Celebrating International Women's Day: Girls in YA

Here's a sad truth: I didn't learn anything about the feminist movement until my second year of university.  My compulsory education never covered it, not even in passing.  While I cannot speak for the state of education across the world, or even in the UK beyond my own experiences, I do think children (not just girls!) need to learn about women's history.  Because feminism is not about hating men or putting men down. Feminism is about raising awareness and promoting equality.  

Whether we realise it or not, children are introduced to traditional gender roles from a very young age.  You need to watch this:


How sad is that? What happened to the days when Barbie could be a doctor or an astronaut? Why place fashion and beauty above creativity and construction for girls? And we wonder why so many young girls have issues with their bodies! Telling a girl to value fashion and beauty above everything else does not empower her.  Open her mind, don't limit her!

The media is a huge influence on all our lives.  As writers, we're part of the media.
Personally, I feel YA books should show girls there's so much more to life than finding your one true love before you're eighteen. We all know I'm dead inside, and of course there's nothing wrong with wanting to be in love and be loved in return, but can we have some variety in YA heroines?

Where are the spy stories with female leads saving the world from destruction? Where are the high fantasy stories with warrior women saving their nation (while wearing appropriate amounts of armour)? Or can we have some superhero stories with women taking the lead?

Essentially, let's have some independent and fully developed female characters whose lives don't revolve around men.  That's what I'm aiming for.  And like I said before, I'll respect my male characters too, because putting them down to favour the heroine does not promote equality.

So, that's my perspective.  How do you feel about the portrayal of girls in YA? Are you okay with it, or do you want to see some changes?

Comments

  1. I think it depends on the books a person is drawn to. When I think about the YA books I've read recently (The Night Circus, The Hunger Games series, Across the Universe, The Abhorsen series, Divergent), they all had strong, fully developed female characters. Sure, there were love interests involved, but I didn't feel like the romance overpowered the story or took away from the MC's independence.

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    1. Lirael is one of my favourite female MCs of all time. She's a brilliant example!

      I've posted before about my personal preference for background romance. I just want to see more girls in roles usually reserved for male characters - like a female answer to the Alex Rider series.

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    2. Yay, I'm glad you like Lirael too :D

      I'm not familiar with the Alex Rider series, but from what I've gathered, it's about a boy who's a spy. Do you remember Harriet the Spy? It's been sooo long since I read that book, but I still remember loving it. Also, check out this list of YA reads for the feminist reader

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    3. Yeah, that's definitely Alex Rider in a nutshell. It's a brilliant series ^_^

      Wow, Harriet the Spy! I read it when I was very young.

      Thank you so much for the link!

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  2. I agree, my latest MC is too busy finding ways to fit in and coping with her live as good as she can. She would probably not even notice when her true love enters the premise. And I am not going to tell her.

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    1. Sounds like a good plan to me. True love can wait!

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  3. Great post! I think it's easier to find YA books like you're describing if you read action/adventure or sci-fi and dystopian. A lot of the books I read portray tough-as-nails girls who aren't focused on just getting the guy. I'd love to see more of what you're describing in contemporary YA, where romance is usually the focus.

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    1. Thanks! Those are the genres I read, because contemporary does not work for me - yet. But you never know what someone may write!

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  4. I totally agree with Tracey's comment. I like reading about strong heroines who still get the guy, but it's not their prime focus. I'm a total sucker for romance so I like that element in the stories I read, but I also feel like it shouldn't be the main goal.

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    1. Romance taking the backseat to a strong female character works for me too :)

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  5. The problem I have with most YA novels I've read recently is the heroines are flat characters and such Mary Sues that they are incredibly unlikeable, yet the authors never realize it. I imagine Twilight is responsible for this trend; Smeyer thinks she portrays Bella as perfect, but she just makes Bella a spoiled brat. It seems as though these heroines learn absolutely nothing in their stories because everyone who doesn't like them is just jealous or evil for no apparent reason. The YA novels I read a decade ago had heroines who were flawed and grew as characters, but those heroines seem fewer and farther between now. It certainly doesn't help that these heroines all seem to require their love interest to accomplish anything- I'd probably be slightly less critical if a heroine was an unlikeable Mary Sue who saved the day on her own. Don't get me started on how the male characters are presented in these situations because they are never portrayed well either for completely different reasons. When I find myself actively rooting for the bland villain in a YA novel, the author is doing something wrong.*

    I think poor characterization is indicative of a bigger feminist issue in the YA publishing industry. As much as it pains me to say it, some of my favorite YA heroines were written by men; a lot of female YA authors do not know how to write heroines as anything other than self-inserts fulfilling their secret fantasies. I don't especially want to get into the male author versus female author thing because it is a black hole, but the YA industry (and "chick lit" in general) needs better female authors who can create strong female characters who aren't perpetuating problematic ideals.

    TL; DR: I'd love to see some more fluffy YA novels by better authors with great character development. There is nothing wrong with wanting to read a silly romance, but it's hard to identify with a heroine who is so flawless she's repellent.

    *When the villain is truly awesome (see Gruber, Hans), I'll probably root for 'em anyway, regardless of how much I like the hero/heroine.

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    1. My favourite YA book from my actual teens is John Marsden's "Tomorrow When the War Began", because the female lead in that is AWESOME. She's flawed and she has moments of weakness, but she overcomes everything.

      You make a really good point about guys writing favourite heroines. My all time favourite - Lyra - is Philip Pullman's creation. The majority of my favourite characters are male. There's nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice to see some more women on that list!

      I'm hoping to bring about a stronger female lead. Just got to hope someone chooses to publish me!

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    2. I have noticed that some female YA writers do write male characters better than female characters, so I do think it is easier for some authors to develop characters of the opposite gender. Obviously a lot of male authors do write horrible female characters and vice versa, but it's much harder to self-insert when the protagonist is another gender.

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    3. I do think every author puts something of their own personality into their characters, but there is a line between vague similarities and self-insert. Sadly, it isn't limited to YA. The woman who writes Anita Blake is seriously guilty of it, which is only a tiny part of why I won't read her stuff. After a friend of mine broke down the basics, I had trouble forming coherent thoughts.

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  6. I love a strong female character. But i love a romance too. There has to be a way to do both without the guy needing to SAVE the girl??

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