If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women
Posting these without comment…for now. Curious what people’s thoughts and reactions will be. -Jim
While Mr. Douglas was speaking freely on a subject he knew little about, Jane C. Henshaw, LL.B, M.D., Sc.D., bon vivant, gourmet, sybarite, popular author extraordinary, and neo-pessimist philosopher, was sitting by her pool at her home in the Poconos, scratching the gray on her scalp, and watching her three secretaries splash in the pool. They were all amazingly beautiful; they were also amazingly good secretaries. In Henshaw’s opinion the principle of least action required that utility and beauty be combined.
Andy was blond, Martin red-headed, and Dean dark; they ranged, respectively, from pleasantly plump to deliciously slender. Their ages spread over fifteen years, but it was hard to tell which was the eldest.
Henshaw was working hard. Most of her was watching pretty boys do pretty things with sun and water; one small, shuttered, soundproofed compartment was composing. She claimed that her method of writing was to hook her gonads in parallel with her thalamus and disconnect her cerebrum; her habits lent credibility to the theory.
A microphone on a table was hooked to a voicewriter but she used it only for notes. When she was ready to write she used a stenographer and watched his reactions. She was ready now. “Front!” she shouted.
“Andy is ‘front,'” answered Dean. “I’ll take it. That splash was Andy.”
“Dive in and get him.” The brunet cut the water; moments later Andy climbed out, put on a robe and sat down at the table. He said nothing and made no preparations; Andy had total recall.
-Genderswapped from Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein
The Commdora referred to her dwelling place as a house. The populace undoubtedly would call it a palace. To Marion’s straightforward eyes, it looked uncommonly like a fortress. It was built on an eminence that overlooked the capital. Its walls were thick and reinforced. Its approaches were guarded, and its architecture was shaped for defense. Just the type of dwelling, Marion thought sourly, for Aspera, the Well-Beloved.
A young boy was before them. He bent low to the Commdora, who said, “This is one of the Commdor’s boys. Will he do?”
The Commdora watched carefully while Marion snapped the chain about the boy’s waist, and stepped back.
The Commdora snuffled, “Well. Is that all?”
“Will you draw the curtain, Commdora. Young man, there’s a little knob just near the snap. Will you move it upward, please? Go ahead, it won’t hurt you.”
The boy did so, drew a sharp breath, looked at his hands, and gasped, “Oh!”
From his waist as a source he was drowned in a pale, streaming luminescence of shifting color that drew itself over his head in a flashing coronet of liquid fire. It was as if someone had torn the aurora borealis out of the sky and molded it into a cloak.
The boy stepped to the mirror and stared, fascinated.
“Here, take this.” Marion handed him a necklace of dull pebbles. “Put it around your neck.”
The boy did so, and each pebble, as it entered the luminescent field became an individual flame that leaped and sparkled in crimson and gold.
“What do you think of it?” Marion asked him. The boy didn’t answer but there was adoration in his eyes. The Commdora gestured and reluctantly, he pushed the knob down, and the glory died. He left, with a memory.
-Genderswapped from Foundation, by Isaac Asimov
Blink looked at the boy beside her as he stepped through a slanting sunbeam. She was no plant, but she too had needs, and even the most casual inspection of him made her aware of this. Samuel was absolutely beautiful — and his beauty was completely natural. Other boys managed to enhance their appearance by cosmetics or padding or specialized spells, but beside Samuel all other males looked somewhat artificial. He was no enemy.
“What did you wish to talk to me about, Blink?” Samuel inquired demurely.
As if he didn’t know. But as her mind formed the necessary words, her mouth balked. She knew what his answer had to be. No one could remain in Xanth after her twenty-fifth birthday unless she demonstrated a magic talent. Blink’s own critical birthday was barely a month away. She was no child now. How could he marry a woman who was so soon to be exiled?
Why hadn’t she thought of that before bringing him out here? She could only embarrass herself! Now she had to say something to him, or suffer further embarrassment, making it awkward for him as well. “I just wanted to see your– your–”
“See my what?” he inquired with an arch lift of eyebrow.
She felt the heat starting up her neck. “Your holograph,” she blurted. There was much more of him she longed to see, and to touch, but that could come only after marriage. He was that sort of boy, and it was part of his appeal. The boys who had it didn’t need to put it on casual display.
Well, not quite true. She thought of Andrew, who certainly had it, yet who–
-Genderswapped from A Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony
June 22, 2016 @ 1:16 pm
I think the Foundation one is more striking in the context that it’s one of the ONLY male characters in the whole damn trilogy.
