Ten Gender Reversals We Need in Our Stories

We tell the same stories to ourselves over and over. That’s okay; people are comforted by the same themes and drawn to the same conflicts. Unfortunately, we also can repeat tropes just because we never thought critically about them. And when we do that, we end up telling people of different ages, races, and genders what their place is, just by assigning the same roles to them.

gender-keyOn the plus side, it’s fun to break free of those roles! Here are ten gendered story tropes that could use a reversal. I’ve done my best to provide visuals of what the reversed tropes might look like in popular media, but I’m not an artist. To signal which characters were male, I drew crude mustaches on them. Otherwise they’re female. Then I have written examples of how the tropes typically appear. Got it? Good, let’s go.

1. Girl Goes on Quest to Save Kingdom and Its Beautiful King

In the Neverending Story,  the child emperor falls ill as his kingdom diminishes. In the Neverending Story, the child emperor falls ill as his kingdom diminishes.

A terrible peril threatens the great land of Magicana and its kind and gentle king. Knowing there is only one hope, he calls for a heroine to arise and save the day.

Our heroine is just an ordinary girl from a small village, but she is brave and courageous. She travels through the land, facing vile monsters and overcoming tests of her strength and determination. When she is through, the king knights her in front of the kingdom, recognizing her as their savior.

Why doesn’t the king save his own kingdom? That’s silly. He can’t fight; he’s too beautiful and frail. Besides, he’d get his pearl-beaded robes dirty.

2. Young Woman Must Impress Protective Mother in Order to Date Her Son

In Season 2 of Teen Wolf, Alec begs his mother to let his werewolf girlfriend live, promising never to see her again. In Season 2 of Teen Wolf, Alec begs his mother to let his werewolf girlfriend live, promising never to see her again.

When the young heroine and her love meet each other’s eyes for the first time, there is an instant connection. But alas! His fearsome mother doesn’t approve of the heroine and her kind. She forbids her son to see his love while she concocts a plan to end the heroine’s life. Desperate to save his love, the son agrees to marry another woman if his mother will just spare the heroine.

But this new woman has evil plans of her own. Luckily for everyone, the heroine reveals the bride’s treachery just in time to stop the wedding and save the day. The mother grudgingly admits that the heroine has done them a great service and gives the heroine permission to dally with her son.

They are too busy congratulating each other to remember that it’s his choice who he dates.

3. Attractive Husband Loves Older Wife for Her Brilliant Mind

In Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1, an old flame of Captain Picard consoles his wife after the enterprise rescues her from her dangerous experiments. In Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 1, an old flame of Captain Picard consoles his wife after the Enterprise rescues her from her dangerous experiments.

She is the top scientist in the field of biotechnowizardry. Close to a major breakthrough, she works long hours in her lab. She’s so preoccupied with work that she forgets to take care of herself, so it’s a good thing she has a young husband to care for her. He cooks and brings her meals, then ushers her to bed every night.

When others come to their house claiming his wife’s latest experiment is a disastrous attempt at playing God, he defends her. More than anyone else, he believes in her and her work. Nonetheless, he lets slip the key information they need to trace the damage back to his wife, and they arrest her soon after.

Then he has an excuse to give up even more of his own interests, as he spends all his energy trying to free his incredibly important wife from jail.

4. Girl of Lost Heritage Discovers Mother Is Powerful Queen

In Tron Legacy, Samantha finds her missing mother, a legendary software engineer, trapped into the digital realm she created. In Tron Legacy, Samantha finds her missing mother, a legendary billionaire software engineer, trapped in the digital realm she created.

No one knows where the heroine came from or how she ended up in the orphanage with nothing but a silver locket. Eager to discover who she is, she sets off as soon as she comes of age. In her journeys she saves many troubled people from themselves, until she finally comes to a land being ravaged by a dark and angry queen.

Captured by the queen’s henchwomen, she is about to be executed for her heroics when her locket catches the queen’s eye. It was a wedding gift the monarch gave to her husband. He disappeared with her baby daughter and heir only a year after. For the first time since, the Queen rejoices, declaring the heroine the crown princess of her realm.

