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If We Wrote Men Like We Write Women

Posting these without comment…for now. Curious what people’s thoughts and reactions will be. -Jim

While Mr. Douglas was speaking freely on a subject he knew little about, Jane C. Henshaw, LL.B, M.D., Sc.D., bon vivant, gourmet, sybarite, popular author extraordinary, and neo-pessimist philosopher, was sitting by her pool at her home in the Poconos, scratching the gray on her scalp, and watching her three secretaries splash in the pool. They were all amazingly beautiful; they were also amazingly good secretaries. In Henshaw’s opinion the principle of least action required that utility and beauty be combined.

Andy was blond, Martin red-headed, and Dean dark; they ranged, respectively, from pleasantly plump to deliciously slender. Their ages spread over fifteen years, but it was hard to tell which was the eldest.

Henshaw was working hard. Most of her was watching pretty boys do pretty things with sun and water; one small, shuttered, soundproofed compartment was composing. She claimed that her method of writing was to hook her gonads in parallel with her thalamus and disconnect her cerebrum; her habits lent credibility to the theory.

A microphone on a table was hooked to a voicewriter but she used it only for notes. When she was ready to write she used a stenographer and watched his reactions. She was ready now. “Front!” she shouted.

“Andy is ‘front,'” answered Dean. “I’ll take it. That splash was Andy.”

“Dive in and get him.” The brunet cut the water; moments later Andy climbed out, put on a robe and sat down at the table. He said nothing and made no preparations; Andy had total recall.

-Genderswapped from Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein

The Commdora referred to her dwelling place as a house. The populace undoubtedly would call it a palace. To Marion’s straightforward eyes, it looked uncommonly like a fortress. It was built on an eminence that overlooked the capital. Its walls were thick and reinforced. Its approaches were guarded, and its architecture was shaped for defense. Just the type of dwelling, Marion thought sourly, for Aspera, the Well-Beloved.

A young boy was before them. He bent low to the Commdora, who said, “This is one of the Commdor’s boys. Will he do?”


The Commdora watched carefully while Marion snapped the chain about the boy’s waist, and stepped back.

The Commdora snuffled, “Well. Is that all?”

“Will you draw the curtain, Commdora. Young man, there’s a little knob just near the snap. Will you move it upward, please? Go ahead, it won’t hurt you.”

The boy did so, drew a sharp breath, looked at his hands, and gasped, “Oh!”

From his waist as a source he was drowned in a pale, streaming luminescence of shifting color that drew itself over his head in a flashing coronet of liquid fire. It was as if someone had torn the aurora borealis out of the sky and molded it into a cloak.

The boy stepped to the mirror and stared, fascinated.

“Here, take this.” Marion handed him a necklace of dull pebbles. “Put it around your neck.”

The boy did so, and each pebble, as it entered the luminescent field became an individual flame that leaped and sparkled in crimson and gold.

“What do you think of it?” Marion asked him. The boy didn’t answer but there was adoration in his eyes. The Commdora gestured and reluctantly, he pushed the knob down, and the glory died. He left, with a memory.

-Genderswapped from Foundation, by Isaac Asimov

Blink looked at the boy beside her as he stepped through a slanting sunbeam. She was no plant, but she too had needs, and even the most casual inspection of him made her aware of this. Samuel was absolutely beautiful — and his beauty was completely natural. Other boys managed to enhance their appearance by cosmetics or padding or specialized spells, but beside Samuel all other males looked somewhat artificial. He was no enemy.

“What did you wish to talk to me about, Blink?” Samuel inquired demurely.

As if he didn’t know. But as her mind formed the necessary words, her mouth balked. She knew what his answer had to be. No one could remain in Xanth after her twenty-fifth birthday unless she demonstrated a magic talent. Blink’s own critical birthday was barely a month away. She was no child now. How could he marry a woman who was so soon to be exiled?

Why hadn’t she thought of that before bringing him out here? She could only embarrass herself! Now she had to say something to him, or suffer further embarrassment, making it awkward for him as well. “I just wanted to see your– your–”

“See my what?” he inquired with an arch lift of eyebrow.

