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Girl Bilbo and rewriting classic books
July 21, 2014 10:53 AM   Subscribe


 
I'm on board with girl Bilbo.
posted by kafziel at 10:56 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]




Totally. I am so doing this for both my daughter and sons, provided I can keep the pronouns straight.
posted by Harald74 at 11:01 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


To be clear, I am adding more girls to the boys books as well, as it certainly will not hurt them.
posted by Harald74 at 11:02 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Meanwhile, cosplayers have gender-swapped the whole cast of The Hobbit.
posted by Doktor Zed at 11:04 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


Love this.
posted by zarq at 11:08 AM on July 21


Brew me some coffee and get me a Bible. We're going all in on this.
posted by boo_radley at 11:09 AM on July 21 [32 favorites]


...too much Game Of Thrones means that I become immediately concerned for Girl Bilbo's personal safety among those thirteen dwarves.

This really angers me.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:10 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Totally. I am so doing this for both my daughter and sons, provided I can keep the pronouns straight.

Wow, gender-swapping pronouns for your own children shows a real commitment to equality, at the expense of potentially really confusing them.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:12 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


Hmm, wasn't there a crazy Canadian psychologist that did that with his child? Google gives me all kinds of weird shit when I try to search for it, though...
posted by Harald74 at 11:16 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I did this a lot with my kids growing up, especially in picture books where the main character was an animal (and yet defaulted to male). I still do it with my teen girl, genderswapping YA books is really fun - some really show up the gender norms, some you can't even tell the difference what the original gender was. Sometimes we just make everyone a female and then the (now lesbian) sex gets interesting. If you are a writer, I would encourage you to go through your manuscript and switch the genders/names and see if any subtle gender bias shows up.

on preview: I am not that crazy Canadian psychologist but I am Canadian so maybe there is something in the air up here?
posted by saucysault at 11:20 AM on July 21 [5 favorites]


My wife and I gender-swap pronouns at storytime with our son, because why the hell are all the anthropomorphized characters male in kids stories? Why are the construction site vehicles all male? Or the crudely drawn animals on the farm, except the mother animals? If all the horses and dogs are drawn the same, who can tell if it's male or female?

We haven't gone so far as to physically modify the books, so the genders aren't fixed in the re-tellings, but I figure that will make our little guy more mentally nimble. Anyway, he defaults to calling most of his toys by male pronouns, though I try to carry out my efforts of equal gender representation into his playroom.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:21 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


fight or flight: Girl Bilbo, previously.

Your link goes to the original content. Here's the MetaFilter post on that content. Same author, different telling of the story, so it's not a complete duplicate post.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:23 AM on July 21


This is cool and kind of blows my "assume random fictional characters are trans* people and that they just live in a better world where no one makes a big deal out of it" mental game out of the water.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:26 AM on July 21 [5 favorites]


Time for second .... previouslies ... (and then luncheon!)
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 11:32 AM on July 21


I think Harald74 is talking about doing this with books, not with his/her actual kids?

This is fantastic. Great essay.

Gender flipping book characters is something we've done with our son, although he's only two now. We've read about gender bias in children's books and it is everywhere. It's particularly sad with a lot of classic kids' books that I remember from my childhood - Dr. Seuss and Richard Scarry for example are relentless in their male characters. The fact that animal characters are almost always gendered male drives me insane. (I now really notice when people refer to animals in real life as male by default, including cows. Cows! Can you believe it? I am trying to decide whether I want to be That Person who points it out and suggests gendering animals female by default to smash the patriarchy &c.)

Now with most books we flip all the genders. Gossie the gosling is a boy who is highly attached to his bright red boots. At first I had some qualms about flipping genders in picture books where the characters are drawn in a gendered way (example: Ms. Brown can moo, can you?) but then I embraced letting my son learn about diversity of gender presentation starting early. I also think it's important that Moms in kids' books get turned into Dads, so kids can see examples of involved, caring fathers in the books they read.

I also recommend Katy and the Big Snow, starring Katy the crawler tractor who is the only one who can dig out Geopolis after the massive snowstorm. It's the only book I've been able to find in two years of looking that has a female-gendered machine, and it's also a fantastic book and my son loves it. We, um, don't gender flip this book.
posted by medusa at 11:33 AM on July 21 [4 favorites]


"It's the only book I've been able to find in two years of looking that has a female-gendered machine..."

