[00:00:00] Section: Teaser
[00:00:00] Karrie and Jonathon: This a story I'd never seen. This is a man fighting against the matriarchy. A man being told you're not allowed to be brave and you're not allowed to be be strong like, the women.
[00:00:09] We sort of envisioned this book as part book, part activism, and part like, art object. We see this book as like it's fallen through some kind of wormhole from some other universe where women are in charge and have always been, and create an object like that. You know, it's not to be laughed at. It's not like a jokey thing. It's a serious book, which looks at narrative, language and archetypes which have permeated our culture for centuries.
[00:00:38] Section: Podcast introduction
[00:00:39] Overdub: Hello, welcome to The Story of Woman, the podcast exploring what a man-made world looks like when we see it through her eyes. Woman's perspective is missing from our understanding of the world. This podcast is on a mission to change that. I’m your host, Anna Stoecklein and each episode I'll be speaking with an author about the implications of her absence - how we got here, what still needs to be changed, and how telling her story will improve everyone's next chapter.
[00:01:12] Section: Episode level introduction
[00:01:13] Anna: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Story of Woman.
[00:01:18] We are gonna start with a little thought exercise today. Imagine a world with princesses and shining armor, with kings longing for a child, where young men are rewarded for seeing past the flaws of beastly princesses. I'm talking about Handsome in the Beast, Jacqueline and the Beanstock, Gretel and Hansel.
[00:01:44] Now imagine a world where seductive male sirens lure brave heroins to their death, where Icara and her mother fly too close to the sun, where beautiful men are forced to wed underworld queens. I'm talking about Persea and the Medus' head, Atalantus the Male Huntress, and The Fall of Icara.
[00:02:10] For thousands of years, fairy tales and Greek myths have been told and retold. They form the basis of the stories and archetypes we still see in our films and our books and our media today, the brave, often brutal superhero men and the helpless maidens, wicked witches, and evil stepmothers.
[00:02:33] For literally thousands of years these same kinds of. With these same kinds of characters have been told. That is, of course, until our guests today decided to change that. Carrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett are the authors and illustrators of two honestly revolutionary books, Gender Swapped Fairy Tales, and Gender Swapped Greek Myths.
[00:03:01] And your first thought maybe, well, we have stories like this already. Look at Brave, Moana, I don't know, Frozen maybe. But what Karrie and Jonathan did is different. Simple, but different. They swapped the genders of everyone in these stories. Kings became Queens, heroes became heroines, she bears became he bears and so on. And what that did is create entire characters and worlds that we have never seen before.
[00:03:36] So while modern takes on these stories might position girls and women as the fearless protagonist, those stories still take place within patriarchal societies. The women and girls are still pushing back against norms just to be brave and strong. And the men continue to lack basic human characteristics like empathy or the desire to be a father.
[00:04:03] So Karrie and Jonathan's books changed the entire world these characters are living in, which creates new storylines and characters altogether. And it makes the power imbalances in these stories impossible to ignore.
[00:04:18] I just wanna read a paragraph from the Greek Myths book real quick to give you a sense of what I mean, because as this is so unheard of, I think it's really hard to understand until you read it for yourself. So this is from the story of Persea and the Medus' head, otherwise known as Perseus and the Medusa's head:
[00:04:40] " There was a queen of Argos who had but one child, and that child was a boy. If she had had a daughter, she would've trained her up to be a brave woman and a great queen. But she did not know what to do with his fair-haired son. When she saw him growing up to be tall and slender and wise. She wondered if after all, she would have to die sometime and leave her lands and her gold and her queendom to him."
[00:05:09] And so the story goes on like this for the rest. And as you'll have just noticed and you'll hear us discuss throughout our conversation, these stories don't create some kind of gender equal utopia. But what they do, in addition to telling stories that have never been told, is they make women the default gender, which brings to light just how unequal these narratives and, in turn our world, really are.
[00:05:39] So these are stories for girls, boys, non-binary and trans people and adults. They shine a light on the gender binaries in our language, the roles we adopt within society, and the stories that we've been telling our children for generations.
[00:05:56] Carrie Fransman is a comic creator. She tells visual stories in books, newspapers, animations, sculptures, on iPads, and in virtual reality. Her comic strips and graphic stories have been published in The Guardian, the Times Timeout, the Telegraph, the New Statesmen, the Young Vic, and many, many more.
[00:06:17] Jonathan Plackett is a creative technologist, coder, game designer, and author with 15 years of experience working with advertising agencies. And fun fact, he also created the first automatic face swap app on the iPhone, which reached number one in the app stores. And he has created some viral websites, which were featured on BBC News, the Wall Street Journal, and more.
[00:06:41] In our conversation today, we talk about how this idea came about, the kinds of characters and worlds these stories create, why these stories are so important for people of all genders, and perhaps even more importantly for boys and men, given the increase in narratives around powerful women, but the continued lack of narratives around nurturing men or doting fathers.
[00:07:05] And as you will hear throughout, there is a huge need for more stories like this in literature, film, and every type of media. So if you're a creator or you want to become one, I hope you come away with some fresh ideas. I know I certainly did.
[00:07:22] And if you enjoyed this episode, please consider taking a minute out of your day to rate and review on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcast. It really helps people find the podcast and I would so appreciate your help there. And don't forget to sign up to the Story of Woman Newsletter to stay up to date with all things women, and so you never miss an episode.
[00:07:44] But for now, please enjoy this binary busting conversation with Carrie and Jonathan.
[00:07:50] Section: Episode interview
[00:07:51] Anna: Hi, Carrie and Jonathan, welcome. Thank you so much for being here today.
[00:07:56] Karrie and Jonathon: Thanks so much for reaching out and thanks for waiting for me to grow a baby before, before chatting.
[00:08:02] Anna: Yeah, congratulations. You've got a couple little ones now. And how old is your youngest?
[00:08:09] Karrie and Jonathon: She literally one on Thursday.
[00:08:12] Anna: Ooh,
[00:08:13] Karrie and Jonathon: And then we've got an almost five year old who's five on Saturday.
[00:08:17] Anna: Ah,
[00:08:17] Karrie and Jonathon: We've timed them very, very well.
[00:08:19] Anna: Yeah.
[00:08:20] Karrie and Jonathon: Joint birthdays forever,
[00:08:22] Anna: That is very efficient. I think. Well, I'm super excited to speak with you guys today about your books, Gender Swapped Fairy Tales, and Gender Swapped Greek Myths, and these books are long overdue, so I'm super happy that you put them out into the world and they're absolutely beautiful and quite revolutionary, I would say. So I just wanted to start by having you tell us a bit about them. What exactly are these gender swapped books about and how did you come up with the idea?
[00:08:57] Karrie and Jonathon: Well first thanks very much for saying all those very nice things about them. So I guess the way they came about was, so originally the idea came from when, when I was little my dad used to tell me and my sister bedtime stories and used to gender swap some of the characters in the books.
[00:09:13] And, now sort of fast forward. God, what, like 35 years or something? A lot of time, now we're parents and we started thinking about the sort of messages she was receiving through, you know, the TV and books and everything we were watching and that idea kind of came back to us.
[00:09:29] And there, there was another thing, this is sort of like tangential reason. There was a, um, some newspaper headlines that kind of triggered this idea of creating a gender swap algorithm. There was, there were two female prime ministers here in the UK and Scotland, and they met for the first time and all the newspaper articles were about their legs and their shoes.
[00:09:49] And I remember just thinking that that was insane. And imagine if that had been, Barack Obama would've been at the time meeting our Prime Minister, David Cameron, and all the, all the newspaper articles were about the brogues they're wearing, or you know, whether they'd shave their legs or something like that.
[00:10:02] You'd have been like, the world's gone mad. Right. But this was just normal kind of, you know, we was just, Oh, that's just a newspaper headline. Fine. So that kind of got me thinking about this idea of making agenda swap algorithm, something that you could put any text into and it would swap you know, all the he's to she's, all the what turned out kings to queens, that kind of thing. But I was originally gonna do with the news.
[00:10:22] I, I showed this algorithm to carry and she had the idea of applying it to fairy tales. So we'd find these public domain fairy tales and put those into it, it would swap all the kings to queens, all the princess to princesses and swap the whole world and give us these entirely new stories, but identical otherwise to the original stories. But with all the genders swapped.
[00:10:41] It's quite interesting because the computer essentially is our author, it's non-bias system. It, you know, we put the word, then it swaps the language and we get to read these completely original stories based in this matriarchal society. And then the observation is very much down to the reader to, to see what they notice reading these stories, and it's marketed as both a, a book for adults and children.
[00:11:05] And I think it's quite an intellectual experience for the adult reading it to a child because you're constantly swapping it back and forth and thinking, Wait, why did that character make me feel uncomfortable? Or why that funny? Or, Wow, I didn't notice it that way round. And the child, they're getting introduced completely new characters who are actually missing. We've noticed some real gaps in these characters representation in current literature and films.
[00:11:33] Anna: Yeah, Huge gaps. Huge gaps. The stories and the characters were absolutely people and, and plots that we, we never see. And first of all, I just wanna say, Jonathan, your dad sounds like a real, groundbreaker in this area. That's amazing that he did that. I love that story.
[00:11:54] And I also love that that stemmed from that horrible, I do remember that, that news article and the conversation that's stemmed from that, I had no idea that's where this came from. And I also like the idea of applying your algorithm to the entire world.
[00:12:07] Karrie and Jonathon: Yeah, It's funny, I'm kinda hoping that like it's, you know, we sort of say like with the book, we're not trying to create this perfect world. That world is still kind of totally broken in, just in the opposite way. So I remember getting my, like, feminism goggles and then never being able to watch a film again without realizing it. I've ruined
[00:12:26] Anna: I, Yes.
[00:12:27] Karrie and Jonathon: And I, I'm hoping we can give some people some gender swapping goggles so the idea is you read the book and then you're thinking about this of thing. What would the world be like, gender swapped and you can go off and watch the news or watch, you know, read a history book, read a read anything modern fiction and think about it and think, Oh, what would that be like gender swapped and see if that reveals something strange about it that you didn't notice the right way around cuz we're just so used to it the right way around. There's a lot of strange stuff that it's not until you swap it, it allows you to see it.
[00:12:56] Anna: Love that idea. Gender swapped goggles. I wish that, that those existed. Um, and I'm gonna ask my next question a second, but I just wanna say, it sounds so small, right? To just swap the genders. It's just such a small thing. But these stories were so powerful that I honestly, I teared up reading some of them because it was so refreshing, to just see women as the default and to see them be strong and brave and making the decisions, saving the boys and men. I remember reading some, and the queens were calling on their work, women to come build their castles and. it was just, it's absolutely beautiful. So thank for your work.
[00:13:47] Karrie and Jonathon: One thing, that's really sweet of you, and I'm really glad that you know you had that response to it. I think one of the interesting things is when I read them, I often think, where are the men? I'm like, Come on, you introduced the number, character you've introduced, and it's a woman.
[00:14:02] And I actually think, like, I actually get a bit annoyed. I'm like, This is ridiculous. There's just so many women in this story. And then I remember, no, they're literally where are, you know, like in we just being man after man after man being introduced and this is what we get even in modern TV now, you know, you, you're asking, well, who is the woman who wasn't just a girlfriend or someone popping up a male character? When they actually have something that they want and a backstory. And often you can watch a whole, they have many, many TV theories which are just man after man after man. I mean, the Wire, which everyone loved, right? Or the Gruffalo, which again, incredibly important work. Very modern, written by a woman. The very first Gruffalo, there was five characters. None of them were female. I mean, it's crazy.
[00:14:52] Anna: That's such a good point though, that you notice it when it's swapped. Like, I mean,
[00:14:57] Karrie and Jonathon: And you feel irritated by the too many women scenario? I mean, and I'm a feminist and I was thinking a bit, a bit over the top with the women.
[00:15:05] Anna: The Yeah, yeah. But, but like you say, unless you have those feminist goggles on and you're really using them, you might not notice when it is all men. So, and that's really gonna be a theme I think throughout this conversation. And definitely throughout the book. Things just continue to jump out at you.
[00:15:24] Karrie and Jonathon: I think the reason it happens is cuz it's swapping absolutely everything. Like there are fairy tales that are rewritten, like so many fairy tales have been rewritten. And there's sort of quite feminist retellings like, Brave, like the picks Pixar movie. It's about the sort of princess who just wants to ride a horse and jump around, that kind of thing. But ultimately, she's still in this world, which doesn't want her to do that. So she's still fighting this world.
