So here’s a funny story, here at Legion of Leia, we’re allowed to pitch editorials and ongoing series to our esteemed founder Jenna Busch. Every once in a while though, an idea hits home and she encourages us to elaborate on an idea.
Legion writer Andrew Walsh pitched a great article about gender fluidity and if there is a metric to masculine from feminine. So we’re going to discuss it. Joining us on today’s Hot Topic are Christina Janke, Sabina Ibarra, and the article’s author Andrew Walsh. Welcome!
Sabina: Hi, everyone!
Shaun: So Andrew, we’re going to put your entire article at the end of this discussion, but could you give us a brief overview of your question and conclusions?
Andrew: Sure thing. Basically, I’m pondering whether or not there are definitive traits exclusive to men or women (fictional or otherwise). With the topic of gender or race swapping of famous characters, can such possible inherent traits effect those characters in such a way that they become unrecognizable?
Christina: Physical or mental, because I can think of a couple physical traits men and women do not share [insert winking smiley face].
Shaun: Well yeah, beyond the obvious physical/biological differences.
Andrew: Both. But I’d like to examine beyond that. Behavioral, perhaps.
Shaun: The first thing that comes to mind, for me, is Starbuck in the 2000s reboot of Battlestar Galactica.
Andrew: Along with the psychological aspects.
Sabina: I think what’s essential is whether or not their journey and archetype is relatable.
Christina: Evelyn Salt in Salt, Ripley in Alien. And recently, the creator of Legend of Zelda wanted Link to be a “boyish” actress if ever made into a live-action movie.
Andrew: Those are decent examples, but personally I don’t think of Ellen Ripley as being particularly feminine in that first movie. I say as much in the article; Ripley (and the other characters in the script) were written genderless.
Shaun: Well, that’s the way it should be.
Christina: That all depends on the subject matter.
Sabina: With Ripley, Salt and Starbuck we got characters who are establishing a gender-less character that could be played by anyone without the history of it being a male so a better pill to swallow than say Bond being a woman. Ghostbusters being women…
Andrew: Yes, I wanted to talk specifically about someone like Bond being cast female.
Shaun: I mean, let’s think about it for a second. A character should be written as compelling. Unless the character’s gender is key, it should secondary to the motivations of the plot/scene. Obviously if it’s a story about a mother trying to save her child, such as in Aliens, it’s a must-have. Otherwise I feel like a script should be left as neutral as possible. If we want to take it to Bond, Starbuck is a great way segue. When they announced that Starbuck was going to be a woman, fans freaked. They said there was no way a woman could ever be a hard talking, heavy drinking, sexual animal who happens to be the best pilot in the fleet.
Then cue the show and Katie Sackoff pretty much won everyone over whilst keeping all those traits, as well as making Starbuck a more complex identity.
Shaun: I think that’s why people chaff against the idea that Bond could be a woman. She couldn’t do all the “Bond” things, despite evidence to the contrary.
Christina: Was she more complex? I found Starbuck to be confusing as hell.
Shaun: Compared to the 70s version? Yes. Confusing, sure, but certainly more complex.
Sabina: Was she the second incarnation of Starbuck?
Christina: As far as I know. [Editor’s note: Starbuck was played by Dirk Benedict in the original series.]
Andrew: I’m not so familiar with BSG, so I can’t speak so much to that comparison. But in the sense that Bond is written as a masculine fantasy character, it seems like a gender swap would inherently change the character — not that I wouldn’t mind seeing that.
Shaun: Aw, man, so we’re half-and-half here on seeing the perfect example of why it could work. Sabina and Andrew haven’t had much experience with BSG, but lemme tell you guys. It was this argument exactly.
Sabina: Cause I feel as if it’s long term association with the character being a male that makes those attached to the character less inclined to let go of the idea, like with the Doctor and James Bond.
Shaun: I mean, let’s talk James Bond then. What makes Bond, Bond? I mean really?
Christina: To tell you the truth, I don’t think I can see Bond being a woman. Like Andrew says in his article, there are certain dynamics that would get lost in translation if portrayed by the opposite sex. First and foremost, Bond is a player. We’ve seen plenty of female players, but we generally see them as aggressive sluts. Or Samantha from Sex and the City.
Shaun: Oh, I totally disagree.
Sabina: Also disagree.
Shaun: I think it’d be refreshing to see a woman take on the “player” role.
Andrew: I’m gonna see where this goes.
Christina: If reinvented, fine. But why not just make a whole new spy movie?
Sabina: I think if a woman gets the opportunity to express her sexuality in the way Bond does it would demonstrate that a female can be just as empowered and not a slut.
