Playing with Gender: Rule 63

One of the most fascinating things about pop culture is how fans of a genre make the object of their affection into their own possession. Such acts of “poaching” mass culture and remixing it into your own creation can take many forms. This is, for example, the same principle behind sampling in hip-hop.

For a comic book fan one of the highest expressions of devotion is to dress up as your favorite character. However, you don’t have to be a comic book fan to be aware of the fact that the majority of superheroes and villains are male, effectively closing off some of the best characters from authentic representation in “cosplay” – the fan term for playing dress-up. What’s a lady fan to do?

Enter “Rule 63” a term used to designate gender-swapped cosplay. This is not the same as being in drag, where a man dresses as a woman or a woman tries to pass as a man. The spirit of Rule 63 is to reimagine the character as if the gender were switched in the original.


Geordi LaForge

The Joker

The Punisher

And lest you think Rule 63 is something reserved solely for women, men can get in on the fun too and portray female characters as if they were male. This may be even more subversive because the costumes of female superheroes are much more revealing. Rule 63 versions of The Huntress, Wonder Woman, and Power Girl (below) were part of a gender swapped Justice League and can be interpreted as a cultural critique through performance. The objectification of the female body in comics becomes clearer (for a male audience, anyways) when men portray women characters.

Looking at Rule 63 is part of a larger interest of mine examining what happens when female pop culture consumers enter into traditionally male dominated realms. How will the Geek Girls carve out a place for feminism among the gamers, comic nerds, and sci-fi fans? Perhaps not surprisingly this is an area of considerable friction within fan communities.


About Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is a project cataloger at The Mariners' Museum library. He has a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and was formerly a professor at ODU. You can find him on Twitter @m4ttTh0mps0n.
This entry was posted in Geek Girl, Gender Reversal, Performance. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Playing with Gender: Rule 63

  1. bryan138 says:

    Cyclops never showed his belly like that! I like that it was modified in that way, to either embrace her womanhood or exploit it? All the male customs could be made to be more “sexy” and fit in line with regular female customs from comics which are more reveling but in doing so, I do not know what will be accomplished. Some women enjoy being sexy and dressing revealingly, so since it is the females choice it may not be as bad as a bunch of men drawing comics where the females are all big breasted hardly dressed ladies of the night. Movements like the Slut walk have allowed women to take back and reclaim the word slut and remove the negative power it has, and embraced there so called “slutty” appearances that cause them to be raped, so some have said.

    Now the man could make them less sexy and add some long pants but keep the same theme and or color patterns of the female character they were pretending to be.

    But I have always thought that we both genders are in are normal state nude, so the more reveling the clothes the more we are who we are meant to be, so just make all the customs reveling and equal. How about a comic book of 50 shades of Gray, women would go wild haha

  2. Kris Rais says:

    I the female fans did great at depicting the super hero they chose and remaining in the seriousness and confidence of the character. Although, to me the Jokers smile is too pleasant and not sinister enough. She made the Joker too cute. Cyclops belly shirt does not bother me because the look on her face is intimidating.
    I am also impressed by the men, especially by the guy that decided on the power girl depiction. At first I thought that he took the easy way out by just making his costume white shorts but after observing closely, they are hot pants and, he seems to be busting out of them just like power girl and her white leotard! This write up just gets me even more excited about the idea that the Justice League movie may be coming out soon.

  3. Kyle Kirby says:

    I have noticed that this type of “gender costume exchange” is actually pretty common at colleges during Halloween time.

  4. sonei008 says:

    Is the friction due to the fact some of these super-fans feel threatened by the presence of females encroaching on their territory or is it because they feel their favorite characters are being defiled? Superman was my first love, from the age of four. To this day(I’m 36) I still remember my favorite Superman footie pajamas(def boy p.j.’s) and wearing them til there were holes in the bottoms. I’d like to think he would take this as the compliment my little child heart meant it to be. The same mindset should hold true for the grown up kids. Just say’n…

  5. loganmeyer says:

    This is very interesting. I don’t remember the green lantern having thick thighs! I believe the gender roles of the super-heros are “normally” or “supposed to be” male, but this is a funny little change-up. I feel that the super-heros should be male like in the comics because men portrait strength and bravery, while women are seen as more docile and fragile. Also, when many of these comics were published, the women in society were still housewives while the men were the breadwinners — times are starting to change.

