it was an odd lapse of awareness.
posted by gurple at 6:32 PM on December 29, 2013 [6 favorites]


There are comparatively very few mentions of female characters in LOTR but when they are portrayed (minor or major), their representation by Tolkien is generally progressive.
posted by Bwithh at 6:37 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid 50+ years ago, I--and many other voracious female readers of my period--learned that in reading, we had to become "male" if we wanted to get any enjoyment out of the book at all. In other words, we changed our own gender, not the protagonist's.

I much prefer this alternative.
posted by Peach at 6:37 PM on December 29, 2013 [46 favorites]


I'm thinking the thing about jewelry was knowingly tongue-in-cheek.

I like this. Growing up in the generation that I did, I have done and have known other people who have done this very thing with videogames that let you name your character. It makes me pretty happy to think that more and more modern games let you choose your character's gender, too, but there's no reason to let go of the entire "change the protagonist's gender in your version of the story" thing. It's fun to do. It's probably good for us to do that and to read stories from a gender not our own, but the skew toward the Male Default in fiction makes more female protagonists a good thing for girls and boys.
posted by byanyothername at 6:46 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Chris Claremont had something that he'd say when he was discussing new characters for the X-Men or any of the other books that he was working on at the time: why can't this character be a woman? That's not to say that Claremont was flawless when working with female characters (they tended toward being victims of various sorts of mind-rape), but at least he was trying, and much of the X-Men on his long run was centered on the female characters.

Me, I've seen a bunch of missed opportunities to gender-swap new versions of legacy characters in comics. Marvel recently made someone else Nova, and even if you're limiting the character to human, it could be anyone in the world... and it turned out to be yet another white American teenage boy. DC made a bit of news when the new Green Lantern was an Arab-American, but again, you've got the fifth incarnation of the character in a row that was an American male. They've tried in the past, and I suppose that Marvel should be given credit for making the former Ms. Marvel into Captain Marvel, and a more sensible costume to go with it rather than a one-piece swimsuit with opera gloves and thigh-high boots, but there are still things that make me wince.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:47 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, uh... women, they're particularly jewelry-focused?

Did you maybe forget about a super important plot point in the Hobbit and in the Lord of the RINGS?

spoiler alert/secret hint: IT'S A RING IT'S JEWELRY A RING IT'S A RING there are other rings too but this one is the most special of the rings THE JEWELRY RINGS

or did you think because they genderswapped the story it should be lord of the powertools now
posted by elizardbits at 6:50 PM on December 29, 2013 [51 favorites]


I want to read Lord of the Powertools fanfic. Someone get on that, please.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:51 PM on December 29, 2013 [37 favorites]


To be fair, the new Nova couldn't be Jeph Loeb's son if he were a girl.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 6:56 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Do not read the instruction booklet aloud! For it is written in the Black Andecker Speech..."
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:57 PM on December 29, 2013 [61 favorites]


Like literally at no time ever in the history of the story's publication has anyone said "ooh, he steals a ring, does he? bit girly, innit? no lad's going to want to read this bollocks!" so therefore why would the presence of a female Bilbo suddenly render an actual piece of already canonically extant jewelry suddenly stereotypically ladylike?
posted by elizardbits at 6:58 PM on December 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


Lady hobbits, don't leave your hobbit holes in the morning without treating yourself to some Smooth 'n Shire™ Keratin Power Foot Hair Tamer. Now with Aragorn Oil!
posted by XMLicious at 7:03 PM on December 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


Three Drills for the Elven-kings under the roof,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of granite counter tops,
Nine for Mortal Men doomed to sheet-rock,
One for the Architect on his dark workbench
In the Land of More Door where the Carpenters lie.
One Drill to rule them all, One Drill to find them,
One Drill to bring them all and in the darkness screw them
In the Land of More Door where the Carpenters lie
posted by Twain Device at 7:03 PM on December 29, 2013 [82 favorites]


There are comparatively very few mentions of female characters in LOTR but when they are portrayed (minor or major), their representation by Tolkien is generally progressive.

As I recall, Tolkien's depiction of Shelob was especially sympathetic.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:03 PM on December 29, 2013 [8 favorites]


you've got the fifth incarnation of the character in a row that was an American male

Wanna guess who these comics are generally aimed at?
posted by codswallop at 7:04 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I dunno, I expect one of the reasons we don't get more works with female protagonists is because it's something of a minefield. The reasons it's a minefield are not fair, but still, land mines care naught for fairness.