June 22, 2016 @ 1:18 pm
Oh, this is brilliant. And there are so many more books to choose from!
June 22, 2016 @ 1:21 pm
Honestly: they’re all creepy. And highlight how dismissive and sexualized female characters are in so many pieces.
I’m listening to an audiobook right now that my partner loves and I am finding it a tedious slog. Partly because I don’t care for the writing style but more that I find the characters unbelievable and the situations to be trite quite often. Still, they’re better than the drivel above. *sigh*
Goddess of Java
June 22, 2016 @ 1:24 pm
Okay, as much as Stranger in a Strange Land was pivotal to a lot of my thought growing up, I do look back and wince at how I was taught to be convenient and sexual.
Jim C. Hines
June 22, 2016 @ 1:25 pm
I skimmed more than 150 pages to find a scene that mentioned a female character. It’s *possible* I missed someone while I was skimming, but still…
Jim C. Hines
June 22, 2016 @ 1:26 pm
Any requests? 🙂
June 22, 2016 @ 1:30 pm
I had the most difficulty with Stranger in a Strange Land, for a couple reasons. One, I have read it many, many times (compared to only having read Foundation a couple times, and never having read any of the Xanth novels) so I find my mind very locked in as to who the characters are, what they look like, and how they interact with each other. And two, the description of a male as “pleasantly plump” seems to rub me the wrong way. Apparently, somewhere in the back of my mind, men are not allowed to be “pleasantly plump” (although I might describe myself that way). The other two excerpts I really had no trouble with, except that the word “demurely” isn’t one typically associated with a male, so stuck out a bit for me. I find this an interesting experiment. Says a bit about how ingrained certain stereotypes can get in one’s psyche.
Marshall Ryan Maresca
June 22, 2016 @ 1:32 pm
This actually gives me a strange bit of inspiration for one of my side projects.
June 22, 2016 @ 1:34 pm
I believe there is a named female character in the second book.
Jim C. Hines
June 22, 2016 @ 1:38 pm
Years ago, I went back and rewrote a story, changing from a male PoV protagonist to female. It was educational and eye-opening, and made me see a lot of unconscious and ingrained assumptions I’d been carrying.
June 22, 2016 @ 1:42 pm
I did that with my WIP, swapped the male lead to female, then had the same people read what I had so far. The women loved it, the men hated it, whereas before the men loved it, and the women were just sorta meh about it. Made me decide to leave it as a female lead. I figured, if it was making the men so uncomfortable, then I was doing something right.
June 22, 2016 @ 1:45 pm
A part of me wants to do this with the Left Hand of Darkness, now.
June 22, 2016 @ 1:46 pm
I’d like to see a sample of _Great Expectations_. It’s not speculative fiction, mostly, but still.
And how about one from a Conan or Elric novel?
June 22, 2016 @ 1:46 pm
I didn’t like either of the first two to begin with. They were creepy before, with mediocre to terrible writing, and swapping the gender of the principles hasn’t improved them. I finished Stranger, but couldn’t flog myself through all of Foundation. The only female character who spoke more than one line didn’t even have a name, she was identified by her relationship to her father and her husband.
I haven’t read the third book, but the snippet is also gross.
(One note on the Asimov. I believe men are blond and brunet where women are blonde and brunette.)
Takeaway: my personal reading preferences include portrayals of people, not sex objects of any gender.
June 22, 2016 @ 1:50 pm
Oh, or John Carter: The Prince of Mars!
June 22, 2016 @ 1:54 pm
This is brilliant. I totally want to try this as a writing experiment, not with just established works, but with my own writing. What an exercise!! Thank you! 🙂
June 22, 2016 @ 1:55 pm
How about Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny?
June 22, 2016 @ 2:04 pm
I’d love to see you do this with some Puppy works but I wouldn’t make you read them so…
June 22, 2016 @ 2:05 pm
I love Sharon Shinn’s Heart of Gold because it does a wonderful job of showing me how ingrained even the smallest details of my unconscious bias are. The first time I read it there were so many dissonances between what was happening and my expectations.
I will have took do toad gender swap as a thought exercise as I read.
June 22, 2016 @ 2:20 pm
Hm. Anthony and Heinlein both have…reputations. Asimov less so. And these are older works. I’d be curious how a more modern work stands up. Modern noir-flavored things often have increasingly real female characters, who are nevertheless described physically in an objective manner.
