I really enjoyed writing my post touching on trends in reading and all of the discussion that came with it. I have to admit that when I first started this blog over a year ago that those were the types of things that I had in mind to write about. I want to be able to think critically about what I'm reading, share it with others, and receive feedback and new thoughts.

And so, inspired by Anita Sarkeesian's fabulous Tropes vs. Women series I'd like to try and address some topics that come up with females in young adult fiction. Though I doubt I'll be able to do it with anywhere near the aplomb that she has in discussing these concepts, I'm going to try my best to do it with as much equanimity as possible.

This is something that I've been thinking about doing for a while, and though I'm not quite sure what this is going to look like overall yet, I hope it ends up being useful to you in some way or otherwise adds meaningful discussions to an important topic.

The first idea I'd like to put out there for discussion is:
the idea of a female character as defined through a male lens.

For example, let's create the fictional character of Kate. Kate is your average seventeen year old girl. She may or may not have graduated high school yet. She may, due to plot circumstances, not be in a setting that does traditional schooling (perhaps futuristic Kate is in a dystopian political school for girls). Kate is fairly content with everything that's happening around her, but sometimes she wonders why everyone seemingly does the same job. In any case, Kate will be done soon and then she'll get to work for the government too. Right?

But then there's been a transfer from some distant government branch and a new guy is brought in. Kate and new guy work together on occasion through a cooperative program between the boys and girl schools.

At this point it's incredibly formulaic, but nothing is inherently wrong with the gender interaction.

Until Kate starts to realise that through talking with new guy that perhaps changes need to be made. She doesn't know as much as she thinks she did and new guy sees her in a way that makes her feel alive.

This - this is where the problem begins. Kate was questioning things on her own before new guy came, and his presence doesn't or shouldn't overshadow that in any way. She doesn't need to be affirmed by anyone else that what she is doing is right or wrong, and the fact that new guy helps her see herself in a 'new light' only illuminates the idea that a woman needs a man to help her make decisions about herself. This could not be any less true.

The better scenario would be where new guy offers new information for her to formulate her own hypothesis. Kate thinks and comes to conclusion on her own and acts on it. Kate gets to think independently to determine her own sense of self, while new guy is less of a plot device and more of a character I'd like to get to know.

There are endless permutations to this idea, and this is probably the number one reason I'll put a book down. As far as character romance goes, there is nothing appealing about a girl changing the way she thinks about herself for someone else. What do you think about this trope and/or Kate's situation? And if there are any other ideas or situations that you'd like to bring forward, please do in the comments! This is meant to be a series so I welcome your ideas.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

6 comments on "females (and tropes) in young adult fiction: through a lens"

We Heart YA wrote: Wed Aug 22, 02:08:00 PM

Um, wow. Thanks for sending us down that rabbit hole of feminism/Anita Sarkeesian. Crazy good stuff, that! (Not that we agree 100%... but probably in the 70-90% range.)

Anyway. Yes. Females through male lenses. We agree that this is not our favorite thing to see. Since we "live in a man's world," though, it's hard to escape... Takes a lot of conscious effort on the part of both writer and reader, you know? To recognize and/or avoid it.

But by discussing it, folks like you and Anita (and hopefully us!) can chip away at the status quo, and help replace it with something better. :)

Jenny wrote: Wed Aug 22, 09:44:00 PM

Hmmm, this bugs me too. But for some reason tonight I started wondering if it's such a bad thing. Shouldn't the people that come into our lives help us grow and change? It's annoying that it always seems to have to be a guy, though.

Christina Reads YA wrote: Wed Aug 22, 11:42:00 PM

^^ I agree with Jenny. It's true that our friends help us change, but more often than not, I feel like that is not what really happens in YA books; it's more that the protagonist wants to impress the romantic interest or feels guilty because the romantic interest said something about it etc. etc. It is nicer when the protag. comes to the realization on his/her own. I don't know if you've read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, but I am reminded of Alina's growth in that novel, and her self realization. That is the type I would like to see more of in future YA novels.

Jeannette wrote: Thu Aug 23, 11:04:00 AM

I enjoyed your post, and have to thank you for introducing me to Anita Sarkeesian.

I agree with you on this one. There seems to be a general sequence of events that goes: Girl - Meets Boy - Changes World. I understand the need for a love interest in most YA books... it's a time of self-discovery, and lust and the emotions that go along with it are a huge part of that. What I wish would change is the order. You're right, in this order, the boy is the impetus for change rather than any of the main character's attributes alone.

It would be nice to see Girl - Changes World - Meets Boy along the way. The story can be almost identical, and yet the meaning is entirely different.

Thanks again for a great post. Now I'm thinkin'...

Kelly wrote: Fri Aug 24, 08:46:00 PM

This immediately made me think of Matched by Ally Condie - I don't think I articulated myself this clearly in my reivew, but that was my issue with her protagonist's relationship with her love interest. She was questioning things, and being encouraged to question things, but it wasn't until her love interest said she should question things that she started to do it seriously. And then, of course, she attributed her growing awareness to his influence. I wanted to remind her that she was headed down that path without his influence! Great discussion!

Unknown wrote: Sun Aug 26, 06:47:00 PM

Just came across this blog, and wow what a great post and discussion.

As Kelly has so rightly highlighted, this scenario is becoming ever so common in YA fiction. Especially dystopian literature for some reason?

Although we may see these situations as undermining towards the female protagonist, perhaps the writer is looking at this from a more wholesome view.
A loving relationship, to a lot of people, is two people finding the other half of themselves in each other. By questioning her beliefs and finding the answers in a partner is perhaps justifying the bond they have to each other.

Would the story be the same for a lesbian couple for example? Or a gay couple? The case of feminism is too frequently brought up in discussions about books, and I feel that readers are keen to question things that are just as simple as the love of two characters.

Does this make any sense? Would love to know what you think.


Emma :)

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