For as long as I can remember, I’ve always respected and enjoyed the strong female characters I’ve encountered in various forms of fiction. From C.S. Lewis to David Eddings, I’ve found to be just as interesting, not to mention capable, as male characters. This naturally extended to film and television as I enjoyed the Alien’s franchise, featuring Ellen Ripley as the main protagonist, and the long running tv series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
But as great as these examples were, it became increasingly clear to me how few and far between they were. Most forms of fiction features males in the main roles, with females relegated to supporting roles or as simple love interests for the ‘real’ characters. It wasn’t just the main characters either. Most of the minor characters were male as well. This situation was perfectly summed up in a comic by Allison Bechdel, leading to the Bechdel test: does a film have a scene featuring two or more female characters who talk about something other than a man? It’s a sad indictment on the industry how few films pass this simple test.
Like most people, I grew up believing this was normal, without really questioning it or seeing it as a problem. As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve started to realise how vast the imbalance is and what far reaching effect it must be having. From an early age, this is how we grow up viewing the world; men given the prominent positions and all the crucial jobs, as well as just being more visible in general. Is it any surprise that boys and girls accept this situation in the real world?
It’s one thing to become aware of the issue and realise how much of a problem it is, it’s quite another to try and correct it. While I have set a goal for myself to represent the genders as close to equally as possible in my own writing, that feels like a drop in the ocean compared to the vast volume of work already out there.
It was while thinking about the mountain of existing work that I started to have the seed of an idea. What if those novels could be re-written so they were far more balanced in how they represented each of the genders? How much different would they read? As interesting as they would be, I decided it wouldn’t be enough. In order to try and counteract how imbalanced the representations of the genders had become, they would need to be re-written with all the characters reversed; all the male characters would become female and all the female characters would become male. I dubbed this process, regendering.
In order to do this, I needed to focus on works that had entered the public domain and were allowed to be edited freely in such a way. This proved to be a blessing as it allowed me to focus on the works from the so called canon of western literature; the body of works venerated as being exemplary examples of literature and ones that should be studied by everyone.
The idea of the west canon had attracted a great deal of criticism due to how skewed it is, with not just woman underrepresented many segments of the population. While I do think many of the works are great pieces of literature and worth being read, I have come to agree with some of those criticisms. Even though I haven’t exclusively chosen novels from the western canon, I thought it would be a great place to start with my regendering project.
I don’t for a minute think my work is original or ground breaking, though I’d resisted the temptation to research how many others have attempted this before now. It’s certainly not a revelation since most people are already aware of how unbalanced the genders are, not just in fiction’s representations. But I do feel presenting these alternative, regendered, versions of classic novels that are still taught in many schools, and read for enjoyed, is a valuable addition. It goes someway to correcting the gender imbalance and helps remind people, especially boys and girls, that by and large, anyone is capable of performing any job. That it’s perfectly plausible for the world’s greatest detective to be a woman. Of the captain of a warship. Or even that they could construct a machine for travelling through time.