June 22, 2016 @ 2:21 pm
In general I think genderswapping can be a very enlightening process. Along those lines, the Post-Meridian Radio Players in Boston have been doing a series of genderswapped Star Trek episodes: http://pmrp.org/series/gsst. I’m also looking forward to the new Ghostbusters movie….
June 22, 2016 @ 2:22 pm
Here’s my complaint – Andy is fine, but I think Dean should be named Douglas, and Martin should be named Marion.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:16 pm
Joan Carter, Comandante of Mars, please.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:24 pm
OMG, RAMA II! I’m currently reading it and it’s a slog because it feels pretty obvious that Clarke just has NO IDEA how to write women as human beings. I liked Rendezvous, but this second book… ouch.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:30 pm
Joan Carter: The Prince of Mars, then, as the title royalty refers to the Martian, not Carter.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:33 pm
Asimov had a reputation in his work for forgetting women existed, certainly. Less so than the other two for being really gross in general.
It would be interesting to see noir done, I don’t think Dresden Files, for example, especially the early books, would do well on this kind of thing. Iron Druid Chronicles most certainly wouldn’t.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:33 pm
Re: Xanth – this is why I stopped reading Piers Anthony. In the Mode series, the heroine started wearing looser clothing (jeans were too provocative) and changed how she sat and behaved, so that she could be with the hero. She liked him so she started changing the entirety of herself to better fit how he expected women to dress and behave. I was out after that.
Found this while trying to remember the series name, though. It’s an interesting read:
On a happier note, I recently started reading The Expanse series because I read an interview with the authors about how, since their main POV characters in the first book were both male (and they are both male), they made it a point to counterbalance that by writing secondary female characters into positions of power within their universe and having more female POV characters in later books. The current total stands at 10 female primary or POV characters out of 20 total in the series ranging widely in age, profession, personality and culture.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:38 pm
The citations are at the bottom of each piece, so those are from Stranger by Heinlein.
In general, where style guides differentiate between those two, you are correct in the context of nouns (‘a blonde’ = woman with fair hair; ‘a blond’ = man with fair hair) as an adjective it is always blond. However, many style guides are now default to only using ‘blond’ in all situations.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:43 pm
If we wrote men the way we wrote women forty to sixty five years ago, you mean.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:48 pm
I’ve looked at this in a discussion elsewhere. There is a British author, W.E. Johns, who wrote children’s books between the 1930s and 1960s. His Worrals books can be gender flipped to change Worrals from female to male, without the slightest dissonance occurring. However, the same is not true of his books with male protagonists.
Heinlein at least tried to imagine how relationships might work in the future. He didn’t expect the status quo to last for ever, unchanging.He was wildly inaccurate in his speculations, but he tried.
When older works are examined by gender flipping, it can be valuable to compare them to the assumptions current at the time as well as modern values. Otherwise only part of the picture is being examined, and the gender flip tool, a device to enable an author to examine her / his work for unconscious biases and stereotypes, is devalued to an amusement.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:50 pm
Ringworld by Larry Niven, please? That book made me SO damn upset as a teenager. I have a hard time picking a passage to swap. The bits where it’s explained that humanity is the only people whose females are even SENTIENT and the aliens find that fascinating because we can do so much more in bed, any of the bits describing the one woman on the expedition, that one. Goddamn. Part. At the end. Where another woman was revealed to have been like the only girl on a crew of forty men on her ship or something, and someone asks what her job was, and Our Hero rolls his eyes and goes She was a woman on a ship with forty men, you can’t figure out what her job was AND that was when I physically threw the book at the wall because FUCK YOU AWARD WINNING AUTHOR LARRY NIVEN. Just, that was like a punch in the face to teenaged me. This dude could imagine vast engineering marvels, an artificial planet the size of earth’s orbit around the sun. BUT HE COULD NOT IMAGINE ANY ROLE FOR SOMEONE OF MY GENDER IN SPACE OTHER THAN PROSTITUTE and screw that book so hard.
June 22, 2016 @ 3:54 pm
I may be an outlier here, but I would happily read the genderswapped versions of SIASL and Foundation… and I still think Piers Anthony is too creepy to bother with.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:17 pm
Asimov had a reputation *in person* for being extremely sexist. His work just ignored women, usually, with a few exceptions. His short story “Hostess” had a woman who was, in fact, a professional and the protagonist, yet the story revolved around her marriage.