[00:15:46] And so, because that everything's swapped, they're swapped, but it's also totally fine that they're swapped and everyone's just like, Oh, you're brave. Cool. Oh, the men are just caring and nice to people. Oh, that's great. They're not, you know, often that if a male character takes on the female traits they get, like they piss taken out of them. It's sort of laughed at. Or this is just, oh, they're just loving and they're just a kind father. And everyone's fine about it.
[00:16:10] Shit we're not letting you ask any of your questions.
[00:16:12] Anna: No, that's ok. I mean, I,
[00:16:14] Karrie and Jonathon: I don't know how many of your question is answered?
[00:16:18] Anna: You've answered all the important ones. I just want you to keep telling us about everything that you see, because that's a great point that you just made, that in the revisiting of these, even if you have a strong female character, she's often sat within the context of a society that doesn't necessarily welcome that, and she has to push against that. And your whole stories are a whole different context. So it's not just those individual characters, but the whole context.
[00:16:48] Karrie and Jonathon: Yeah, well this is the thing which we see, like when I thought about what was gonna happen to these stories, instantly I thought, Okay, we're gonna have a princess going and saving a prince. And we have actually seen that this is quite a common trope with like, you know, the books which we get my daughter like the Worst princess and things like that.
[00:17:06] The princess is now wearing, you know, muddy trainer and using a sword and doesn't care about pretty dressed and ride the dragon. We see that in many books now. It's a completely accepted trope. You've got that in Brave. But I think the problem is we are not seeing the kindhearted sensitive passive princes when they're not mocked, they're laughed at. They can be rescued, they can be self-sacrificing, they can be paternal to children. These are traits which are unacceptable. So everyone's allowed to move over to the masculine traits in society. You know, you can be a woman being a CEO or having power or being strong, but only strong in a masculine sense. And what is left are the giant gap of everyone allowing to have feminine traits and to be celebrated for traditionally feminine traits.
[00:17:59] Anna: That's so true. And absolutely, yeah reflection of our real world because we value masculine traits and devalue feminine traits, generally speaking. Right? So it's a lot easier for women to be more stereotypically masculine to an extent. Obviously not pushing that too far, um, than it is for men. So that, that was actually, that can lead me to the next question cuz I did want to ask you if it felt more uncomfortable, positively portraying, you know, pretty and passive princes. I think as you put it in, in introduction of the book, pretty and passive princes, even that saying, you know, that doesn't come off the tongue easily.
[00:18:41] Karrie and Jonathon: Yeah. Yeah, I think, yeah, it was really creepy because I was drawing them and I was with the fairytale book particularly, I realized that all the men I was drawing were teenage boys. They were like 16, 14 sometimes, right when you mentioned the ages. And they were just like a little pretty boys. And I was just drawing pretty teenage boys all the time, and it felt really creepy. And then you realized, my God, like literally we're like, doing that for teenage girl, then that is equally creepy
[00:19:12] Anna: Yeah.
[00:19:14] Karrie and Jonathon: It's just all over Hollywood all the time.
[00:19:16] I know. Yeah. And the catwalk, right? Yeah. The girls on the catwalk age 13, 14. And yeah, good question. Do you see boys on the catwalk age 13, 14, like walking for Gucci are very much, very much doubt it
[00:19:29] But you know, like I think that that's, that's really interesting, isn't it? You start really looking at society and finding those gaps there. I think, with you, with the fatherhood thing, that was quite clear, wasn't it?
[00:19:40] Yeah, it's interesting. We were just at a book event the other day, and I could tell there were two sort of dads came over to the to the store and I, I sort of started talking to them about the fatherhood thing. I think they initially thought, Oh, you know, maybe this book isn't for me. And I just started talking to 'em about the sort of fatherhood angle in the book. There's a question we often ask like, can you think of any story, in history of fiction or unfiction, which is about a man desperately wanting to have a baby, but not like for an air. Not just cuz they want like a male heir to take over. and the only answer we've ever got was Pinocchio.
[00:20:13] There aren't any other story except how many men are there in real life. You know, like we had to do IVF for our first child. And sort of, once you start talking about that, you realize there's loads of people going through that who have loads of men desperately wanting to have children not represented in culture at all. Like ever.
[00:20:29] Even in modern culture. I mean, I find that so sad. In gender swap fairy tales, we've got three well it three might be four, might be four men, the story starts off with the man who desperately wants to be a father. It's just so strange again, like, we're all talking about strong woman.
[00:20:47] Anna: Mm-hmm.
[00:20:48] Karrie and Jonathon: Fighting and becoming CEOs. We're not talking about men being fathers. It's just just mad.
[00:20:52] Anna: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Absolutely. I mean just if not more important cuz Exactly as you say, there are no stories that fit in that realm. We have lots of stories about women, no stories like this about boys and that, that is crazy to think about that there's maybe one story that exists where a man wants a child that doesn't have to do an
[00:21:17] Karrie and Jonathon: Anyone else listening has any other ideas, we'd love to hear, cuz we haven't had any.
[00:21:20] Yeah, we've asked, asked hundreds of people, but we always ask and we'd love to, you know, I think the main thing is that they, they need to be the main protagonist and it needs to be their story. You get some stories about IVF where the women and the man are going through it together, but yeah, very few and just at the man's angle. I think that's so interesting. I think that's the thing about the gender stopping algorithm is because a lot of people, they swap the stories and then they really wanna rewrite them because lots of people are writers, then the temptation to write is huge. And there's amazing rewrites of, especially Greek myth, they're a lot of, I mean, well both genre, they have a huge amount of really amazing writers rewriting them, but they're still succumbing to biases.
[00:22:03] I mean, and you know, we are card carrying feminists here, but we're still succumbing to biases constantly. And I think the interesting thing about letting the computer swap it is regardless of your political outlook, regardless if you are a card carrying feminist or you've never thought about gender before, you're suddenly confronted with this world where you have to make the observation.
[00:22:27] We're not preaching to anybody. We're not trying to make them think anything. We're just doing this act with the computer and giving the results to the reader to read. I think that what's makes it really interesting, but it does make you realize that huge gaps in feminism in how we're talking about gender.
