Monday, October 21, 2013

Gender-Bending and Why It's Awesome



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If you follow me on Twitter, you might have heard me mention one or two or seven hundred times that Christina and I recently watched and loved a kdrama called Coffee Prince. (In fact, we'll be doing even more kdrama watch-alongs, if you're interested and you should be.) Coffee Prince is set in Seoul and is about a tomboyish girl who's often mistaken for a boy. She's the only breadwinner in her family, singlehandedly supporting her mother and younger sister, and they're in dire financial straights. Through SHENANIGANS, she becomes acquainted with a young, hot coffee heir... but he thinks she's a boy. And when he hires her at the all-male coffee shop he just opened, she makes the choice to go along with the charade. BUT THEN FEELINGS. FEELINGS FEELINGS. She falls in love with her hothothot boss... and by that point in the drama, if you are not shrieking and flailing and swooning, you may be broken.

The romantical TENSION, you guys. I CANNOT.

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LOOK AT HIS CHEST HEAVING HE IS OVERCOME BY FEELS

The reason I loved Coffee Prince so dang much is because it has one of my favorite tropes of all time: gender-bending. Blame Alanna and Tamora Pierce, blame Mulan, blame whoever you want to, if I see that a plot involves a girl disguised as a boy (or a boy disguised as a girl, that would be fun too!), I AM THERE WITH JAZZ HANDS. Heck, blame Shakespeare, if you want to! That guy loved nothing better than to stick a girl in some breeches and flip a few plots upside down (Twelfth Night, As You Like It). (It gets even more interesting when you remember that in Shakespeare's time, the actors were all men, so in reality they'd be men playing women playing men. Or like in the end of Shakespeare in Love, where it's a woman playing a man playing a woman! GENDER, WHO EVEN NEEDS IT?)



It often leads to men and women seeing each other as equals, as people, and as friends, which is always nice. In the case of The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce, Alanna earns a title and friendships she never would have been able to get if people hadn't mistaken her for a boy. It is really sad that so many fictional girls realize that in the unfair system they're forced into, male parts are required to gain respect.

 

But I love all the lessons that come from a girl bending (and literally binding) herself into the patriarchy like this. All the men whose respect she's earned realize that this girl is their equal regardless of gender and that girls can be just as awesome as boys. And the girl often realizes that being honest with who you are is the way to go and to be proud of whichever gender you truly identify as, and that you can be strong because of your gender. Or, more accurately, that gender has nothing to do with strength.

 
 




Also, it leads to very hilarious and interesting romantic situations, which, you know, kind of works for me. Take, for instance, Hana-Kimi, full name Hanazakari no Kimitachi e, an amazing manga that I'm buddy reading with Christina, Debby from Snuggly Oranges, and Steph from Cuddelbuggery. In it, a teenage girl pretends to be a guy to attend an all boy's boarding school, and oh, the HILARITY THAT ENSUES. How many times does this silly girl take showers and forget to lock the door? Or what about the time she passes out because her breast bindings are too tight? Or mistakenly crawls into her roommate's bed in the middle of the night? Or what about when poor Mulan goes to take a bath in the middle of the night and the whole regiment shows up? Awkward. Hilarious. Perfect.



Gender-bending often leads to another of my favorite tropes: hate to love. I mean, the two leads can't exactly insta-love all over the place when one of them doesn't even know the other's true gender. Then one or both can develop FEELINGS and it's CONFUSING and they BANTER and oh, my heart.

Gender-bending: it is the best. If I see it in a book, I will pick up that book. It's mostly present in high-fantasy, but there's an endless supply of it in Asian culture, in manga and kdrama and so many others. Heck, there's even a volume in Hana Kimi where the boys all dress up like girls! It's a thing! Why? Who knows! It's just fun! But I love it.

"I'm a man!" "Well, nobody's perfect."

Some examples of gender bending:

In film and television:
Mulan
She's the Man
Coffee Prince
Shakespeare in Love
Yentl
Victor/Victoria
Mrs. Doubtfire
Shakespeare in Love
Just One of the Guys
Tootsie
Some Like it Hot

In literature and manga:
The Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce
The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas
Hana-Kimi by Hisaya Nakajo
As You Like It
Twelfth Night
Eon by Alison Goodman
Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld



What about you? Do you love gender-bending? What are some of your favorite examples of it?

43 comments:

  1. A WHILE ago, I also watched an anime called Girl Got Game (I THINK it was this one...? Maybe?) PURELY for the gender bend. Because it is a favorite (and yes, I also blame Alanna and Mulan FO SHO).

