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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

The Boy Problem vs The Girl Problem.

Anybody who is unfortunate enough to follow me on Twitter probably saw me post a link to this article written by YA author Hannah Moskowitz entitled “The Boy Problem” and they most certainly would have seen me react accordingly. For 10 consecutive tweets. My apologies for that. So to christen the new blog I thought I’d share my polished opinion here.

Moskowitz states in her blog biography that she’s the author of several books, most of which have yet to be released, and also states that most of them have male protagonists so maybe she’s doing some sort of self promotion here. She also offers a brief disclaimer that this piece is her opinion and there will always be exceptions so I’m going to offer exceptions. I can understand where she’s coming from to a point and she’s made some other interesting blog posts about the genre, including one about the exclusivity of YA which I agree with more than this. Right now the genre is very geared towards a female audience because the trend is for Twilight style books. It’s easier to promote something as “The next [insert trend here]” and this is nothing new. We did it with Harry Potter, we’re doing it with Twilight and Percy Jackson and it won’t be long before we do it with the Hunger Games. I can’t comment on her point that boys don’t read YA because obviously I’m not a boy but it does seem like an odd generalisation to make. Gender specific trending is nothing new and while I’m okay with it to an extent (I’d still love more gender neutral media, not just in literature) it is true that since the current bit trend is very much for girls, all the attention is on that. But my main problems with Moskowitz’s article start here:

We've
stereotyped boys.

Most boys in YA fit into four very particular categories: The gay best
friend...the best guy friend...the bad boy...the nerdy boy...

This isn’t a complete lie. Right now the YA genre, especially the paranormal trend which I have studied more in depth (well, studied is a very strong word, I ranted more than anything else), is inundated with weak characters that fall into easy to label categories and stereotypes but this isn’t exclusive to the male characters. Take a note every time you come across the bitchy cheerleader type antagonist, their sheep-like hangers on, the kooky best friend, the secretly special heroine, the worldly but passive mother figure, and so on. Right now the genre isn’t getting bucket loads of attention because of strong characterisation; it’s all about the true love. But the reasons Moskowitz gives for this trend are baffling.

We've
sanitized boys. We've stripped boys of substance

and we did it to empower girls. Somehow, the message "girls can do it too"
became "only a girl can do it," and men became the weaker sex in
YA.

No. Just...no. Frankly, after all the books I’ve read this summer that have included sexual harassment as love and far too many instances of the meek girl needing a big, strong man to save her, forgive me if I seem a little sensitive here when I say that Moskowitz’s point is bullshit of the highest order. Right now the paranormal YA genre is as deep as a puddle. There are obvious exceptions which I’m only happy to talk about but the current fads have led to writers trying to appeal to trends and generally lazy writing. I can’t believe anybody would consider any of the current trend books like Twilight, Hush, Hush and the like in any way empowering to women. They perpetuate the most horrible and archaic of stereotypes that all women need is a big, gorgeous man to take over their life and nothing else. Right now male characters have been stereotyped and arguably sanitised (although turning someone into a sexual harassment expert is hardly sanitising them) but it is not to empower women. It’s to turn them into easy to categorise fantasy figures that perpetuate the worst of messages to impressionable readers. It doesn’t matter if they meant to do this or not because there’s a huge difference between intent and reality. Moskowitz also asks where are the male YA trends, like the boy’s equivalent of Twilight or Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely. There are fantastic books out there for teenage boys, like Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, The Knife of Never Letting Go (I’m going to review this book later) but the greatest of books transcend gender anyway. This is only a recent trend; right now things are turned in favour of female readers but for much longer it was all about boys. Where was the female version of Huckleberry Finn or The Catcher in the Rye? To this day, even with the Twilight fad and the sparkle mania, the default gender is male. It’s still considered the unspoken norm for male characters to be relatable to both men and women while female characters are only mouthpieces for ‘women’s issues’ that only girls can relate to.
Stop
writing this boy you've imagined in your head and write a real boy. Make him
gross or sweet or angry or well-adjusted or affectionate or uncomfortable or
confused or ambitious or overwhelmed or smitten or anxious or depressed or
desperate or happy. Write a boy the same way everyone has been telling everyone,
forever, to write a girl; free of gender stereotypes, three-dimensional, and
relatable.

Write a girl the same way everyone has been telling everyone, forever, to write a girl’ free of gender stereotypes, three-dimensional, and relatable. Seriously, please do, because right now the most popular YA books aren’t pushing this point Moskowitz is making. I’d love to see well written characters of both genders in YA getting the attention they deserve. They’re not being written badly to empower women, far from it. Right now the genre is brimming full of great stories for both boys and girls, not to mention the wide spectrum of literature that teenagers move onto after YA. Right now, as Tamora Pierce offered in her fantastic rebuttal, the market is more open to girls because girls buy more books while boys are more likely to borrow from libraries and the like. Pierce also writes about why she writes female heroes here.

I wish I could conclude this slightly less ranty piece in a more original manner but Ms Pierce said it best. Both boys and girls need heroes and both need books. We all need strong characters and less sexism and less bullshit.

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3 comments:

psychedeliceyes said...

I'm quite sure I read this a while ago on ontd_feminism a while back. Am I imagining it or did she make a comment more or less implying that writing from a male POV was inherently better? Perhaps I'm misremembering or thinking of something else. Regardless, I was pretty put off by the generalization that guys don't read YA (speaking as a person whose closest YA-reading friend is a guy) and it more or less went downhill from there.

Ceilidh said...

I hate using the tone argument but Moscowitz does seem to be of the belief that the male POV is somehow better. Her blog is sort of strange; I agree with a lot of what she says but there's something about the way she writes that feels sort of...for lack of a better word, bitter. She's very wrong on the subject of YA for boys as Tamora Pierce proved with one effective smackdown.

Jessi said...

I absolutely agree with girls being weak in most popular YA books now. There are some obvious exceptions, of course, but Twilight has really led to a 'dumbed down' audience. Your readers are as smart as you allow them to be.

I know a TON of guys who are YA readers. Some of them are teens, some are twenty-somethings and some are in their THIRTIES. The one consistency I've found with them are that not a single one of them are even remotely attracted to Bella Swan. 'Brain-dead princess' is a term I've heard frequently among the fellas. This could also be because I've been lucky enough to surround myself with awesomesauce people and the boys/guys/men tend to like the smart, strong ladies rather than ones they have to coddle. :)

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