Flipped Passage

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, p 68-72

The Queen of England has graced Babbage and Lovelace with her presence, on a visit to observe the Difference Engine. The two inventors, keen to secure continued funding for their work, give an animated demonstration to the royal audience. Proud of their contraption, they start the machine and allow the grand show to proceed. Unfortunately, the Difference Engine experiences an untimely jam in the middle of the presentation, forcing Adam Lovelace to descend into its depths and resolve the problem. He climbs into its mechanical innards, sidestepping the grinding gears and clanging pipes, working furiously to get the machine computing again. Swearing profusely and swinging tools, Adam’s frustration is growing and his patience wearing thin.

Commentary

Flipping Ada Lovelace’s gender in this passage alters our understanding of the entire narrative. No longer do we read about an intellectually independent, mechanically inclined, kick-ass female protagonist, but Ada is now Adam. Somehow, the story of two men building the first computer does not seem as compelling in comparison.

Ada defies gender stereotypes: not only is she a trained mathematician in the Victorian era, but she is also a capable mechanic who smokes a pipe. In the original narrative, her disregard for traditional Victorian representations of women as domestic, powerless, and fragile becomes normal. We are introduced to Ada as a dynamic and influential woman. Ada challenges our expectations of women in the Victorian era, and her character shapes the way we receive the narrative. We can get behind our female pioneer, commandeering the mathematical breakthrough of her time. She is in a position to set a precedent for successive women in programming, and she is a steadfast figure, unruffled by Babbage’s frenzies.

By flipping Ada into Adam, we lose all of these characteristics which she brought into the narrative. Instead, we now have another man working alongside Babbage on the Difference Engine. Although designing, building, and programming an early computer was a remarkable achievement regardless of the inventors’ genders, with a male Lovelace, we are deprived of the vivacity and spunk that Ada brings. More importantly, we lose a central component of the original narrative, as Ada no longer exists to defy the normal representation of women during that time period. Instead, we are presented with two men working together to build a mathematical machine, a far more probable situation in the 1800s.

What other female characters can you think of
that defy gender stereotypes – whether in books, movies, or TV shows?
How would the narrative change if their gender was flipped?