YA and Feminism

October 4, 2012

I was on the subway this morning and happened to see a young girl reading Twilight. Though I cringed inwardly, I did think, “well, at least she’s reading.”

But then I stopped and thought about that. The “at least they’re reading” argument is a good one, but if ‘reluctant readers’ are reading less to begin with, they aren’t being exposed to as wide a variety of characterizations, so wouldn’t we want them to be exposed to more positive messages?

I don’t know if this girl actually is a ‘reluctant reader,’ but if she is then she’s being exposed to a female protagonist who lets herself be entirely defined and controlled by a man. The “team Edward” or “team Jacob” phenomena is baffling to me as both characters attempt to control Bella and she lets her entire being get swallowed up by their worlds. Even were she given the opportunity to think for herself, she wouldn’t take it.

Look at this in contrast with Hermione in Harry Potter. I’m not trying to make Hermione out to be the feminist model in modern YA literature, but to prove a point, she thinks for herself (and often for others) and isn’t afraid to hide who or what she is. She even ends up with a date — with a celebrity no less (remember Krum?) — because she’s smart, not despite the fact.

Today’s girls need empowering reminders that it’s OK to be smart and know and be who you are.

It’s also OK to want to feel pretty though. Putting aside any issues I might have with the beauty and fashion industries, a tube of lipstick or a pair of heels can also be fun as long as they’re not dictated by someone else’s expectations.

Yes. This is what I think about on my way to school.


7 Responses to “YA and Feminism”

  1. emmawolf said

    I’m constantly one to argue “at least they are reading.” And I can just hope that whatever book they are reading teaches them to love reading and that they will eventually be lead to different ideas/portrayals of female characters.

    • That is a good way to look at it, but I wonder if they stick to similar genres and never break out of those patterns. Thanks for reading!

      • emmawolf said

        I can only speak from my own experiences: no. Whenever I get into talking about “at least they are reading,” I think of Harold Bloom’s criticism of Harry Potter. (Do you know about this? It’s several years old already.) Basically, he complained that the “at least they are reading” argument was crap because Harry Potter would not lead people to great literature, it would only lead them to Stephen King (which is pretty insulting to King, imo).

        Growing up, I hated reading until I found the Babysitter’s Club. Now, I’ll be the first to admit they are crap, but as a kid, I loved them. But they taught me to love reading. I don’t want to brag about all the things I read, but it’s way more than chick lit.

        Some people might stay in similar genres, but I think if the books help them develop a love for reading, that will extend beyond a genre.

      • That is true. There are plenty of readers out there who started out reading genre fiction or just complete crap, but that managed to spark their interest and make them lifelong readers. And honestly, even a lifelong reader who is reading mostly junk is still reading something.

  2. True… but even non reluctant readers might just be reading and learning the wrong values from some books.

    • This is a valid point, and another reason why I find the trend toward Twilight and 50 Shades so worrisome. Yes, on some level it’s me being judgmental about the quality of the writing, but when books with these values are our country’s best sellers that suggests that there is a larger issue that needs to be addressed.
      Thanks for reading and joining the discussion!

  3. poindextrix,
    This post struck a chord with me. Based on what you said here, I have a book that may appeal to you. If you’d be willing to shoot me an email at nathan @ nathanbarber.com then I’d be delighted to send more info about the book. Great blog, by the way. Best of luck with your library studies.

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