Gender-Swapping (In Writing)

A few months ago, I introduced a book that I adore to my boyfriend (The Black Jewels: Trilogy by Anne Bishop), which he began reading, and enjoyed. When he was first delving into the first chapter, I eagerly asked, “What do you think?”

“It’s good. Very obvious that it was written by a woman,” he replied with the massive compilation of the trilogy in his lap.

I was really curious about this. I wanted to know what elements about it revealed the gender of the author. I thought that perhaps it was about a little girl which gave it away. I tried to ask him, but he couldn’t really put his finger on it, and since he’s new to the literary analysis world, I did’t press him too much.

I began wondering about my own writing. Does my writing give my gender away? Should it? Does it matter? In theory, it shouldn’t matter, and there should simply be a compilation of literautre out there that simply reveals different aspects of humanity. However, a fair few podcasts I’ve listened to (and I do listen to a lot), talk about how books/movies/shows/comics are generally seen as for-women. Unfortunately, I can’t pinpoint which podcast it was which specifically said that (I listen to a few: Writers on Writing, The Partially Examined Life, and The UnMute Podcast–all of which are likely candidates), however the one that sticks out in my mind is A season 11 episode of Writing Excuses called “Examining Unconscious Biases with Shannon Hale.”

In this episode, I do distinctly remember how they talked about women in science fiction and fantasy either being the maiden fair who needs saving, or being overly-compensated to be 110% badass in spandex (which you can absolutely see in most pop-culture media). The writing prompt at the end was to take a story that’s already been written and swap the genders.

I thought it was an interesting prompt, but I also didn’t feel like I fell into that category of writer.

However, for whatever reason, yesterday I realized that I absolutely fall into that trap. Three out of my four novels have male-dominated characters, or at least, male leads. So I took the one that I’m mostly focused on now, which is my NaNoWriMo attempt from 20015, and am slowly going through and changing the pronouns to feminine ones and altering the name. I’m trying not to alter the motions and mannerisms too much (though there are some things that simply can’t be avoided) to see if I can successfully portray a realistic, independent woman.

What’s more, is that I began wondering why I felt like I couldn’t successfully write a strong female lead in the first place, and why me default was a male. I think that female characters are often too close to home for me, since I am a woman, and thus I worry that I’ll put too much of myself into these characters. Though that’s just my five minute pondering on the subject matter.

However, the exercise is interesting. I plan on printing out a couple of chapters, handing them to different people and seeing how the response goes for each gender, then maybe give them the other copy and see how their ideas of the story changes.


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