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Marissa Lingen

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Gender-swapping characters [Mar. 3rd, 2011|09:37 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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So timprov and I were having a bit of a sigh and a bit of an eye-roll about Ursula LeGuin's post on The Tempest, and we got to talking about gender-swapping characters. I firmly believe that any particular character can have that done, but not always without altering the story immensely--sometimes the entire setting has to be redone in order to make it work. And timprov brought up Jean Valjean as an example of this: you can write a woman Valjean, but Jeanne Valjean needs a different setting completely to be able to do the things Jean did.

This brought him to suggest that Katee Sackhoff would make a truly awesome Javert, and I loved the idea: the girl born to prison life instead of the boy, the tough-as-nails young woman for whom the law is not mocked. (For those of you not keeping score, Katee Sackhoff was Starbuck on the new Battlestar Galactica.) I don't even know if she can sing. I don't even care. I just really like this idea. "Men like you can never change, a man...such as you...."

(I had a conversation that made me aware of some of my conversational assumptions this morning, and I'm now noticing that I feel the need to flag a popular actress but not the characters from Les Miserables. Oh, assumptions.)

Also: Dr. Spencer Reid of Criminal Minds is a very different person if she is Dr. Stephanie Reid, the team's little sister figure and the daughter of a mentally ill medievalist, and yet a lot of the Reid-peril stuff in early seasons plays out exactly the same.

Anyway. Anybody else have some ideas for what stories would shift interestingly if a character's sex was swapped, and which ones would actually look substantially similar?
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[User Picture]From: rikibeth
2011-03-04 03:48 am (UTC)
I don't have suggestions, I just wanted to say ILU for the idea of Katee Sackhoff as Javert.
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2011-03-04 03:48 am (UTC)
If you gender-swapped Peter and Olivia in Fringe, it would be a lot more conventional: tough male FBI agent, female caretaker for mentally ill father. Which is part of why their dynamic pleases me so much, because the swap has already happened (and made the show much more interesting as a result). There are two inter-character tensions that would be different if the genders were changed -- to put it in non-spoiler terms, the histories of what Walter did for/to Peter, and what he did for/to Olivia -- but I don't think the show would change substantially.

And I a) like the idea of Katee Sackhoff as Javert, and b) grin at the choice of what to clarify and what to assume your audience knows. :-)
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2011-03-04 04:12 am (UTC)
And since that makes me think of the one other recent TV show I've seen much of -- man, I don't think you could get away with a female House. He's an inexcusable asshole when male, but people will excuse it anyway because he's so brilliant, and that isn't a kind of leeway often given to women.

(Oddly, it would be easier to get away with a female Sherlock Holmes, which is of course what inspired House. I think because detectives aren't expected to be compassionate about people's suffering, the way doctors and women are, and House isn't.)

And then, of course, there's superheroes. The actual Batwoman is not the same as a female Batman. I'd love to see a properly gender-flipped Batman, or Superman, or any of the others -- hah, a female Wolverine would be awesome.
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[User Picture]From: shweta_narayan
2011-03-04 03:56 am (UTC)
...I would find Les Mis (the musical) so much more interesting with a female Valjean or Javert. That'd pull the gender issues as well as the class issues etc to center stage, and... I think, not allow it to go all the way into melodramatic without nuance.

(I do not find Cosette & Eponine worth anything other than EYEROLLS).
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-03-04 12:56 pm (UTC)
timprov was actually complaining because Eponine gets good songs, and he (as a baritone-bass) sings them beautifully, but he'll never get to do it. Then we started working through the question of whether Marius could work in anything like that setting with a gender flip (we thought not because of all the university friend guyishness), and we wound up keeping Cosette and Marius the same and having guy-Eponine pining for a Marius who isn't interested in him that way. Which timprov thought might work beautifully for someone else, but he didn't think he could pull it off himself. Sadly, I had to agree, so he's stuck just singing Eponine songs around the house.
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[User Picture]From: cyranocyrano
2011-03-04 04:00 am (UTC)
If Ms. Sackhoff can't sing, you could always do a non-musical version of Les Miserable.
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[User Picture]From: juliansinger
2011-03-04 04:05 am (UTC)
I completely want female Javert now. Yes, it would be a different setting, but it would mess with expectations in good ways.

