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.