She felt the heat starting up her neck. “Your holograph,” she blurted. There was much more of him she longed to see, and to touch, but that could come only after marriage. He was that sort of boy, and it was part of his appeal. The boys who had it didn’t need to put it on casual display.

Well, not quite true. She thought of Andrew, who certainly had it, yet who–

-Genderswapped from A Spell for Chameleon, by Piers Anthony

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jun. 22nd, 2016 05:14 pm (UTC)
One of the best self-awareness moments came from Julie Czerneda asking me to make my protagonist male rather than the female I'd made her. So I did by changing pronouns. Read it.

And realized how horrifically sexist I'd been writing.

She cried constantly. Cooooonstantly. It felt weird to do as a guy and I had to sit with that for a looong time. Best single review I saw of the story was someone complaining that he seemed to cry a lot. Since I'd had to face what it looked like prior and how a child at the age and in the situation he was in would be terrified... I left in a lot of the crying. So for me seeing that complaint hit that spot of "yep, that's what I wanted".

There were other things as well but the crying was the big clue-by-four that woke me up to really look at how I'd been doing it.
Jun. 22nd, 2016 05:24 pm (UTC)
I had a very similar experience rewriting a story for Sword & Sorceress years ago.
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Jun. 22nd, 2016 05:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 22nd, 2016 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mt_yvr - Jun. 22nd, 2016 05:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 22nd, 2016 05:30 pm (UTC)
Well I recognise Stranger in a strange land.
Jun. 22nd, 2016 06:07 pm (UTC)
Heh, I was just thinking today about what it would be like if newspapers wrote about cis people the way they write about trans people. "Secretary Clinton, a cisgender woman who uses the pronoun 'she' and prefers to be called 'Mrs.', is the first cisgender woman to be a major party's nominee for president."
Jun. 22nd, 2016 06:18 pm (UTC)
It was years before I realized that "the blonde, the brunette, and the redhead [or should I say "redhedde"]" was a trope from porn.
Jun. 22nd, 2016 06:24 pm (UTC)
This was a fun read, though it actually didn't bother me in the macro. In the micro, I find I have a strong gender bias about the use of the word "beautiful." If a boy is described as "beautiful," I think Arrows of the Queen and instantly label that boy as evil, rather than concentrate on his physical presence.

It's a fun exercise to consider the gender biases attached to the words "beautiful" and "handsome." If I read the description "handsome woman," I think of someone who is delightful to look at, well-groomed, and evidencing a strong self-assurance. If I read the description "beautiful man," I think of vampire porn.

Also, in case you are going for completeness - I think you have a typo in your swapping in the last story - She felt the heat starting up his neck.
Jun. 22nd, 2016 06:29 pm (UTC)
D'oh! Thank you, fixing that now.
(no subject) - ethelmay - Jun. 24th, 2016 01:47 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Jun. 24th, 2016 02:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deor - Jun. 23rd, 2016 01:46 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 22nd, 2016 06:33 pm (UTC)
Yes, but, having recently re-read some Piers Anthony, Xanth and Phaze, he has a lot more problems then continuing mysogyny...
Jun. 22nd, 2016 06:40 pm (UTC)
No argument there. I debated whether or not to even include that excerpt, after similar thoughts.
Jun. 22nd, 2016 06:45 pm (UTC)
I always think of the Gor stories when gender comes up in relation to fiction. Women are commodities to be used and discarded in that universe.

I know something's 'wrong' with a story when it feels like a Gor story.
Jun. 22nd, 2016 07:20 pm (UTC)
I am old, and read Stranger in a Strange Land a few years after it first came out, around 1970 or so? All my hippie friends and I were reading it and loved it and thought it was so brilliant. Then, a few years later, right around the time women's lib was becoming a thing, I picked it up and started to read it again. Got to the line, "Women are like dogs..." (obedient as long as you feed them? I forget the rest of the simile), threw the book across the room and never read Heinlein again.