In her spare moments, the heroine learns how kind and beautiful her father was before he died.

5. Woman Avoids Emotional Conversation Man Wants

In Gretel and Hansel: Witch Hunters, Gretel avoids talking about her emotions, even with her brother. In Gretel and Hansel: Witch Hunters, Gretel avoids talking about her emotions, even with her brother.

She’s not the talkative type. She arrives in town, kills the undead, and leaves as soon as she’s paid. The only person she trusts is her younger brother, who she taught to hunt alongside her. She tells the terrorized villagers what to do and lets her brother dole out the sympathy.

But now they’re back in the town where their parents died, and her brother wants to talk about what happened and how maybe it’s time to stop being so angry about it. She doesn’t know how to handle all that emotional relationship stuff. Is she angry? Maybe, she doesn’t have time for pointless introspection.

That is, until she meets an entrancing and beautiful man who knows too much. Could she open her heart to him? Maybe once they have sex. But then he’s killed by their enemy. Crap.

6. Man Gives Woman Refuge After Daring and Reckless Battle

In I, Frankensteina, an outcast constructed monster saves an attractive scientist. Curious and grateful, he tends to her injuries. In I, Frankenstein, an outcast constructed monster saves an attractive male scientist. Curious and grateful, he tends to her injuries.

When he’s almost mauled by monsters in a dark alley, a mysterious woman comes to his aid, fighting them off. But she’s injured in the battle, and she refuses to let him take her to the hospital. Instead he takes her home and uses his previously unknown medical skills to patch up her wounds. She warns him that he should stay away from her. He doesn’t know anything about her, and everyone she loves gets hurt. He tells her he’s strong and can take care of himself.

He finds her leaving out his window the next morning. He asks if he can at least know her name. She tells him and disappears. Somehow, he knows she’ll be watching over him.

7. Woman Goes on Killing Spree to Avenge Dead Husband

the-crow In The Crow, Erica returns from the dead to avenge her own death and the brutal rape and murder of her fiance. When she’s done killing people, his gentle spirit waits for her to return to the afterlife with him.

Her new husband is sweet and innocent. He inspired her to leave her shady past behind and become a good citizen with a legitimate career. He forgave her for the terrible things she’d done. But during their honeymoon, some old enemies decided to settle the score. While she was down in the hotel lobby arranging something special, they broke into the hotel room looking for her. Since she wasn’t there, they killed her husband instead. She returned upstairs to find his dead body laying under the romantic candlelight and rose petals he had prepared.

Soon the police arrive, but they think she killed him. Now she’s on the run from the police and her old enemies. She brings out the arsenal of weapons she never got rid of and takes the battle to them.

That is to say, she’s going to kill A LOT of people without feeling guilty.

8. Beautiful Male Robot Programmed to Give Woman Love and Pleasure

In the 2004 Stepford Husbands, a independent man is turned into a sexy and docile robot by his wife and her co-conspirators. In the 2004 Stepford Husbands, an independent man is turned into a sexy and docile robot by his wife and her co-conspirators.

She’s a busy executive with a neglected home life. She hires a new nanny, a gorgeous young man who is eager to please her. The kids love him. He cleans the entire house, makes dinner, and massages her aching muscles.

The next day, executives from another company tell her that the new nanny is a robot they sent to demonstrate their product. She sends them away and calls him right after, telling him that since he’s a robot, he isn’t needed.

Realizing he isn’t human for the first time, the nanny shows up at the woman’s house. He tells her he can’t stop thinking about her, but he doesn’t deserve her because he isn’t real. Touched, she insists he is real, and to prove it they have sex.

9. Heroine Must Protect Her Father and Brother

In season one of BBC's Merla, the powerful heroine goes back to her home village to save her father from raiders. In season one of BBC’s Merla, the heroine goes back to her home village to save her father from raiders.

The heroine has superpowers she uses for good, but to keep her family safe, she hasn’t told them anything. One night they are attacked by her enemies. Her middle-aged father and teenage brother are frightened and confused by all the impossible monsters who flood into her home. They run upstairs and huddle together in the closet.

