Thursday, June 5, 2014

The good news about the bad news

In my last post, I talked about misogyny and rape culture, and male entitlement and sexism. In real life, they suck. In fiction, they’re inexcusable.

Let me clarify that. In fiction like The Handmaid’s Tale, they’re powerful. But The Handmaid’s Tale is an exceptional book that, like all the best fiction does, holds a mirror up to society and demands that we look.

But what about most other fiction? Most other fiction isn’t holding that mirror up to society. It’s only reflecting back the shallow attitudes that are already there. And they start in YA.

Here’s a fun thing. Let’s rewrite The Hunger Games. Not by much. Let’s just change one little detail: Katniss is a boy now. He’s a kickass hero who starts a revolution. The story is pretty much the same. The action scenes are still awesome. The tension still keeps you turning the pages way after you should have turned the light off and gone to sleep.

But I’ll tell you what’s completely unimportant in our Hunger Games reboot: whether Katniss ends up with Peeta or Gale. Or, in our case, Peta or Gail. Because Katniss is a boy now, and boys in YA don’t get caught up between two girls. That’s the prerogative of the female hero, not the male.

And why is that? Is it because girls (to whom the female hero is marketed) are more concerned with romantic relationships than boys (to whom the male hero is marketed)? Or is it just something that someone in marketing once thought up, and it’s been regurgitated so often by the media that now it’s almost impossible to find a female hero who isn’t torn between two guys?

And I wouldn’t be so annoyed about this, except I can’t think of a single YA male hero who’s torn between two girls. Of course, it’s 3 a.m., so I also can’t think of my own name. Or my address. Driving home in the morning should be fun.

Boy Katniss doesn’t need a romantic subplot. But girl Katniss does, of course. And please don’t think that I’m attacking The Hunger Games – of all the love triangles I’ve read in YA, I really liked the resolution of this one. What I liked more was the way Katniss did what she had to do, and didn’t waste time worrying about boys when there was a war to fight.

What I don’t like, and what I’ve never liked, is that love triangles are seen as necessary in YA fiction marketed at girls. Why? Are we afraid that a girl might not know they’re funny or smart or brave or awesome unless there are at least two boys fighting for her affections to prove it?

Male heroes prove their worth by actions alone.

Female heroes, I’m afraid, prove their worth by their actions and by which guy they end up with.

And that sucks.

But the good news is, it’s us who get to change it. We get to challenge all the attitudes out there that we hate. We can write a female hero who doesn’t need or want a boyfriend. We can write a female hero whose value isn’t dependant on what boys think of her. We can write a female hero who is defined on her own terms.

And it doesn’t stop there. Sexism, racism…all the isms. We get to hit them head on.

That's the good news about the bad news. 

And it's pretty cool. 


  1. Well, I would prefer not having a love interest at all in my story, but I don't think that would fly with most readers. And it wouldn't be realistic for the character to go without a relationship during the entire novel. But I don't have the love triangle thing. Just a progression of men she has relationships with. But, of course, not too many, because then she would be the slutty character. Oy.

    1. Yep, a girl just can't win, can she?

      No boyfriend = a frigid, heartless, cold bitch.
      More than one boyfriend over a period of time = slut.

      It would be nice to see male characters held to that standard for a while.

    2. I saw an old James Bond movie recently, and I got to tell you, that guy was the biggest slut ever. Didn't matter who he met or where, he just could not keep his panties on.

    3. No, no, no. You're doing it wrong.
      Guy + a heap of sexual partners = hero.
      Girl + a heap of sexual partners = slut.


  2. One thing that might be playing into it is how, to teen female readers, the heroine is someone to look up to because she actually has two guys to choose from. Most girls don't ever get to choose, or even be chosen. So they like reading about that happening to someone.

    As for the guy side of it, well, guy heroes don't have to get caught between two women because, as guy heroes, they get to have them both. It's not like either woman could expect themselves to satisfy such a hunky hero. : p

    1. I think you're right, Steve. She must be a great character because both those boys like her, right? Not because she's cool or fun or smart in her own right.

      And you're probably right about the hero thing as well. Heroes deserve to be rewarded with many pretty girls!

  3. Yeah I don't typically have a heavy love interest in my novels. There is usually definitely a bias wtih novels. Who's to blame, the writer or the market? E. g the readers?

    1. I don't know who's to blame. I think we're stuck in a vicious circle now! It's refreshing to know that there are writers out there not relying on the love interest though!

  4. I don't think it's some marketing ploy forced on women, the fact is romance sells.Women's fiction is a huge money maker and romance, love triangles especially, is something women like to read about. YA's success is down to this in great part. Girls read YA, girls like romance, it's no coincidence YA is full of it.

    Moody Writing

    1. Romance sells bucketloads. I know, since I write it under my pseudonym. I have no problem with Romance. What I have a problem with is the fact that it's nearly impossible to separate Romance from YA when it comes to YA that's marketed at girls.

      The romance/love triangle appears to be obligatory in YA. Some girls might like that -- as a teenager, I didn't -- but what about letting them keep their options open and giving them the occasional female hero whose worth isn't measured by the number of boys she attracts?

      It's the double standard I don't like. I just want to see more female heroes who don't need a boyfriend to feel complete.



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