Monday, September 18, 2006

On GenderSwitching

I've been thinking a lot about genderwitching. A comment here led me to a conversation elsewhere where the Harry Potter Universe characters were genderswitched. And following that conversation led me to create a discussion on a different community about what happens when all the players of that fandom, which we love but currently don't enjoy, are switched around.

The initial reactions were that people didn't think the books would have been published at all if it were a man who suddenly had the power to make people want him, even against their own will. And yes, this is an Anita Blake / LKH community I'm referring to. But then in Seeking Avalong, had had this thought in reference to cat fights: I don't even really think the fight was about Scott, even. From the telepathic confrontation, we got a good look at Emma's inner psyche, we got a good look into the Phoenix and what it is/represents, and we got a confused/uncertain Scott Summers finally standing up to his distant wife.

I've mentioned before that when I was younger I thought of Scott as 'the girl', that I'd found him boring. (Do note the past tense) If I switch genders now however:

"I don't even really think the fight was about Scarlett, even. From the telepathic confrontation , we got a good look at Emerson's inner psyche, we got a good look into the Phoenix and what it is/represents, and we got a confused/uncertain Scarlett Summers finally standing up to her distant husband."

Two psychics toying with a non psychic? Does it read that way now? Or does it read more of that Jack Grey was a distant, removed man and Scarlett went towards the warmth? But that points out more about Scott's situation that the point I'm currently worrying at so I'll leave that to a Scott essay #2.

I've seen people try to show the difference in uniforms with their own artwork examples ( for example); of the sexualized passive poses, the exposed skin, etc that happens with comic book heroines. Would a true gender switch of comics have to take that into consideration? Would we end up with some kind of amazonian woman's world were men felt marginalized and comic fan boys waved the issues in our faces saying it was fit more for a niche market of masochistic men with a jones for female domination that something for mass consumption?

I think I need to look at this in two ways. In the first I can simply turn gender around and then the powerful, non overtly sexualized characters would suddenly be women, and the passive, rape or sexual assault in their pasts, eye candy would suddenly all be men. Supergirl would become Superboy, in red-short shorts, and blue gloves, a cape-collar contraption, boots and nothing else. It'd be an outfit Clara Kent's father made for young Kryptonian Karl.

Wow, put that way I can't help but think Mark Kent is setting Karl up to know his place as eye-candy and meat in a world where women know the score and women are the heroes and it doesn't matter how much power Karl really has or could grow into. Being a hero in this world, vs being a heroine has a lot to do with appearance and Clara will help Karl settle in and introduce him to people, regular humans and heroes, who could help him understand Earth; as soon as Clara's finished sitting in a room with Brenda, observing how Karl stumbles around by himself trying to live up to a legacy.

But I need more than one example, right? So how about Wonder Woman as Wonder Man. He'd have the red star on a golden circlet. He'd have the cuffs and boots and blue star spangled short-shorts and a red shirt with gold armor. He'd want to help the Matriarchy, having come from an island where men could look after themselves and regularly walk around covered head to foot. He'd have a mission where he'd be trying to show this new world that all humans are equal and he'd end up having to continually prove himself and his views on balance to a group of....judgemental women?

Huh, there must be something wrong with how I'm turning the tables in this straight switch. Let me try one more time. Third time's the charm, right? Now, who to pick?

She-Hulk! With the Greg Horn covers. She-Hulk would just be Hulk. And the covers of his books would show him bending over the bathtub washing it, while dripping wet and in thin sports shorts, while looking over his shoulder and smiling to the camera? No wait. Hulk doesn't seem the best example. Let's not count Gene Walters Jameson.

Huntress (someone else come up with more Marvel characters). Huntress would be Hunter. He'd have been shot in the chest and stomach once in the past but still be wearing absolutely nothing protective on that area of his body. He'd have suffered from a brutal rape in his past, but feel empowered in his short-shorts, and gloves, and mask even though he rides a motorcycle and should probably be covered more in case of accident. He'd want very much to be part of Batwoman's team. But end up under Oracle instead and working with Black Canary, having fought for the right to weild his brand of justice. And he'd be known to need watching for uncharacteristic aggressiveness and be constantly be talked off of potentially killing criminals?

Ok, I give up. I can't do three in this category. Hunter just sounds like he needs serious therapy.

It looks like I can't manage a straight genderswitch properly. Maybe someone else will have a better go at it. But let me try the second way of dealing with things. If I switch around just the costumes, the artist styles, poses and the storylines given. Batman still lost his parents when he was eight. He still traveled the world to find the best ways of making himself capable of halting such crimes. And he still ended up taking the Bat as his emblem and hunting down criminals in the dark nights of Gotham. He'd still want to be a figure the public, especially its criminal element, is supposed to be scared of.