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    1. Ahhh, I've heard of that one! *adds it to list*

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    2. I read this one. A lot in common with Hana Kimi, but she has a reason to genderbend AND it's shorter. I think I put it on our list.

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  2. I'm so into gender bending as well! Also Coffee Prince sounds awesome! I'm going to go see if it's in Netflix! And yeah, I need more of this in YA lit!

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    1. The whole season is on Hulu! I don't think it's on Netflix :-/

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    2. It's also on Drama Fever! And it's perfect!

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  3. This has to be one of my favorite tropes and I honestly wish it was more popular in American entertainment. I loved Coffee Prince and Hana Kimi. Ouran High School Host club was another good gender bend. Though when I write I tend to flip it. My boys are often mistaken for girls.

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    1. SERIOUSLY. It's so common in Asian entertainment ,and I love it so. Yes, I'll be reading Ouran High School Host Club soon!

      Love that. There aren't enough boys-disguised/mistaken-as girls. That's part of why I love the end of Mulan.

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  4. This is an AWESOME post!! And I am SO SO SO sorry that I somehow missed your entry!! I've added it to my blog now, and I'm trying to let everyone know to go back and check it out (if they already voted) so they can make sure it's the vote they still want. I LOVE what you did--thank you so much! And good luck! :-)

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    1. <3 Thank you so much. I can't WAIT to read your gender-bendy book!

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  5. Gender bending is amazing! It is one plot that I don't think I will ever get tired of. In fact, I want more! Alanna and She's the Man is great. Another book is Seven Daughters and Seven Sons. Tension!

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  6. Awesome post! I love gender benders for many of the same reasons as you. It's hilarious and entertaining to say the least. Besides in high fantasy, I've found that Asians are really into this plot, which is great because I can't get enough of it. I haven't watched Coffee House Prince but another I know of is, You're Beautiful. I think it features the same actress.

    -Mari @ The Sirenic Codex

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    1. You're Beautiful features Park Shin Hye (also in Heirs, Heartstrings, etc). Many people seems to get her and Yoon Eun Hye (Coffee Prince, Goong, etc.) mixed up.

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    2. Thanks, anon, I was just about to say it was Yoon Eun Hye in Coffee Prince, who I adore. I totally believed her as a boy, which isn't often the case in gender bendy TV and film. Also, I'll be watching Heartstrings very soon!

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    3. You'll also adore Park Shin Hye when you meet her. She and Yoon Eun Hye have similar awesomeness. I love both!

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  7. For me, it all depends on the story surrounding the gender-bender. They can get really weird when it comes to K-Dramas (Secret Garden, Coffee Prince, To the Beautiful You, You're Beautiful/You're So Handsome, Sungkyunkwan Scandal [Even in ancient times], etc...). At some point in the story, I start thinking "WHAT IF HE SEES THINGS HE'S NOT SUPPOSED TO SEE WHILE HE'S IN HER BODY AND VICE VERSA?" And of course, I love gender bender comedy classics like Mrs. Doubtfire.~

    It's even weirder, though, if you're reading gender bender manga...

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    1. I LOVE gender bender manga! Hana-Kimi is glorious :D

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  8. OH MY GOD!!!!

    Sorry I freaked out a little bit. Coffee Prince is basically THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED.

    1. Ummmm have you SEEN Gong Yoo? Also that man can act. I've seen him in a few other things (Finding Mr. Destiny is a really sweet movie if you haven't seen it. It's also got the lead actress from I'm a Cyborg But That's Ok which may have been one of the weirdest things I have ever watched)
    2. That beach scene....oh my god. I think that might be my favourite things have seen ever. It was so moving! And they picked a FANTASTIC soundtrack. Their song choice for that scene maaaay have impacted how much I am in love with it. God I want to rewatch this again!
    3. The rest of the cast is great (although I'm really confused by ...oh damn I've forgotten her name. The other guy's girl friend/ex girl friend/whatever she is. The way she spoke was so weird! Maybe it was the person who did the subtitles...but she said TERRIBLE things like she was joking! She spoke sincerely...but like she was being sarcastic? I date a Korean, so I can verify it's not a Korean thing)
    4. My very first K-drama, so it has a special, special place in my heart!

    But seriously. I love gender bender. Like everything you listed here I love. In fact I've been thinking all week about Hana Kimi and whether or not I have time to reread it haha. The live drama was fairly decent as well, as far as live drama adaptions go!