I suppose gender swapped Marius and Cosette would do interesting things, there, too. (Except in the Castle in the Cloud parts, but I ignore those anyway.)

I want someone not-Heinlein to do the Libby change.

And I want to switch the main characters of Jane Eyre.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-03-04 12:57 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. See, I think the (spoiler alert :) for Jane Eyre) woman with the crazy husband in the attic reads rather less menacing and more harried.
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From: evangoer
2011-03-04 04:07 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: ckd
2011-03-04 05:31 am (UTC)
Ooh. I completely agree about her as Javert. (No, I don't know if she can sing either.)

Of course, the fact that her BSG role was a genderswap from the original 70s series Starbuck doesn't hurt.
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[User Picture]From: rushthatspeaks
2011-03-04 08:40 am (UTC)
... the initial conception for the novel I'm writing now involved a genderswap of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII. There's a specific kind of badassery/ambiguous villainy/revenge tragedy there I've never seen a female character allowed to do.

The book has changed shape a lot since then, but that's what I was trying for originally.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-03-04 12:57 pm (UTC)
Nifty.
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[User Picture]From: dancing_crow
2011-03-04 11:12 am (UTC)
When the high school put on Bye Bye Birdie last year I was Yearning for an all male cast, just because I wanted to change the words in the telephone song (what's the story, morning glory, what's the word, hummingbird, have you heard about Hugo and Tim?) and imagining the rest made me deeply happy.

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From: diatryma
2011-03-04 01:05 pm (UTC)
I could not pick Katee Sackhoff out of a lineup but oh, female Javert, it makes so much sense! It would be beautiful. If she can't sing, she can do spoken-word and it'll be Symbolic or something. But no one will care because of the awesome.
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[User Picture]From: timprov
2011-03-04 01:52 pm (UTC)

This is the internet.

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-03-04 01:58 pm (UTC)

Re: This is the internet.

Oh for the love of Mike. That it should be that song.
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[User Picture]From: merriehaskell
2011-03-04 02:25 pm (UTC)
Glad I wasn't the only one eyerolling at that Tempest post.
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[User Picture]From: the_jackalope
2011-03-04 03:04 pm (UTC)
I'm interested in a genderswaped Frankenstein, but I'm not sure it would work well. Dr. Frankenstein becomes the evil mother who abandones her child and is to blame for bringing a monster in the world; so not all that different really, but societal expectations would be. I'm torn on the monster because seeing yet another female just wanting affection and a mate is not good.
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[User Picture]From: ashnistrike
2011-03-04 07:46 pm (UTC)
Shakespeare generally lends itself really well to genderswapping. Everyone in the audience is familiar with the story, making the comparisons, and asking the questions. I haven't seen the new Tempest yet, so don't know whether they pull it off in this particular case. I think you could make it work as an exploration of the ways people get privilege from power, even if they don't get it from other places.

I love the idea of a female Javert! Also, your assumptions seem entirely reasonable to me. But then, I consistently impress my friends with my failure to recognize famous actors. There's Patrick Stewart, and there's Catherine Zeta-Jones, and then there are a bunch of others.
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[User Picture]From: genarti
2011-03-04 07:49 pm (UTC)
Oooooooh. I adore the idea of a female Javert. It would bring so many interesting complexities -- not that Javert doesn't have them anyway, but it changes the nuances a lot.

To riff off the Batman question above, how about Superman? Yes, I know there's Supergirl, but still, one of the fundamental things about Superman's character is that he's such the archetypal American As Apple Pie figure, and as such privileged in all sorts of directions. White, male, physically fit, muscular (even though he has super-strength enough that I don't know how those muscles got enough exercise to fill out spandex like they do), worked on a family farm but never in real poverty, now has a white-collar job in the city. If Superman were Lois Lane instead of Clark Kent, or were Clarice Kent, I'd be interested to see how the character's impression might shift.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-03-04 10:32 pm (UTC)
I kind of want Clark to be delusional and Lois to have been Superman all along, with fake musculature padding out the costume so she wasn't visually obvious.

Probably someone has already done a four-volume series on this. Heaven knows there are enough other things of that sort in comics, and I don't know even a tenth of them.
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