Christina: I’m mostly complaining because I’m tired of being saturated with “reboots” and “reinventions” of established franchises.
Shaun: Well that’s a different argument. Why not make new characters versus re-skin old ones? For the moment, let’s table that and say that Bond is going to be gender-swapped.
Christina: So what female characters have we met so far that would fit the bill of being smooth and not a “slut”?
Sabina: A slut is usually portrayed as someone who views sex as validation and because of the media that’s been lumped into describing any woman who has sex a lot is looking for validation.
Andrew: I do love the idea of seeing an empowered, promiscuous heroine. But I don’t really think of Bond’s sexuality being empowering (though he certainly uses it as a power thing). I think Bond is in less control of his sexuality than he realizes.
Shaun: Exactly Andrew. I think Christina and Sabina both have hit on two sides of the same coin. There’s a sadness to Bond that’s been around since there early days. He can’t make connections to people because when he let’s them “inside” they tend to get killed off. So he uses sex as a barrier.
Shaun: That’s not empowering, it’s sad, but is also a great character moment. If you attach that to a female character, you don’t lose the pathos. What you lose is the “guy” perspective. Most men love that Bond just moves from woman to woman, without thinking of the fact that he’s really hurting. They just see the conquests.
Sabina: A lot of women can also make themselves cold to that kind of intimacy that can leave men vulnerable, we just aren’t given those characters.
Shaun: Totally, Sabina. So with that in mind, I think the switch could be made easily.
Christina: Taken that way, I’ll accept it. But she HAS to be British. The end. LOL.
Andrew: I kind of agree, but I see that as modern reinterpretation of the character instead of what the character was originally intended to be: a male power fantasy.
Shaun: Oh, I totally disagree again.
Andrew: Sex is definitely a power thing for Bond.
Shaun: It is. But since the 70s, that sadness has been part of his mythos. It’s downplayed to encourage the sex fantasy, but that’s ancillary.
Andrew Walsh: I don’t remember any of that in the Brosnan era (granted, that’s the one I grew up with the most).
Christina: Well…”male power fantasy” was the side effect to Bond’s character in the books. It just got played way up when the movies came out. Until Daniel Craig came along.
Shaun: Gonna show off my Bond-fan-ness here. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the first movie after Sean Connery. In that movie he marries and loses his wife. It’s pretty key. That said, there’s an obvious sex fantasy going on and to deny that would be silly. But I think we can strip that away and keep the motivations behind.
Andrew: That’s more along the lines of what I’m trying to get at. In popular culture, Bond is seen as the male power fantasy, regardless of author intent, that’s how the audience has latched onto him.
Shaun: So if we strip out the sex fantasy portion of it, or better yet, keep it and let a female Bond be the sex fantasy for all the male leads of hollywood… I can see that being insanely popular.
Andrew: To give a similar example: utter the name Rambo and people immediately imagine a super soldier. But Rambo is simply a survivor in that first movie (and the book).
Shaun: Well Sabina, Christina, what do you think? Would a female Bond who bounces from man to man (very delicious attractive men) appeal to you at all while she kicks the crap out of the forces of evil?
Christina: I’d watch it. But I’d much rather see her kick ass than jump to the next male model on screen. That’s why Craig has always appealed more to me as James Bond. It was less about the womanizing and more about getting shit done.
Shaun: If they follow the Bond formula, you’d only get 1-2 male models per movie. I love this idea though.
Sabina: I think that a woman could have intimacy issues because her job as an agent puts her loved ones in danger. But as any human being with a sexual appetite, has fun and gets that need fulfilled causally.
Andrew: I agree on both those points.
Shaun: Absolutely. I think that’s what makes fiction so great. By doing a simple change in something like gender, you can look at a character in a totally different light. It can reveal untapped depths.
Andrew: Let me ask something else. Would we all consider these inherent traits of Bond as masculine traits that can be carried over to a female Bond?
Christina: Traditionally, yes. But that’s why we’re here, right? To knock down the walls of gender labels and expectations?
Sabina: The ones we discussed are not inherent to but associated with masculinity because it’s what we have been seeing. We have only been able to see men in these roles.
Christina: DAMN THE MAN! (save the Empire)
Shaun: Hehe, you guys, you have no idea how much Christina has latched onto that movie, but that’s way off topic.
Christina: Not off topic. Damn. The. Man. As we already know, Hollywood is male-dominated. They get to dictate how we view things, masculinity included.
Sabina: They get these nuances while women aren’t given the opportunity to have the same experiences.
