Hello! And welcome to a new feature here on BOANW, where Ashleigh and I talk about various things we’ve found whilst reading books that we need to get out of our system. Or stuff we want to talk about in terms of books in general. Yes, image is stolen from that Simpsons episode where Homer watches the Estrogen Network. Warning, there will be gifs, and sometimes potty mouthing. But we’ll try to keep it civil as best we can.
This week, we’re yakking about: Girls in YA! Specifically how they’re treated. Part 1!
USAGI: So, this has been kind of sticking in my craw for awhile. Girls aren’t treated very well in YA in general, I’ve found, even by female authors. Which is really troubling. I’ve already accepted that mainstream media culture uses us to market stuff, though it’s still not cool. But to find that so many of the “heroines” in YA books that I read each year are lauded for some of their actions, or for how they’re written? Okay, I admit, I’m definitely a fan of unlikeable characters if just for the tension they cause alone, but there are some things we just don’t do. And those “things we don’t do” list has been lengthening the more I’ve been reading and reviewing and now? Now I’m just depressed. Like, this is now how I feel when I pick up a lot of female-written, female narrated YA:
So what about you, Ashleigh?
ASHLEIGH: I love ladies. L.O.V.E. I also love media, but I recognize that a lot of movies, television shows, and such are targeted at men. YA is more friendly to females and that’s part of the reason I love it. At least, it seems to be more friendly to women because there are so many female authors and main characters. I find it disheartening that some of these ladies write sexist, anti-women novels on level with the most sexist of male-produced, male-targeted media. For God’s sake, I see so much of it that I have shelves for sexist novels (some of the novels on that shelf challenge sexism, but I mark it anyway because some readers don’t want to see it period) and slut-shaming (which is one of my biggest pet peeves ever). It’s saddening, how much there is.
Bullying, slut-shaming, girl hate, double standards–I’ve seen all this and more done by heroines whose actions we’re supposed to approve of! There are so many mean girls in the genre who are just around to be laughable caricatures that it makes my head spin. When I manage to find a novel that is positive about women, shows them being friends with little to no trouble, and calling out sexism (one good example is Good Girls by Laura Ruby, which you all should read because it’s AWESOME), I start floating.
USAGI: Agreed on all of that. I’m really tired of how certain issues that happen to both genders (gender identity/sexual identity, for example) get treated in a double-standard way, usually couched in bullying and self-harm and suicide. And while that happens to be reality once in awhile, it’s not always the outcome of discovering you’re different or you like different flavors of gender and stuff. The girls always go for self-harm, and while statistics do back up that fact/trope used so heavily in contemporary YA? Let’s remember what the great Mark Twain said: “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” While girls may have the lead in terms of numbers (and remember, this is reported self-harm, I shudder to think of what the ACTUAL numbers are) in self-harm due to bullying, boys still do it too. And almost NO ONE talks about that.
Since we’re on the topic of sex and girls in YA, let’s get to the paranormal romance area – that, right now, is really damaging my calm.
ASHLEIGH: Paranormal YA can come loaded with symbolism, like the well-known “vampires = sex” metaphor. Sometimes, this symbolism as it applies to women can be pretty fucking awful.
Just recently, I finished off one of the most problematic Paranormal YA novels I’ve read in some time and part of my issue came from a twist involving the female lead and her romance. The romance was bad enough because of how the love interest treated her and it seemed unlikely because a much better love interest was making progress, but once the twist came around, the situation flip-flopped. All the horrible stuff the love interest did? Got swept right off the board like it didn’t matter. Honest to God, it was almost as bad as Jacob and Nessie from Twilight, where it’s pretty much pedophilia and child-grooming in action.
Paranormal elements do NOT excuse the problematic elements of a romance for me. Ever. There might be vampires and werewolves and everything but the possessed kitchen sink, but the appeal to me is the flawed human core all these beings have even if they aren’t/never have been/never will be human. The saying goes that nothing is perfect and I believe in it wholeheartedly (except when perfect books come along). If these beings have problems like how their women are treated, I want it to be made clear it’s not okay.
Werewolf books in particular can be horrible to YA ladies and that’s why I try to stay away from them. There’s a big difference between a female werewolf who struggles with her patriarchal pack rules and a female werewolf who seems to be constantly in heat, mean as a snake, and competes with other women for the alpha wolf–. Do not make me count how many I’ve seen go for the latter instead of the former because we’ll be here for a while. One of the strongest examples I can give is Born at Midnight by CC Hunter, though. It’s BAD. Like wow.
But next time you’re reading some paranormal YA and you feel like you’re about to die, have some fun with Fangs for the Fantasy’s Paranormal YA Drinking Game. I guarantee it will cheer you up a little. However, make sure you’re drinking water instead of alcohol because I don’t want your liver to spontaneously combust. Also make sure to space your drinks out so you don’t die of drinking too much water! Got that, Usagi? I don’t want to lose my coblogger already. 😉
USAGI: Don’t you dare tempt me with drinking games.