[00:22:46] And I mean, one thing which we notice at the moment is our book sits alongside a lot of feminist children books in the bookshop, and what you get a lot of, you'll see it everywhere is stories of women who have become very famous and successful for doing different jobs. You got Ada Lovelace or Oprah for Winfrey, Michelle Obama, or Coco Chanel or Frida Callo, you know, whatever that is. You've got successful women having gained success despite fighting against the patriarchal system, which is brilliant and mean. You need to hear about these people.
[00:23:23] But what you're not seeing is stories of men who were fathers and raised six children single-handedly and would never acknowledge, and never received a pride, and never became famous and never got any money, and they went to their grave having made a difference to those six children's lives. You don't hear stories about men who were carers, who worked in social work, you know, looked after the elderly, looked after the children, we're teachers. All we're hearing is the definition of masculine success, becoming rich, famous, recognized. And that isn't what, what, why are we accepting that version of society, of Success? This is what feminism for children looks like today. If you go into the, the children's bookshops. And what I'd love to see is, is that also swapped? You know, so that we are hearing stories about other versions of success and other attitudes to what children should be doing, to become good fit and to make the world.
[00:24:20] Anna: the big world. Absolutely. Well, it looks like you guys are gonna have your hands full then. You got a lot of things to be start swapping.
[00:24:27] Karrie and Jonathon: Yeah, better get busy. We might need to farm you that.
[00:24:32] Anna: Yeah, it's a great, great point though. And hopefully, you know the work that you're doing, we'll start having these conversations and spark ideas for other people who can help take this work on and start telling these other stories. But I wanna, I wanna pause for a minute and I wanna ask why you chose fairy tales and why Greek myths specifically. Obviously the idea kind of started with politics and news, so why did you end up landing on fairy tales and Greek myths?
[00:25:04] Karrie and Jonathon: You do this one you're good at the fairy tale one. You tell you spin a good yarn about the fairy tales.
[00:25:11] Okay. So with fairy tales, I think that these are really like important, which we read to our children, which we read ourselves. They're some of the first stories we ever hear. They're some of the best stories.
[00:25:25] They've stood the test of time, they've gone through oral traditions being told and retold and, you know, changed slightly with each telling. And actually Greek myths as well, you know, Greek myths sometimes predate the fairy tales. And they go back 4,000 years. So we're looking at texts which are very foundational to our society which give birth to archetypes, which we see today.
[00:25:49] We're still getting princess stories with Disney, which children still love. We're still getting stories of heroes like hyper masculine heroes and all the superheroes stories, which come from the Greek myth. We're still getting, you know, a lot of those tropes. And also these are stories which you can examine language in.
[00:26:09] They're slightly different target audiences. I think like the fairy tales are slightly younger, and the Greek myth are slightly more psychologically complex. Well, maybe that's not the right word. They're both quite psychologically complex.
[00:26:22] But they're amazing stories as well, we're not these stories, they're talking about power relation. They're talking about money. They're talking about fighting demons and monsters. They're really important stories to us as humans. But we're trying to think, well, why are these specific stories stood the test of time? Why do we still like to tell them? What are they teaching us? What are we teaching children through retelling them and why are they important to our current culture? So that's why we chose the Fairy Tales and Greek Myths.
[00:26:50] Anna: Yeah, Yeah. I mean, exactly as you say. I think they really form the basis of all of the stories that we continue to see today. And the point of these types of stories are really meant to teach lessons, right? Moral lessons that's not just about entertainment, but it's always also been about teaching a moral lesson, a lesson wrapped in a story.
[00:27:14] So really what we have are biased gender stereotypes wrapped in lessons of the stories as well. So I feel like that makes it also especially insidious and important that these are the types of stories that you're looking at. And I mean, they're, and they're over 4,000 years old, but you all are the first people to really do this type of work. Right? Does anything like this exist? You've mentioned brave and a few that kind of, you know, reimagine it a little bit, but is there anything else out there like this?
[00:27:47] Karrie and Jonathon: I couldn't, you know, you can never say there's nothing. I don't know, haven't searched endlessly, but I think we're the first to just try swapping it without rewriting it. I think that's the, that's the key difference.
[00:27:57] I mean we definitely, when we came up with the idea, we thought the same thing. We were like, surely somebody's done this. I, someone's done this. It's like So obvious, doesn't it? We googled the hell out of it and we couldn't find anything where they, we, we found rewrite. That's obviously, we've got a grand tradition of rewriting and retelling because these stories are even, you know, the Greek myth, even the ones which were first written 3000, 4,000 years ago, they're still come from oral tradition.
[00:28:24] They've still been retold in slightly different ways, and they're many variants. So I think that's quite nice to remember that we are just doing something which has been done throughout history with these stories. we, We said, like in our, our most recent book, they're not like relics in the museum, which are untouchable.
[00:28:39] But yeah, it's the nice thing, especially about the Greek ones. Yeah, I, I was saying the other day, I, it was kind of weird sitting there, you know, at a laptop rewriting these stories that have been around for like 4,000 years and now I'm kind of like, Is this okay? is this allowed? But yeah, like even the people we think of as having written them probably didn't write some of you, they, they were reinterpreting what they'd heard, or they might have been around for way longer than that.
[00:29:03] No one's even sure how long they went back before that. So yeah, it's this kind of retelling and each one being gradually adapted to different cultures. And as they moved around Greece, they were adapted to, you know, those cultures. So yeah, so I decided that it was okay that I was doing.
[00:29:19] Anna: More than, okay. It's necessary and it's about damn time. So do you have any favorite stories or maybe a few that kind of stood out to you most after the algorithm did its thing? I'm wondering, you know, you've painted the picture quite well of a few of the anecdotes and dynamics that exist. But any examples that you care to mention?
[00:29:47] Karrie and Jonathon: Well, I'll do one from, I'll tell you one from Fairytale, Then you can see one from Greek Myth.
[00:29:52] Yeah. Okay.
[00:29:53] So I think for the Fairytale, that was the first book which we swapped. And I think like one of the ones that really stood out for us both was Handsome In the Beast, which, when swapped became, first of all, the original version isn't quite like the Disney one. It's a bit different. Beauty originally is trapped in this kind of house, which by the beast and the palace, and it, every room seems to kinda grant her materialistic desires. But when we stopped the story, I mean, first of all, you're introduced to the mother, the matriarch of the family as the merchant. So instantly your brain thinks the merchant is gonna be a man. And then when you start hearing the she pronoun, that surprises you then. So the merchant goes off, she's going off on a journey and she said, Tell her children, can I bring you back anything? And all of her other, daughters and sons say, oh, can you bring us expensive gifts and we want jewelry and clothes. And then she says to Handsome, Do you want anything?