Shaun: I totally agree, I don’t really see an overt sexuality as a masculine role. Maybe it was my environment or the fiction I read at the time but I’ve never assigned an aggressive sexuality to strictly a male trait. Certainly not the Bond sexuality. I see that almost as a sensuality and that certainly has always been more feminine from my perspective.
Andrew: I don’t see a voracious sexual appetite to be particularly masculine, just a general human attribute. But with Bond it’s always seemed more a power thing. I’ve always seen that as more a masculine thing, though I’d be remiss to forget Catherine the Great.
Sabina: Power thing to cope with the sadness of it? That can happen to anyone — it being the inability to be able to forge a bond.
Christina: Very funny. And I thought the Catherine the Great story was just a rumor to discredit her. Y’know, because men generally hate women in power.
Shaun: BACK to Bond – lol. I always saw it as more of a seduction, which for me is a neutral trait or feminine.
Andrew: Certainly, but Bond was promiscuous before he was married and lost his wife.
Sabina: A lot of feminine or masculine traits are like the toy aisles that can be genderless.
Shaun: Exactly, and putting the sexuality argument aside, I can’t see any reason why Bond can’t be a female.
Sabina: Except of course the super inherent things like ladies have babies and men do not.
Shaun: You know, one day science is going to find a way around that too.
Christina: And that “super inconvenient” pregnancy leave. As long as the dudes rule the world, science will not find a way. LOL
Shaun: Women of the World, figure that out.
Andrew: That would be my only real fear with a female Bond, the possible inclusion of the “you’re a woman, you should be having babies” trope, a la Jurassic World.
Andrew: I suppose now might be as good a time as any to bring things around to Doctor Who.
Christina: I like me some Missy.
Andrew: Exactly! Missy is the best version of The Master, by far.
Sabina: I don’t watch Doctor Who, but my Whovian friends are my Cliff Notes.
Christina: I read somewhere that Missy’s more or less the same as the last dude, but with more nuanced femininity. I just got back into it, Sabina. You’re not alone.
Shaun: I really wish Missy was one of the pre-established Time Ladies from the earlier series but that’s because I feel we’re using the Master too much of late. That said, once I saw Missy on screen, I said “this is the best Master in a LONG time.”
Andrew: Michele Gomez definitely has the nuance, whereas the previous guy was a lot of camp.
Shaun: It’s true. She’ll probably go down as being the best Master in the end.
Andrew: But what I really like about Missy is that gender-swapping hasn’t changed the character or redefined it, but expanded upon.
Shaun: It’s true. It was assumed that Time Lords and Ladies could not switch genders. By making the Master into a woman, it completely removed any real meaning behind gender for their species.
Christina: Are there nay-sayers? Or are Whovians more enlightened than the average TV viewers (in America)?
Andrew: I’m honestly not sure…
Shaun: Well…there was an initial backlash before Michele Gomez went on screen, but that died down quickly. She really is phenomenal.
Sabina: I hope the Ghostbusters backlash dies down quickly after the movies releases.
Christina: Definitely. I’m tired of the vitriol that movie is receiving.
Andrew: But, as was said before, Gomez brings a femininity to the role, which means the character is not gender neutral, written so that anybody could just play it.
Shaun: I know I heard a lot of chatter from old school Whovians who loved the show before the reboot. They complained that it went against established rules. Then again, a lot of the old guard aren’t that pleased with the 2000s continuation so it’s hard to draw a line at where their displeasure is stemming from.
…Dood. Dude. Dewd. I am so tired of people complaining about the reboot of Ghostbusters. I haven’t been this excited for a rebrand of a franchise in years. Christina knows this. A few years back, a guy nearly punched me out at a panel because I encouraged Hollywood to pursue a rebranding.
Christina: He nearly popped a vein.
Shaun: Yeah, it was intense. And it was because he couldn’t see past his love of this movie. Which is silly because why should you? That doesn’t mean a creator can’t breathe new life into an idea afterwards for a different generation. And I think that’s something we should address. So many of these things we hold dear is because they’re familiar.
Sabina: What’s interesting about Ghostbusters is the blindness to the fact that these characters, or the team, isn’t inherently male.
Shaun: It’s why things like gender-swapping and rebooting can be so profitable and rewarding. By simply taking a new look at an old idea you can open up so much new real estate. Missy being a great example.
Christina: And it’s been decades since the Ghostbusters 2. A suitable about of time for someone to reintroduce a once beloved franchise. These other reboots that are 10 years or less apart, however….
Andrew: I think the generally sexist complaints about the rebranding with female Ghostbusters stems from fans unable to get beyond their connection to the original film. But like Sabina said, nothing about the original Ghostbusters is inherently male.
Shaun: I completely agree.
