I found the rather unsettling necessity to genderflip one of my female characters to a male one recently in a story I’m working on. The change has benefitted the story greatly and I really think (hope) the character is happier for it. All well and good until you hit the retro-active implications.
“Retro-active character sex change?” says I “Peanuts! Just change all the She’s to He’s and hey presto.”
Well, yes, if what you want is a sibling love affair. When a girl talks about her brother in a specific heartfelt and meaningful way it’s charming familial affection. When a boy talks that way it reads like an intro to incest.
This got me thinking about gendered character roles and tropes and what clues and cues writers use to give the impression of masculine and feminine. It also made me realise how much practise I needed at gender flipping.
“Perhaps” says I “the thing to do is to start with a more familiar story. That way you can beta test without force-feeding people your manuscript.”
So, in a more progressive age than long ago, in a galaxy far, far away Lucy Skywalker grows up as an honest and sheltered farm-girl with dreams of space-cadetry on a lonely homestead on Tatooine.
“Aha. See there’s our first problem.”
Is there even a well-known trope for farm-girl? I mean, one that’s analogous to the kind of male hero so many sword and sorcery stories start with? I know we have the Farmer’s Daughter, but I think that’s a different thing altogether.
But we can overlook that for now. Luke isn’t so hard to genderbend, he already has girl-hair.
So, frustrated but obedient farm-girl, via some cheerful droids (whose genderbending we will deal with tomorrow), meets up with the town crazy-lady from the deepest dunes (a well-respected female trope), gets womped by some sandpeople (do they even have a recognizable gender?) and learns of her great and noble lineage.
“Help me Obi Wan Kenobina, you’re my only hope!” Prince Lars of Alderan entreats desperately. Kenobina offers Lucy an ancient and powerful weapon, and tells her that she knew her mother.
“Woah now. Female Anakin Skywalker? Female Vader? I dooooon’t think so.”
Not quite the catchiness of the original misquote. Generally female supervillains are portrayed dominatrix style, whips and chains and world destruction (all in a matching colour palette). How do you write a female evil as robotic and inaccessible and divorced from physicality as Darth Vader? How would the viewer know that she was a girl? There’s no cleavage gap in the chest-plate! What would watching the callous violence of Vader’s force choke and his implacable questioning of the prince(ss) be like coming from a woman?
Would you need to change the story to allow for woman-menace, or are we just lacking in the right story tropes?
Join me tomorrow for more questions, promises of answers, Hannah Solo and slave-boy costumes.