manifesta: (Battle Eyeliner)

It seems the interwebs has suddenly decided to provide me with plenty of fodde-- I mean, food for thought.

Hannah Moskowitz discusses "the boy problem" in YA.

"The problem we're talking about is fairly simple: boys don't read YA. This isn't an issue of "boys don't read"--we're not talking about these boys. We're talking about avid readers, boys who ate up middle grade but go to adult fiction and non-fiction instead of passing through YA, and nobody really knows why."
I agree with some of her bullet points, but she loses me about halfway through with this:

this cut has been brought to you by the Society for Shorter Reading Pages (SSRP) )
Tamora Pierce posted an eloquent reply on her own blog.

just kidding about that society thing )

With this, I think the "there is no YA for boys" myth has been adequately debunked. I also don't think I need to address the fact that why yes, Harry Potter is YA, or that pretending one of the best selling books in the world isn't YA is quite convenient when that series happens to be about a boy and the discussion is about boys in YA.  

Which allows me to move on to what the heart of the boys-in-YA debate is really about, and the underlining belief system of Moskowitz's post: That by writing about girls, by empowering girls, we have somehow managed to disempower boys through a lack of representation or quality of characterization. And in believing this, can we go back to the boys now, please? (Also known as Sarah Palin's so-called feminism.) 

There have been similar arguments recently made  in various arenas, including politics and academia. They say we achieved equality, we finally made it, but in doing so we also disempowered men.* The gender and women's studies programs are too exclusive, they say. We need to study men more! Men are four times more likely to commit suicide, they say, and more women than men are graduating college. Naturally, the people to blame are the women, what with all the time and money spent catching up from that problem with no name thing. Meanwhile the poor men have had their masculinity withered away.

This is called backlash. I tried to find a link that describes it in better detail than I can, but the posts I've read in the past have been lost in the nether. Backlash is when a movement toward equality for a marginalized group gains momentum and the privileged group(s) freak out. This usually takes the form of denying that there's a problem or firmly announcing that the problem has been taken care of, all while doing a little dance in the opposite corner of the room to refocus the attention on who's really suffering.

Yes, boys deserve to have books written about them as much as girls. But it seems to me that we aren't talking so much about whether there are books out there for boys as we are about whether we perceive there to be as many books for boys  in comparison to the surge of books for girls. It also reminds me of how minority groups are often perceived as the numeric majority in a room even when they only represent 30% of its composition. The current ratio of boy to girl books (if we must abide by gender roles here) is closer to being equal than that, but in comparison to all the books written for boys in the past? No. We've come a long way, but it's still an uphill battle. And if there are more girls than boys represented in YA right now, it's because they've never had this kind of significant representation before.

Moskowitz asked, "...how many books about girls do we need before we can consider that a job well done?"

Make no mistake: We're just getting started. Advocating for more books for boys is one thing, but shifting the blame onto girls and women undermines the tentative progress** we have made and neglects to take into account the intersection of social systems of power and the books that we read.



*Although I don't understand how we achieved equality AND disempowered men at the same time.

**And by tentative, I mean entirely relative. See my posts on YA and rape culture.

As an aside, I don't know if I agree 100% with the entirety of Tamora Pierce's post. I'm not up for trying to figure it out at the moment, however.
manifesta: (Dangerous)

Trigger warning: The following post and all links discuss rape culture.

The Book Smugglers recently discussed why they didn't like Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. It's your run of the mill, textbook example of rape culture and victim blaming in YA. The authors wrote an excellent post on it, and I wasn't going to do much more than pass the link along until I saw the author's reply in the comments.

author statement under cut )
Two things about this book make the distinction between victim-blaming-and-not-victim-blaming a little fuzzy: 1) The example isn't actually about rape, but about being attacked by werewolves, and 2) one of the characters tries to justify her bias by suggesting that if x group of people only knew what horrible things they were inviting by dressing like y, then of course they wouldn't do so. With the subtext being that if you did know better, and merrily continued along anyway, well then it'd just be your fault, now wouldn't it?

