If the gender doesn’t matter, why does changing it improve the story?
Heh. I remember editing out egregious racism from the Jungle Book on the fly reading it to my daughter. It’s canny hard work.
If a little girl can see herself in the protagonist role, it’s an improvement for her experience of the story. It might not be better for you, but it would have been great for me as a little kid, and it seems to have been an improvement for the girl being read the story. Also, it helps to ameliorate the frustrating pattern in the world that the default human is male, unless specified otherwise.
from the post:
"uses her wits to make off with a spectacular piece of jewelry. "
if that’s why it helps a little girl see herself in the protagonist role, i am not sure what the benefit is to gender equality.
maybe the Arkenstone could have been switched with a snake, snail, or puppydog tail?
all that said, i am not against it, just not sure why I would be for this? anyone ever tried rewriting gone with the wind with black landowners? or the handmaids tale with men being treated like livestock (the handymans tale?)
its clever, obviously, but clever can go too far by half if you dont watch it.
I think you have an Amazon ebook title here, ifyouknowhaddamean. Work in some dinosaurs, and it’ll sell like hotcakes.
I don’t think it’s the jewelry aspect. I think it’s the adventure, the getting into trouble and getting out again.
And, I think it would be interesting to make race and gender swaps in other well known stories. In stories specifically about race and gender, I don’t know how well it would translate as storytelling. That would be more of an exercise in gender/race studies, and definitely in the too clever by half territory.
A Wrinkle in Time with a male protagonist would still be a good story, Henrietta and the Giant Purple Crayon or Jayme and the Giant Peach would be basically the same picture books, but Are You There God it’s Me, Matt would be ridiculous (because of the menstruation).
So, that’s just to say that I don’t think all stories would benefit from this treatment. The Bilbo example works because the action doesn’t have anything to do with gender.
Pat Murphy’s THERE AND BACK AGAIN is part of a loose trilogy, the “Max Merriwell” books. The other two are WILD ANGEL and ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE WITH MAX MERRIWELL. Together, they’re very meta-fictional. The conceit is that a writer named Max Merriwell writes science fiction; he also writes romance as Mary Maxwell, and hard-boiled mysteries as Weldon Merrimax. THERE is a book “written by Max Merriwell”, WILD is “written by Mary Maxwell”. ADVENTURES is set in the real world (kinda sorta), on a cruise ship where Max Merriwell himself is conducting a writers workshop. Reality gets a little sloppy when Mary Maxwell and Weldon Merrimax show up as well. I’ve read ADVENTURES recently, and it was such a damn -fun- book I ordered copies of the other two books, now sitting at the top of my TBR pile.
Gender matters. One of the ways it matters in that people/characters in particular genders are treated in particular ways—in fact, that’s more or less fundamental to what genders mean. For example, in the novel The Hobbit, no one tells Bilbo he can or can’t do X because he’s a boy (or man, or whatever). Contrast with tropes (inside and outside fiction) abounding about what girls can or cannot do.
Genderswitching Bilbo improves the story simply because she’s a girl, and that is unremarkable to all the other characters in the tale.
Also it increases the gender balance of the story 's characters from 100% male to less than 100% male.
So, Mary is a Mary Sue?
great points, and you are right that the action in the hobbit doesn’t have anything to do with gender. my main point was that neither does jewelry.
I misunderstood that bit of what you said, sorry, and I agree with you.
“Tolkien, whose world is all but empty of women of any sort” ?? Really? This seems like an unfair swipe at Tolkien, and a distortion of the reality of his writings. Arwen? Galadriel? Luthien? Eowyn? Shelob? One must admit that men dominate the headcount, for sure. But at least four of these five females play absolutely crucial roles. I think it is a wonderful idea to explore gender roles and reversals as the original post describes, but I think one could do this without making the “empty of women” comment, which seems to charge Tolkien with a felony, when a misdemeanor may be all he is guilty of. I could, turning the tables, and write from a masculinist view (does that word exist?): “Tolkien, whose villains are virtually exclusively male,” but that be equally unnecessarily provocative, and would not advance any particular discussion. Maybe I am being much too sensitive, but I think a more constructive phrasing might have been possible, as in “Tolkien, whose world was peopled predominantly by men” … etc.
My concern would be that it could leave a child disappointed and isolated when they find out that the entire rest of the world disagrees with their belief about their favorite story. Imagine a child trying to defend their belief that Bilbo’s a girl when the whole playground knows that’s not how it’s written.
I like the impulse but I’m wary. And later, LOTR flies in the face of the ‘gender doesn’t matter’ idea when it’s obvious that it does matter…‘woman dressing as a man to get into combat’ pretty clearly shows women were not seen as warriors. I’d rather read my daughter books written with female heroes to begin with.
I can agree with the first part of your post. The second part I’m not too sure about- children aren’t generally aware of any sort of gender imbalance unless they notice it within the story itself.
The synopsis that was written, however, makes it sounds like changing the gender of Bilbo changes the character as well.
And I should clarify…I’ll certainly read her the Hobbit as written…in addition to books with girl heroes. I’m left a little uncomfortable with the idea of saying “Tolkien didn’t write this in a feminist enough manner, so I’ll just pretend he did”.
A philosophy adopted by some male writers and directors, such as James Cameron, is that the secret to writing a strong female character is to write her as a male and then change the pronouns. (Yes, the Unfortunate Implications of that could be discussed until the cows come home, but the ends justify the means.) What it means with regard to this trope is that it takes a lot of effort to write a female character that is free from all of these “special” characteristics associated with femininity.
Additionally, characters originally written to be male can be easily changed to be female with few alterations; however, a character written to be female has to undergo more significant revisions to be re-written as male. Otherwise he might come off as a bit… “special”.
I’m surprised more commenters haven’t noticed… the Feminazis have stolen Bilbo’s Bil-balls! Who’s next? Naruto? Superman? Sherlock Holmes??? They have declared war on Western Civilization itself! (Well, except Naruto, he’s Japanese. But still!)
I say we fight back! Make Carmen sing baritone! Jane Eyre was a dude! Aux armes, citoyens!
EDIT: Oops - the reply was accidental, and I dunno how to remove it.
OK, kids might not notice a gender imbalance, they just take in everything they see and hear. They are learning all the time, and if all they see are strict gender norms, they internalize them. If girls never see themselves in storybook protagonists, it can be more difficult for them to see themselves as protagonists in their own lives.
If kids see and hear about people of both genders doing interesting things, they will avoid the pitfall of boy-things and girl-things (the limitations of which impoverish both boys and girls.)
But then he wouldn’t generate your comment, engagement, and discussion.