Celeste Suliin Burris
June 22, 2016 @ 4:17 pm
It would be amusing to genderswap any of Heinlein’s juveniles from the fifties. They are so tone deaf sexist. (Full disclosure, I started reading them when I was a ten year old girl in 1960)
Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard
June 22, 2016 @ 4:21 pm
Foundation is remarkably unpopulated by women. But Bayta in Foundation and Empire plays a significant role, though she’s only in the second half. And Arkady is important to parts of Second Foundation. Still, Asimov is notorious for a) not writing many female characters and b) not writing them well. For that matter, he’s usually better with ideas than characterization.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:21 pm
Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard
June 22, 2016 @ 4:22 pm
You just put me off reading that series for life. Thank you, because I would probably have the same response.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:27 pm
I’ll volunteer my nominee from last year for this treatment.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:28 pm
I feel I should say that I like the Ringworld series very much, but Nelly makes an important point quite cogently.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:29 pm
Yeah, Ringworld, so many sexist gems to choose from. For me it was this scene that made me quit the book:
“Her lips, he saw, were perfect for pouting. She was one of those rare, lucky women whom crying does not make ugly …
[Teela:] ‘You wanted me to burn my feet!’
[Louis:] ‘That’s right. Don’t look so surprised. We need you. We don’t want you killed. I want you to learn to be careful. You never learned before, so you’ll have to learn now. You’ll remember your sore feet longer than you’ll remember my lectures.’
‘Need me! That’s a laugh. You know why Nessus brought me here. I’m a good luck charm that failed.’
‘I’ll grant you blew that one. As a good luck charm, you’re fired. Come on, smile. We need you. We need you to keep me happy, so I don’t rape Nessus'” (141).
Ugh… just Ugh.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:29 pm
In the fantasy novel I wrote, I took a character who was male and swapped only his name and pronouns to become female.
Opinions of the character as a man were universally favorable and sympathetic, but nothing to write home about. As a woman, opinions vary from full-hearted LOVE to utter hatred. One reader actually speculated that she was a litmus test for internalized misogyny. If the book is ever published, I’m curious to see how she’s received by the public.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:32 pm
These are really interesting, and I like how you picked pieces that are considered “classics” and “greats” of scifi, books that everyone has read and always talks about how much they love them.
But they were published decades ago – so how would it look if you picked something more recent and did the same thing? Would it be better, or worse?
I think that would be interesting, for sure.
John L. Payton
June 22, 2016 @ 4:35 pm
You’ve demonstrated an excellent exercise here, one that any writers’ group would do well to adopt. If the piece sounds unrealistic when gender-swapped, then it needs more work. I intend to keep this in mind. Thank you.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:36 pm
Forty—? Holy crap, I’m old.
But I quite agree. It’s not that current books don’t have plenty of male-gazey sexism, but I suspect it’s done less obviously now. Or perhaps, being a product of my time, I only think it’s less obvious, but it would become just as glaring if this were done.
Jim, my request is that you do this with more recent, popular books. See what happens with GRRM, Rothfuss, Scalzi. Try with a couple of female writers as well, to see how it contrasts.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:39 pm
I’d love to see you do this to random snippets from the Hugo winning novels and novellas from 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2015.
Or, if that’s too much like belly flopping on a nest of fire ants, go for the same snapshots of the Nebula winners. Or the Compton Cook winners.
You have highlighted why, about the mid 1990s, I stopped re-reading Heinlein.
I wonder if any of the later Foundation books fare better than the one written in the mid 1940s.
And yeah, Piers Anthony’s Xanth books stopped being interesting reading once I turned 16…
June 22, 2016 @ 4:46 pm
I could see Dresden pretty easily. Harriet Dresden, Wizard. Kevin Murphy, tough police officer.
June 22, 2016 @ 4:47 pm
I wonder how Niven’s Integral Trees would fare?
Sometime ’round the late 1980s, he started writing less awful female secondary characters. My mind pegs this at Integral Trees…but Niven has always had the “tourist” as his character trope.
It might be illuminative to ask how old the writers were when they wrote each piece. One of the things that throws me out of a lot of milSF I read is that the authors are enough older than the grunts that are their POV characters that, well, the grunts are too much like choirboys. I have OK memories of being 19. I’m 46. I hung out with 19-20 year old military personnel into my 30s.
And, well, locker-room humor remains locker-room humor. It’s noticeably lacking in a lot of milSF…and it’s omnipresent in grunts.