Female characters get examined for whether they're representing women positively, or at least not grossly negatively, in a way that male characters are not, and I figure that's got to make some writers pause. The reason they're examined, of course, is because they're correspondingly rarer, and women are trying to overcome generations of bias, so it tends to attract the critical eye. And if a writer himself is male, it can make him reluctant to make himself a target for people shouting at him for doing it wrong, when he might have honest questions about it himself. And so, self-censorship.

That doesn't even get into the pressures at a publishing and marketing level.
posted by JHarris at 7:04 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Wanna guess who these comics are generally aimed at?

NOT ICKY GIRLS EW
posted by moonmilk at 7:04 PM on December 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


I wonder if this works for Bored of the Rings?

off to find my copy
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:05 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hold on, I have something for this. This was a Thing on pixiv at one point.

Ah, here we go.
posted by kafziel at 7:05 PM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I was completely confused by the pullquote, because Bilbo doesn't use wits at all in making off with the ring--it's largely unconscious and driven mostly by capital-F Fate and the will of the ring itself. So I immediately assumed it was talking about the cup, which wasn't jewelry at all--but then I thought, well, if it was jewelry, it was even more highly gendered than the comment.
posted by darksasami at 7:06 PM on December 29, 2013


Female Bilbo's feet are too small in all that fanart. :(
posted by Jacqueline at 7:07 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mildly NSFW bonus!
posted by kafziel at 7:10 PM on December 29, 2013


That's not to say that Claremont was flawless when working with female characters (they tended toward being victims of various sorts of mind-rape),

On the plus side he did address that time Carol Danvers was actually raped, which everyone just kind of didn't think about.

DC made a bit of news when the new Green Lantern was an Arab-American, but again, you've got the fifth incarnation of the character in a row that was an American male.

Meanwhile, in the Hall of Justice.... Marvel has an Arab-American Ms Marvel, and such. Which is nice.

And, in terms of the main story, once again they've made Bilbo young. That really annoys me.
posted by Mezentian at 7:10 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Female Bilbo's feet are too small in all that fanart. :(

& her feet do not have enough hair.
posted by Going To Maine at 7:11 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


OMG. Gollum now looks like the entity from The Ring. THE RING.
Now it all makes sense.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:11 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


...an actual piece of already canonically extant jewelry suddenly stereotypically ladylike?

The canonical Ring is a plain gold band, writing inscribed on the inside, worn "to rule them all"; a good cypher for a man's wedding ring. Maybe the gender switched ring has a big diamond on it?

No, I think the line was tongue-in-cheek, too.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:12 PM on December 29, 2013


Wanna guess who these comics are generally aimed at?

Good point! We need more diverse, well-rounded female characters in media aimed at a male audience.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:14 PM on December 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


Maybe the gender switched ring has a big diamond on it?

Finally, she tricks Sauron into marrying her!

LORD OF THE RINGS: THE LANDING OF A MAN
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:15 PM on December 29, 2013 [16 favorites]


How To Marry A Millionaire Disembodied Firey Eye of Evil
posted by elizardbits at 7:16 PM on December 29, 2013 [12 favorites]


She could mean the Arkenstone...

Didn't anybody else think that?

No?

Sigh...
posted by tspae at 7:16 PM on December 29, 2013 [11 favorites]


Wouldn't the Arkenstone require a setting before it could be wearable and thus jewelry?
posted by Jacqueline at 7:18 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Could it be one of those things you stick in your bellybutton with a bit of adhesive?

[googles 'arkenstone']

...nope.
posted by moonmilk at 7:23 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a Dark Lord posssessed of a kingdom must be in want of a Ring. However little known the feelings or views of such a ruler may be on first entering his domain, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding races, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.

- J*n* A*st*n, The Ladyship of the Ring
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:25 PM on December 29, 2013 [52 favorites]


Wouldn't the Arkenstone require a setting before it could be wearable and thus jewelry?

A good thing the Dwarven party contains jewelers.
(Do gender-flipped Tolkien Dwarven women have beards?)
posted by Mezentian at 7:26 PM on December 29, 2013


(Do gender-flipped Tolkien Dwarven women have beards?)

