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28Oct

Gender Swapped Fairy Tales by Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett

Karrie Fransman and Jonathan Plackett explore gender bias in these classic tales with a twist

It started with an algorithm. No, wait, the baby came first and then the algorithm. When creative technologist Jonathan Plackett and comic writer and artist Karrie Fransman had a daughter, they wondered if it would be possible to create a program that “swapped all gendered language in any text”, he to she, daughter to son and so on. Having built it, they applied it to the ur-narrative text, the fairytale, choosing the Fairy Books, edited by Andrew Lang, published at the back end of the 19th century and into the 20th. The result is blunt and impartial, deliberately so: there’s no finer human judgment applied story by story (is a pantaloon male or female? What about a ruffle?), it’s a straight computer-says-she switcheroo. The illustrations are quite special, particularly when they veer into fantasy. I loved the forest full of parrots in “Little Red Riding Hood”, the lizards and mice in “Cinder”.

Plainly, the core audience is the malleable young mind, a child at the age of such innocence that they haven’t yet internalised the gender prejudice all around them, and who will head into the world thinking of women as adventurers and men as very much in touch with their emotions. But more fascinating – particularly if your children are too old and cynical for such an enterprise – is to read it yourself for what jars, what surprises, what seems implausible, what repels.

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