She tries to fight the villains off, but they get the better of her. They pull her father and brother screaming from the closet, and explain to the heroine that unless she does exactly what they want, her family won’t live to see the next sunrise. She agrees.

Little do they know that’s she’s prepared for their requests. She switched the serum they wanted with one that would take away all their powers. After they drink the false serum, they run away rather then face her wrath. Her father and brother hug her, crying in relief.

10. Egalitarian Society Has All-Female Leaders by Complete Coincidence

The Star Trek reboots feature a bold, idealistic future where every leader worth mentioning is female. The Star Trek reboots feature a bold, idealistic future where every leader worth mentioning is female.

It’s the year 2500, and humans are visited by an enlightened society of aliens. They’ve been watching humans for thousands of years and have decided we are finally ready for advanced alien technology that will uplift our society.

The alien delegation arrives, led by their captain. She calls for her two female commanders and an accompanying female ambassador to meet with the human leaders, who happen to be black women. The aliens congratulate the humans on learning to value their differences by making sure all voices are heard. Now that once-oppressed groups like men and Caucasians have full equality, the aliens will gift humans with unimaginable technology. It is the biggest turning point in human history, and it’s all thanks to those eight females who met and decided to forge a peace agreement.

If these seem silly to you, remember that you see the same formulas in popular stories all the time, just with different pronouns. Before you regurgitate those patterns into your own work, do yourself a favor: learn what cultural baggage you carry. Only then can you unload it.

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  1. Matt Black

    I’m making all of these happen.

  2. Kaitlin

    Wow, by swapping genders you came up with some original stories, some of them not far fetched. Others definitely would stretch our cultural perceptions!

  3. Nick

    # 8 exists its called “Making Mr. Right”

    • JT

      There’s also a manga by Yuu Watase that uses this trope, called “Absolute Boyfriend” wherein the girl orders a perfect robot boyfriend, only to discover she (having not taken it seriously IIRC?) accidentally ensured that she now owes like a million dollars for him

      Kind of obscure, but yes, it existed.

  4. Star

    #9 kind of discribes mulan. In the original legend she did have a little brother but they made him a dog in the Disney version.

    • Jessica

      She does protect her father from fighting, though, which is awesome.

    • GreatWyrmGold

      You’re not wrong, but there are some important differences (the most important being how a woman warrior is framed as being weird, something she has to hide).

  5. Jasmine

    So true. So many trite stories could be made so much more interesting with a simple gender swap. Also No. 7 sounds a lot like “Kill Bill.”

  6. setlib

    Wow! Thank you for writing this. It helped me finally understand what caused my addiction to Asian dramas – they are terribly cheesy and yet female-centric in a way that fulfills a lot of your list, at least, sort of:

    #2 – Secret Garden:
    #3 – I Do, I Do:
    #8 – Absolute Boyfriend:

    Also #5 has shades of Hunger Games…
    Great list!

    • Adriaan

      Ooo, I was just thinking there must be a Drama for #3. I’ll need to check out “I Do, I Do”. Thanks!!

      Also, Park Bok Nyeo in “The Suspicious Housekeeper” is a pretty good fit for both #5 and #7 (

    • Julie Mao

      there’s also IHYV (I hear your voice) has an older female character, a defense attorney who protects the younger love interest and saves his life twice.

  7. Adriaan

    +1 to Asian Drama. I hadn’t noticed how male-focussed even the more balanced shows are in the U.S. until I’d spent some time watching Korean and Taiwanese Drama. There’s still lots of sexism to go around, but the shift in focus to female specific concerns and the female eye (cue shower scene!) is unmistakeable.

  8. Meg

    Funny! I alredy made stories with at least 4 of this tropes! And these are really good ideas, I’m going to try to use them!

  9. Maris McKay

    Definitely pinning this to my story inspiration board!
    There are some fairy tales similar to #2. In the second part of Perrault’s version of Sleeping Beauty, the king’s mother tries to eat her daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. When the cook doesn’t cooperate, the Queen mother tries to throw them in a vat of vipers but the king returns just in time and she jumps into the vipers instead.
    I’ve also read some fairy tales where a girl goes on a quest to save the king, usually “Search for the Lost Husband” type tales. I’ve heard there’s even a Greek version of Sleeping Beauty (The Sleeping Prince) with gender-roles reversed, but I haven’t found and read it yet.

