Gender-switching fiction: Viola’s Bookshelf

Viola’s Bookshelf is a new project blog dedicated to publishing altered out of copyright, or creative commons licensed fiction, where the character’s genders have been reversed. The idea behind this is to help provide an understanding of gender construction in fiction and to an extent in everyday life.

The first story is a gender reversal of “Scroogled”, by Cory Doctorow. It begins:

Alex landed at San Francisco International Airport at 8 p.m., but by the time she’d made it to the front of the customs line, it was after midnight. She’d emerged from first class, brown as a nut, unshaven, and loose-limbed after a month on the beach in Cabo (scuba diving three days a week, seducing French college boys the rest of the time).

Sajbrfem writes about her experience of writing the gender reversal:

I want to be clear that I have not chosen this story because I feel it is sexist, or in any way needs to be re-written, quite the contrary, on my initial reading it appeared to be quite balanced in terms of gender representation. The lead character is a young/middle-aged, professional, white male and the main supporting character is a female of the same social and professional standing. My aim is not to point out any error in the writing, but rather to use it as a platform to examine the (often hidden) assumptions that we hold for characters (and by extension real life people) of any particular gender.

By exchanging the gender of all the characters in the story small exnominalizations (things left unsaid because they are considered the norm) begin to show themselves in the story’s background, female security guards and corporate heavies fill the scenery in a way that is unusual to regular pop culture texts. Exchanging the gender of characters helps to magnify things that are taken for granted.

Read the rest of the background story here at Fifty Two Acts.

Categories: gender & feminism

Tags: ,

2 replies

  1. What a fascinating project. Excellent stuff.

  2. Following some links, I found this via a comments thread on a post about Viola’s Bookshelf:

    This concept of a flexible identity was something I wanted to explore in a play. DNA was originally written for the National Theatre’s Connections project, which pairs young actors with new writing. It was to be performed by more than 40 different youth groups across the country, and when I wrote it, I stipulated that all the characters’ genders and names could be changed according to the groups’ needs. John could become Jane, or Leah could become Lee. I reasoned that there isn’t the huge gap between men and women that we like to think there is. We are different, yes, but our similarities far outweigh our differences. One quite angry youth leader took me to task over this, insisting that girls and boys were practically different species, and this could never work. But the interesting thing was that, with all the different cast configurations I went on to see, I forgot the original sex of the character I’d written within 10 minutes.

%d bloggers like this: