Sunday, 24 January 2010

I was reading up about Chinese intellectuals in popular culture, such as Confucius and Zhuge Liang, when I chanced upon a pictoral depiction of what Zhuge Liang would look like if he was female:

My search digressed, and before long the rest of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms cast came up on the internet. From one particular artist, here are the characters popularized by Red Cliff as ladies:
Zhuge Liang

Liu Bei
Guan Yu
Zhang Fei
Zhou Yu
Cao Cao
Sun Quan

Lu Bu
Sima Yi
What is fascinating about this is that for many male characters that can be positively popularized, there appears to be the desire to portray those characters as a female as well. The thing about this 'positive popularity' is that what makes the male character special is often something alpha - good looks, intelligence, class, power and charisma. Moving away from anime, we have Marvel and DC superheroes with their gender opposites - Supergirl, Batgirl and Spidergirl. Even more recently, we've crossed the species divide with the Chippettes. Even if these portrayals don't make it to the mass media, a scan over the internet will uncover artists who have attempted to find out if there is a viable alternative gender for various male heroes.
What makes it even more interesting is that the reverse hardly holds up - it appears like most people aren't interested to know if a female character can be portrayed as male. Would there be a market for a male Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
Well maybe it's just that most of these artists happen to be men and we know what the male mind is capable of when idle. And maybe people find it attractive when a female can hold her own. But that latter consideration runs the risk of being somewhat counterintuitively chauvinistic.

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