Chick Lit Remixed: The Simple Brilliance of Gender-Flipping

What if "chick lit" was marketed to men? Or if articles about teen sex focused on boys instead of girls? A wide range of websites are asking those questions in creative ways, with funny (and meaningful) results.
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It's hard not to be tickled by the new "gender flipping" meme making the rounds of late, which gently pokes fun at the media's penchant for absurd hyper-feminine and hyper-masculine imagery and stereotypes. Basically, the meme "flips" the gender of ads/book covers/movies posters/etc., turning female images into male ones and vice-versa, thus rendering them absurd.

The broad meme, which works on everything from video games to music to the very English language, is a simple, attention-getting, and hilarious way of raising awareness of gender expectations.

Advertising flips are the easiest, since women's semi-nude bodies have long been used to sell everything from toothpaste to monster trucks. In ad gender flips, we get a lot of faux ads of semi-nude men in goofy and improbable positions: buff models crawling pants-less on countertops, celebrity males in topless come-hither poses, and serious cases of duck face, "pin-up boys" wagging their butts at the camera.

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It all makes you wonder why so little has changed on Madison Avenue since the 1960s.

Comic books and video games have long been guilty of promoting hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine stereotypes, making them a particularly juicy source of genderflips as well. Here we get "Lawrence Croft," raiding tombs in little more than a pair of bike shorts, and the nerd-tastic The Hawkeye Initiative, which takes sexily posed female comic characters and replaces them with Hawkeye doing the same.

 

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These projects are important because they help make space for women in historically male realms, and help young men see beyond the stereotype of mega-muscled, gun-toting masculinity.

But my personal favorite example of gender flipping is the "coverflip," wherein "guy" books are given the "women's fiction" treatment, with pastel colors and misty photos of pensive-looking girls, and girly books get bro-ed up with graphic black-and-white. Inspired by YA fiction writer Maureen Johnson, who says she regularly gets emails from male readers complaining they're embarrassed to read her pink-covered books in public, coverflipping now has its own Tumblr. Highlights: John le Carré's Cold War spy classic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy done up in pink and baby blue with four model-like men lounging provocatively on the jacket, Freedom by "Jane Franzen" featuring a manic pixie dream girl raising her arms to the wind, Titanic-style.

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Recently, a bunch of male sci-fi authors, acknowledging the genre's particularly egregious gender imagery, posed nude on a fake book cover for charity.

These coverflips are especially potent because readers are often less-than-consciously aware of the gendered nature of book covers. But, consciously or not, men will shy away from covers that say "women's fiction," whether they shriek it in hot pink or whisper it with vintage fonts and arty photos of tenderly cupped hands.

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And, perhaps, if more men read "women's fiction" it would cease to be "women's fiction" at all, and simply become what male-written novels have long been called: "fiction."

Another gut-busting--and deeply important--gender flip can be found on the new Tumblr, Flip the News. Here, stories from mainstream news outlets get their pronouns flipped. Suddenly, men are obsessed with their fertility and profiles of male leaders begin with assessments of their shoe collections. There have already been plenty of serious criticisms mounted against the news media's vexing habit of focusing on women's domestic abilities and womb status; these gender flips add to the critique in a playful, social media-friendly way.

Until this past weekend, many fans of Doctor Who were hoping for a more mainstream gender flip: a female Doctor. Unfortunately the announcement that (the great) Scottish actor Peter Capaldi will be taking the mantle killed that particular hope. But we've already gotten what essentially amount to big -screen gender flips: Angelina Jolie in Salt, originally meant to star Tom Cruise, or Katee Sackhoff's female Starbuck in the remake of Battlestar Galactica. The fact that nobody said boo about these things speaks to the progress that's been made since the days when women in action films and TV series were almost exclusively bikini-clad Angels or Bond girls.

Speaking of, there's always the hope of a female James Bond one day soon. Jane Bond? Jemma Bond? Jamie Bond? Jade Bond? Stay tuned.

Presented by

Emily Matchar is the author of the forthcoming book Homeward Bound: The New Cult of Domesticity.

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