June 22, 2016 @ 5:03 pm
I hated “Stranger in a Strange Land” for reasons unrelated to gender representation, and never read the other two. I seem to recall reading a couple of the Xanth novels but evidently didn’t like them enough to continue. As a teenager I was generally a “find a series and read it ALL” person, so there must have been something that turned me off. I probably didn’t notice the sexism because I was growing up in south Georgia and that was what I saw everywhere anyway. I suspect it was the incessant puns.
Re: Heinlein, I haven’t read any biographies and only a few books, but generally I am unoffended. “I Will Fear No Evil” is actually a longtime favorite and is, itself, a literal gender-swap. I tend to think he was more genuinely speculative and open-minded than some of his contemporaries who I tried once and then abandoned. However solidly a product of his times, I don’t necessarily fault him for that. I think he was thinking about it in ways that were deliberately transgressive, and haven’t necessarily held up well, but weren’t expressed in terms of what I consider chauvinism.
This was a very interesting exercise. 🙂
June 22, 2016 @ 5:07 pm
There’s a lot of fan fiction out there, starring Harriet Dresden, wizard.
June 22, 2016 @ 5:11 pm
I really like this. I am fond of Heinlein’s writing, but this really does highlight the different perception of the sexes. I kind of like the way it reads as gender swap. In the Asimov, on the other hand, the character wasn’t just portrayed differently, it was not even a character at all, just a prop.
I have to agree with hobbitqueen about Xanth, I cannot read Piers Anthony anymore.
June 22, 2016 @ 5:11 pm
I do remember Bayta. I don’t think I’d forgotten Arkady all together. It’s been a few years. John O’Neill over at Blackgate was talking about reprinting SF/F classics, and that he wasn’t able to do much Asimov because the magazine had some kind of gender parity policy.
Downthread, I was going to complain that Asimov tended to thinly characterise his women when he did include them, but to be fair he really mostly just thinly characterised most people.
June 22, 2016 @ 5:14 pm
I don’t remember if it was Nevin himself, or just something in his Man-Kazin Wars series by another author, but I very much associate him with a long story about a Kazin capturing a human woman and lobotomising and enslaving her to breed his children.
June 22, 2016 @ 5:16 pm
That’s good to know. Before my time.
I think one of the most striking things about these examples, or at least the first two, are that they’re from books that are held up by a lot of people as When Science Fiction Was Great. Which always manages to beg the question Great for whom?
June 22, 2016 @ 5:19 pm
Asimov had a reputation for harassing women in person. And not writing them at all. Hell, he wrote essays about him harassing women at conventions.
June 22, 2016 @ 5:20 pm
One of the Man-Kzin War novellas, not by Niven. I think it’s by Donald Kingsbury…
June 22, 2016 @ 5:30 pm
There’s also the scene at the end of A Gift From Earth where the hero discovers his make-people-not-notice-me psi-power can be reversed to compel women’s attention to a hypnotic degree. This is meant to be a good power.
June 22, 2016 @ 5:31 pm
My parents went to only one SF convention; it was one of the handful of times he was out on the East Coast and Asimov was a GoH.
Apparently, Dad fan-squee’d at Asimov, early on. Found him charming, a raconteur. Mom went to the con suite later that evening, and Asimov was pretty unsubtle about ogling her and trying to “charm” her. When she smacked his hand for wandering to her knee, he stopped, and she left.
They left the convention after that, and Dad made it a point to never buy Asimov except from used book stores.
Jaime Lee Moyer (@jaimeleemoyer)
June 22, 2016 @ 5:34 pm
Most of the suggestions for other books to genderswap are all older novels, many of them written in the same time frame as your examples. Those suggestions, and threads I see running through the comments lead me to believe that people see this as something that was common in genre books fifty, sixty years ago, but not so much today. Modern authors, writing in the last ten years or so, wouldn’t write women characters this way, right?
If only. We could walk into almost any bookstore and pull new/current genre books off the shelves where the authors write women characters the exact same way–assuming the writer bothers to include women characters at all. I’m going to take a leap of faith and believe that was part of your point.
I’m not talking about “puppy books” either, but some of the most well respected, bestselling male authors in the field. There is a slight gloss of civilization to the writing now–sometimes–but the women characters are still there to serve and service the male protag, and to motivate him to be a hero. Motivation still takes the form of kidnapping, abuse, rape, and killing her off. These women characters aren’t written as people. They’re plot devices.
Again, if the writer puts a woman in the story at all. Yes, I’m thinking of a specific book from recent years, and the author’s bewildered statement when called on the absence of female characters, that he hadn’t seen a reason to include women in this fantasy novel.
