Thursday, August 12, 2010

i would like to know...

...what in the world it is about YA literature that cannot handle a male protagonist.

I would also like to know when it was decided that well-rounded, developed boys as MCs or narrators became a literary endangered species.

Or why every female character must be able to kick...that large extremity on your lower back.

Hmmm. Now call me stupid, and it's fine if you do, but if something is unattractive and unacceptable for some characters, shouldn't it be unattractive/unacceptable for all characters?
When did we come to the point where we allowed girls the right to walk all over people - parents, friends, and most importantly the love interest - but gasp and hiss when boys do it?

Reading fiction - and especially fantasy - requires the suspension of disbelief, but sometimes that becomes hard to do, even for a fantasy lover like me. When a girl character is written as a physically stronger and a more able-bodied fighter than the boy, my reason-and-logic radar goes off.

I've never been one to defend cliches and stereotypes, but I would like to know exactly where these books are that supposedly have weak, girl-needs-to-be-saved characters. And where these "knight in shining armor" books are as well. Because maybe BORDERS (store of choice) doesn't stock those anymore. I certainly haven't run into them lately. Seriously. And please, do not refer me to the Twilight series. Bella is accident-prone and in need of "attention" (or protection, whichever word you prefer) because it's in character, not because she's a girl. But that's just one example. You know, having every single stinking girl MC in YA be an Ultimate Cage fighter or a snappy sass-machine is indeed a STEREOTYPE and a new cliche. I do not understand the argument that girls need to be this way in order to overcome a cliche, because in actuality a new one is being created.

Perhaps my tastes (in love stories especially) are backward and not up to code for the 21st century reading/reviewing world. That's alright. I truly do not understand what is so offensive about having a strong and supportive share-the-burden love interest. Notice I said "share the burden" and not "take the lead." Because to be frank (and I'm sorry if this is graphic, too) I do not care what kinds of parts you have, no one should take the lead all the time in a relationship. There should be times when the boy becomes the beacon of strength. There should be times when the girl becomes the beacon of strength (but not always physical strength - remember, suspension of disbelief). And to speak honestly, nothing makes me roll my eyes than to see the world "STRONG" attached to a character, especially a girl. That's just an overused word - let's get a little more specific with what we're talking about, please. I do it, too. I try not to use the word "strong" when describing characters unless I'm actually talking about physical strength, because of the fact that the word is used a little too easily. And I don't really think that "strength" is really what a lot of characters have - I think it's a "macho, bad attitude bordering on self-preservation."

So when people say in their reviews or in their discussions "it's so awesome to have strong, kick-a--- girl characters for a change" (and that is NOT a direct quote from somebody's review, don't worry) I get a little puzzled by that. What books have you been reading - YA ones? Because the trend is killing off well-rounded, supportive and substantial guys. Maybe I'd like to trade, 'cause nothing gives me a headache more than amazon-y angry chicks with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove. Apparently YA books aren't supposed to send messages or teach anything anymore, but I still think that it sends the wrong message. Everybody - regardless of gender - should be treated with respect indicative of their worth.

Here at Imagination in Focus, knights in shining armor are welcome to seek refuge here. Vain, arrogant misogynists will be escorted to the door, though. And endangered species-labeled boy MCs are welcome anytime, barring the Holden Caulfield complex.

So to close, I disagree strongly with the complaint that "strong" "smart" "insert-empowering-word-here" female characters are lacking in YA. I'd like to know - where have all the dudes gone? Maybe if we had more well-rounded guys in true teen fiction in addition to MG literature. (and shout-out to the authors of the younger side of YA - ya'll are doing a GREAT job!), maybe more teenage boys would be reading. But that's another post for another day. REGARDLESS of the absence of guy MCs, the ladies of Young Adult literature need to be examined. Or given estrogen pills, whichever.
Does anybody else have any thoughts on this? I'd love to hear what you think, if for no other reason that to know that you do read these posts. I have to post something in between reviews...

