Where does Rule 63 come from?
Rule 63 is a reference to the so-called rules of the internet, an unofficial, often humorous list governing internet conduct and phenomenon first compiled on online forums in 2007. While this list of rules varies across online communities, Rule 63 is widely shared among them.
Rule 63 states that for every fictional male character, there exists a female version of that character, and for every female character, there exists a male version. There are officially sanctioned versions of this: for example, the DC Comics character of Supergirl is a female counterpart for Superman. Similarly, the cartoon Futurama did an episode where all of the characters swapped genders.
While the exact language of the rule may have been formulated in 2007, there is no evidence that Rule 63 existed as a “rule” before the list was put together. However, the notion behind Rule 63 has long predated the term. For example, the superhero She-Hulk, aka Jennifer Walters, was created by Marvel’s Stan Lee and John Buscema in 1980 due to the success of the live-action TV series, The Incredible Hulk. Marvel was concerned that the TV station might try to spin off their own female version of the Hulk, so Marvel beat them to the punch in order to ensure that if they did so, Marvel would own the rights. Ironically, after Jennifer Walters became Marvel’s official Hulk character in 2016, it could be argued that any new male versions of the Hulk would now invoke Rule 63.
Today, the most common instances of Rule 63 are seen in fan art, fan fiction, cosplay, and other fan creations. Searching for a gender-swapped version of almost any popular character online will, as Rule 63 promises, almost always reveal art depicting male characters as women, and female characters as men.
Who uses Rule 63?
One of the most common places where Rule 63 occurs is at comic book conventions, where cosplayers do not let their own gender identity or presentation stop them from dressing up as their favorite characters. For example, men frequently dress up as Wonder Woman or women as the Joker.
The motivations for creating a gender-swapped counterpart vary. Sometimes Rule 63 is invoked humorously or playfully. Other times, it is done to make a social or political point, casting women as traditionally male characters to call out heavily male-dominated nature of many popular franchises. By recreating a male character as a woman, the creators may want to prove that female characters are just as viable as male ones. Rule 63 can also be evoked more generally as a statement about the fluidity of gender identity.
Alternatively, when creators are remaking a familiar character from the ground up, gender-swapping a lead character can produce new storyline possibilities not possible with the original gender. For example, when Battlestar Galactica rebooted in 2004, the character of Starbuck went from a tough, cocky, cigar-smoking alpha male to being a tough, cocky, cigar-smoking alpha female played by Katee Sackhoff. This version of Starbuck would go on to become one of the show’s most popular characters.
Rule 63 is often used as a shorthand to refer to gender-swapped characters. For instance, a Rule 63 Green Lantern or Rule 63 Batman render the originally male characters as women.
“I'll start with a 'Rule 63' cast of Nolan's Batman: Abbie Cornish as Brenda Wayne / Batwoman”
axelbratoski Superherohype (November 11, 2011)
“According to Rule 63, there will be a female version of every male character that exists (and vice versa) knocking around somewhere in the darkest corners of the Internet, whether as part of official canon or depicted in a piece fan art or fiction.”
Joanne Weselby, “Rule 63: 15 of the Best (and Worst) Comic Book Genderbends,” Comic Book Resources (November 11, 2016)
“Perhaps that’s why our first impulse, looking at the Ghostbusters reboot, is to look at how true it remains to the original. We’re used to seeing this kind of thing unofficially. The fact that a genderswap has been recognized by Hollywood is simply the fruition of our homegrown Rule 63.”
Lauren Orsini, “How Female Ghostbusters Prove Internet Rule 63: There's An Alternate Gender Version Of Everyone,” Forbes (July 10, 2015)