Christina: I think all this girl power in the media is what gave birth to the MRA, that and the entitled feeling given to users of the internet.
Sabina: Lots of girls grew up wanting to be the Ghostbusters, maybe their relationships with their friends were much like that team’s. And because we have only specific ideals for female friendships that aren’t always relatable, there is a generation of women whose closest representation is the camaraderie between the guys. And they also want the chance to bust some ghosts. With this reboot, we’re being given that representation and it’s awesome.
Andrew: “Let’s show this prehistoric [prick] how we do things downtown.”
Shaun: Exactly, Sabina. I am crazy excited. See, internet? One word change and Andrew updated a great line.
Andrew: If they use that, I demand a writing credit! Been waiting for the right time to roll that one out.
Shaun: Ok, well I think we’ve rolled this idea around for a while now. Any final thoughts or did we miss something major?
Andrew: I feel generally satisfied.
Sabina: I like taking these characters and debating if they can be gender swapped.
Andrew: It should be a regular feature…
Sabina: The idea that I have been meaning to get to is tackling characters like Snake Plissken, Tyler Durden, Back to the Future…
Shaun: Well we can always come back and do this again in a month or so. Take a character and break them down and see what would be different with a gender swap. We can do it both ways too. Guys to Girls and Girls to Guys.
Sabina: See if they could work gender swapped.
Christina: Like Link.
Andrew: Now those are interesting.
Christina: Girl or boy? Yea or nay?
Shaun: We have an idea brewing here internet. You know what that means. We’ll be back!
Gender Fluidity in Modern Media
Men and Women are different… or are they? Such a suggestion is inherently loaded with bias, and if you’ve ever spent time debating the issue you might discover you start running in circles. “Men are masculine and Women are feminine.” Sure, but what about homosexual individuals? But wait, that would suggest all gay men are feminine and all gay women are masculine. What about tomboys? what about transvestites? These are all loaded questions and they only lead down a black hole of nothingness, until the only true statement you might make is: “the difference is a Y-chromosome, lets move on!” Yet even the biology is called into question in modern society.
So what is it? What defines a man? What defines a woman? Is there a difference? Should there be a difference? That’s a lot to ponder, but let me ask a more pointed question: how do differences between men and women effect characters in media?
Sometimes a character’s gender or sexuality impacts the story, or how they interact with other character, or feed back into the theme of the work. But sometimes they mean nothing, it’s just another detail in the mural.
But we live in a time where gender-swapping and race-swapping of popular characters is a popular topic. Idris Elba is a fan-favorite to become James Bond in the future, however unlikely that may be. Even still, some ask the next apparent question “could there be a female James Bond?” Former Bond, Pierce Brosnan, commented on the subject, saying you could race swap Bond but you could not gender swap him.
Now, I know and understand the knee-jerk reaction to call such a comment as “narrow-minded” and such. But what if there is something to that? I’m not saying that a character like Bond shouldn’t be cast as a woman or a person of color, but I would like to ask if such casting might inherently change the character so as to become unrecognizable… a new character, even?
Not that gender-swapping characters doesn’t work. Doctor Who recently reintroduced the classic villain The Master as having regenerated as a woman, having been played by a man in all other previous appearances. This change has worked like gangbusters, and it’s not simply because it works within the rules and lore of the series. The gender-swapping of The Master has not redefined the relationship between her/him and The Doctor, it has instead expanded upon it. Though there was always mutual respect and friendship (even small hints of love) between the two, this development creates a dynamic that goes beyond non-heteronormative personal relationships and becomes something far more complicated than what we understand where we are in modern society. It feels, sort of… alien. And, jeez, does it work.
Much effort has been made in the past to write characters as genderless and simply cast the best actors. This is how Alien was written. That means Ellen Ripley, one of the most iconic heroines in cinema, could have been played by a man in that first film. What if? What does that mean for the character? What does that mean for her femininity? Is it enough if a character’s femininity (or masculinity) comes strictly from the actor portraying them?
What does it mean when a female role can just as easily be played by a man? Think about a character like Alice in the Resident Evil movies. Is there a single aspect to her character (other than the actress playing her) that identifies Alice as a woman?
Imagine that Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road was played by a man (or just as bad, not even included). Do you see how that changes very specific and necessary details. Gender-swapped Furiosa becomes a patronizing character, basically showing that the brides are merely helpless girls who can’t fight for themselves. This renders the characters as objects, macguffins to be fought over (We are not things). There is a maternal instinct that is fundamental to her character in order for the story (and it’s themes) to work cohesively.
So I ask: is there an identifiable difference between men and women, specifically within media? I admit I don’t know how to define such a difference, but it seems to me that there indeed may be.