Gender reversal in Thriller Writing: an experiment*

The objectification of women is commonplace in British society. Thriller novels do more than that. Many, very many, storylines revolve round predatory men, sadism and vulnerable women. Indeed sadism is so commonplace that it’s startling when passages are re-written with predatory, sadistic women and vulnerable men. Although the literature search threw up predatory men-on-men murders there wasn’t one example of a predatory heterosexual female** in the thriller genre. Therefore to correct this omission these passages have been re-written to show what it looks (feels?) like. This might be a jarring experience for readers of thriller novels.

M J Arlidge Eeny Meeny 2014

“They always started by securing her wrists. Two studded leather straps pulled taut, so that her arms were tethered to the wall. Iron fetters secured her feet to the floor…(She stood) awaiting punishment.” p4

Consider this:-

They always started by securing his wrists. Two studded leather straps pulled taut, so that his arms were tethered to the wall. Iron fetters secured his feet to the floor…(He stood) awaiting punishment.

James Carol Broken Dolls 2014

“He abducted them and took them to the wide rolling forests of Oregon, where he set them free and hunted them down with a high powered rifle. He couldn’t care less about those fifteen girls. To him they were playthings.” pp 1-2

And this:-

She abducted them and took them to the wide rolling forests of Oregon, where she set them free and hunted them down with a high powered rifle. She couldn’t care less about those fifteen boys. To her they were playthings.”

Michael Robotham Watching You 2013

“One punch, delivered low down in the swell of her stomach, doubles her over…A second punch lands. Her lungs have no more to give. He won’t hit her face. Bruises are a liability when you’re selling a woman’s body.” p27

And this:-

One punch, delivered low down in the swell of his stomach, doubles him over…A second punch lands. His lungs have no more to give. She won’t hit his face. Bruises are a liability when you’re selling a man’s body.”

Mark Billingham Time of Death 2015

He’s sitting in the only half decent cafe there is, drinking tea and picking at a muffin, when he sees the car slow down and then pull over to the kerb on the opposite side of the road, watches a girl, just like the one he’s been thinking about, walk up to it, smiling, as the passenger window glides down.

Of course, she’s smiling, she knows the driver.
Why wouldn’t she smile?
Now, she’s leaning down towards the open window. She tosses her hair and grins at something the driver says; pushes her shoulders back, her chest out. She nods, listening…
Even though she knows him, trusts him, she knows equally well that she shouldn’t get into the car….
He’s enjoying her few seconds of caution, and the fact that it is only a few seconds… pp3-4

(This is the very beginning of the novel- the female is implicitly being blamed for the evil about to befall her.)

And this

She’s sitting in the only half decent cafe there is, drinking tea and picking at a muffin, when she sees the car slow down and then pull over to the kerb on the opposite side of the road, watches a boy, just like the one she’s been thinking about, walk up to it, smiling, as the passenger window glides down.
Of course, he’s smiling, he knows the driver.
Why wouldn’t he smile?
Now, he’s leaning down towards the open window. He tosses his hair and grins at something the driver says; pushes his shoulders back, his chest out. He nods, listening…
Even though he knows him, trusts him, he knows equally well that he shouldn’t get into the car….
She’s enjoying his few seconds of caution, and the fact that it is only a few seconds…

Predatory males and vulnerable females is a trope of the thriller writing genre. It is normal. That normality is fully revealed with reversal of gender in scenes from the books cited, when the male is hunted, betrayed, tortured, exploited by a female. The sheer unrelenting nastiness is seen for what it is: sadism. The ‘translations’ above move the analysis forward an inch or two.

*This selection is based on an earlier post: https://oedeboyz.com/2015/01/30/novelists-and-their-sadistic-public/
**Steig Larsson’s Lizbeth Salander isn’t a
predatory female though she is very unusual as a female character as she is a computer genius as well as being more than prepared to use extreme violence where she sees it as being necessary.

(Chris)

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