All About Gender Flips
Traditionally, ‘gender flips’ refer to when a character’s gender is changed through an adaptation. For example, if a character is male in the book but is made female in the movie or TV version.
Over time, ‘gender flipping’ has expanded beyond specific characters and begun to include character tropes as well. A character trope is a recurring idea in fiction. The concept of the hero or villain are traditional character tropes, as well as archetypes. You can read more about tropes HERE.
Gender flips have been in discussion across B2W lately because of remarks made by a Tory MP here in UK, Nick Fletcher. He said that recasting male heroes as women risks driving boys to crime.
Obviously this is total BS (read B2W’s clapback HERE), but it did get me thinking about gender flips as a whole.
A lot of people – including writers – believe characters are being ‘taken away’ from them … yet those same people will often complain characters feel stale and old, too. Now what??!!
Well how about we apply gender flips to ALL characters?? Try some of these for size for your screenplay or novel … Enjoy!
1) Older Female Chosen One
My novel, The Coven has a ‘chosen one’ narrative at its heart. It’s one of my favourite tropes but over the years I grew frustrated previous chosen ones were all male. As female leads became more prominent, they were all white … So I placed British Chinese teenager Chloe in the centre of the story as a chosen one instead.
But I didn’t want to stop there. I’ve been a mother for over half my life now. My own experience of teens means I’ve always been unsure a teenager can handle saving the world by themselves! Hell, my kids can’t even take their damn dishes to the sink.
This lead me to think: what if there wasn’t just ONE ‘chosen one’?
What if there was another … and she was much older?
This lead to me creating Adelita, a forty year old woman who helps Chloe in the mission. Chloe might be the one who has to ultimately ‘save the day’ like we expect, but she literally cannot do it alone. Adelita is every bit as important.
One of the things I liked most about the current adaptation of Dune was Jessica, matriarch for The House of Atreides. The source material sets Jessica’s son Paul up as a rather typical ‘chosen one’ narrative (the second book is literally called Dune Messiah), but the new movie side-steps this.
We are left in no doubt that Jessica’s Bene Gesserit powers are more powerful than Paul’s more traditional emperor training. Unusually, her influence is the key in the story WITHOUT her becoming a ‘Lady Macbeth’ trope too.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Older women often don’t appear in stories and when they do, they’re chiefly antagonists: manipulators, abusers, even sociopaths. What if your older female character saved the world?
2) Male Care-giver
The Care-giver is an archetypal role we can recognise easily from real life. The Caregiver is fulfilled by taking care of others. They are moved by compassion and a desire to help others. This role function is also known as the saint, helper, and parent.
It’s no accident the care-giver has found its way into fiction … or that 9/10 this character is FEMALE!
Whilst female characters are often side-lined as wives and mothers, she doesn’t have to be a bad character.
One of my favourite Care-giver characters is Joyce from Stranger Things. There is NOTHING she won’t do to get Will back in that first series. She doesn’t care whether people believe her. She is resourceful and clever and 100% determined.
As the series goes on, Joyce grows even further, but she never lets go of her care-giving quality. She is a mother to the whole group, which is why it’s unsurprising Eleven goes to live with her.
In contrast, we see very, very few male Care-givers. Often male characters remove themselves from their children to protect them, like Coco in Mayans M.C. He keeps his distance from daughter Leticia, thinking that’s best for her. Even when he realises this is not true, the legacy of his traumatic life means he’s unable to provide for her and break the cycle.
Now, Coco is a brilliant character too. However, it’s sad that BAD male care-givers are the standard when it comes to storytelling … just like we expect this in reality, too. The ‘deadbeat dad’ gets more representation than the good father! Ack.
KEY TAKEAWAY: It’s very easy to write a good female care-giver. They’re everywhere because it’s one of society’s expectations imposed on women since time immemorial. But where are all GOOD male care-givers in stories?
3) Matriarchal Storyworld
Most storyworlds reflect the world we literally live in … One in which men hold the vast majority of leadership positions (both political and capitalist), moral authority (especially in law) and certain benefits not always available to women (especially economic, but also educational, social and practical. These advantages may be less available to men not matching the ‘ideal masculine norm’).
For the uninitiated, the above is called patriarchy. In contrast, a world in which WOMEN are predominantly in charge is called a matriarchy.