Yes.
posted by kafziel at 7:34 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I wonder if this works for Bored of the Rings?

off to find my copy


Wasn't the character's name 'Dildo Buggers' in 'Bored'? So I'd say... yeah, that works.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:50 PM on December 29, 2013


The Arkenstone is wearable in Angband!
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:50 PM on December 29, 2013


(Do gender-flipped Tolkien Dwarven women have beards?)

I actually have $5 riding on one of Thorin's party being revealed as a female dwarf by the end of the third Jackson movie.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:01 PM on December 29, 2013 [18 favorites]


When I used to do library story times, I would sometimes gender-swap the animals in stories (humans are harder, when it's picture books.) But then I would lose track of character's genders, and they would switch back in the middle of the story, and generally I was pretty crap about continuity but it was a little act of protest against a silly tendency for all the barnyard animals to be male.
posted by Jeanne at 8:05 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


So Pratchett didn't invent bearded female dwarfs/dwarves? Damn.
posted by maudlin at 8:14 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


To be fair, the new Nova couldn't be Jeph Loeb's son if he were a girl.

Some people on the AV Club thought I was cruel for saying this, but I wish that, if Marvel really cared about Loeb, they'd pay for some therapy rather than giving him books like Ultimatum and Red Hulk and this. He didn't stay on the book that long anyway, and it's not doing well sales-wise.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:14 PM on December 29, 2013


Lady hobbits, don't leave your hobbit holes in the morning without treating yourself to some Smooth 'n Shire™ Keratin Power Foot Hair Tamer. Now with Aragorn Oil!

Fem!Bilbo is having none of your shit right now.
posted by zennie at 8:30 PM on December 29, 2013


it was a little act of protest against a silly tendency for all the barnyard animals to be male.

The highly visible udder on Otis -- the boy cow in Nickelodeon's "Back At The Barnyard" -- is a little riff on this, but kids are so used to characters being male by default that they do not see the joke AT ALL. It is kind of insane, actually.
posted by selfmedicating at 8:30 PM on December 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure it's particularly feminist, but Harry Potter becomes a lot more interesting when you convert him to a girl, while converting Hermione to a boy.

Harry becomes a bit of a flaky yet courageous, sports-obsessed girl who can't choose between his attraction to Ron Weasley or his firey attraction to Ron's sister, while Hermione becomes a very responsible, studious young man, struggling between a life of dedicated study and expressing his own feelings, who finally wins Ron's heart.
posted by markkraft at 8:33 PM on December 29, 2013 [25 favorites]


To the point made further in the article, I absolutely change the gender pronouns in books I read my daughter regularly, either for feminine or neutral, because otherwise she'd hardly ever hear them. Male pronouns are the defaults, even in books where it's completely irrelevant. Hungry caterpillar? Male. Mouse making cookies? Male. Mouse guarding a strawberry? Male. Pig that likes mud? Male. Hermit crab looking for a home? Male.
posted by odinsdream at 8:36 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure it's particularly feminist, but Harry Potter becomes a lot more interesting when you convert him to a girl, while converting Hermione to a boy.

I instantly thought of these completely gender-swapped Harry Potter drawings. Can we talk about how cute Ron and Neville are?
posted by gc at 8:40 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Isn't Sauron an angry vulva?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:04 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I actually have $5 riding on one of Thorin's party being revealed as a female dwarf by the end of the third Jackson movie.

That puts a new slant on the Taurial/Killi romance.
The love that dare not speak its name indeed.
posted by Mezentian at 9:34 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hm, wonder if the author lives in L.A.? I spent the sodden half of an Xmas dinner party going on (and on) about how my own 5-year-old insisted that Bilbo (short for "Barbara") Baggins was a girl, and how I had to read the entire book to her with flipped pronouns - and how it made the whole experience better. In the post Potter-era, Tolkien's prose can seem pretty colorless, which is why making Bilbo an intrepid (if reluctant) heroine makes The Hobbit significantly more interesting/bearable.

Even if the gender switch were baked into the text, however, I'd still criticize the author for making Bilbo such a scaredy-cat; though I'd laud him for the subversiveness of Bilbo's book-length observation of the blundering males all around her making testosterone-fueled decisions that are almost always wrong.
posted by turducken at 9:39 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I actually have $5 riding on one of Thorin's party being revealed as a female dwarf by the end of the third Jackson movie.

That puts a new slant on the Taurial/Killi romance.
The love that dare not speak its name indeed.