  6. Lexo says:

    This is pretty cool. It puts a sense of humor and fun to comics.
    It proves how versatile gender roles can be and how gender is only based on societal views and interpretation of gender roles. It is nice to see that both men and women can appreciate the the strength in each gender and make light of it.

  7. kfock001 says:

    X-Men have both genders as super heroes, and they are pretty much even with ratio of gender. Each character in the stories have turmoil that they have to overcome and it shows both genders having bravery and strength. Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941 during a time when women were seen as housewives with not much say. In my opinion, an individual should express themselves any way they would like to. Just a thought, maybe in a matriarchal society, there would be more female super heroes than male.

  8. dbask005 says:

    I never really thought about it in this way however it’s very interesting too see the male gender of super heros being switched to females Their outfits are almost identical however the difference is females are more revealing I found this very interesting as well but do not really understand why society is this way. Women were usually seen as fragile and docile but this goes against that.

  9. afike001 says:

    What stands out the most to me is that both the men and women take care to make the outfit their own when they are cosplaying as a character of the opposite gender. The women take the idea that was behind the original outfit and alter it to show their feminine side in a world that is traditionally a targeting a male audience. In the comics, women who are main characters or powerful sidekicks, are often depicted in very sexy costumes to appeal to the mainly male readers. This seems to be an influence when women cosplay as characters of the opposite gender. The females who do this almost seem to be keeping true to the way that female characters are portrayed while creating their own costumes for male superheroes/characters.

  10. andrewparkeriii says:

    This gender costume thing is actually very popular, expecially during college parties. Not only just super heros but “jersey shore” as well

  11. I’ve always been a fan of anime culture with my friends. I don’t watch it so much like I used to, but when I used to go to anime conventions and gaming conventions, this sort of “gender switching” is very prevalent with cos-playing. It’s even gotten to the point that in the artists gallery at these conventions, there would be entire artists that focus entirely on gender swapping anime and super hero characters. These artists were surprisingly good, and some of them were even the best at the conventions.

  12. bmcca019 says:

    I think females are dressed up as male superheroes because as time progresses women want to idolize power and strength.

  13. jhump017 says:

    I rather enjoyed this piece.This is very 21st century to me, it shows how females have come to involve themselves in what was once considered a male hobby. Although I’m not a superhero fanatic, it’s cool to see the females making their female versions of always known superheros that were male. They all looked good!!!!

  14. afraser218 says:

    This is very interesting because it shows the female side of comic book heroes that i grew up with. I believe the alot of females do this to look cute but there are some out there that justwant to be the hero they idolized

    • Mercedes Chapa says:

      I like the point you brought up, I agree alot of women dress up as super hero’s to be portrayed as sexy instead of wanting to be portrayed as a strong, intelligent, and powerful women that some female super hero’s embody.

  15. Rule 63… I think this has been around longer than we know, but now that more and more people are taking part in the role reversal, its presence is agreed upon and it was given a name. The concept of playing a male role as a female or vice-versa didn’t start with these “internet rules” but they sure do make some feel less apprehensive to dress up as the opposite sex because they know that an online community with “rules” are behind them doing the same.

  16. ainge002 says:

    I think that the concept of role reversal here is fantastic. I do not read comics typically but I have seen many films based on comic books. It is common to see a male character as heroic, witty, and strong, however, female characters are typically meek, physically attractive/sexual, and submissive. Understanding that masculine and feminine character traits are fluid throughout humankind and are not fixed based on gender or sex, the portrayal of male and female characters in comics gives the audience a false impression of the true nature of identity. By reversing roles as these comic fans have, the message comes across that they do not wish to define themselves or their favorite characters by stereotypes. Plus, I am sure that it is pure good fun!

  17. bbarr007 says:

    I think the friction here as stated before arises from women beginning to move into typically male dominated worlds. Comics are not the only place this is occurring. Another area that was typically male dominated but has been seeing a large increases in female users is video games. similar to that of comics there has been much friction by some male gamer’s who fear the introduction of women into what they feel is their world. I think as time goes by well be seeing more and more rule 61 things occurring in the video game world as well.