Some stories have focused around matriarchal storyworlds such as The 100 and to some degree, The Hunger Games franchise in later instalments.
Sometimes the world is an ‘informal’ matriarchy in that nearly every major character in the story is a woman, like non linear thriller Premonition. Other times, the female characters are given ‘extra’ attention, even peripherals, as in the first movie adaptation of Twilight. This is because the audience is overwhelmingly female.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Obviously not all stories would suit a matriarchal storyworld. The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a patriarchal, totalitarian state on purpose. So is Mad Max Fury Road. But what if your storyworld was matriarchal? What would you gain/lose?
4) Male ‘Damsel in Distress’
As unpopular as the ‘damsel in distress’ character can be in modern storytelling, it’s a fact some genres require a character who needs to be rescued. This is particularly obvious in action adventures, thrillers and horror screenplays and novels.
In recent times, main characters tend to have to rescue children. These may be literal children or teenagers. We see this in action in …
- Revenge thriller Taken when ex-CIA agent Bryan must hunt and retrieve human traffickers who have kidnapped his teenage daughter Kim
- Disaster thriller San Andreas where divorced couple Ray and Emma must rescue their young adult daughter Blake after her boyfriend abandons her in the middle of an earthquake
- In the Jurassic Park franchise, kids frequently go missing in the park in many of the instalments leading to the adults having to rescue them.
Do you feel like most of the time ‘damsels in distress’ are female? You’re right … the trope is even named after them!
Learning From Jurassic Park
That said, unusually, in the Jurassic Park franchise, those kids also include boys as well as the staple girls. Timmy (first movie), Eric (third movie), Zach and Gray (Jurassic World) are all approximately ten to fifteen years old. They all need rescuing by older adults.
Intriguingly, in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, young adults are both in need of rescuing AND doing the rescuing (depending on the situation and where it is in the movie).
Another movie that places a male ‘damsel in distress’ as a plot point like this is ice age disaster thriller The Day After Tomorrow. In this film, tough guy scientist Jack must trek all the way to New York to rescue his son Sam, who is at university and trapped by ice.
Lastly, let’s not forget spy thriller Salt, which demands its protagonist goes on the run to save her (adult) husband … or the shock we all felt when we saw what happened to him. It’s also worth remembering this role was originally meant for Tom Cruise before it was offered to Angelina Jolie!
KEY TAKEAWAY: If you’re writing the kind of story that requires peril, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s absolutely fine to have a character that requires rescuing in your novel or screenplay … but why not make this character male?
5) Female Mentor
Mentor is an archetypal character that is a very important part of storytelling in a LOT of genres and types of story, but especially The Hero’s Journey.
Historically male leads made up the vast majority of heroic characters. We most often saw and read other male characters mentoring them in movies, TV shows and books.
Recently, this has started to change. We’ve seen male mentors begin to teach and advise young women in particular, such as Hawkeye and Kate in the Marvel TV series, or Haymitch and Katniss in The Hunger Games. Both embody the ‘typical’ mentor attributes in the ‘wise old man’ tradition.
Shockingly, female mentors like this hardly exist in ANY stories at all. They may sometimes have those ‘typical’ mentorship attributes, but these are usually combined or even eclipsed by other tropes and archetypes.
We can see this in action in the sitcom Brooklyn 99 with Detective Rosa Diaz, combines mentor with the outlaw archetype and embodies the ‘sexy vamp’ trope as well. In the same show, captain’s assistant Gina Linetti is also a mentor whilst being outrageously juvenile and shockingly selfish. This trope is sometimes known as the ‘stealth mentor’.
Despite what that Tory MP says, there is ZERO reason young men can’t be inspired by women. Young women often look to men for their inspiration. I know I did growing up. I had to!
KEY TAKEAWAY: Maybe you don’t care for political statements in writing and that’s fine. A female mentor for a young male hero would still be UNSUAL because we hardly ever see it in the spec pile … So when standing out is half the battle in springing out of the spec pile?? That’s gotta be good for your writing.
By The Way …
Any one of the above could be non binary. The fact we still live in a gendered world as male/female means thinking about your character or storyworld from a non binary perspective could really freshen up your story too.
To find out more about non binary people, CHECK OUT THIS POST by non binary Bang2writer Ugla Stefania.
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