"Look, other women are one thing, but an elf?! There'll be no treasure for you, young lady."
posted by Going To Maine at 9:48 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I used to do library story times, I would sometimes gender-swap the animals in stories (humans are harder, when it's picture books.) But then I would lose track of character's genders, and they would switch back in the middle of the story, and generally I was pretty crap about continuity but it was a little act of protest against a silly tendency for all the barnyard animals to be male.

Yeah, trying to keep the he/she/her/him switches straight when you are half asleep reading a bedtime story is surprisingly difficult.

On the other hand, when the mouse is alternately him and she, sometimes in the same sentence, well, I guess I'm preparing my daughter for the post-gender world of the future.
posted by madajb at 10:30 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've read a few pieces of film analysis that suggest that for any marginalized (or previously marginalized) group, their representation in popular culture tends to roughly follow a progression:
  1. Look at the silly [minority]! Aren't they funny/evil/devious/[insert stereotype here]?
  2. Look at the noble [minority]! Aren't they brave/kind-hearted/completely without any bad qualities?
  3. Look at the [minority]! They are neither completely good nor evil as a whole, they are complex individuals that are exactly just like you or I!
  4. Oh look, it's a person who happens to be a [minority]. I guess they're like most people in that there are things they deal with that are universal to humankind and things they deal with that are specific to their culture.

posted by chrominance at 10:33 PM on December 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Isn't Sauron an angry vulva?

Lord of the Nuvaring.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:50 PM on December 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


The surprising thing here is that she seems surprised that the switch was easy. I mean, is there a rugged, pecs bulging, wave-a-sword-around type male in LotR or the Hobbit who doesn't turn out to be an absolute wanker, a tragic figure, or a hero in the end, once that nonsense has been beaten out of him? Even the elves, who tend to be much more androgynous, every time you meet a self-reliant rugged individualist in the Silmarillion, you can pretty much bet that inside of 100 pages he's going to do something to give the elven race an even bigger case of PTSD than they already have or, occasionally, die tragically because some other self-reliant rugged individualistic wanker had stirred up a hornet's nest of some sort.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:25 PM on December 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, the comments:

I *love* this idea, Michelle, and...

Yes, go on...

...(assuming I can talk my husband into it) I’m going to steal it.

There's a good girl, checking with hubby first. Do be sure to ask him for grocery money while you're at it, you dear, sweet thing.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:37 PM on December 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was completely confused by the pullquote, because Bilbo doesn't use wits at all in making off with the ring--

If I were describing, "the part where Bilbo finds the ring," I would include getting separated from Gandalf and the dwarves, finding the ring, riddle contest to squeezing out of his brass buttons. I can't find my copy of the Hobbit anywhere, but surely that's all one chapter, isn't it?

The riddles are where he uses his wits in making off with the ring.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:40 PM on December 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm guessing that more girls read than boys (I'm basing my assumption on the fact that girls do better scholastically than boys during early childhood, but this gets flipped during adolescence, when boys outperform girls in school) ; girls, generally speaking, start reading at an earlier age than boys.

So it would seem to make sense that there ought to be more female characters in children's literature - there's more of an audience and more of a market (and children's literature is marketed with a laser focus).

I guess writers are hedging their bets; boys are less likely to read stories where there is a female protagonist, so you would lose most of that audience and most of that market. However, girls probably going to read a book with a male protagonist.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:02 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a good girl, checking with hubby first.

They may take turns reading stories, and that could get a bit confusing if they don't agree.
posted by Mezentian at 12:04 AM on December 30, 2013


Oh boy Bilmoe art on Metafilter. Has anyone posted the cute Morgoth/Sauron yaoi art yet? Because that's kinda cute too even with excessive tumblr nose.

I've been debating reading Hobbit to my daughter and honestly the idea of replacing the main character in a sausagefest with a practical and resourceful young Halfling female adventurer might just tip the scale in it's favor. No way in hell she's going to see the movies anytime soon as they are targeted for a much older age bracket.
posted by vuron at 12:10 AM on December 30, 2013


I think if you're going to do a major switch in say, the Narnia books, you need to let your sprog know upfront you're doing it, or there may be difficulties later on when the truth emerges. Actually it might be best to give them the choice.
posted by Segundus at 12:17 AM on December 30, 2013


I just know in my bones that somehow all this will lead to Bilbo becoming a Disney Princess.
posted by Segundus at 12:21 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


At the rate at which Disney is swallowing properties, who the heck knows.
posted by JHarris at 1:19 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just know in my bones that somehow all this will lead to Bilbo becoming a Disney Princess.