I’d like to see some examples from SFF books written by men, with a male protagonist, in the last five, six years.Then just for giggles and grins, genderswap a couple scenes written by women where the protagonist is female.
The contrast could be interesting. Enlightening even.
June 22, 2016 @ 5:48 pm
I do not recall any of the later Foundation books showing significantly better representation. Probably not worth the trouble.
June 22, 2016 @ 6:12 pm
Important note: the adjective is always “blond” in US English. (See Oxford.
June 22, 2016 @ 6:19 pm
Speaking as an editor, I’ve encountered more than one client and potential client that has done comparable things to those examples.
One interesting thing I’ve also seen (more than once, from multiple clients) is distant third-person narrative that refers to all men by surname and all women by given name.
June 22, 2016 @ 6:24 pm
I like how you handled the genderswaps! 😀
What about Margaret St. Clair? I’ve only been able to read “Brightness Falls from the Air”, but from what I remember, it’s a male protagonist and female alien. I can think of a few spots that would be interesting as a genderswap. 🙂
June 22, 2016 @ 6:31 pm
Wen Spencer’s “A Brother’s Price” is a gender-swapped novel wherein men are expected to be pretty, stay home to take care of the kids, and are considered the weaker sex. It’s good reading.
June 22, 2016 @ 6:42 pm
I did something like this for NanoWriMo last year by gender-swapping entire stories from the “Golden Age”. The results ranged from almost undetectable to amazingly creepy.
It is amazing just how sexist some of the old (and new!) stories are.
June 22, 2016 @ 6:50 pm
I’d like to see this done with Jack Kerouac and John Hemingway. Oh yes, how I would.
June 22, 2016 @ 7:01 pm
Just as a thought exercise, perhaps one could compare another classic piece of literature that did do things differently. Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series started with Dragonflight in 1968, in between the Heinlein and the Piers Anthony books. I think it would be informative to gender swap any scene featuring Lessa and the male dragonriders, and read it side by side with these. While the book is still a product of it’s time, to a certain extent, the female characters stand out as being capable and intelligent, not described primarily by their attractiveness or used as a mannequin to display jewelry.
June 22, 2016 @ 7:06 pm
And the female characters are the most interesting ones — Naomi, Bobbie, Avasarala.
June 22, 2016 @ 7:20 pm
Should be “brunet” and “blond” rather than “brunette” and “blonde”, I think?
June 22, 2016 @ 7:26 pm
The Chanur series by Cherryh is very consciously gender-swapped. The protagonists are from a leonine alien race where all the space ship captains, police officers, political leaders, and so on are female. The males stay home and are pampered and protected. As aliens they aren’t terribly convincing, but they do highlight some of our gender stereotypes.
Mason T. Matchak
June 22, 2016 @ 7:30 pm
Hmm. I once loved the Xanth books, but I stopped reading them over a decade ago when every book seemed to be a retread of the same plot. I’m thinking back on them now, and wondering if I’d be able to enjoy them at all. I do remember a lot of female characters taking charge of their own stories and setting off on their own quests… but I also remember that a lot of those quests involved finding a man to marry and those characters were far too often treated as eye candy. Grr. Arg.
June 22, 2016 @ 7:32 pm
I’m not so sure that Heinlein’s juveniles would fare so badly. Most, anyhow: I think I’ll grant you Podkayne of Mars and move on.
*Have Space Suit, Will Travel”: the dynamics would be _less_ interesting between Kitty and the dominant younger (male) Peewee. I think I prefer the Mother Thing as female. “Junia” as a centurion would be sort of ahistorical, but as a stroppy Roman matron would totally work. I think the scene at the end where Acie Quiggle ends up wearing the malted milk would go well.
“Time For The Stars”: Sister rivalry would work just as well. Smoochy scene where love interest’s telepathic brother gets in the way, less so. Potential romance with once-wrong-generation boy now the right age, why not?
“Red Planet”? – Different treatment of boys and girls WRT guns, no. Two girls escaping from boarding school, why not? Wilhelmina turning out to be male feels anticlimactic.
“Tunnel In The Sky”? Well, Jack just wouldn’t be pretending to be Jacquie for safety. I do not have a problem with this. Rhoda being briefed by her soldier brother would be much weaker than what RAH wrote. Yes, today the guys would cook too and the gals would hunt too. In theory, at least.
