There are a lot of times I feel like we’re not having enough of the “right” conversations regarding representation, and one of most frustrating things to me is the way we discuss feminism in YA. While I do appreciate that sex-positivity is such a big part of the conversation, as it is something I am very pro, I’ve spent a lot of the past couple years feeling like that’s almost all of the conversation. (YA Feminist Chat, run by Justina Ireland, did cover several of the below topics; I definitely don’t want to erase that!)
(I also have a problem with how tremendously heteronormative* that conversation has been. Not only does that make it something that revolves around something requiring a guy**, but I also found when I wrote a post on YA Romances that pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test that I had to go through waaaay more m/f romances to find ones that passed than I did f/f. And before you say, “Of course, because the MC and LI conversing in that case would help them pass,” I only used books in it that passed via the MC and a non-love interest.
*And, as author Laura Tims pointed out when we discussed this on Twitter, allosexual-normative, as it leaves asexual feminists out in the cold as well. She also made other really great points, such as how sex-positivity benefits guys, so it’s not exactly shocking or super-impressive when they’re on board with this particular trait of feminism.
**Except when we’re talking solo sex, which is definitely a conversation I support. Was gratified to see it prominent in three YAs I read this year: The F-It List by Julie Halpern, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, and Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott.)
PS: read Firsts by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn, because we shouldn’t be having any conversations about sex-positivity in YA without it.
I also think it means there are far too many things we’re not talking about, and therefore are not acknowledging are also parts of feminism.
Why aren’t we talking more about supportive girl-friendship in YA, and how few books feature it centrally?
(Some Existing Examples:The F-It List by Julie Halpern, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Just Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore, The Revenge Playbook by Rachael Allen, Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, Run by Kody Keplinger, and, not to be a tool, but Just Visiting by me)
Why aren’t we talking more about how few YAs feature girls with particular passions in STEM fields, or business, or any other fields we see are still very much struggle with accepting women?
(SEE: Anatomy of a Boyfriend by Daria Snadowsky, Nearly Gone by Elle Cosimano, Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro, Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee)
Why aren’t we talking more about how few sports romances in both YA and NA feature female athletes?
(SEE: Most of Miranda Kenneally’s books, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, Game.Set.Match. by Jennifer Iacopelli, Scoring Wilder by R.S. Grey, The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen, and Kulti by Mariana Zapata)
(This, by the way, is why I love ballet books despite having no interest in ballet – I think they absolutely kill it across the board in terms of showing raw ambition, power, and endurance in girls in a way we don’t see with any other occupation.
SEE: Pointe by Brandy Colbert, Second Position by Katherine Locke, Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo, How it Feels to Fly by Kathryn Holmes)
Why don’t we have at least one major cheerleading book in YA or NA, something that takes a female-dominated sport stereotyped as fluffy and shows how much strength and endurance it really requires, a la Bring it On or Sweet Valley High books 112-114?
Why aren’t we talking more about the stunning lack of support for f/f books, despite the fact that they revolve entirely around girls?
(SEE in YA: If You Could Be Mine and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, Far From You by Tess Sharpe, pretty much everything by Malinda Lo and Robin Talley, Dating Sarah Cooper by Siera Maley, Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie, Georgia Peaches by Jaye Robin Brown, Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst)
SEE in NA: Black Iris and Cam Girl by Leah Raeder, The Good Girls by Teresa Mummert, Take Them by Storm by Marie Landry, The Gravity Between Us by Kristen Zimmer)
Why aren’t we talking more about different kinds of mother figures in YA and what their choices mean for the female main characters?
(SEE: The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding, The Right Side of Wrong by Jenn Marie Thorne, Me, Him, Them, and It by Caela Carter, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Life By Committee by Corey Ann Haydu, The Mystery of Hollow Places by Rebecca Podos)
Why don’t we have more books in which girls embrace their body type, including when that type is fat?
(SEE: Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, This Much Space by KK Hendin)
Why do we so strongly embrace Fantasy with physically powerful girls, but not contemporary?
(SEE: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley, Bruised by Sarah Skilton, The Distance From Me to You by Marina Gessner)
Why aren’t we screaming about titles featuring intersectionality from the rooftops?
(SEE: Pointe by Brandy Colbert, Vanished by E.E. Cooper, Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton, Black Iris and Cam Girl by Elliot Wake writing as Leah Raeder, The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie, Huntress by Malinda Lo, Far From You by Tess Sharpe, If You Could Be Mine and Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan, Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace, Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz)
Why do we think “feminine” is the opposite of “fierce,” and “feminist” the opposite of “soft”? Why do find characters who wield a sword but have a soft side to be unbelievable? Why do girls have to be all one thing to believable? Why do they have to have masculine traits to be bought as powerful?
Why don’t we talk more about internalized misogyny and the ridiculousness Cool Girl expectations so beautifully delineated by Gillian Flynn in Gone Girl (and shown excellently in its teen girl evolution in Love and Other Theories by Alexis Bass)? (Also expressed in this really great post by Meagan Rivers.)
Why are we not having all these conversations nearly enough, and yet expecting things to get better?