In the grimdark future of Deviant Art that process has begun.
posted by Mezentian at 2:09 AM on December 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Different books, but from personal experience, Pippin and Merry are also great as women.
posted by kyrademon at 3:17 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If Gollum can be viewed as amongst other things a kind of (face-value/apparently) grim alter ego character for the hobbits (more so for Frodo than Bilbo) then we have an additional choice where we either do or don't switch Gollum to match the hobbits’ genders. Does this break the alter ego reading? (nah, not really) Or does it also afford the possibility of some additional animus/anima drama (sorta thing) readings?
posted by aesop at 3:34 AM on December 30, 2013


I've run across a few folks who have decided that some of the dwarves that we see in the Hobbit movie are women. The logic runs that female dwarves have beards and aren't necessarily distinguishable to the human eye, and that if Dwarvish does not use gendered pronouns, then they might all default to "he" when speaking other languages. Precisely which ones vary a bit, but fan favorite Fili turns up on the list a lot.
posted by Karmakaze at 5:16 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Different books, but from personal experience, Pippin and Merry are also great as women.

More info pls.
posted by odinsdream at 6:18 AM on December 30, 2013


Back in high school (~1993), I recall having more than one heated conversation with classmates who had read LotR and were absolutely convinced that Merry was a girl, based mainly on the fact that he liked to sing (but who doesn't in Middle Earth?) and had a name that sounded like "Mary". Pippin seemed to get gender-switched a lot too, but I think that was mostly because he and Merry were admittedly sort of interchangeable in the books.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:31 AM on December 30, 2013


From the age of about 3 to 6 all my daughter's toys were female by choice. It was quite memorable the first time she figured a stuffy was male. What with both our cats, our dog and my spouse being female it was kind of weird to be living in a household where I was explicitly the only male.
posted by Mitheral at 7:55 AM on December 30, 2013


> "More info pls."

I've mentioned this before on another Tolkien thread somewhere, but since asked, I'll repeat myself a bit.

Basically, the three Lord of the Rings books were just about the first non-children's-picture-books I read myself. I'd had The Hobbit read to me as a sequential bedtime story when I was little, I learned to read well by myself at a fairly young age, and I was eager to tackle the sequels. I was, very, *very* young at the time, and there were a few ... nuances I missed. Like the fact that Merry and Pippin were male. (I actually did not realize my mistake until I reread the books as a teenager, hit the part where everyone takes a bath together, went "Wait ... really?", and double-checked the pronouns.) Anyway, to this day, I feel that my original reading is a better-written story.

One interesting aspect of this reading, which would apply to the Bilbo genderswap as well, is that romance wasn't really a factor in their part of the story. Merry and Pippin were simply off on the adventure with everyone else. And my preadolescent self never felt there was a hole in the story because Pippin never declared her love for Frodo or whatever the hell. It never crossed my mind that perhaps Merry should be making cow eyes at Gandalf. Why would they? None of the other main characters were dealing with any of that except maybe Aragorn, and it's not like he spent loads of time worrying about it. They were all too busy trying to survive and fight evil and save the world and all that.

I sometimes wonder if reading the story the way I did is why I am now highly suspicious of the fact that romance seems to be an inevitable part of the story for principle female characters in a fantasy setting. Preadolescent female characters can sometimes get a pass on this (Alice in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz), but other than that I'm hard-pressed to think of any where it doesn't happen off the top of my head, even in classic high fantasy save the world books where the personal relationships of the characters aren't really foregrounded. And I read a LOT of fantasy.

And yeah sure, romance can be a factor for men in a fantasy setting too, but it isn't *inevitable*. Look at, for example, the Lord of the Rings. It's not the part of the story that matters the most, so not everyone needs to be neatly hooked up. Not every story is about that. Unless, apparently, you put a woman in it.

But anyway. Probably more important than that, I think the best, profoundest, most wonderful thing about Merry and Pippin being women when I read it was that NO ONE CARED THEY WERE WOMEN AND IT DIDN'T MAKE ANY DIFFERENCE TO THE STORY AT ALL.

Same plot, same story, same goals, same marvelous bits and tedious bits, same treatment of all the characters, one small change. A change that never struck me as odd. I never thought it was strange that Merry and Pippin were doing what they were doing and acting as they were acting, or that the other characters were treating them as they were being treated. It made no difference.