    Sorry. This is a really long fangirly response. But Coffee Prince (and well, gender bending. I too blame Tamora Pierce and Mulan as they happened at about the same time in my life haha) is probably the easiest way to make me freak out as I don't know anyone else who has seen it! (Except for my wonderful boyfriend who watched the whole thing with me when I wanted to rewatch it with someone haha. He's an exceptionally amazing guy that way)

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    1. COFFEE PRINCE IS MY FAVORITE THING EVER. YOU ARE ALWAYS ALLOWED TO RAVE ABOUT COFFEE PRINCE ON THIS BLOG. Lol.

      Gong Yoo is incredible. INCREDIBLE. So adorable and so, SO talented. And I dissolve to pieces just hiking about the beach scene. sdfghjhgfghjhghj. OMG, I hated Yoo Joo (the characters), so I hated everything she ever said. IT'S MY FIRST KDRAMA, TOO! And what a place to start!

      I'll definitely watch the jdrama (i think it's a jdrama) of Hana-Kimi when I finish, because I love it. YOUR BOYFRIEND SOUNDS AWESOME

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    2. I just started watching Big which stars Gong Yoo because all this talk of Coffee Prince made me need to watch a show with him in it. Between you and Christina I have gone into a downward spiral of watching K-dramas again. I WAS DOING SO WELL. I don't have time for these addicting shows!!

      And yeah he's pretty much the best...even if he did complain the first few episodes he definitely got super hooked on the show haha

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  9. OH OH OH! Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchet. It's entirely gender-bending, and it's hilarious and filled with awesome.

    But then, also everything you listed (and thank you).

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  10. AAA COFFEE PRINCE. I forced this on my friends back in high school and it became an obsession! I LOOVE THIS trop. There's this show up on Hulu called "K-pop extreme survival" which is a Gender bender+ Boy band mix. I haven't watched it yet, But I plan to this weekend!

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    1. I NEED to watch that! And yesss, good on you for forcing Coffee Prince on people. It was recently forced on me, and I'm a better person for it!

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  11. I ADOOOOOORE gender-bending! Especially the girl-masquerades-as-boy situation (I totally blame Mulan). LEVIATHAN did that so freaking well, I was a total mess of feels when secrets eventually started coming out. And I bought THE BURNING SKY *immediately* when I found out that Iolanthe masquerades as a boy at an all-boys school. So yeah, huge fan. I wish I could find an endless supply of books with that type of situation, because those books would be a staple in my reading selection.

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    1. I loved how it was pulled off in Leviathan! The last book made me a MESS of feels as all became revealed. And yes, the gender-bending is precisely why I picked up The Burning Sky at BEA. There definitely needs to be more books with this trope.

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  12. I'd have to say that my first introduction into gender-bending was Tamora Pierce, which will always hold a special place in my heart. I would have to agree with brohne and add that Ouran High School Host Club was FANTASTIC! Also, I'm happy to report that since reading this post, I have downloaded and watched the first three episodes of Coffee Prince. Thanks so much for the recommendation!!

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    1. Yep, Tamora Pierce was the gateway author for me and my love of gender-bending. Alanna is so very dear to my heart. YAY!!! I HOPE YOU LOVE COFFEE PRINCE! it's the most adorable thing ever!

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  13. I have always loved Mulan because of its gender bending!!!! Great post!

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  14. YAAAAAAAAAAY GENDER-BENDING! Yes to all!

    (Also, Cary Grant dresses as a woman in I Was A Male War-Bride and it was hilarious.)

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    1. My Netflix keeps telling me I should watch it and NOW I WILL LISTEN TO IT

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  15. I freaking love the trope of females dressing up as males. Definitely due to Alanna, and also other books like Avi's The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. Even without the greater gender messages that can come with gender-bending, it's just plain fun to read about females trying to portray themselves as males. Eon/Eona has cross-dressing, but it's much more than that - more like an exploration of ALL gender constructs and it's incredible. There's a bit of cross-dressing in Graceling too and LotR. And tons others I'm forgetting. :)

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  16. Obviously, the first movie that came in mind was Mulan which you mentioned. I actually was in a phase with historical for awhile where I bought a ton of gender benders. Notably Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen Woodiwiss which took place in the Civil War (the book was written in the 80's so there was some of that Alpha douche mentality there), but I think the gender bending made it more tolerable. I also like parodies of it. In Blackadder (I think it's during the episodes set in the Elizabethian period) there's a whole episode that sort of plays on it in a hilarious type of way. It's a trope I actually like quite a bit.