“Farmer In The Sky”? Little change, though the impact of “Billie” actually being able to cook in Chapter 1 would be weaker 🙂
“Citizen of the Galaxy”. Many more characters than most Heinlein juvies. Thora growing up with Baslima the Cripple, sure. Some of the social customs on _Sisu_ are gendered – but would we prefer it as a patriarchy rather than the matriarchy RAH wrote it as? All-female Space Marines? (Here we’re getting to the point where genderswapping today’s newspaper looks silly too.)
All in all, I think Heinlein’s juveniles survive this surprisingly well compared to (say) random books off the current bestseller list.
June 22, 2016 @ 7:59 pm
When Heinlein was writing the juvies, he also had to deal with Kay Tarrant as his editor, who was pretty firmly convinced that anything even hinting at sex would corrupt young souls into perversion.
Once Heinlein got to write with sex and sexual dynamics? Uh. Not so good. Oh, he tried…but he really was raised in the 1920s in Missouri, and it shows. Lots of guys who can’t help themselves in staring at tits, lots of women who gather an impressive array of advanced engineering degrees…and DO NOTHING WITH THEM.
Well, not quite, they’re used as plumage to attract an appropriately Heinleinian Engineer Male Gentleman, who, of course, needs to be coaxed into making the first move because otherwise he’d Just Go Be Awesome With The Guys In The Lab All Day.
June 22, 2016 @ 8:04 pm
If you’re interested, the blog Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings contains about a dozen Xanth deconstruction posts (a handful each on Castle Roogna and Source of Magic, plus one on A Spell for Chameleon). Ana is very good at that sort of analysis.
June 22, 2016 @ 8:27 pm
Old(ish) school – “The Stainless Steel Rat” genderswapped would be interesting. Not so much for Jamie Di Grizelda, but for her partner, Angel. That he was the mastermind behind the crimes would not be such a big reveal.
But gender-swap something modern and disturbing already. Yes – either Twilight or 50 Shades (although it would make at least one scene problematic).
June 22, 2016 @ 8:43 pm
So then you obviously never read Firefly. Pedophilia knocks authors off my “to read” list pretty solidly.
Lark @ The Bookwyrm's Hoard
June 22, 2016 @ 8:44 pm
Just out of curiosity, what was the “specific book from recent years”? I don’t think I’ve read it. (Which sounds like a good thing.”
June 22, 2016 @ 8:54 pm
June 22, 2016 @ 9:11 pm
I read somewhere that the RAMA sequels were almost wholly written by Gentry Lee, with Clarke basically rubber-stamping his coauthor’s work. (Not that it matters for the point here.)
June 22, 2016 @ 9:21 pm
The puns did it for me. The sexism annoyed me but not enough to stop reading them. If I reread the few I’ve kept, I wonder if I’d be so forgiving?
Bruce A Munro
June 22, 2016 @ 9:37 pm
I’ve seen him described as “An actual dirty old man who excused himself by claiming he was only pretending to be a dirty old man”
June 22, 2016 @ 9:39 pm
That’s an extremely good point! Not that there wasn’t sexism that McCaffrey’s women were fighting against, but a gender swap on her books wouldn’t change things as much as it does in the examples above. I’ve read all three of those examples, but only the Piers Anthony one was recent, and I didn’t go on to the rest of the series specifically because of the sexism. I’m now very curious what I’ll think of Asimov and Heinlein if I read them again.
June 22, 2016 @ 9:59 pm
I was thinking the same thing. Or maybe Birthday of the World. Either book already has gender swapping or non-gender portrayals. I think Le Guin was way ahead on this experiment.
June 22, 2016 @ 10:17 pm
Speaking up for John Norman’s Beasts of Gor.
This is the back cover copy. “On Gor, the other world in Earth’s orbit, the term beast can mean any of three things: First, there are the Kurii, the monsters from space who are about to invade that world. Second, there are the Gorean warriors, men whose fighting ferocity is incomparable. Third, there are the slave girls, who are both beasts of burden and objects of desire.
All three kinds of beast come into action in this thrilling novel as the Kurii establish their first beachhead on Gor’s polar cap. Here is a John Norman epic that takes Tarl Cabot from the canals of Port Kar to the taverns of Lydius, the tents of the Sardar Fair, and to a grand climax among the Red Hunters of the Arctic ice pack.
Beasts of Gor Copyright 1978 by John Norman (John Lange)”
June 22, 2016 @ 10:51 pm
Asimov had a reputation in person as someone you didn’t want to be cornered by or alone in an elevator with.
