Animation: Bending Race and Gender

[Content Note: Binary-Gender Paradigms]

Gender is not binary and there are more than two genders. And this is the usual starting-point problem when we talk about "gender-bending" established characters because while it's fantastic to take an established role and play around with it, it's very important to make sure that we all understand that gender isn't a coin-toss.

Having said that, I've been spending some time this weekend looking at gender-bending and race-bending fan art of established animated characters and musing on what these deviations from the established canon do to the narratives--as well as what it says about our social constructs of male-gaze and female-gaze.

* A collection of gender-bent characters by Sakimi Chan, including Princess Mononoke and what I think is Howl's Moving Castle. I'm particularly fond of Hades and how she kept her sharp teeth.

* A collection of gender-bent characters by Maby Chan, including Hiccup from How To Train Your Dragon and Phoebus from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

* A collection of costume-swapped characters by Haruki Godo, and I can't even pick out a favorite--it's amazing to see all the princesses wearing clothes that cover them, are practical for various professions, and aren't interchangeable pretty dresses; these clothes actually confer character by suggesting timeline, occupation, personal preference in ways that, say, the Shiny Blue Cinderella Dress and the Shiny Pink Ariel Dress simply do not.

* An amazing tumblr of gender-bent and race-bent characters by TT Bret. My favorite thing about these versions is how subtle many of them are; girl!Wendy and girl!Alice don't look significantly different from the "boy" versions of the characters, nor should they need to. Since gender isn't a function of physical appearance. Here's a compilation of the head-shots.

* A scene from gender-bent Frozen. Also more here. And a race-bent Elsa here.

* A scene from gender-bent The Little Mermaid. And another here.

* A scene from gender-bent Road to El Dorado.

And then there's this: boy!Jasmine in the iconic "seduction scene" from Aladdin. And in some ways this is my favorite of the bunch not because I particularly like it, but because I think it's such a perfect illustration of male-gaze in movies. That scene with Jasmine in this pose is hardly a blip on the radar for "pretty girls in sexually submissive poses in movies", but then you keep the same post and swap out the genders and--for a lot of viewers--there's going to be the sudden realization of how sexual that scene is.

And yet for many of us, we don't see the sexualized context until it's not a girl/woman being sexualized anymore, precisely because girls and women are sexualized by default in much of our media. Just like it sometimes takes a costume swap to let us see that the Girls Wear Pretty Things but the Boys Wear Things Which Indicate Actual Personality And/Or Occupation.


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