    • Cay Reet

      I know there’s an Irish fairytale where a young woman takes her lover back from the queen of the fairies which, as you can imagine, isn’t exactly easy.

      I’ll be trying to work a bit of #6 into my next novel, since I have a strong female lead and she knows a guy who would probably enjoy taking care of her after she’s been in battle.

    • Megan Foster

      The fairy tales with the quest for the missing husband are “Black Bull of Norroway” and “East of the Sun, West of the Moon”; the Irish folk song is the Ballad of Tam Lin. Some of those northwest European folktales had more active heroines than the French ones popularized by Perrault. For example, the Scottish Cinderella (Rushencoatie) doesn’t sit around and wait for a fairy godmother; she demands three amazing dresses from her father, runs away to avoid an unwanted marriage, then uses her gifts, skills and wit to get the guy she really wants.

  10. ben_

    Brilliant! I love those. I have been looking on TV-Tropes among the all-male and all-female Tropes, trying to think of ways to reverse them. But looking at single Works of fiction is a good bit funnier. Thanks!

    • JT

      Sometimes it’s also as simple as recognizing when a trope is “usually” one or the other.

      For example, when I was in the process of developing a given character, who happened to be sort of inspired by Hardboiled Detective archetypes, I originally tentatively envisioned them as male.

      When I was skimming Noir tropes though and read the TV Tropes page including the examples I realized there was like…maybe 5 female examples (Jessica Jones being one of maybe 1 or 2 names I even recognized at all) and dozens if not hundreds of male ones.

      So I thought “wait…what if I flipped it?”

      Man I cannot tell you how much more interesting she became when I decided she was a (50-something, no less!) woman. There’s a nuance to it that shifts and just – immediately she was 10x more interesting, as opposed to basically a plot device like she was prior.

      I did the same with “vigilante who winds up on that path from family being killed” – the two big examples I could think of were Atrocitus (DC Comics) and The Punisher (Marvel Comics), both of them dudes. I decided to make it a woman and considering my protag was a woman, it gelled really well.

      I’ve done this a whole bunch of times, any time I ran up against something I knew to be an Archetype…fun fact: my cast is REALLY female-dominated now. This probably says something about Noir/Urban Fantasy genre conventions and character archetypes, so I decided I didn’t mind They’re more interesting than the generic incarnations of their archetypes anyway.

      (PS: not that this article is addressing it, but doing this with race/ethnicity also brings richer characters out, and knowing what stereotypes exist is helpful for creating more distinctive characters that have a great side-bonus of not supporting said stereotypes. E.g. east-Asians tend to be stereotyped here in the West as being colder, more calculating, borderline emotionless/repressed, and highly restrained, not to mention quietly submissive especially in the case of women…so I created a passionate, emotional, caring, outspoken and slightly impulsive woman of east-Asian descent, and am taking pains to describe her in “warm” tones most of the time, so that her whole character vibe radiates heat/warmth, compassion, and emotion. Even aside from subverting racist stereotypes, she’s wound up one of my favorites to write! Tends to happen, too, every time I decide to make a POC character and decide to Subvert At Least One Expectation Based on Stereotypes, I end up enjoying writing them a lot more. Highly recommend giving it a try sometime, it’s a fun exercise that can result in interesting characters!)

      • Cay Reet

        The character I’ve written most stories about so far (6 novels plus 2 novels in a AU) was created when I tried to turn the ‘brave secret agent’ trope female. Jane came out really well.

  11. Jenna

    As for #7. In the Carrie 2013 movie the reason Carrie went on a killing spree was to avenge Tommy’s death.

    • Malckuss

      #7 is also done in Kill Bill. The whole reason the Bride starts her rampage has to do with the trashing of her wedding and everyone but her being killed, including her husband to be.

  12. Vespa

    #2 could actually work! I quite like it, I might save it and try it out someday…

  13. Tony

    Number 8 reminds me a lot of Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror.

