Jay Takes A Stand

Moonrat, still at Editorial Ass, is making me think a lot lately. She did a recent post here about sexualized violence in print ads, and connected the dots to sexualized violence in books and other media, which got me thinking about how I treat girls and women in my books.

To be clear--I'm a feminist. I believe in equal pay for equal work and reproductive choice, and the whole ball of wax. I'm not going to go into detail about all that here because, frankly, there are people out there whose blogs are dedicated to that kind of thing (like Jezebel*) and they do it way better than I ever could. But that's my political orientation, in case you care.

So when I was writing The Book, it was very important to me that my female protagonist S did not fall into any of those "heroine needs saving by the hero" tropes that so many books for teenage girls do. Sure, there's something very "romantic" about the hero swooping in and rescuing the heroine, right? Seriously, think of all the books you've read where the woman takes shelter in the man's "strong arms" or whatnot. I promised myself I wouldn't name names here, but there are several of very popular books out right now, both adult and YA, where the woman just sits there and lets the man do all the actual work.

That's crap.

It seems to me that if the guy is going to do all the rescuing, then the least the author could do is give him first billing, you know? Why have the girl be the focal point if she's just going to sit around? BORING!

Anyway, the challenging part of this for me was that in the plotting of The Book, protagonist S does need the help of G, the main male character. I had to be very careful that the "help" came across as help, and was not written so that it read as "rescuing." There's a difference (at least to me). We all need help sometimes. There are things that we can't do by ourselves, no matter how hard we try. And there's nothing wrong with a female character saying "could you help me with this, please?"

But there's a big difference between "a little help here, Romeo" and "oh my! Whatever shall I do about this problem until the big strong man gets here?" Have a little agency, honey. Take a little action.

That's something that I always try to be sensitive to...how are the women coming across in this story? Too sweet? Too perfect? Too delicate? Too weak? Not that there's not a place for each of those kind of women in a story--for each time a purpose under heaven and all that happy crappy--but I don't want one of those women as my protagonist. That's not the kind of hero I want my name attached to.

*Jezebel is not really appropriate for young girls, by the way. It's for adults.

2 comments:

Good for you, Jay. Responsible YA authors are WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS MOST.

Thank you for taking a stand!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008 at 11:21:00 AM EDT  

I think a lot about this, too. In my latest project, the heroine does reach a point where she needs help and can't help herself--but I've tried to mitigate that by the way she bounces back and takes control at that point. Besides, the same is basically true for the main male character. I think of this book as "people constantly up a river", with no gender bias as to who gets it worse.

Friday, July 11, 2008 at 7:02:00 PM EDT  

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