But would Batman suddenly look like a bondage sub boy? Shirtless, in tight shorts and a yellow belt and a hood and cape and our ability to tell when the weather's cold in Gotham by the peak or lack of peak in his nipples? If I add in the poses of arched back, hips thrust out, and one hand somewhere on the chest, does Batman suddenly look like he's for sale? Those powerful and iconic scenes of the cape billowing as he crouches on some gothic outcropping, peering out over his city would suddenly become Batman pressed up against a dirty building, cape falling silkily to his feet, his fingers looking like he's almost playing with his nipples in a kind of trance as he looks.... up into the sky somewhere while the city lights twinkle beneath him and his yellow utility belt hugs low on his hips, showing hipbone and making people wonder why he doesn't end up buck naked in the middle of a fight.

Ok, that's a wrong picture too. Let me try two other characters again, three tries for each point of view. Let's take Greg Land drawing.... Johnny Storm?

The Fantastic Four all wear full length jumpsuits, so there's no short-shorts for Johnny. But how tightly drawn would his suit be? Would we be able to count his abs and notice the weather situation in NYC as well due to his nipples? Would Johnny end up having scenes where fire licked along the length of his body, as he began to transform, with his hair alight and his eyes alight, and his body with a firey aura, while he arched in the throws of transformation, with one hand somewhere near his thighs and crotch and his body half twisted to show his ass in all round detail and the obvious cleft, given the skin tight blue uniform, and his mouth opened in the ecstasy of the transformation? Agony? His mouth just open and lips lush because he's alive?

Wait no. I must be reaching. I have to be reaching. I need another character. Logan. Our dear Wolverine. Forget any variation on the yellow suit. Let's just put Logan in tight fitting, well weathered jeans and a cowboy hat. That's pretty close to what he gets to wear nowadays anyway, right? So nothing much would change.

Except. How about that cigar? If posing, artists and storylines are to change, then suddenly Logan's fellatio-ing a cigar. And despite his origins, his story revolves around being back up for the heavy hitters. Sure there are interesting things to explore with him. But for the rule to stay true, that doesn't matter. What matters is that he has a couple moments of panel time and he's a shoulder for someone to lean on, an ear for someone to talk to....

Wait no. Even I can't do that to Logan. The fellatio-ing makes me want to stop reading my own damn artcle. And Logan's Bruce Wayne with claws to me. I've already gutted Batman in this. Let's move on. Alright? Alright.

Reboot for example three. Dick Grayson? Uhm no. He's got his own set of sexualized issues.

Captain America? Can anyone imagine Captain America holding a smaller shield, and wearing a full length body suit that for some reason has one bare arm and one bare leg? Would the Cap' look decisive at all? Like a leader? On the covers of his issues, or on crossovers, the shield would be leaning on him as he stood, hands unclenched, seen in profile so his package seems much bigger. Would we believe in the classic heroes following someone like that? Would we have ever gotten a storyline about his sidekick's return to life? Or would there be lots of guest stars in his comic, doing active things while he stood around looking patriotic and picture pretty?

On the plus side for those slashers among us, Captain America drawn by Greg Land, along side Bucky would be just rife with subtext, wouldn't it?

___ Epilogue___

I've decided that someone better at this than I might make a better point. I keep getting sidetracked trying to imagine the characters so different. I keep wondering about Power Man, and where the see through hole might go and how lost he would be and if it'd be possible to write that without emasculating him. Or wondering about Spiderman in Spider-shorts.

But given we've been hearing enough about him. I've had a thought on T'Challa.

T'Challa as a girl would be dressed in a black loincloth, flat soled shoes and let's say a t-shaped halter with mask. After her wedding to Storm, God of Weather, one of the most prominent mutants of all time, and now accepted by the deity that lends it's name to T'Challa, they'd go to Latveria on their honeymoon. Somehow in the middle of meeting the regent of the land, Lady Doom, Doom and T'Challa would get into a fight.

Storm, worried about his wife would interfere, only to have T'Challa ask her husband not to. She wants to handle this on her own. Just because they're married doesn't mean that Storm can just rush in and be over protective, even when things look dire. She's a hero too and leader of her people. T'Challa likes being able to stand on her own two feet even till the end.

T'Challa would defeat Doom and then on the trip to their next honeymoon stop, Storm would lean over to kiss his wife tenderly on the lips, only to see her still angry with him. A kiss can't solve everything. Storm had had no faith in her as a fighter. It can't happen again.

Storm retorts with a simple. "Hey, how do you know a kiss never solved everything. Have you tried kissing Doom?". There's laughter.

Why does it seem like in that scenario we, feminists and common sense, self accepting women, still can't win?
[ETA: Link to Remix17]

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