Certainly, the passages picked out by the Book Smugglers can be given the benefit of the doubt. The trouble is that simply because the author didn't intend for the characters to victim-blame, doesn't mean they don't.

Rape culture is systemic. Rape culture is implicit. Rape culture is our society-wide, culturally ingrained perspective that says women are responsible for stopping the violence against them and deserve what they get when they don't. Rape culture is when someone says this interpretation of violence against women is incorrect--and gets shouted down for it. Rape culture is when the person or persons who did the shouting are also corrected--but refuse to examine where they might have gone wrong.

Rape culture is saying that something does not stem from rape culture, simply because you never intended it to be. All while forgetting to go back to rules number one and number two: Rape culture is systemic. Rape culture is implicit.

We are not always aware of the biases we hold, against both our in-groups and our out-groups. We are not always aware of the associations we unconsciously maintain even if we consciously do not condone them.

This is why intentions do not matter. Regardless of what someone intends, we are the sum of our society. You may not have intended to write a scene that involves victim-blaming, it may insult your very being to even consider that you could have done so, but rape culture is by nature so insidious that it permeates our lives, our relationships, our writing. You may not have intended anything, but intentions fall flat in the face of what actually happened.
manifesta: (Rory/Logan Snuggle)
Working steadily on part 2 of the romance series, but it's slow-going. There are a lot of empowering and disempowering characteristics in romance, and for every topic I elaborate on, there are even more details within that topic that I feel like I need to talk about, and on it goes. I might have a beta reader look over it; if anyone's interested, especially if you have some familiarity with LGBTQ characters and/or kink/BDSM in fiction, do let me know! (Short summary: there seems to be more LGBTQ characters and kink in erotica than there is in romance, and I think that says alotalotalot about how we perceive non-hetero/vanilla/etc. sexualities, as well as the current state of the industry, but I'm not as familiar with erotica and I'm trying to avoid making assumptions. Any thoughts would be appreciated.)


Malinda Lo (author of Ash) wrote a 5-part series of blog posts on avoiding LGBTQ stereotypes when writing YA fiction.
"In YA fiction today I often encounter secondary characters who are LGBTQ. This is a great development; it means that LGBTQ people are increasingly part of the story. Nina LaCour’s hold still has a particularly awesome secondary queer character in it.

"However, I also find the most stereotyping in secondary characters. I think this is because a secondary character, whether he’s a supporting character or simply a walk-on one, has less space on the page than a main character." #

From the comments:
"Too often we still see the coming out story ignore that most teens today not only have greater familiarity with queer people and issues, and have seen those issues debated in real life and on TV, in the news, etc., but many have already met someone they at least perceive to be queer and have greater access to support and queer culture. And so when someone comes out in their world, or they themselves acknowledge they might be/are queer, it is from a different place and context then it was even ten years ago, and certainly than it was fifteen or more years ago. And the coming out stories written about them need to take these changed realities into account." #

 

manifesta: (Coffee Shop)

[livejournal.com profile] m_stievater (Maggie Stiefvater) on writing gender and YA, bold emphasis mine:

"Okay, so I need to bring this back around to my writing philosophy. And it’s this: yes, I know there are women and men who are wildly different from one another, who fall classically along gender lines. But I also know that there are those who are not that different, the ones who have escaped or resisted a lot of the influences that makes us pink-clad shoppers versus muscle-bound Maxim readers. And when I write, my characters will often be plucked from that latter group. Boys who read poetry and girls who swear and guys who play music and chicks who love cars. I refuse to see the gender gap in YA fiction as a chasm of fixed proportions. I refuse to constantly make sure my girls are acting “girly” and my boys are acting “guyish.” That would mean letting current mores define gender and character for me."

This is the kind of vision I love to see in authors and books.

manifesta: (Coffee Shop)
Sumayyah on faith, choice, & sexuality:
"So, the young adult literature world has (for some time) been all abuzz with talk about female sexuality. It's a hot topic that's been debated and talked about and explored forever. I have very strong opinions about it, about who gets to regulate it (if anyone at all) and whether or not women have it (because, apparently, some people think that women don't have red hot blood running through their veins. or hormones.). And when you boil it down, my opinion is this: choice and freedom.