[00:30:53] And he's the youngest son and he says, Oh, don't worry about me, all I want is a rose. He sacrifices himself. He says, Don't worry, I don't, you know, just a rose. She goes and tries to get the rose from the Beast's garden. The beast says, I won't let you go unless you bring me one of your, your sons to marry.
[00:31:12] She goes back and she says, Ah, this Beast wants one of my sons to marry. And again, Handsome self sacrifices and says, don't worry, mom, I'll go. Don't worry about me. Off he goes, he trots to be held captive by this horrible beast and the beast. She is ugly, she is angry, she's charmless. Every night she forces him to eat with her, and every day she demands that he marries her and...
[00:31:38] And then when somehow for some reason he says no, she's really angry about it.
[00:31:42] Just totally charmless. Again, like how wonderful that the woman gets to be ugly and angry, but loved despite her flaws. I mean, that is just, again, you don't see that, you don't see a woman being ugly and angry and loved despite her flaws.
[00:31:59] You see plenty of tropes of the genius male like Johnny Cash or whoever, you know, the biopic when they're, they're terrible to their woman, but they're just misunderstood, tortured geniuses, and they've always got some poor wife who's just like at home rocking the baby. You know, we see this again and again in pretty much every film about any man who made it.
[00:32:20] So anyway, so this is flip now. So then the beast, eventually gets, she's not done anything to charm handsome whatsoever. I don't think she'd pulled any smooth move at any point in the story. Sorry to spoil it, but, eventually Handsome, he's allowed out for a little bit and he goes and sees his family, but then he has a dream that the Beast is not well, and he says, I'm not going to have my freedom anymore.
[00:32:42] I'm gonna rush to the Beast's side and make sure she's okay and look after her and nurture her. For the third time he self sacrificing and eventually falls in love with her, even though she'd done nothing charming whatsoever. She held them captive. She'd been ugly and angry and yeah, he loves her despite all of this. And I think it's such an interesting lesson in a man being, you know, self self-sacrificing, which I don't think we see.
[00:33:08] But also having to see past, uglyness to the beauty within, you know, that's a message that's often given, the women have to do, but in this case, it's the man having to see past the flaws and see the beauty within all this stuff.
[00:33:20] Yeah, it's so interesting. There's so much to go for that story. And you've got one for Greek myth.
[00:33:26] Yeah. So it's not the most obvious story. You know, if I just pick the stories that I like the most, initially it would be a different one. But, this was just a really interesting gender swap cause it was very unexpected. It was a story that we initially, well actually read the beginning and almost dismissed it because it was already a, what seemed like a sort of feminist story. it was originally called at Atlanta. So it was about a girl who's raised by bears and becomes this sort of fleet footed hunteress. So it immediately sort of seemed like, Oh, maybe this won't work very well. But when you swap it, it's actually perfect. It is so interesting.
[00:34:01] So it starts off with this little boy who is rejected by his parents for being a boy. They wanted a girl, you know, and they sort say if only, if only it was a girl she could be a queen, she could do this, we could teach her that, but oh, it's a boy. It's no good at all. So they decide to leave him on the mountain side to die. And, um, a , a a he bear comes along and starts to look after him.
[00:34:25] Anna: A he bear!
[00:34:27] Karrie and Jonathon: And looks after him and raises him. And he turns into this fleet footed huntress cuz this was the other thing with this one where it's like the male version was she was a hunter, so he's now a huntress and taking on the default female version. And she, um, sorry he, he now you know, it's so confusing trying to describe the stories like that. Um, he then is summoned at one point, there's a giant sow that's tearing up the landscape, ruining all the villages and killing all the women. So, the queen summons all the people from the land to come and try and kill it. And he goes along.
[00:35:03] But when he gets there, the queen and all the other fighting women, won't go and hunt with him. They say that if they were scene hunting with a man, there'd be a laughing stock and they, uh, say, maybe you don't want to go and hunt. Maybe you wanna go and just sort of play with your toys in the garden.
[00:35:18] So, you know, there's quite a lot more to that story that goes on. But you get the idea that this a story I'd never seen. This is a man fighting against the matriarchy. A man being told you're not allowed to be brave and you're not allowed to be strong like the women, I just never seen that world before which was sort of quite amusing for me. Enlightening.
[00:35:35] Jon talks about creating an empathy machine, you know, a way to just see the other side and to see what is it like to be told the stories from the other side. And I think that's what makes it really interesting.
[00:35:46] Yeah, I mean, I talk a lot about, I made the algorithm primarily for myself, you know, as a sort of white man in the world. It's kind of interesting to try and it's, it's hard. It's empathy's difficult, isn't it? You know? That's why. So rather than swapping your own thoughts, you swap the whole world and then you can see what it would be like.
[00:36:03] Anna: And then you cannot ignore it. Yeah. Yeah. I like thinking of it like that, an empathy machine because it, it really forces it. Like you can't ignore it when it's like that. And you really see the power imbalances in plain light, when that happens. So I think it's wonderful. And those are two great examples.
[00:36:24] And I also like, and you kind of mentioned this at the beginning, but the whole point is that you're not creating a utopia by switching it. It's to draw out and show the flaws and the power imbalances. And I think that's a really important thing, and it kind of stems into feminism as well, because a lot of times that narrative gets distorted or misrepresented as, you know, oh, women wanna take over the world, but, you know, maybe that would solve some problems, but really that's not what it's, what it's about. It's not about swapping out one oppressive system for another. It's about creating an entirely new system altogether. So I like how your stories really aren't creating equitable societies that we can kind of model off of, but instead are bringing to light everything that's flawed with our existing ones.
[00:37:16] Karrie and Jonathon: Yeah, I think the interesting thing is it highlights the skewed power dynamic, just flipped in the opposite direction. I think we've had the occasional comment when somebody saw the cover and said, It looks woke. And I love just saying like, we're not advocating that, you know, little boys should be hunted down in the wood by lady wolves and that, you know, Queen of the Underworld should grab their husbands and run off and capture them. This is not a
[00:37:43] Anna: is not
[00:37:43] Karrie and Jonathon: world.