Which ended up, in retrospect, being a huge difference to *me*.
posted by kyrademon at 8:00 AM on December 30, 2013 [14 favorites]


[Couple comments removed, please remember to flag and move on.]
posted by cortex at 9:08 AM on December 30, 2013


There's a good girl, checking with hubby first.

Assumes the worst intentions, check

Condescending in exactly the wrong way for the context, check

Cheerfully pasting for all to mock, check

You get a sigh
posted by lordaych at 9:11 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Marriage involves a lot of communication and running things by in order to work. It makes me sick how often I catch myself saying "let me talk to my wife about it first" but it's part of the deal and is critical when maintaining a unified front with kids.
posted by lordaych at 9:14 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Girls deserve to have more female characters to relate to in books, for sure, but maybe even more importantly, boys need to learn to relate to female characters, too.

There's this popular wisdom out there that boys won't read stories about girls, and it does appear to be true; but that is just ridiculous and it's bad for everyone.

Little boys can easily imagine themselves as other animals, as robots, plants, cars, and even inanimate objects, but never ever ever as girls (or as female identified robots, plants, cars, etc.). That is messed up, and that messes boys up.

Fiction is about empathy. It's about putting yourself in someone else's shoes, understanding their motivations and interests from a first person perspective, relating to our similarities and our differences. What does it say about us that we're teaching our boys to empathize with fictional species and objects and pretty much everything other than girls and women?
posted by ernielundquist at 9:34 AM on December 30, 2013 [11 favorites]


Bwithh: "There are comparatively very few mentions of female characters in LOTR but when they are portrayed (minor or major), their representation by Tolkien is generally progressive."

Arguably so in modern viewings, but IMO...

Tolkien was producing an epic saga. Sagas are invariably light on female characters, and those that appear are generally either queens or goddesses, supportive with gifts at the beginning of the quest (Galadriel), or else monstrous/witches (Shelob, or Grendel's mother in Beowulf).

Eowyn is the odd bird left unexplained by the saga model. She's a mere mortal, not a valkyrie, and used to fulfill a prophesy (Sauron cannot be struck down by man), but I can't think of an epic story parallel to her.

So, I guess I'll grant Eowyn was pretty damned progressive: strong, self-reliant, making it in a man's world (dressed as a man, so she got ZERO special treatment), and accomplishing more than her male counterparts.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:50 AM on December 30, 2013


Kutsuwamushi: "Good point! We need more diverse, well-rounded female characters in media aimed at a male audience."

Hoping that's not meant ironically, because - we do.

ernielundquist: "Girls deserve to have more female characters to relate to in books, for sure, but maybe even more importantly, boys need to learn to relate to female characters, too."

Exactly - except I wouldn't say "more importantly," but "just as importantly".

Both genders need to learn respect without distinction to gender. And the easiest way to do this is to change the perceptions of the next generation. And books, movies, and computer games are the perfect vehicle, because they transcend most social, religious, and educational divisions.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:08 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Little boys can easily imagine themselves as other animals, as robots, plants, cars, and even inanimate objects, but never ever ever as girls

I am not sure.. Perhaps studies show different, but I notice my son and his friends are often using female characters in video and board games with no sense that it is odd nor is it a sexist joke a la har har i a playing a girl. They don't have an 'ew' reaction to playing a female role. They are thirteen so if ever there was a time I expected to see that, this was it.

The book and movie choices seem more gendered but my sense is that they steer away from romantic plots and towards the adventure, and options for female leads are slim.

Perhaps the publishers would find more receptive readers than they think among both boys and girls?
posted by chapps at 10:41 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I want to read Lord of the Powertools fanfic. Someone get on that, please."

Well I suppose a premise could be that there were several really useful cordless power tools, but only one working battery pack. ONE POWER PACK TO RUN THEM ALL!
posted by boilermonster at 12:00 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"I want to read Lord of the Powertools fanfic. Someone get on that, please."

Hmmm, Norm Abrams as Frodo, Silva and Trethewey as Merry and Pippin respectively, and a revolving cast of hobbits filling the Samwise role (who keep getting killed and replaced ala the Spinal Tap drummers). Bob Vila is of course, Gollum.
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 12:18 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Pippin seemed to get gender-switched a lot too, but I think that was mostly because he and Merry were admittedly sort of interchangeable in the books.