[...] As a Muslim, I choose to wear the headscarf, I choose to remain a virgin until I get married and I choose that I will shank any man that thinks I'm going to do different. Similarly, another friend can choose to sleep with her boyfriend, she can choose to wear tight clothes and strut her stuff, and she can choose to laugh in the face of the people who thinks she's wrong for doing so.

I think that as a world we need to stop trying to simultaneously suffocate and liberate our girls and women. Educate them. Let them choose. Don't make girls feel like they're sluts for choosing a sexual life. And don't make girls feel guilty for choosing to pick one sexual partner and stick with them. For not wanting to flaunt her body for you."
manifesta: (Battle Eyeliner)
Remember, the 3W4D Book Giveaway ends tonight at 11:59PM PST! The contest entry post is here.

From Kiersten White, author of the upcoming YA Paranormalcy, on romance in YA:
"But I knew—KNEW—that we were meant to be together. And if I could just figure it out, convince him, I’d be able to root out his personal demons. He would confess he simply feared he wasn’t good enough for me/was actually protecting me, and we’d be able to have our happily-ever-after.

As long as I earned it. As long as I was good, and pure, and self-sacrificing. Then I could make it work.

Romantic, isn’t it?

Wait. You mean that was creepy? You mean that no girl should ever, EVER have to “earn” the right to be treated well in a relationship? That if a guy treats her like that, he is not worthy of her?

[....] So here’s to making sure that our girls know they are worth far, far more than a bad boy. That they shouldn’t have to work to earn the right to be treated like they deserve. That they shouldn’t have to sacrifice themselves or their dreams for someone to love them."
It's good to know some YA authors are listening.

I particularly appreciated her emphasis on how women, and especially young girls, are socialized to believe that they must earn their happiness, and in earning it they must compromise themselves (which isn't portrayed as compromising oneself at all, but rather making a general compromise for the good of the relationship if not solely for the boy).

I think that, in regards to relationships, there is a very strong American rhetoric of "making it work." Couples are encouraged to compromise and to be flexible enough to take as well as give, which all in all is sound advice. Gender roles throw a wrench into the equation because women are already encouraged by society to give more than they take. And so when you look at the current trend in romantic YA (and especially in paranormal), what Americans see--because it's what they expect to see--is a couple "compromising" when what's actually occurring is a greater portion of the burden of "compromise" being shouldered by the woman.
manifesta: (An's Fury)
Potential trigger warning for discussions regarding sexual assault/rape culture. Though I think it might be mostly in the links.

A week or so ago, [personal profile] kaigou wrote an incredibly powerful post in reaction to discourse occuring within the rape culture/YA debate. The post is currently frozen, but I still recommend reading it.

"What's the message in there? That to write a story where a girl stands up against the rape culture is only possible and believable if it's not in our world, and not in our present day? That we need to wait twenty years -- or be on another planet altogether -- before it'd be okay for a young girl to tell a guy where to get off and have her demands be respected?

"[...] Yes, science fiction and fantasy have their place. I'd be one of the last to argue otherwise. But in this context, in this genre, the contemporary has a power that cannot be defeated by "what it'd be like in thirty years" or "what it'd be like if we were all blue and living on Pluto" -- it can only be defeated, I've come to believe, by showing our next generation of women that the things they deal with, here and now, can be changed, should be changed, and that we -- the generation who went before, who now produces the works that these younger women read -- are aware of what they face, and we are using our own experiences to give them paths to follow, to lead them out of that goddamn cage of the rape culture, and that yes, as a matter of fact, that we do not believe that the only path to true love is to accept the stalker-rapist, that we call that as bullshit and are here to help them see there is a better life -- a better world! -- possible."  