[00:37:44] That is not a happy place for equality. What we always say would be really interesting is for people to take these swapping algorithms and try it on, you know, race swaping or class swapping or sexuality swapping. There's so many things which you can look for unequal dynamics and narratives and text and swap them to reveal those power dynamics.
[00:38:08] Anna: Yeah, totally. Totally. I think we need that too. So, whew, we got a lot of swapping to do. And I also think all the movies need to be swapped too. I
[00:38:18] Karrie and Jonathon: Yeah, I would love to do that. I mean, like, I don't know, you know, it's not as easy with the movies, with text it's much simpler. But we did see one gender swap, when they took the images from Batman Cat Woman game, they swapped them. So Batman was now moving exactly like
[00:38:34] Anna: like
[00:38:34] Karrie and Jonathon: sort of shoulders back crawling in, he like, and the words he's saying and he's, Oh it's just hilarious.
[00:38:40] It's really funny when you see that. That is quite easy cuz you can take the code and the movement.
[00:38:45] Yeah. So it's like they'd taken the animation from Batman and put it on Catwoman, the animation from Catwoman put it on Batman. So Catwoman was just standing very still and you know, just talking. And Batman was wiggling his bum a lot flying around.
[00:38:58] Anna: Oh my God. Okay, so animated might be a little easier. It might be difficult, but we can do it. So any creators out there? Anybody looking for project?
[00:39:06] Karrie and Jonathon: We want someone to gender for Paw Patrol, please.
[00:39:10] Anna: Yeah!
[00:39:11] Karrie and Jonathon: that's an
[00:39:11] Anna: That's an animation
[00:39:12] Karrie and Jonathon: could do with some gender swapping.
[00:39:14] Anna: 100%. Absolutely. Let's get that. Let's get some Penelope Pan, Shrekina, Lion Queen.
[00:39:26] Karrie and Jonathon: It's funny, one of the things people sometimes say is, Oh, you know, fairy tales, that's a really gendered thing anyway. So, you know, if you swap that, it's gonna, obviously it would make a good swap. But it's really not. If you start looking at everything, you'll realize that pretty much everything would make a really good swap.
[00:39:41] Anna: Pretty much everything would make a really good swap. Yeah, it's true. Let's, let's swap our governments while we're at it. So what, if any, what challenges did you face in swapping the text? Was there anything that you came up against that was difficult to work around?
[00:39:59] Karrie and Jonathon: Technically there were a few challenges, and then there were a few sort of creative challenges as well. So the technical challenges were not quite so interesting. Just turns out English is a little bit weird in some places and things like hers, and him and his sort of all swap backwards and forwards between each other in some kind of weird way, which I had to figure out to make the algorithm work.
[00:40:18] But the kind of more interesting challenges were sort of the things that came up where we had to make decisions. So there was one, in the fairy tales, which was about
[00:40:26] A the hag.
[00:40:28] Oh yeah, the, yeah, I wasn't gonna say that one. So that's actually better. So .
[00:40:33] So yeah, so, so there's certain word which we were really surprised to discover there weren't the male equivalent or the female equivalent. So Hag was one of them. So we were trying to find a derogatory term for an old man. Um, and again, you know, there's quite a lot of slightly, you know, derogatory words for old women and not for men. And we ended up having to settle on the word, we swapped hag for old codger, which for as an American, you probably don't even know. It's old, and I sort of isn't really offensive, it's kind of like, oh yeah, old colder, you know, like sort of, um, a cheeky chap. I mean, the people call old women hags nowadays as an offensive word. And, it's really interesting that that didn't exist.
[00:41:20] Makes you wonder if the world had been swapped, maybe what your old hag would've been like just a friendly way of just greeting people.
[00:41:27] And then in the, in Greek myth, you had the bachelor's as well.
[00:41:32] Oh yeah. That was a really fun one, the minataur story, the people going off to be fed to the minataur are originally youths and maidens. So initially that seemed like quite an easy swap, so we just change it to maiden's and youths. It would just be, the women going first in the sentence. But then when we actually started thinking about it, so youth is one thing, but maiden carries a lot of different weight to it. So maiden talks about your virginity and your marital status, so we kind of thought long and hard about a word for that, and we ended up with bachelor's and youths.
[00:42:03] But bachelor again there's no word which talks about men's virginal and marital status at the same time. Bachelor, you think of, oh, he was a bit of a bachelor, you know, you know, you imagine somebody who's maybe who's maybe rich and, not a virgin and
[00:42:19] Probably not a virgin, probably very much not a virgin. And like, yeah, it's just really interesting. Again, like the gaps in our in our linguistics
[00:42:27] Anna: Yeah. That's so true. That's so true. We need more words. So your Yeah. Really bringing to light that we need more stories with different characters, different storylines, but we also need more words in order to tell these stories. Wow. We need some linguists to go and invent some for us.
[00:42:45] All right, so we're recruiting filmmakers, uh, computer programmers, linguists. Uh, who else do we need illustrators, so, Carrie, I wanted to ask you about, so you did all the illustrations, which are absolutely beautiful, and they really bring the stories to life even more. And, you know, to see these passive princes and these warrior women drawn out is just fantastic as well. So can you tell us what that was like, drawing these stories in reverse or swapped?
[00:43:18] Karrie and Jonathon: So thank you. That's nice to hear. I never went to art college, so it's nice somebody said something nice about your art.
[00:43:25] Anna: You didn't?
[00:43:26] Karrie and Jonathon: No, my parents wanted me to get an
[00:43:29] academic degree. And then I punish them by constantly drawing, trying to move back to the art world. Um, yeah, so I mean, what a brilliant brief. I get to, you know, I was just saying, like, the the child version of me would've just loved this to be able to make a living from drawing like women monsters and warriors, and, I mean, it is a joy.
[00:43:53] With Gender Swapper Greek myth, which is the most recent one, I got to draw a minor heffer with like udders and a women's body, then a cows head. And I got to draw a medusa as a man with a snakey beard. I mean, it was great fun. And also, like, you feel that you're creating images which aren't being shown before and maybe haven't been shown.
[00:44:16] So the way that she create the images and research them is similar to John's algorithm. I, first of all, make a file and I look at every single image of these stories which I can find online, and with the Greek myth, they go back to medieval times, you have medieval minataurs, which is amazing to see. So people have been visualizing these stories for centuries. So I make a file of all of those, and then I get my sketchbook out and I just try gender swapping those images with just in a little rough sketch. And I just look at how that changes the dynamics and the power. So often the women are in passive poses or over sexualized poses, their necks are exposed, the clothes are falling off their body.