  18. brianoshei says:

    I think its really interesting how far people go in rule 63. It seems like they are having a lot of fun by trying to guess what the opposite gender super hero would be. It doesn’t matter that a superhero belongs to one gender, they ignored that aspect and gender bent all the heroes. The masculinity or femininity of the heroes is not what makes them important its the personality and skills they have that define them. By reversing roles in rule 63 it is not hurting anyone and it insights change that anyone can be anything and it looks like they are having a good time doing it too.

  19. rawpickle says:

    Rule 63 really opening up my mind about the anime characters i wish i could react such as Lara Croft from Tomb Raider game and Buttercup from the Powerpuff Girl shows instead of being Goku from Dragonball Z because these were characters provided a vision for women to explore macusline world. For example, what it would be like to venture into the gaming industry and show the maculine body that they are too superior if they were giving the chance express their skills as well as Lara Croft and Buttercup both show their power and willingness not be undermined by any enemy in their way even though tend to exbihit feminine traits.

  20. dbuhr002 says:

    There are so many branches of conversation that can be taken here. I dare say that even more people would have tuned into X-Men if Cyclops looked like that.

    That said, it should be noted that not all women that cosplay do so to dress as their favorite characters. Some women are paid to attend booths or enter contests at events like Comic Con and similar events. What I’m getting at is that the motive behind this gender rule is not always clear or could be a variety of different things. What’s for certain is that some heroes look good with curves.

  21. reztap says:

    I do not see how this role reversal in costumes could be construed as anything but positive. Ever since women have gained the right to vote they are continuously breaking down the barrier between what were “male” interests or roles. For females to branch an interest in comics that led to them embracing male roles and costumes, shows a typical show of forward day thinking. What really impresses me is the fact that some of the men dressed as female heros. Even in todays age, things that are seem as supposedly “female” have very males cross that boundary. Professions such as Nurses, Flight Attendants, Secretary, and Child Care are all dominated by women. Even as women have embarked on to be Doctors, Pilots, CEO’s and corporate tycoons. More men need to break into these typically “female” jobs to further eliminate gender roles.

  22. Mercedes Chapa says:

    Rule 63 is an interesting concept that women are able to portray themselves as super hero’s that are known to be men. I see this as both a positive and negative. Throughout comic books women are sexuality and portrayed as the vixens or side kicks. Not very often are women considered in the Dominant, strong, super hero role except in certain instances such as super women. If women are depicted often time they are portrayed to have sex appeal or sexy, revealing clothing that captures ones eye. Men dressing up as women is another interesting aspect of the concept of rule 63, men are able to dress feminine and against societal norm and embrace the opposite sex which would normally be frowned upon in society. It seems fit that in society one can switch their clothing to mimic others from the opposite gender on Halloween or at parties and are a form of comic relief and humor to others, not to be taken too seriously. I feel that there shouldn’t be such strain on appearance and differentiating oneself to a certain gender. People are too focused on other peoples actions and image and concentrate so much on appearance that it comes to a point where people become obsessive and frown upon others that aren’t wearing something they approve of or something out side of the gender specific attire deemed appropriate for oneself.

  23. teterpanda says:

    It is perfectly acceptable and I think anyone should be able to dress like any character that they want. For a woman to get into comic character when it is make dominated is very interesting and exciting. I am a huge comic book fan (mostly Marvel) and I liked all of the woman’ s take on the different characters. My favorite was The Punisher and Cyclops the costumes were great and the story is more important than the gender of the character. Overall I think rule 63 is a fun take on the different comics.

  24. The first thing that I think of when I look at this and read it is not really the fact that the majority of the super heroes aren’t male but when you look at the female super heroes and the adult costumes they are changed in a way that always makes the female version “sexy”. They add thigh highs. Really high boots are normal for heroes yes and so are spandex yes, but then thy change it to where the belly shows or shorter skirts and shorts. Also the simple fact that there aren’t many female super heroes. If there is one she is never the main one she is like a sidekick or a part of a team.

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