(PS the pictures are from the awesome and incredibly hysterical A VERY POTTER SEQUEL. I used pics of Dolores Umbridge because if we're talking about strong, sassy chicks in YA...nobody does it better than Mama Umbridge. Watch AVPS on youtube now!)

10 shout-outs!:

Kirthi said...

Well said! Muy Buen!

Diana Dang said...

Oh my god, I completely agree! I am getting sick of the girls that are supposed to be "strong" and all that. I want to read more about guys too, but like, with real problems rather than being some powerful dude who's just really hot.

Allie said...

I took a YA lit class in college...6 or so years ago and we had long conversations about this. The fact is, most boys stop reading by their teens. A majority of teen boys don't read, and if they do, it is not from the YA section. Most YA is geared towards female readers, since that is who the majority of the population is.
We read some essay with details about all of this, but I can't remember the author at the moment...but it was interesting to hear the perspective of the guys in our class. Of the 15 or so guys in the class, only 4 of them considered themselves readers-3 of those read mainly science fiction, and the other read mainly history.

I like novels with strong male figures, but books like that are just hard to find in YA.

Sheri said...

Agreed, agreed, agreed! I've said it before and I'll say it again - I like the way you think. I appreciate authors trying to encourage girls to be confident and independent, but the lines that are getting crossed in the name of progression are a little out of control.
My favorite thing you said...
" one should take the lead all the time in a relationship".
Having been successfully married for 10+ years, I could not agree with you more. Great thoughts.

Anonymous said...

if you really want a girl that is not an "amazon-y angry chicks with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove" nor a smart mouth, I suggest "Just Listen", by sarah Dessen, if you're into that kind of thing.

Also, I agree with you. And it wouldn't hurt if some authors read that post, by the way

Christina T said...

Great post! I am one of those who is in the bad habit of overusing the phrase "strong female character" but I don't always mean physical strength (I consider Hermione Granger to be a strong female character because of her intelligence and courage but physically she isn't strong).

I do have a tendency to admire characters like Eowyn and Katniss Everdeen but both of those books also feature great male characters (Aragorn, Faramir, Peeta, Gale). There are a number of YA books (especially fantasy) however where we see the kinds of characters you mentioned in your post.

I think that publishers are specifically looking to publish those moneymaking books with characters like that. Maybe teen boys are being driven to read fiction for adults since there isn't much available to them in the YA market.

I always enjoy reading your posts. I will try to be more careful about the "strong female character" phrase when I discuss female characters in my reviews of YA books.

Unknown said...

This is just a result of post equal rights movement. Modernism. That's where we're at in society right now... with girls being "Strong" and tough. Because fifty years ago we weren't allowed to be.
But i agree with you, that the true beauty of a female is not in her strength alone, but in all facets of her being: her sensitivity, her courage, her fickle spirit, her generosity, her empathy, her sinceriity, etc. We need to see characters with all of those. Just the same with male protags. Maybe that's why boys stop reading YA. There's not much they can relate to. Which is why I'm dead set on writing my male protag story (mainly for my son) but because it can be done. And I see mid grade boys reading ALL the time!!!

Liz said...

This is a really interesting post! I definitely believe in equal rights for women, so I think our views vary a bit. However, I feel that in both fiction and real life the compromise of creating strong females is males who don't turn out so well. I like a good knight in shining armor, and think, "Hey, he should have a strong female to go by his side." Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us! You've made some awesome posts.

Nella said...

Quite honestly I hadn't thought about this before, but you are most certainly right! There is kind of a new cliche forming here. I have a hard time believing that when some of these heroines are faced with some of the things their faced with that they don't curl up in a ball at least once and have a nice cry. I mean really in Mortal Instruments if I were Clary and thought my Mom might be dead and having just faced my first couple of demons and was far away from home with a harsh boy, I think I might need a cry fest at least once. Does she cry? Now I can't remember, it's been awhile.
Anyway, I'm loving your blog, just found you a couple days ago.Happy reading!

Tales of Whimsy said...

Awesome post!
Here here!
Knights in shinning armor are welcomed with me too :)

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