While I feel like werewolves and the paranormal in general are a fantastic metaphor for being a young adult (not just a teenager), it’s been so sexualized in YA lit, and we have enough of that already in the urban fantasy genre for adults. And while yeah, sex definitely does play a big role in things, the love triangles we see in the YA PNR subgenre? They’re pretty much ALL heterosexual.
And that’s so very, very upsetting. The only author that’s really dared to do gay paranormal YA aside from David Levithan and Laura Lam is Scott Tracey, and both get my love for it because it’s still considered a risk to publish.
Guys, I thought we were done with this. It’s no longer the 90s. And gender identity? Only really found within contemp YA being couched in the usual. The only paranormal I’ve seen that deals with this is “Pantomime”, which was fantastic btw. I want more YA that takes those risks of the new final frontier of gender identity, not just preference. “Every Day” deals with the idea of a being not having just one body, so while that counts as paranormal YA dealing with gender identity and preference in one fell swoop, it’s not a steady thing. In “Pantomime”, our MC has to constantly hide hirself because ze wants to go beyond the binary gender model that we have right now in Western society, and what’s also present in the society presented to us in the book.
We need to get beyond the idea of binary gender, too. People need to stop being uncomfortable about it. And the only way we can start doing that is by talking about it. And by talking about it? It needs to be published. And publishers and agents? You guys need to stop being afraid, too. Seriously.
ASHLEIGH: Use water and space it out and you’ll be fine!
Like Usagi, I want to see more diverse YA published. It’s all so binary both in content and in how it’s marketed that it gets a little dull after a while. Oh yay, another love triangle where a straight girl is trying to choose between two extremely hot straight guys. Fun.
The reason I don’t complain more about this in YA is because I apply a technique I learned when I was fifteen and read a lot of fanfic: unless explicitly stated, everyone is bisexual. That’s something I’d like to see, actually: a love triangle where all three people involved are bisexual–and this is NOT glossed over. Even within the binary, there’s the binary: manly girl or girly girl, manly boy or girly boy. Each one comes with its own problems and implications and I’d like to see more positive portrayals of them (like how girly boys in YA are almost always gay; great diversity there–NOT) and more shades of gray between them.
Really, we’re in 2013. The ambiguities of gender of so much more understood now (one LJ community I frequent has made the difference clear to me and showed me how many people recognize it), but there’s almost no paranormal YA that does anything with it. I plan to read Every Day and Pantomime at Usagi’s urging, but I see a problem right in Pantomime’s jacket copy: you read it and have no idea the main character is intersex. This one book made it through the publishing process and STILL didn’t get to openly say in its description that its MC is intersex. This is a problem, people! Educate yourselves. Start talking. Publishing industry? Pick up on these stories and use them to bring about more change instead of sticking with what will have you rolling around in money.
USAGI: I seriously can’t agree more. There was, honestly, an issue with the “Pantomime” blurb – even Laura herself said that. But that’s the only way to pitch right now to an audience that’s become so scared and narrow-minded of pretty much everything that sometimes, I really can’t even. I can honestly say the books I mark as best of the year really are best of the year – if the love triangles are symbolic, I can be down with that. Read more in my reviews on how that works. I’m a semotics-lovin’ kinda girl, so all of that symbolism makes me happy. But otherwise? I can honestly say that only 25-30% of what I do read and what does get published I honestly love enough to keep on my actual bookshelves. And I have a LOT of bookshelves.
I mean really. With the explosive boom that YA’s undergone within the last decade, we’re better than this, guys. And we should be demanding better than what we’re getting.
ASHLEIGH: I will be seeing that gif in my neigh–er, I mean nightmares.
I’ve gotten surprisingly tolerant of love triangles because they’re kind of insecapable at this point. It’s when they’re openly, unapologetically stupid in-story that I really get mad. Otherwise, I go “Oh, love triangle. Whatever.” I won’t pick it up in the first place if it doesn’t sound like it will do something new instead of being a rehash of the same plot line I’ve seen done better in at least three other novels.
Of all the print books I buy/receive for review and read? I keep about a fourth of them. All the others go to my local used bookstore for store credit if I can’t swap them away to someone. If I keep it, it’s either amazing or it has a scene I want to go back to in the future because it inspired me in some way. The former is much more common than the latter. My shelves will be even emptier this summer because I’ll be going back and cleaning them out again. 😀 Many credits for me, yes.
But long story short, both of us want more diverse (in sexuality, gender, etc.), tolerant, lady-friendly YA. A large portion of the YA book blogger community that helps publicize novels through word-of-mouth? Is made up of women. Don’t sell us books in which our fellow women are treated like shit and expect us to gobble it up like dinner after a long day of work with no lunch or snack breaks.
USAGI: And that’s this week’s Afternoon Yak. Join us next week when we talk about more stuff about things that bother us in YA!