Gender Bending

The title Odysseus, She is just my clever way of helping you to remember that in this case, Odysseus is a woman.

I have written other stories whereby people have been surprised to find that the narrator is a woman, or that even the protagonist is a woman. When I received responses expressing this confusion, at first I was also confused. Why should it astonish people if the narrator is female? Why does one character and not another strike them as being of an unexpected gender? After some observation I noticed that people, both females and males, usually expect an authoritative voice to be male. Therefore, a narrator is likely to be male within a reader's imagination, whether or not the author is male.

The character confusion was more problematic. I suspect that a character who is strong and active is expected to be male. Other modern writers, including myself, may be changing this whereby both male and female characters are portrayed at times as active, and both male and female characters are portrayed at times as passive. However, students are often expected to read a certain canon of literature in school, and that canon has traditionally portrayed the male/active and female/passive dynamic thus creating certain expectations in many readers.

I have to admit that I spent much of my childhood reading books and mentally converting the male protagonists into female ones, specifically me. I was Charlene Holmes, Connie the Barbarian, and Becky Rogers. I did not feel constrained to identify only with those characters of the "correct" gender. Odysseus, She has been a real pleasure because I am getting the chance to present to others the imaginative play that was for me reading, a play that was more interactive than for those who more generally accept a story as it is. I would be pleased if someday I hear of a few men who, whithout necessarily having to be homosexual, still find themselves identifying with the female protagonist.

Copyright © 1999 Katherine Phelps