It makes me kind of sad, I've been a science fiction fan all my life, but so many of my childhood favorites I'm afraid to read again for fear of having to throw them across the room.

Edited at 2016-06-22 07:21 pm (UTC)
Jun. 22nd, 2016 08:19 pm (UTC)
It's called "getting a visit from the Suck Fairy". And it's not much fun, but when you stop to think about it, you realize that it's actually encouraging -- that we've progressed far enough to notice that shit now.
(no subject) - codyne - Jun. 23rd, 2016 06:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - serai1 - Jun. 23rd, 2016 05:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - codyne - Jun. 23rd, 2016 05:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - elusis - Jun. 25th, 2016 01:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cereta - Jun. 26th, 2016 12:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 22nd, 2016 07:21 pm (UTC)
its like adjectives that only apply to women, like perky.
Jun. 22nd, 2016 08:16 pm (UTC)
A little too directly gender-swapped, methinks. Where does Henshawe keep her gonads?

I'm beginning to think I should give up on trying to write and turn to editing.
Jun. 22nd, 2016 08:21 pm (UTC)
Where does Henshawe keep her gonads?

Presumably in her abdomen, like any other woman who hasn't had a complete hysterectomy. "Gonads" is actually a gender-neutral term; it's the umbrella term for both ovaries and testes.
(no subject) - phantom_wolfboy - Jun. 22nd, 2016 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Jun. 22nd, 2016 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kalimac - Jun. 29th, 2016 10:34 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 22nd, 2016 08:29 pm (UTC)
We all know that SF from the 70s is full of that kind of thing. It would be interesting to see this done with some more contemporary work. I submit:

- Something from the Iron Druid books by Kevin Hearne
- Something from the Harry Dresden books
- Something from the later Discworld books
- Something from the Changed World books by S.M. Stirling
- This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman

(Note: This is a mix of things I like and things I don't; I'm partly interested in seeing if there are any differences.)
Jun. 22nd, 2016 11:08 pm (UTC)
The later Discworld books are going to pass with flying colors. There is very little difference in personality between, say, Lord Vetinari and Granny Weatherwax or Magrat and Verence. "Personal is not the same as important" may have been said by Captain Carrot, but it could just as easily come out of Tiffany Aching; she repeatedly expressed the same sentiment in different words.

Edited at 2016-06-22 11:10 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - ironed_orchid - Jun. 23rd, 2016 12:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 22nd, 2016 08:47 pm (UTC)
I think one question that's interesting about the Stranger transcription is whether to leave the body type descriptions as-is, as you did, or to try to figure out what the male equivalent would be. Because I think it would be possible to come up with a diversity of mainstream female gaze taste circa 1961 (publication year of Stranger), but "pleasantly plump to deliciously slender" is not it. And yet why isn't it? There certainly are women who enjoy looking at men in both of those categories. So leaving it as-is makes one point. Figuring out what the ends of mainstream female gaze bell curve description in 1961 would have looked like would have made another.

And the fact that it would take figuring out, that we don't immediately have it at our fingertips makes another.
Jun. 23rd, 2016 02:13 am (UTC)
I really appreciate your comments, here. I hadn't considered how much of a product of its times those descriptions might be. And your last comment is definitely food for further consideration.
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Jun. 28th, 2016 04:20 am (UTC) - Expand
Jun. 23rd, 2016 03:52 am (UTC)
I was also struck immediately by how much crap an older woman, even today, would get for have three young attractive personal assistants who lived with her...
Jun. 23rd, 2016 08:25 pm (UTC)
While a guy doing it gets a reality show.
Jun. 23rd, 2016 03:59 am (UTC)
A telling illustration!
Jun. 24th, 2016 04:15 am (UTC)
The Alamogordo local theater troop put on a production of The Rocky Horror Show. I've always wanted to see that gender-swapped, I'm not sure why.
Jun. 28th, 2016 04:22 am (UTC)
That would be interesting. I think it's a third entry for my fantasy theater season which also includes "The Story of Ruth" set in the antebellum South and a play-it-straight version of "The Taming of the Shrew".
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Jim C. Hines


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