The Little Engine that Could! All the other engines are masculine, but the little one who helped is female!
posted by jillithd at 11:41 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


We've been pretty dedicated to gender-swapping characters and toys with our 5-year-old. As a result (I think it's a result!), he's likely to misgender people he's talking to or about. While we're aware that he needs to learn that misgendering someone can be really mean, giving him a good foundation of "don't assume / gender can be fluid / you're not the judge" is priority.
posted by pajamazon at 11:52 AM on July 21


I've suggested this before and I will again here: we don't actually know that all of Thorin's companions were male dwarves. It's the beards, you see.
posted by SPrintF at 11:52 AM on July 21 [12 favorites]


The fact that animal characters are almost always gendered male drives me insane. (I now really notice when people refer to animals in real life as male by default, including cows. Cows! Can you believe it?

Oh hey, here's a movie where a "male dairy cow" has an udder.

I don't know either.

Also see: Ants and Bee Movie, featuring insects that are almost all female in actual life, but in cartoons are suddenly largely male.
posted by emjaybee at 11:53 AM on July 21 [2 favorites]


When I read Lord of the Rings at age 11, I imagined all of the hobbits as female.
posted by trunk muffins at 11:53 AM on July 21


Ants and Bee Movie, featuring insects that are almost all female in actual life, but in cartoons are suddenly largely male.

I cannot deal with this. I go into biology lecture mode in the worst way. This sex-assignment makes absolutely no sense! It's armies of sisters! The most terrifying armies of all!
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:06 PM on July 21 [11 favorites]


The Little Engine that Could! All the other engines are masculine, but the little one who helped is female!

Whoa, really? Is the female pronoun actually used in the book, or is it just the voice actor in the cartoon version that suggests the Little Engine is female?

I never picked up on it either way, and it was a favorite book of mine as a kid.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:13 PM on July 21


I picture EO Wilson in sitting in the theatre with this grandchildren getting progressively more vexed and facepalmy.
posted by elizardbits at 12:14 PM on July 21 [8 favorites]


"Is the female pronoun actually used in the book..."
I believe so. My copy is at home, but I'm quite sure that the Watty Piper version has the little engine as female. Here's a site with it scanned and the little blue engine is definitely referred to as "she": http://www.printmag.com/obsessions/watty-pipers-1930-the-little-engine-that-could/
posted by jillithd at 12:18 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel has a female machine who gets the job done: Mary Anne :)
posted by Madamina at 12:19 PM on July 21 [10 favorites]


Great article.

My three year old daughter leaned back in her bed to flip through a copy of The Hobbit and told me it was a story "about a baby squirrel's birthday". With lots of cake and presents (and a distinct lack of endless pedantic detail).
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 12:19 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel has a female machine who gets the job done: Mary Anne :)

Who gets misused by a guy and ends up keeping the home fires burning (literally!) for the rest of her life. Humm.

I did always find that book a bit of a bummer.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:25 PM on July 21


It's the only book I've been able to find in two years of looking that has a female-gendered machine

Bob the Builder has female machines. It's a tv show, but I'm sure there are books out there.
posted by nooneyouknow at 12:26 PM on July 21


I think Harald74 is talking about doing this with books, not with his/her actual kids?

Uhm, yeah. What s/he said. I hoped it was clear from context. Otherwise the eyerolling in the household would reach epic levels.
posted by Harald74 at 12:30 PM on July 21


It was about half-way through my first reading of Fellowship of the Ring before I realized that Merry is male.
posted by lharmon at 12:41 PM on July 21 [3 favorites]


hey listen, I need to bounce a question off you guys: what's a feminine version of 'Holofernes'? tia
posted by boo_radley at 12:43 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


not sure if the parents are psychologists, but this is the only story I know about a gender neutral Canadian kid
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:53 PM on July 21


Brew me some coffee and get me a Bible. We're going all in on this.

Paging John Prine, paging John Prine - "Jesus: The Female Years"
posted by sallybrown at 1:18 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


Well, for me the only way to get through the latest Bilbo movie was by assuming that the silly dwarf-meets-elf love story was actually a girl-meets-girl love story.

