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gender-flipped "twilight"

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Mike Jung

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So what you have now is a dominant female vampire and a somewhat submissive boy who is in love with her. It turns nothing on its head. 

Oh, I disagree. The criticism I'm talking about isn't just about disliking certain qualities in a vacuum, entirely separated from the character who possesses them - the criticism I'm referencing exists specifically and explicitly within the context of how teenage girls are depicted in YA. Maybe there was criticism that expressed frustration with seeing those qualities depicted in any and all characters of any and all gender identities, but that's not what I'm talking about.
#31 - October 08, 2015, 06:35 AM

I'm fascinated by this because the criticism of the TWILIGHT books that's caught my attention most strongly is rooted in feminist ideals - Bella's passive, she's complicit, she's subservient, she's an exemplar of destructive tropes about girls and women, she's a weak character who flies in the face of efforts to create female characters who are fully dimensional and real, she surrenders agency in a way that patriarchal forces want girls and women to surrender, etc. - and that by flipping the gender of the characters, Meyer's taking that perception of the female character and inverting it. I don't see that as a minor detail; it feels HUGE to me.

This is exactly why I just might read it. It's exactly BECAUSE I had many of the above-mentioned issues with Bella as a character/TWILIGHT as a story that I would like to see what changing the genders did to the story. I actually think this was a really brave experiment on the part of the author.
#32 - October 08, 2015, 10:55 AM
« Last Edit: October 08, 2015, 10:57 AM by HDWestlund »

Behold -- you can read the first two chapters FOR FREE if you click onto the "LOOK INSIDE" function (on the book's icon) on Amazon. Knock yourselves out.

http://www.amazon.com/Twilight-Tenth-Anniversary-Death-Edition-ebook/dp/B0112T516K

My assessment -- he sounds like a girl. But that's just me, and I'm sort of mean. So there. Happy reading.  :witch
#33 - October 08, 2015, 02:24 PM
OPEN COURT, Knopf

Mike Jung

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My assessment -- he sounds like a girl. But that's just me, and I'm sort of mean. So there. Happy reading.  :witch

Why is that mean? Sounding like a girl isn't a negative thing, is it? Girls are awesome. :)
#34 - October 08, 2015, 02:54 PM

Why is that mean? Sounding like a girl isn't a negative thing, is it? Girls are awesome. :)

You're giving me a headache.

I said I am sort of mean. Not that sounding like a girl is a negative thing. I am a girl. Why wouldn't I think being a girl is awesome?????????

I think Beaufort, despite being given a male name, still sounds like a girl. With a boy's name. You cannot slap a boys name onto a girl character and call it a day, and viola, instant gender reversal. Meaning, I think SM's "experiment" failed. But then again, I am sort of mean, so maybe others who are super duper nice think it's all grand.

Did you go read the excerpt that I just posted, or are you just going to argue? <--- this is also me being mean, in case you didn't know.

Geez, Mike!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   :slaphead
#35 - October 08, 2015, 03:21 PM
OPEN COURT, Knopf

Mike Jung

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You convinced me, I went and read up until the moment Beaufort first sees Edith, just to get a taste of the characters. So when you say you think SM's experiment failed, that's interesting to me, because I've been thinking so much about gender identity and gender fluidity in recent months, with a lot of deconstruction of things that automatically code as "male" or "female" in our society at large. I've been really curious to see whether the same kind of criticisms that were applied to Bella will be applied to Beau, and this is an example to the contrary. Your criticism of Beau isn't that he's passive, lacking agency, annoying, etc. - it's that he's an unrealistic boy! That's fascinating! Honestly, it is, if only because it's such a different perspective from mine. I didn't think he was unrealistic, personally - at least in these few pages, he reminded me of myself in a few ways - but of course I haven't read the whole book, and I imagine the rubber will truly meet the road when the actual relationship starts. That's the real source of all the criticism I've referenced here.
#36 - October 08, 2015, 03:44 PM

You convinced me, I went and read up until the moment Beaufort first sees Edith, just to get a taste of the characters. So when you say you think SM's experiment failed, that's interesting to me, because I've been thinking so much about gender identity and gender fluidity in recent months, with a lot of deconstruction of things that automatically code as "male" or "female" in our society at large.

Here -- and really, I only did read the free excerpt -- it seems that it is very much all the same wording and thoughts as Bella, that the names were changed and pronouns and not much else. You said you never read the original, but to you, this sounds like a boy. That's fine. Perhaps it doesn't sound like a boy to me, because I DID read all the originals and so I've got Bella stamped on my brain, and so to me it sounds girlie. That could be too.

Anyway... maybe if I read the entire book that feeling would shoo away and he would just be him. For right now, in the excerpt, it feels like just a boys name was plastered into the text.