    • Cay Reet

      Well, yes and no. Rocky was more of a biological experiment, while ‘robot’ suggests mechanical parts. Rocky is closer to Frankenstein’s creature (Frank-N-Furter’s name is no coincidence after all) than to a robot. Yet, it’s the same principle – making an artificial being for your own sexual pleasure.

  14. Cece

    Can we please appreciate the mustaches that were drawn on the pictures? Also this post just made me day–I love mythcreants! You guys are so amazing!

  15. LynneB

    So, I imagine by now you’ll have seen Ursula Vernon’s “Hamster Princess” books?

    Because, y’know, if you haven’t, you should. They will bring you joy.

  16. JT

    ” Girl of Lost Heritage Discovers Mother Is Powerful Queen”

    They did something pretty similar in Final Fantasy VII! Granted, she wasn’t the core protagonist, but one of the playable characters (and a major love interest), Aerith Gainsborough, has a whole big important arc where we learn her mother, and by proxy Aerith, was a Cetra, the last member of a dying Ancient race of mystics, which means she has amazing powers that will help her save the Planet.

    I always liked how they made it Aerith’s birth mom, not father, who was most important to her legacy, and whose mystical power she inherited (she even gets a literally Holy object to save the world with thanks to this heritage!)

    • GreatWyrmGold

      True. Of course, they lose points by fridging her midway through the story instead of letting her be at least the deuteragonist…

  17. AnonyMouse

    Late reply is late, but the Princess Diaries could count for #4, if you just swap out the mother for the father. The entire plot of the movie (and what kickstarts the first book) is that Mia finds out her dad is actually a crown prince of this small country and that she is the sole heir to the crown.

  18. Malckuss

    The Stepford Wives is already its own subversion, especially the 2004 remake. The original book is satire, and the whole premise is meant as social commentary in a less jarring manner than The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Also, this subversion posited in the article already exists.
    A better subversion would be Cherry 2000, Galaxina or Weird Science.

  19. GreatWyrmGold

    All-male leaders in an egalitarian society: Nothing to see here.
    Mixed-gender leaders, but the more prominent ones are often female: SJWs ruined Star Wars! Death to Holdo!

    I’d like to see #10 just so I could watch the flame wars. Maybe bring some popcorn to roast from a safe distance.

  20. Sedivak

    I do enjoy quite a lot of webcomics and I believe many of them would fit the descriptions in this article.

    I would recomend “Kill six billion demons”, my favorite one as a good example of no. 9. Also I believe its worldbuilding is second to none.

  21. Stuart

    #7 is essentially “Salt” with Angelina Jolie. Which actually was a gender flip cause it was written for Tom Cruise and then give to her. But it’s essentially the angry spy’s spouse is killed and they go beserk, but with Angelina Jolie as the angry spy…

    • kelly arthur

      Isn’t the “flipped” “Crow” just “Kill Bill”? (Has Tarantino ever said if he’s seen it?)

  22. Erynus

    #2 is pretty usual in russian fairy tales where a woman have to find, rescue and save a prince, like in Finist the Falcon.

  23. kelly arthur

    “The Star Trek reboots feature a bold, idealistic future where every leader worth mentioning is female.”

    Doesn’t that mean Kirk would have to be a woman?

    That suggests either 1) serious audience backlash at how slutty she is or 2) serious audience backlash at her being a slutty lesbian.

    That kind of implies the reboot wouldn’t be approved, which would actually make me happy, because it violates the “TOS” canon… It also implies making Spock a woman & turning all that slashfic on its head.

    • Cay Reet

      1) even though the audience might be taken aback, the future society might be completely cool with a female captain who has fun in bed.

      2) there’s no reason why fem!Kirk shouldn’t have a lot of fun with male aliens instead.

      Also, having all world leaders being women doesn’t necessarily mean that Kirk had to be a woman as well. Starfleet has female captains with the world leaders all being men, male captains with the world leaders being female wouldn’t be strange.

  24. Dragonborn

    I was point 6 until I saw it was less about reversing caregiver/receiver and more about reversing who has the toxic masculinity.

    #4 is Sailor Moon

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