Gender-Bending in She's Come Undone  ::  She's Come Undone Essays

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Gender-Bending in She's Come Undone        

    Is Wally Lamb, author of  She's Come Undone, "qualified" to write a first-person narrator in a female voice? After all, as a man, what does he know about women's issues? In this essay I will discuss the issue of "gender-bending" writers and discuss Mr. Lamb's use of such tool.


The term "gender-bender" usually refers to a pop singer or a follower of a pop cult "...who deliberately affects an androgynous appearance by wearing sexually ambiguous clothing, make-up, etc. (Ayto and Simpson 81)" While authors are not included in this specific definition, we must not overlook the possibility that writers can fall under the category of being a "gender-bender." Applying some of the same characteristics of the definition, I believe that an author can be a "gender-bender" by changing the voice of the writer in the novels. Wally Lamb would fall under this category, because as a male author, he is writing his main character in a female voice.

The concept of "gender-bending" authors is not completely foreign to literature, while it may not be applied to the definition presented above. For example, in detective novels that are written by women, some of the characters take on different genders than their writers. In the following passage, taken from the essay "Gender (De)Mystified: Resistance and Recuperation in Hard-Boiled Female Detective Fiction," by Timothy Shuker-Haines and Martha M. Umphrey, discussion is made of detective author Sue Grafton's ability to write in the male persona.

Kinsey Millhone's [a female character in the book F Is for Fugitive] persona is gendered substantially as masculine. A woman who has few friends and lives for her work, she is self-consciously, almost parodically male-defined, as, for example, when she describes her tendency to amuse herself with the abridged California Penal code and textbooks on auto theft rather than engaging in the teatime gossip of a Miss Marple. (Delamater and Prigozy 73)

"Gender-bending" also refers to sex change operations. Such as the case with performance artist Kate Bornstein - a graduate of Brown University - who underwent such an operation thirteen years ago. In an article on the school's website, Ms. Bornstein discusses "gender-bending" and some of the issues she discusses can also apply to "gender-bending" in novels.

The way I view gender is a way to express yourself. ...Gender is just a doorway, and so is sexuality, race and age.