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  17. Wow, I haven't thought about those Tamora Pierce books in ages! You are completely right, these characters gain so much by pretending to be men. I don't know what that says about women in society, but the tension! The banter! The feelings! I'm with you.

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  18. Yessss, thank you so much for reminding me about Coffee Prince, I've been meaning to watch this for ages and keep forgetting what its called.

    I'm on ep3, and it's absolutely delightful, but probably not usurping Antique as my favorite K-Drama (even though Coffee Prince is like some wonderful mix of Antique and Ouran High School Host Club (swoon)). On that note, you should totally watch Antique if you're into K-dramas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antique_%28film%29 <-that one btw, there are a few other things with similar names), and Ouran if you're into awesome ladies who get mistaken for dude.

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    1. Seriously though, go watch Antique- it's like if they replaced the cute girl in Coffee Prince with a cute gay guy (played by the same actor as Waffle-Man, I think), and replaced all the coffee with cakes and pastries and other delicious things which I KNOW you're into.

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  19. l always love Mulan because of the gender-bending. She shows that woman are capable of so much more than man often think! :)

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  20. I FINALLY MADE IT TO THIS POST. I AM HERE.

    Oh look, I found a their/there mistake. Wah wah. "their in dire financial straights" Also, straits. *coughs* Although that could be an awesome pun about the fact that Han Kyul doesn't know what to do with his homoerotic feels.

    "GENDER, WHO EVEN NEEDS IT?" I approve. Fuck gender roles and norms and whatever. DO WHAT YOU WANT.

    Men and women as friends and equals? Surely, you jest.

    "Kay nevermind. Send daughters." OMG, I LOVE IT.

    We do love ridiculous romantic shenanigans. And, omg, in gender benders when the girl always ends up having to see more of dudes than she wants. SO FUNNY.

    GAH, you slay me with your SLIH gif. Some Like It Hot...and Genderbent.

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  21. HIIIIII I HAVE DESCOVERED THE LAND WHERE I AM NOT THE ODD ONE OUT! I looooove gender benders sooooo much, all of my fave stories have girls acting out as guys because they have to, most of which are in my manga life. Has anybody mentioned the manga 1/2 prince? (it's chinese and has nothing to do with harry potter btw) also, ageha 100%, and Hanazakari no Kimitachi e, to name my top faves. All mangas. (gender bendeeeeeeerssss...)

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  22. Randomly here while pic-spree'ing for Coffee Prince gifs, heee- it being my 5th(ish) "officially addicted, watching every ep in under a week" K-drama- You're Beautiful was my 1st & it's been a roller coaster ride ever since!

    To add to your list, for those looking for more media.. I have to rec "Motocrossed", a ~Disney Channel Original Movie~ lol from 2001, it's super cuute too with great hijinks re: hiding identity & chemistry re: an unexpected friend.. can be found still randomly airing on DC whenever they show their old DC movies, ie usually late nights but maybe set up an alert (in an online guide or via DVR, etc) or just occasionally check the listings & yeah ;D http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motocrossed

    And for the boy-as-a-girl, I still have not gotten over Rider Strong "Shawn Hunter" as "Veronica Wasboyski" in Boy Meets World, LOL I mean that ep, "Chick Like Me", was just one hilarious moment after another! I'd post links to pics to both media recs but my browser's been fussy as of late pfft but hope you enjoy the lulz anyways ^-^

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  23. Randomly here while pic-spree'ing for Coffee Prince gifs, heee- it being my 5th(ish) "officially addicted, watching every ep in under a week" K-drama- You're Beautiful was my 1st & it's been a roller coaster ride ever since!

    To add to your list, for those looking for more media.. I have to rec "Motocrossed", a ~Disney Channel Original Movie~ lol from 2001, it's super cuute too with great hijinks re: hiding identity & chemistry re: an unexpected friend.. can be found still randomly airing on DC whenever they show their old DC movies, ie usually late nights but maybe set up an alert (in an online guide or via DVR, etc) or just occasionally check the listings & yeah ;D http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motocrossed

    And for the boy-as-a-girl, I still have not gotten over Rider Strong "Shawn Hunter" as "Veronica Wasboyski" in Boy Meets World, LOL I mean that ep, "Chick Like Me", was just one hilarious moment after another! I'd post links to pics to both media recs but my browser's been fussy as of late pfft but hope you enjoy the lulz anyways ^-^

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