Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Pendulum of YA: "girls who do things" and boys who don't do anything at all

WARNING: The following post contains opinions about the Twilight series that may seem negative or overly-critical. I would like to proudly proclaim that I am a Twi-fan. I love the series, and so I feel like it's okay for me to wag my finger at it a little, because I'm still a fan! I love the Twilight series, I love Stephenie Meyer... it's all good!

Okay, let's begin:

It seems that YA books nowadays represent a sort of pendulum: they swing in one direction and you see domineering, arrogant/egotistical unhealthy bad boys, and they swing in the other direction and you see…pretty much same type of character, only instead of a boy, it’s a girl. Girls in teen books are either meek and flat, with little to no personality, who enter into unhealthy relationships with boys who push them around (but apparently that’s okay, as long as the guy in question is “hot” and/or some sort of mythological creature), or they are butt-kicking angry chicks who scream independence…which I think has the potential to be just as unhealthy.

Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment: everybody seems to hate Edward Cullen, but what about some of these other “gloriously independent” girls? If Edward is a chauvinist, how are these angry chicks any better?

There’s a difference between “girls who do things” and “girls who are angry bitches.” Sorry, but I had to put that word in! However, the former has lately been overshadowed by the latter.

Like I said in the intro, there seem to be a lot of messages that teen authors are portraying – my blog buddy Choco tackles weirdo “romances” in one of her latest posts, and that got me thinking about one of my pet peeves that I’ve seen a lot of recently: overly-dominant girl characters. This is the 21st century, and it really bothers me when authors try and drag us back to the Dark Ages.

Now, I know that there are some awesome, strong, able-minded girls in fiction that readers can look up to: presently, I’d say the one of the truly strongest characters out there is Annabeth Chase from the Percy Jackson series. Here’s a girl who is smart, a good fighter/no weakling, and not really dependant on anyone… but here’s where she’s special: while she may not need anyone – especially a boy – she seems to want one, and that is normal and healthy. She’s not trying to be an island unto herself; she’s not trying to be “greater than thou.” She is at her strongest when she’s with her friends (Percy in particular). Another good character is Eilonwy from the Chronicles of Prydain, for many of the same reasons. I really do think that the Intermediate-age authors are the ones who best get it right: they are the ones with the most well-rounded “role model” characters and they also seem to be the ones who present the healthiest relationships. Way to go, MG authors!

So I kind of bristle when teen authors get so excited with themselves for writing “butt”-kicking female characters…is it just me, or is that taking a walk down the hypocritical road? Why is it bad for boys to push girls around and for boys to be pillars of strength, but totally alright for girls to treat boys like they don’t matter? That seems a little chauvinistic to me – and that’s a phrase that I find myself using a lot: “female chauvinism.” I don’t want to annoy anyone, but I found darling Katsa in YA’s Most Beloved Novel Graceling to be a complete Female Chauvinist. I’m sorry, but are we seriously saying that someone who is anti-marriage and anti-kids is a positive role model for girls today? Um, forget that: when exactly was Katsa positive about anything? I read that book and all I heard was, “I’m an angry young woman! I’m an angry young woman!” Or how about everybody’s favorite heroine: Tamora Pierce’s Alanna. I must be the stupidest girl in America, but the main character moves from one sex partner to another over the course of the 4 books…and she’s a role model?! Oh, I forgot: she’s brave and she’s a good fighter. Well, wonderful! Is that all that matters?

Now, while I like a rant just as much (or probably more) than the next person, I think they are pretty futile without some sort of suggestion. Yes, I think we have a problem in YA with the constant image of domineering, overbearing male love interests. However, I think we have a problem on the opposite end of the spectrum with “girls who kick too much butt” characters who are screaming independence. I learned this in my Marriage & Family Therapy class, and it’s some of the most beneficial and crucial bits of information I’ve received from my time in college: the goal of a relationship needs to be INTERDEPENDENCY. “Interdependency” means having two mature and complete people who come together to form a relationship based on give and take and working together. Not codependency, Miss Swan. Not independence either, Miss…Everyone. Now, in order to be an interesting story, there still have to be some elements of drama going on, but using this model you don’t have controlling boys OR girls. Yes, everybody likes to harp about domineering boys, and they should! But let’s not forget that it is possible – and just as unhealthy – to have domineering girl characters. If boys aren’t allowed to get away with lack of commitment, girls shouldn’t, either. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a double standard.

So yes, I can see why Edward would be unpopular. I might irritate some blog buddies (hopefully not), but I didn't really think Edward was all that bad. Edward's gonna do what he's gonna do - he thinks he's being protective and whatnot...but he was able to get away with it because Bella's such a moron, she didn't put him in his place! And please: of course Edward has to protect Bella! She's such a klutzy doofus! Okay, but I don't want to get into a Twilight rant. I liked the Twilight saga okay because you had a romance where the characters actually waited until marriage to have sex - what a concept! That's always a safe bet: if you can't write an appropriate love story, just don't put that element in there! Mrs. Meyer, if I ever amount to anything as a published writer, I'm gonna look you up and buy you a cup of coffee! You go, girl! :) I think if Edward was my boyfriend, I wouldn't give a flying burrito if he watched me sleep - long as he didn't wake me up! In fact, I'd probably put him to work doing my homework - he doesn't sleep after all, am I right?! But I'm getting way, way off topic. That happens a lot. Apologies.

So what I would like to see axed:
1) boys who are too overbearing
2) girls who are too overbearing
3) lust-based relationships
4) love triangles. I haven't touched on this, but it's just a pet peeve. Are girls just total losers if they don't have at least 2 guys chasing them? I hope not, or else my self-esteem will take a hit.
5) boys and girls who's main goal in a relationship is to maintain their independence.

But that's just my two cents. Do you have something to add? I hope so - I'll look pretty silly just blogging to myself!
Blog designed by Dreamy Blog Designs using Joifa Designs Birght Night and Cozy kit