In the post [personal profile] kaigou temporarily sets aside scifi-fantasy in favor of exploring the power of the contemporary (possibly also paranormal) YA (i.e. "this context") and demands why women and girls are only allowed to set boundaries and experience agency within scifi/fi but not contemporary YA. I think this raises some interesting questions, and I'd like to expand on it a little further. Note that I'm not setting contemporary YA and scifi/fantasy in opposition with one another, painting one as bad and the other as free of problematic portrayals of women; rather, I'm following the basic premise that women in scifi/fantasy are able to experience more agency (however layered or illusory) than their counterparts in contemporary YA due to fundamental beliefs about  women's lives in contemporary society that don't seem to apply to AUs.

I think it's a given to say that the contemporary holds a certain power of immediacy that scifi/fantasy doesn't, and I think this is significant in understanding why issues such as the perpetuation of rape culture become so prevalent across a single contemporary genre. I've said before that books often reflect the underlying beliefs of society, and while this holds true for scifi/fantasy as much as it does contemporary YA, by introducing the element of the fantastic we also introduce the possibility that not everything is the same as in the real world. Part of the reason scifi/fantasy, urban fantasy, and paranormal romance hold my attention from a meta-analytical perspective is precisely because of this possibility; it is also why I think they are incredibly powerful tools, particularly given their popularity and success, that could potentially shed light on systemic beliefs and counter them in an unrealistic context with realistic results.

That said, I think this exposes the inherent cognitive error that does set contemporary YA and scifi/fantasy in opposition: that scifi/fantasy should or does completely fill in the gaps left in between the reality of oppression and the fantasy of freedom. By this I mean the idea that if scifi/fantasy's role is to explore alternate possibilities, then contemporary YA's job is to reflect current realities. An alternate approach to the latter, and one I'm loosely basing on [personal profile] kaigou's above statement, is that contemporary YA's job is not only to reflect current realities but to also create a model for improvement.

This isn't to say that contemporary YA shouldn't tackle issues such as rape as a reality of many women's lives. But it is to say that the repetitive tropes that place girls and women in positions of vulnerability and their boyfriends in positions of power, without raising any questions about this arrangement in the text and thus subliminally advocating its acceptance does harm.* The defense that women are dealing with these issues in real life is not a reason to portray unhealthy relationships as healthy nor the women themselves as helpless victims too oblivious to recognize the violence in their own relationships.

From Bitch Magazine, in an article on why contemporary intersectional feminism isn't necessarily anti-racist,** which may seem off-topic, but I do believe the basic idea applies here, too:
"I mostly think this because my method of measuring where feminism is at isn't coming from the "oh, well it's better than it was before" place or the "oh, we need to understand that the second-wavers were women of their time" starting point. My measurement says that things have been really fucked up, are still really fucked up, but most importantly that I don't have to keep swallowing the pill of "understanding" why they remain that way in many instances."
Bold emphasis mine.

Part of the reason that many YA books are currently a vehicle for the perpetuation of rape culture is not just because the portrayal of relationships are riddled with socially accepted violence but also because we as a society have swallowed the defense of "this is the way things are." It is certainly pertinent to reflect "the way things are," but it is equally important to do so with an awareness and respect toward the people being impacted and to take a stance, implicitly or explicitly through the text, that does not in any way condone the behavior. 


*In accordance with my idea that genre books are the "dark mirror" to our reality--reflecting negative yet prevalent societal norms in a subtle manner--it follows that if stereotypical or negative portrayls of people, particularly marginalized groups, in scifi/fantasy books can have a dentrimental psychological impact on readers, then so, too, can contemporary YA. However I would suggest that the lag time between the absorption of the messages we receive and their solidification in our unconscious is greatly reduced (i.e. the amount of consistent messages need not be so high) due to the inherent relateability of contemporary/YA books. The messages are more powerful because they are all that more obvious. (And by obvious I refer to the connection between the realistic setting and the negative portrayal, not their subtlety as a function of privilege.)

**See how I slipped that in there? Read it. It's important, too.

Reposted because the original timestamp backdated it. Sorry if you're seeing this twice on your reading pages.

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