I wonder, for others that haven't read the books -- if they think he sounds boy-ish? Or for others that read the originals -- does he still sound like a girl? Is it too hard to let the "Bella" of the situation go? Is that why I'm thinking that?
#37 - October 08, 2015, 04:13 PM
« Last Edit: October 08, 2015, 04:18 PM by CC »
OPEN COURT, Knopf

I haven't read the book or even the free chapters…but…we have a lot of discussions about how to write diverse characters.  We are-- in part --shaped by the way the world reacts to us.

Which is why if a writer takes a white character and simply changes their name in order to have a more diverse cast of characters in their book it REALLY doesn't work.

Why would simply changing the name of a character from female to male make that character male?

eab

#38 - October 08, 2015, 04:21 PM

Mike Jung

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I wonder, for others that haven't read the books -- if they think he sounds boy-ish? Or for others that read the originals -- does he still sound like a girl? Is it too hard to let the "Bella" of the situation go? Is that why I'm thinking that?

Seems entirely possible (and understandable). I have zero percent of Bella imprinted on my brain, so that's not a factor for me.
#39 - October 08, 2015, 04:22 PM

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Hm...interesting. It's been years (since Twilight first came out) since I've read Bella's voice.

To me, Beau sounded more authentically male after the first chapter (which was a little over the top, for my taste). However, he doesn't seem as bitter and angsty as Bella -- more resigned. Honestly, Bella irritated me so much, that even just having a different gender already helped my own openness to the book. Of course, I'm not sure how I'll like Edythe (who seems crazy witchy right now).
#40 - October 08, 2015, 04:35 PM
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Mike Jung

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Why would simply changing the name of a character from female to male make that character male?

That's a good question, isn't it? There are certainly vast differences in the way the world treats boys and girls, including the fact that we still insist on gender as a hard-edged "this or that" binary, instead of the more fluid continuum that I'm learning it truly is. Is it farcical to think that flipping the gender of the characters is a legitimate thing to do?

Then again, and approaching it from another angle, what is it about (for example) Beaufort that's unrealistic specifically in terms of gender? What does he do or say that's absolutely not plausible as something a boy would do or say? And what is the standard by which that plausibility is defined? If the idea is that there are certain patterns of speech and behavior that are exclusive to boys and others that are exclusive to girls, well...I would not be on board with that.

And will the Edith character be evaluated by that same standard? Will she be declared unrealistic as a girl because she possesses the same characteristics as the erstwhile Edward Cullen, characteristics that are somehow perceived as exclusively male? Or will something different and possibly more disturbing happen, in which she's criticized not just in terms of gender rigidity, but in terms of quality of character?

Fascinating stuff to ponder.
#41 - October 08, 2015, 04:44 PM

Just a gentle reminder, since this is a book that has engendered a lot of passion--both in fans and critics alike... Please be sure to keep your discussion about the book rather than the author. We've so far managed to skate on the book side of the line, but I want to remind all future responders of our board rule. It's very easy to turn valid criticism (in the literary sense) into "you suck!", and I, for one, want to encourage authors to listen to valid criticism! I am also hoping that we, as a wider community, can begin to foster an environment where valid feedback on an author's work allows for that author to try to do better in the future rather than always be considered "bad" by the people who found their work offensive.

Anyway, I love the questions that Mike, particularly, is putting out there. Gender experience is a particular fascination of mine. I'll be coming back to read the excerpts and respond to all the great comments as soon as my toddler is in bed tonight. ::-)

#42 - October 08, 2015, 04:57 PM

I think writing character goes much deeper than 'characteristics'.

A male or a female can be brave, strong, heroic, fearful, timid…there is not one characteristic that is ever gender specific. I draw no hard lines between characters on gender grounds. People are people.

However,in well developed characters the forming of the character matters -- all of those things that go into what has made them who they are. A timid male raised by a single mom will have had different experiences from those of a timid girl raised by a single mom. He would be treated differently at school by teachers, as well as peers. Different issues to overcome.

Characters are like kinetic sculptures: if you shift one thing, the whole structure shifts... or collapses.
#43 - October 08, 2015, 05:06 PM

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However,in well developed characters the forming of the character matters -- all of those things that go into what has made them who they are. A timid male raised by a single mom will have had different experiences from those of a timid girl raised by a single mom. He would be treated differently at school by teachers, as well as peers. Different issues to overcome.

Characters are like kinetic sculptures: if you shift one thing, the whole structure shifts... or collapses.