They're pretty different in the books, though it's a little subtle. Pippin is enthusiastic and careless, while Meriadoc is sly and practical. I think Pippin's a better candidate for a gender swap because Merry being a lady hobbit steals Eowyn's thunder in the big showdown.
posted by bleep-blop at 12:34 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm thinking about rereading LOTR and taking the inhabitants of the Shire to be Men, while the people of Gondor and Rohan are all hobbits.
posted by Segundus at 12:42 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not that little boys inherently can't do it, chapps, it's that it is expected of them that they won't.

I mean, take Harry Potter. Not only is it not Harriett Potter (which as has been mentioned would probably make a more compelling story), but JK Rowling was actively discouraged from publishing under her given name in fear that boys might not even want to read a book by a female author. And we are talking about a book with a male protagonist and a very, very male "comfortable" story line, ie nothing out of the ordinary for your standard patriarchy young adult fiction. Boy is destined to be a hero, boy goes through trials and tribulations, boy defeats evil monster and saves the day.

In many ways the problem is the industry, not the consumers. The industry (movies, books, video games, comic books, you name it) has long ago decided that women will read about men but men will never read about women. Man is the status quo, woman is the deviation from the norm.

It is foolish, but it is taught to audiences through sheer massive media exposure. That is why the Bechedel test is so surprising, to an uninitiated consumer, because the absence of substantial female characters just feels normal.
posted by lydhre at 1:14 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


In many ways the problem is the industry, not the consumers. The industry (movies, books, video games, comic books, you name it) has long ago decided that women will read about men but men will never read about women. Man is the status quo, woman is the deviation from the norm.

It goes beyond this to culture at large. Those activities dominated by women receive far less attention and support than activities dominated by men. And entry by women into 'male' activities, as noted above, can be tricky indeed. This is something that most of us are steeped in from birth.
posted by ZeusHumms at 3:01 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


ernielundquist: "but maybe even more importantly, boys need to learn to relate to female characters, too.

There's this popular wisdom out there that boys won't read stories about girls, and it does appear to be true; but that is just ridiculous and it's bad for everyone.

Little boys can easily imagine themselves as other animals, as robots, plants, cars, and even inanimate objects, but never ever ever as girls (or as female identified robots, plants, cars, etc.). That is messed up, and that messes boys up.
"

QFT. This isn't a "girls problem," this is a "what we've been telling our kids problem." As mentioned upthread, girls become proficient as imagining themselves as boys in order to identify with the protagonist. Because even the non-human characters in the simplest of children's books are male, male, male, male to a degree that is really pretty weird.

Because somehow it is UNPOSSIBLE for a boy-child to understand that a character in an utterly non-sexual situation might be female, despite females being over 50% of the population?

Just. Stop.
posted by desuetude at 11:14 PM on December 30, 2013 [6 favorites]


desuetude: "Because somehow it is UNPOSSIBLE for a boy-child to understand that a character in an utterly non-sexual situation might be female, despite females being over 50% of the population?
"

Agreed. I have two little buddies, brothers. The older is very boy-boy; the younger likes pink things, and regularly claims to be female characters, stereotypically female symbols (butterflies instead of tigers, etc)... His parents let him be who he is.

I wouldn't even say he has gender curiosity. He simply doesn't care - pretending he's Tinkerbell is no more odd to him than pretending he's Thomas the Train.

And pink is a pretty nice color. Especially with sparkles!
posted by IAmBroom at 7:53 AM on December 31, 2013


Assumes the worst intentions, check

Assumes adult commenter's written word can be taken at face value, as written, check

Thinks you're in a bad mood for some reason and you're taking it out on me, check

Ooh look I'm assuming again, check
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:21 AM on January 1


[Folks, maybe try to stick to discussing the topic and not jabbing each other? Thanks.]
posted by jessamyn at 7:07 PM on January 1 [1 favorite]


Or anyone especially interested, io9 today pointed to a novel by Naomi Mitchison, who appears to have a contemporary of JRRT in early fantasy but is apparently largely forgotten.

I checked two books I have on fantasy & SF and she gets no mention in either, although the title of her book The Corn King and the Spring Queen does seem familiar to me.

And as I read her wiki page, I discovered that I own one of her books, so there you go.
posted by Mezentian at 4:39 PM on January 2


Fans of early fantasy should also check out Hope Mirrlees (previously on Metafilter), whose best-known book, Lud-in-the-Mist, predates The Hobbit by about a decade.
posted by kyrademon at 4:34 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


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