[00:45:03] It's really interesting. So once I've kind of researched in that way, I start creating my own images and I really try and emphasize the power imbalance between the two characters. And I use watercolors, inks, pens and paint to create the images, and I sort of create a very strong contrasting color palette for each image, but they're an absolute joy to make, absolute joy.
[00:45:31] Oh, and I like to talk about with the new book, Gender Swapped Greek Myth I like to talk about the research I did for the Persephony and Hades story, which in researching it, I came across 20, classical paintings of Hade's abducting Persephony. s and they all showed Persephony not fighting back. She's just limply hanging off Hade's back, maybe placing a hand gently on his shoulder. Her arms are flailing around like a rag doll, I mean, for 20 paintings to exist throughout history and none of them to show her actually fighting. It's fascinating. I mean, what are we telling people? And it, when I swapped that and I drew this like ragdoll man, you know, beautiful man being dragged off just with his arms flailing in the air, it just looks so weird.
[00:46:25] Anna: weird. Oh yeah, I bet. But that, again, it's another way of just forcing you to look at how messed up it is that all of those paintings historically, and the story itself and all of that, that that is how the girls, the women are portrayed, and we don't think anything of it. So just like the stories and the text bring that to light. I thought your images really just bring all of that to light as well. And, and they were a joy to look at. So I'm glad you got a joy in creating them because we all get joy in looking at them. And I'm curious what the, you mentioned some people, you know, saying that they think this might be a little bit too woke for them, but overall, what is the response from people? What has the response been for both of these books?
[00:47:15] Karrie and Jonathon: Really good. We got to do a second one.
[00:47:16] Anna: Yeah.
[00:47:19] Karrie and Jonathon: Cause it was such a fun, we launched the first book like literally on the first day, which we went into lockdown and we were just like...
[00:47:25] Literally the day the bookshops closed, that was when we launched .
[00:47:28] So I was like, oh my goodness. Like we put it back a couple of months cuz we thought the pandemic would all be out. But yeah, it just really, it just does really well online as well. You know, people like instantly get the idea and they're interested and what's nice is the reader are sharing their observations about it.
[00:47:46] Yeah, we really like seeing that as well. Think that often people come up with things that we still haven't noticed. So it's really nice to see. Well, one other thing was really nice about the reception was it was kind of accepted across the board, which was great. We got a positive review in The Guardian, which is a very kind of left wing paper. And we even got a positive view in the Daily Mail, which is, uh, very right wing paper,
[00:48:07] Anna: Wow.
[00:48:08] Karrie and Jonathon: Which was sort of borderline miracle. But that's kind of the point. We didn't wanna make a book that was just preaching to the choir, to the people who already agreed with it. We wanted to make it something that you could give as a gift maybe to kind of anyone, someone who's very thinking about gender and their role in the world or someone who's literally never thought about it at all. And it could be something that would be interesting to either of them.
[00:48:30] I think, the younger generations are much more aware of pronoun than they're non-binary now. And they're the understanding of gender being a social construct. But at the same time, this is a book which they could give to somebody who isn't from that culture or who's from a different generation, different culture. And that person can see themselves reflected in the story and understand that maybe they've been limited or like, a man, right, can really understand why gender is an important subject for them as well, and how they might actually be confined to certain roles. We always talk about this book being binary busting. We want to, shine a light on the binary nature of masculinity and femininity in our culture. And at the same time, we don't want the book to be just preaching to the choir. We want it to cross that binary divide and to make people think about it.
[00:49:22] Anna: Binary busting. I love that. I love that. And yeah, it really does transcend political affiliation, age, I guess just like fairy tales and Greek myths, right, are stories meant for everyone. This is kind of the same. That's a really beautiful thing. So you've kind of answered this throughout, but I just wanna ask you pointedly and hear how you talk about the importance of this book. Why do you think these books are important?
[00:49:59] Karrie and Jonathon: We sort of envisioned this book as part book, part activism, and part like, art object. We kind of like to see this book as like it's fallen through some kind of wormhole from some other universe where women are in charge and have always been, and create an object like that. You know, it's not to be laughed at. It's not like a jokey thing. It's a serious book, which looks at narrative, language and archetypes which have permeated our culture for centuries and kind of unpacked that. But the reason which we think the book's important is cuz we hope ultimately that people will go on and feel empowered to swap their own stories, to not take the stories we're being told in films on TV and, the adverts we see, the literature we read today, to not just take it as given and to see it as something which they have the right to go in to change, to swap to, subvert and find their own way of critically looking at the narrative which we receive today. So that's what we want. We want people to be their own activists to make their own observations and to go out and inspect their own narratives.
[00:51:14] Anna: I love it. Jonathan, anything you wanna add to that one?
[00:51:18] Karrie and Jonathon: That felt pretty comprehensive to me.
[00:51:22] I said all the words. All the words.
[00:51:28] Anna: Amazing. Is there anything else that you all, before I start getting to the recurring questions at the end, is there anything else that you all wanted to talk about or mention or tell us that we haven't covered today?
[00:51:42] Karrie and Jonathon: I think one of your questions, which is quite important to say, is you did ask us about our definition of gender. And I think that is always really important to say that even though it's called gender swap fairy tales, we don't think there's only two genders to swap. For the purpose of this book, we see gender very much as a social construct, unlike sex and by shining a light on this gender binary, we can start, thinking critically about how so much of our culture is, uh, binarised, is that word? It will be, um, you know, into masculinity and femininity. But of course nowadays they think people are beginning to realize that with all sorts of multitudes of gender identity from trans to queer, to agendered to non-binary. There's many different opportunities to subvert this traditional masculine
[00:52:36] feminine role. And I think talk about.
[00:52:39] Anna: Definitely over 60, I think or so different types of gender.
[00:52:44] Karrie and Jonathon: There's a website somewhere that said 64 and counting, I'm sure there's gonna be more.
[00:52:50] Anna: And counting, exactly. So yeah. Excellent point. And you guys do draw that out in the beginning of your books, and I think it's really important. And again, really your work brings to light how it is socially constructed, how made up all of these rules for gendered rules are. Jonathan, anything else that you wanted to talk about today that we haven't covered, or was that quite comprehensive as well?
