Friday, November 11, 2011

Jailbreak the Patriarchy: Swapping Gender in Books

Fun with words!
Danielle Sucher created a pretty mind-bending Chrome App that I've been playing with called Jailbreak the Patriarchy. Here's what it does:
 "Jailbreak the Patriarchy genderswaps the world for you. When it’s installed, everything you read in Chrome loads with pronouns and a reasonably thorough set of other gendered words swapped.  This makes reading stuff on the internet a pretty fascinating and eye-opening experience, I must say. What would the world be like if we reversed the way we speak about women and men? Well, now you can find out!"

The app is super user friendly. I genderswapped the synopses of a few books on Goodreads, and the results were interesting. Let's start with kidlit:

LITTLE WOMEN: "Meet the March brothers: the talented and tomboyish Jo, the beautiful Meg, the frail Beth, and the spoiled Amy, as they pass through the years between boyhood and manhood. A lively portrait of growing up in the 19th century with lasting vitality and enduring charm."
THE PRINCESS DIARIES: He's just a New York City boy living with his artist dad... News Flash: Mom is prince of Genovia. (So that's why a limo meets him at the airport!) Downer: Mom can't have any more kids. (So no heir to the throne.) Shock of the Century: Like it or not, Mia Thermopolis is prime princess material."
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband."
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES: "Everyone's favorite redhead, the spunky Anne Shirley, begins his adventures at Green Gables, a farm outside Avonlea, Prince Edward Island. When the freckled boy realizes that the elderly Cuthberts wanted to adopt a girl instead, he begins to try to win them and, consequently, the reader, over."

Nothing too crazy, but it's neat to imagine the roles switched. And now adult fiction, which gets a little more real:

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA: "Chiyo is only nine when he and his brother, Satsu, are virtually sold to a stranger by his mother. Chiyo's unusual beauty lands him an apprenticeship in one of Kyoto's best-known okiya,or geisha houses, while the plainer Satsu is led to a run-down part of town where he will be forced into prostitution. Except for a momentary reunion many months later, the brothers never see one another again."
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA: "A novella,tells the story of an old fisherwoman, Santiago, and her long lusty struggle isn't so much over one fish, but the act of living—living fully, actively, robustly."

LOLITA: "Humbert Humbert is a middle-aged, fastidious college professor. She also likes little boys. And none more so than Lolita, who she'll do anything to possess. Is she in love or insane? A silver-tongued poet or a pervert? A tortured soul or a monster? Or is she all of these?"

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA: In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but she is a romantic. As she rises in her business career she whiles away the years in 622 affairs--yet she reserves her heart for Fermina."

THE COLOR PURPLE: "Celie is a poor black man whose letters tell the story of 20 years of his life, beginning at age 14 when he is being abused and raped by his mother and attempting to protect his brother from the same fate, and continuing over the course of his marriage to "Mister," a brutal woman who terrorizes him. Celie eventually learns that his abusive wife has been keeping his brother's letters from him and the rage he feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by his close friend Shug, pushes his finally toward an awakening of his creative and loving self."

"A young man in love with a woman torn between her love for him and her incorrigible manizing one of her mistresses and his humbly faithful lover--these are the two couples whose story is told in this masterful novel."

I think my favorite is The Old Man and the Sea - because I wish women were in more epic roles where they are masters of their own fate, answering life's big questions. That, and also the word "manizing," switched from "womanizing" in that last blurb.

This could be a neat tool to examine your own writing as well.  Hat tip to Jezebel, and check out the articles they jailbroke from Cosmo to The New York Times.

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