I agree. For me, the first chapter was too much like simply changing the name 'Bella' to the name 'Beau.' The voice sounded exactly the same to me...until chapter two, when I began to feel some of possible differences in their characters come forth. But it's hard to tell with just two chapters, and I will admit that my interest is piqued enough that I will probably seek it out at some point and look deeper.
#44 - October 08, 2015, 06:05 PM
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I found it very hard to read the excerpts without the filter of looking for differences. Does that make sense? It's been eons since I read the books, and can't even really remember plot details, particularly at the beginning, but still, I was searching for them. I don't know when, as a reader, I became annoyed with Bella's character, but I'm sure it wasn't in the first two chapters. (I don't have that kind of patience.) Did Beau ring true? Kind of? Again, it was hard to read objectively.

One thing I did find interesting, which I wasn't expecting, was that *other* characters had gender-flipped. (And feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!) Wasn't Dr. Cullen male? But now he's female? Wasn't sexy werewolf's parent a dad, now it's a mom?  :eh2

To me, these things should also influence a character, to whatever degree, and just gender-swapping isn't enough. I think this relates to EAB's post. So, now, it's not just Bella/Edward swap, but the entire development of characters. I have NO idea how this will be developed and/or addressed. I mean, at the very base level, a boy might have a very different experience being "in charge" in a single-mom household than a daughter would -- and that boy might have a very different experience suddenly thrust into a new relationship with a father.

How will these differences affect the writing, the characters, the plot structure? I don't know.

But I am more curious to find out.
#45 - October 08, 2015, 06:33 PM

Okay, so I finally read what was available in the preview. ::-)

I'm still interested in reading more. I actually find Beau a more interesting character than Bella--assigning him a lot of her traits makes him an interesting boy rather than a somewhat stereotypical girl. (Although I have a hard time remembering what I thought of Bella in the first book; I know I liked her less as the series went on and she started falling apart and making bad decisions because of her feelings for Edward.) There were lines here and there where I thought "this is a woman, writing from a boy's perspective", but... I also wonder if even some of those thoughts are ones that boys in real life have, but are not "allowed" in fictional portrayals of boys. Maybe the things "real men" aren't allowed to confess to in daily life are also things that they aren't even allowed to confess to in fiction. And that makes me sad.

I'm not a man, but my best friend is male, and while I wouldn't say that he thinks like Beau, he does think a lot like me--hence our good friendship. We've always found more in common than different, even though our experiences definitely differ based on our differences in gender, height, and race. I think I do fall into the "we're more alike than different" camp of thinking about people. Our life experiences ARE different because of the world we live in, but any well-written character of either gender is someone that people of both genders feel commonality with.

Since she's only done this reversal with the first book, I doubt the gender switch will fix the things in the series that I had the biggest problem with--particularly the romanticization of sexual violence ("I just can't control myself because I love/want you so much"). And I would be VERY interested to see what a gender switch does to this dynamic.
#46 - October 09, 2015, 11:36 AM

So what you have now is a dominant female vampire and a somewhat submissive boy who is in love with her. It turns nothing on its head. If you didn't like those attributes before -- you won't like them now either. Because the "issues" that readers had (such as stalking...) with the series are still present, it's just that they've been transferred onto Beaufort.

But it does turn the issue on its head--  (Disclaimer:  Haven't read the books beyond just what mainstream people know about the marketing/movies and a few "sparkling" and "baseball bat" jokes)
Bella was willing to give up everything because Edward was so dreamy and sensitive and came from such a complex troubled world (sigh  :cloud9 )...Guys simply don't do that.  It roots from the girls' fantasy of the mysterious stranger on the white horse, that will take them away from their ordinary lives if they leave everything behind.
A female author would have not the faintest background, but guys remain territorial about their sense of identity in a relationship, and even if they do aspire to sacrifice something in their lives to help their girl, they don't want to do it in a submissive way, but in a way that keeps at least an equal standing--Including the ability to remain the dependable senior figure, or an escape route to leave if the relationship goes too wrong.  (If the marketable catchphrase of the series was "Why are you so willing to give up your soul?", to female readers, it's the romantic idea of Sacrificing Everything, but a male reader would be more aware of his own loss in the tradeoff and likely take the stand of "Yeah, why?...DUHH! :ohbehave ")

And that's leaving aside the whole teen-gynophobic image most boys have that girls are strange inhuman creatures to begin with, and putting our hero up with some mysterious vampiric girl who takes over his life and destiny just comes off a bit sexist.
It's a nice experiment, but it does seem as if Meyers has run out of franchises after The Host already had its movie.
#47 - October 13, 2015, 12:37 PM
« Last Edit: October 13, 2015, 12:53 PM by EricJ »
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That's so surprising and unexpected! I didn't know anything about it...
#48 - October 28, 2015, 02:09 PM

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