Fili or Kili or whatshername, being so pretty, is clearly one of the girls in the group. That elf girl, being an outsider, not wanting to date Legolas...

It's a bit of a long shot but damn, that movie was so boring
posted by uandt at 1:23 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I still haven't seen a hobbit penis.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 1:26 PM on July 21


And you're not going to.
posted by The Gaffer at 1:31 PM on July 21 [6 favorites]


If you want to mess with your kids (in a good way) and have a household wherein you talk about God, alternate the gender. Eventually they will accept that.
posted by plinth at 1:55 PM on July 21


I was reminded of this story from a couple years back about a dad who reprogrammed a Zelda video game for his daughter so that the main character was female: "Dad's favorite pastime shouldn't treat girls like second-class citizens".
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:01 PM on July 21 [1 favorite]


Brew me some coffee and get me a Bible. We're going all in on this.
Saul replied, “Say to David, ‘The queen wants no other price for the groom than a hundred Philistine foreskins, to take revenge on her enemies.’” Saul’s plan was to have David fall by the hands of the Philistines.

When the attendants told David these things, she was pleased to become the queens’s daughter-in-law. So before the allotted time elapsed, David took her women with her and went out and killed two hundred Philistines and brought back their foreskins. They counted out the full number to the queen so that David might become the queen’s daughter-in-law. Then Saul gave him her son Michal in marriage.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:16 PM on July 21 [5 favorites]


I've suggested this before and I will again here: we don't actually know that all of Thorin's companions were male dwarves. It's the beards, you see.

Definitely, but I think you can go even further and argue that gender-swapping could easily be canon. After all, Tolkien went way out of his way in the LOTR appendices to discuss how the translations were not simple transliterations, but instead tried to capture similar etymologies. How the dates were not simply a linear one-day-to-one-day parallel, but instead tried to map a different set of calendar rules onto ours in a way that maintained the feeling of the days better than the timeline. How easy would it be to pretend there's another appendix that says that for (one/some/all) race(s), the genders were adjusted to match or defy, as appropriate, the cultural expectations of that gender for that/those races?
posted by solotoro at 2:46 PM on July 21


On seeing that posted, I can see it could be misread. To be clear, I mean the above to be in support of gender-swapping the pronouns. I think it's a great idea.
posted by solotoro at 2:48 PM on July 21


Cool Papa Bell: "Then Saul gave him her son Michal in marriage."

Right???
posted by boo_radley at 3:02 PM on July 21


SPrintF: "I've suggested this before and I will again here: we don't actually know that all of Thorin's companions were male dwarves. It's the beards, you see."

I like to think it works something like this.
posted by capricorn at 5:09 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


I did this a lot with my kids growing up, especially in picture books where the main character was an animal (and yet defaulted to male).

Yeah it's been a real journey of disappointed discovery for us. There are so, so few books where a female character is present and not FEMALE in the sense of being female first and foremost and gendered to shit.

It really has driven me to much frustration, and we've done a lot of gender reversing, too.
posted by smoke at 3:36 AM on July 22


Richard Scarry

In later editions of some books, he actually added more female characters or changed some to look more female, or changed captions, in an attempt at better gender equality, e.g. in "Best Word Book Ever" I notice female police officer, construction workers, judge, both "daddy" and "mommy" as professions, etc. Also both "father" and "mother" are shown making breakfast in the kitchen, and "mailman" has been changed to "letter carrier", "policeman" into "police officer", etc. So he did realize that bias in the original editions and made a big effort to correct it.

I don't know how much he changed the more story oriented books.
posted by thefool at 5:01 AM on July 22


If you go with the Pratchett version of Dwarves then both males and females have the beards and Axes. Who is who underneath is a mystery only solvable by a dwarf.

And "after the children are weaned there is no such thing as Woman's work".
posted by csmithrim at 10:30 AM on July 22


Relevant trivia from the LOTR appendices: 'These names I have retained, though I have usually anglicized them by altering their endings, since in Hobbit-names a was a masculine ending, and o and e were feminine'. Bilbo's original name was Bilba.
posted by ersatz at 6:55 PM on July 22


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