It was a frequent source of frustration to me that when it was time to read aloud in English classes, teachers tended to want to dole out the male parts to the boys and the female parts to the girls. In freshman English class, I had a bit of a tiff with my teacher, who thought I ought to read Juliet, but I frankly wasn’t interested. Mercutio’s the only one who comes off well in that whole ridiculous affair, as far as I’m concerned, and Juliet is far too pathetic for me to want to give her voice. He told me that if I could make a compelling case, I could read the male part. I cited that quite useful bit of information that since all the parts were played by men in the beginning, it was no less authentic with regard to the characters’ genders than the world premiere. He caved, and I didn’t have to do the silly swoony balcony scene. Ever since, despite no interest at all in acting or performing of any kind, I’ve been on the lookout for good female characters, and I find I’m often left wanting. If I were an actress, I think I’d be kind of pissed. The guys get all the good roles, and the ladies get to be people that matter primarily in relation to them: wives, mothers, daughters, mistresses. Forget that. Fortunately, I think that in an age where so much of publishing is made up of women, from publishers to editors to agents to authors to readers, even the books that are not setting out to make a point about gender can have some pretty great female protagonists. And it sometimes looks like television, at least, is starting to make similar changes.
So I was delighted when Michael sent me this LA Times piece on Daniela Comani’s gallery exhibit which takes major canonical fiction with gendered titles and reverses things. I hate Of Mice and Men, sorry Steinbeck fans, but would I love Of Mice and Women? Well, probably not. Still, it’s an interesting idea to think about how things would change. Monsieur Bovary and Lord Chatterley’s Lover would probably not be so controversial, would they? Unless, of course, the genders of the lovers stayed fixed as the originals, which would add a whole new layer—it would be interesting to contemplate which issues overlapped in the possible versions and which were made radically different.
This makes me wonder, as an author, how much thought do you give to your character’s gender? Do you ever consider flipping? Do you always stick to what you yourself know or do you prefer to write from the opposite perspective? And have you ever tried to write something gender blind and then assign a gender later? In theory, it shouldn’t matter, but in practice, how much of the characterization would shift depending on the direction?