[00:53:13] Karrie and Jonathon: Um, yeah, I think we've covered all the things we, we normally like to talk about with the book. Sorry. We just kind of like rambled on about whatever we fancied talking about.
[00:53:22] Sorry, you had so many good as questions
[00:53:26] well if was anything we forgot to talk about cuz we were too busy just telling
[00:53:30] we get get over excited about it.
[00:53:33] Anna: Are you kidding me? Do you know how easy that makes the interview? All I have to do is sit here and, you know, give you a little prompt and then you give these wonderful answers. It's perfect.
[00:53:42] Overdub: And now for: the “feminism gets a bad wrap because the narrative has been just a bit one-sided" corner.
[00:53:50] Anna: All right, so just for some rapid fire questions to wrap up, these are questions that I asked every guest at the end, and I guess if you wanna each answer the questions, I'm happy with that. If you wanna go back and forth, I'm happy with that. So, however you'd when he needs to answer.
[00:54:09] What does feminism mean to you?
[00:54:17] Karrie and Jonathon: Um, okay. So when, like, when this is supposed to be rapid fire, isn't it? Like when, when Carrie I first met, I wouldn't have called myself a feminist, primarily cuz I didn't really understand what feminism meant. I thought it was all this stuff that it wasn't really. And then when I finally realized it just meant, do you believe that men and women should basically be treated the same and have the same rights and opportunities? I was like, Oh yeah, of course I'm a feminist then. So I look it up in the dictionary and see if that my past self, all the stuff around it and find out what it actually, hard to object to.
[00:54:54] Anna: Yes. Love it. Unfortunately, you're very far from the only person who, who is not understand the definition of it, but I am very glad that we have you on our side now. So,
[00:55:06] Karrie and Jonathon: Yay.
[00:55:08] Anna: What is one of your earliest memories of gender? A time when you realized the world didn't treat girls and boys the same.
[00:55:16] Karrie and Jonathon: Good question.
[00:55:18] Well, again, for me, I think I realized all this stuff quite late. If you are a man just sort of growing up, you can just not think about it and not worry about it for quite a while until you start thinking about it. So I don't really, it's kind of weird that I don't have any really early memories of that particularly.
[00:55:34] Anna: No, I think that's just quite indicative. Uh,
[00:55:37] Karrie and Jonathon: Yeah. It's a good, it's a good question, but even I'm struggling to go back and remember something specific. I think definitely from a a young age, I'm a gabby girl and there's definitely a lot of pushback from education, peers and everything, that I shouldn't be loud and giving my opinion. And I think that def, I was aware of that from a very young age, that I was too loud and too talkative, and that boys who were allowed and talkative as well, didn't get that pushback.
[00:56:12] Anna: Yeah. Well, it's good that you have to think a little bit in order to come up with that memory, I would say. And then a few easier questions. Uh, what are you all reading right now?
[00:56:22] Karrie and Jonathon: I'm reading children's books. Me and my sister are working on something at the moment and I'm reading a lot of like, nine to 12 year old books, which is, yeah, I've not read that for ages. Our oldest daughter is five, so we're still sort of in the picture book stage. So yeah, that is an eye opener for me and comics. I'm actually a comic artist, so I usually tell my own stories with pictures and words. I've just returned from the Lakes International Comics Art Festival, which is, a gorgeous, gorgeous festival, comic festival. And I bought a bunch of amazing graphic novels, which I love. Cyber Man being one of them, which is the story of a woman observing, it an documentary graphic novel, she's observing a middle age depressive man who decided to live his entire life online. And it's very observational and kind of rear view mirror and beautiful and beautiful and sad.
[00:57:20] Anna: Nice one. Jonathan, anything you're reading?
[00:57:23] Karrie and Jonathon: Um, Listening to audio books at the moment, trying to fit between children. Not sure, listening to at the moment I've been listening, I'm kind of binge listening to the Expanse series, so like sci-fi strange alien future where we've colonized half the solar system and it's,
[00:57:43] Anna: Ooh.
[00:57:44] Karrie and Jonathon: It's quite, quite an interesting.
[00:57:46] Is gender any better in the future?
[00:57:49] Yeah, I was, I was, thinking, I
[00:57:50] Anna: thinking, I
[00:57:51] was thinking about
[00:57:51] Karrie and Jonathon: got some pretty good female characters in it. The leader of Earth is a woman and she's pretty bad enough as well. She swears all the time and is really rude to everybody, but is like a genius. So yeah, she's a pretty good The main character is still a man, but, they do have some good female characters in there.
[00:58:06] We always like talking about these futuristic or even like fantasy stories like Game of Thrones when they can imagine a world with dragons and worlds, but they can wrap their heads around the world where where the patriarchy doesn't exist.
[00:58:19] Oh my God.
[00:58:20] Anna: That is so true. true. All right, so there's another one to swap. Okay. Where our list is long. So is there anything, you mentioned you're working on something with your sister. Is there anything that you all are working on now that you would like to share?
[00:58:37] Karrie and Jonathon: I think everything's a little bit half baked at the moment. I'm, yeah, we've got a few fingers and pies. Like I said, I'm a comic artist in graphic novelist and with this book I was an illustrator, but usually I'm telling my own stories and I do a lot of different comics with different people.
[00:58:57] So the best place to find our work is for me. I have Instagram, which is at Carrie Fransman, . You are on Twitter mostly? Yeah. So on Twitter I'm at John Plat, no, h j o n p l a c k e t t. We've both got websites as well where we always update with the various projects we're doing. We produce quite a lot of different stuff and my stuff is all visual storytelling and John, it all kind of experimental, playful, techy.
[00:59:24] Yeah. So any, anything involving new technology and also some kind of fun use of it, then I'll be all over that. So I'm making, So your website is plat.co uk and mine is cfr.com. And it's k a r i e f r a aa nsm.
[00:59:45] Anna: A lovely, and I will put all of that in the show notes as well. Thank you, Carrie and Jonathan for your time. This has been an absolute pleasure. I've really, really enjoyed speaking with you I can't wait to buy everyone your books for Christmas.
[01:00:02] Karrie and Jonathon: Oh. Thanks so much for inviting us. Yeah. Thanks so much for having us on. Yeah, and thanks for so many like thoughtful questions.
[01:00:08] Anna: Absolutely. Thanks for the very thoughtful and necessary books.
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