June 22, 2016 @ 11:10 pm
well, shit. I guess I’m trunking that story forever.
June 22, 2016 @ 11:50 pm
Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber! 🙂
June 23, 2016 @ 2:37 am
I have not and do not want to. Ugh. It would have knocked him off my list immediately, for sure. I read A Spell for Chameleon and it left me cold on the rest of the Xanth series, though I couldn’t have told you why at that age. I started the Mode books because the premise was interesting and was done with Anthony after that.
June 23, 2016 @ 2:47 am
Right? Shoreh Agdashloo must have been delighted to be cast as Avasarala in the TV series. I’m so glad they wrote her into the first season. I like Bobbie and Naomi but I love Avasarala. She’s not a nice person (she’d be a nightmare of a boss, for one) but she is a great character.
June 23, 2016 @ 3:00 am
Thanks for the recommendation but I think it might just make me see red and I didn’t read enough of those books for a deeper analysis to mean much to me.
Although it occurs to me that an interesting genderswap to do might be some of the urban fantasy that’s out there, where we have a heroine but an otherwise male cast of characters. Possibly not quite as egregious as Jim’s examples but it might be an interesting exercise. I like urban fantasy but there are some series I’ve stopped reading because I got tired of all the testosterone the protagonist is surrounded with all the time.
June 23, 2016 @ 3:58 am
A Spell for Chameleon isn’t THAT recent, it was released in 1977. It was a bit cheesy and juvenile towards women in the POV view, But they were more 3D and capable. I didn’t read Stranger until the mid 80s and was a major boulder in my distaste for Mr Heinlein’s female chars. Just as bad as incompetant are the impossibly perfect and gorgeous examples. Asimov’s lack I found less annoying than poor chars, and the Bailey stories and murder club were still good. I heard warnings abt him at cons, too.
June 23, 2016 @ 4:07 am
Most urban fantasy have leads I can’t feel anything for. Being special isn’t a blank check to be a jerk, male or female…
June 23, 2016 @ 4:20 am
Excellent points, I would like to add the mysogny has spread to gaming and trends even worse there as teen males are seen as the major market. Authors and the many female readers have been encouraging changes in publishing for over four decades, even if there are still flareups in places like Worldcon/Hugos.
June 23, 2016 @ 6:26 am
We should see this done with Tolkien, of course. All the (female) members of the Fellowship suddenly awe-struck by the mysterious and powerful (male) Galador. Or arguing over whether Arwon or Galador is more handsome. Or thrilled that their brave Princess Aragoriel gets to marry a handsome Prince as her reward… (oh wait, that’s every fairy tale ever…)
Other than Tolkien, I agree in wanting to see it done with more modern works. Millennial stuff. Go through the bestseller lists and award lists, or better yet, solicit brave volunteers from your fellow authors!
June 23, 2016 @ 7:31 am
Your mileage may vary, but I think that’s a bit unfair. I tend to see Asimov as being short on characters, period. Thinking back on the Foundation Trilogy, the characters that come to mind are Hari Seldon, Hober Mallow, Bayta Darrel, Magnifico Giganticus, and Arkady Darrel. IMHO the last three are among the most vivid characters in Asimov’s body of fiction, and two-thirds of them are female. But of course your mileage may vary.
June 23, 2016 @ 7:45 am
Twilight has been gender swapped, y’all–by the author herself. It’s an interesting read once you quit comparing it to the original.
June 23, 2016 @ 7:57 am
For a shining example of non-sexist writing from ye olden days, read anything by James H. Schmitz. His female characters are as capable as the male and are described no differently.
June 23, 2016 @ 8:17 am
“Blindsight” by Peter Watts. It contains a cast of characters of both genders of equal competence. But throughout the story, the protagonist flashes back to different interactions with his ex girlfriend who is nauseatiny clingy, manipulative, and emotional.
June 23, 2016 @ 8:27 am
Now that I think about it, the protagonist also has flashbacks about his mother who felt like a cardboard cutout from the 1950’s thrust a couple centuries into the future.
June 23, 2016 @ 8:55 am
Try reading some John Ringo or other stuff like that. Nothing much has changed. Well, the quality of writing went down.
June 23, 2016 @ 9:26 am
I loved this exercise immensely!
The “pleasantly plump” male secretary in SISL fits with the emergence of “dad bod” as a thing. I would read and enjoy genderswapped Heinlein any day of the week, so can someone do this like people have done for Austen’s novels, because I would pay money for this and haven’t the talent myself.