What are we telling young people?
Jennifer from Girls Gone Reading is taking the week off of her portion of Friday Coffee Chat. She'll be back next week with a new post so make sure you stop by her blog next week!
This week I have invited Amy from Amy Reads and Rachel from And the Plot Thickens to cohost a special edition of this week’s Friday Coffee Chat. I have had conversations with both of them about the portrayal of young women in books. Because all three of us have read some of the paranormal romances like Twilight and Shiver, we decided to write about it this week and really open a dialogue about this topic.
Click here read Rachel and Amy’s full comments on the topic.
I have to say that for the most part, I don’t think a lot of the books are super harmful. I enjoyed Twilight even though it is clear that Bella has issues. To me, the relationship between her and Edward is troublesome, but not for the reasons everyone might think. His possessiveness I had always thought of as part of his vampiric nature which is animalistic—meaning that it is difficult to control (he does after all see Bella as filet mignon) so when he told Bella not to answer the phone when Jacob called, I thought that his vampiric nature was showing. I also never thought about the obsession/possessiveness because I thought, “Hey, there’s a group of bloodthirsty, super-fast vampires after her. I might want a scary vampire to protect me too!” However, after hearing what Rachel and Amy had to say, it gave me another perspective.
Rachel’s Point of View
Twilight has morphed into this oddly shaped monster that is devouring the minds and souls of women everywhere! Overly dramatic? Yup, totally. But with good justification. I am sure anyone who has been living and breathing for the past two years is just as sick of hearing about Twilight as I am.
So besides my obvious distaste for this series due to it's hold over the mass media, what else do I see is wrong with it? Frankly, it sends a very bad message to teenage girls and Bella is a shockingly poor role model for impressionable teens.
Teenage girls, in general, are moody, dramatic and easily swayed. I know this because I was one, and because I teach them. Every little thing is the end of the world. If I move a girl away from her friend for talking while I am trying to teach, that is cue for tears and tantrums.
They take dating very seriously and break ups... oh boy... It's a combination of World War III and a Joy Division song all rolled into one. So the fact that their role model is a girl their age, who has a dramatic break up then wants to die, worries me. The only reason she gets it back together is because of another guy. What sort of message is that sending?
I will say that in Shiver (click HERE for my review), Maggie Stiefvater accomplished what Stephanie Meyer did not when she actually brought up the painful subject of parental neglect when Sam confronted Grace about her absentee parents. However brief, it was something and extremely profound since so many teens turn to the opposite sex for love when they are not receiving it at home. The thing that disappointed me was that Grace didn’t seem to realize this and was the aggressor when pursuing Sam physically. There was so much hurt in her that turning to a physical act of love would eventually not cover up the emotional hurt from the lack of parental involvement in her life. However, I know the book was a romance so I need to give a little slack to the book and its author, Miss Stiefvater for my reservations about how the situation played out not only for the pure romance of it, but also for the truth in how those situations often play out.
Amy’s Point of View
This year I’ve been reading [a lot] more young adult books than I usually have in the past, and more recently published books. In my reading, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend. Most (if not all) of the young adult paranormal books that I read show unhealthy relationships, girls being forced into things and then deciding they like it so of course he should have pushed her. They show girls who at the age of sixteen to eighteen are saying they know who and what they want for the rest of their lives – based on these unhealthy relationships and rape situations.
Twilight was one book, now it’s seeming like it's all books. This, to me, is disturbing. The more often we see the same message, the more we internalize it. The more we internalize it, without realizing it, the more we come to accept this behavior as normal. Yes, we like to think we know better than to believe these things, but if we get it enough times it won’t matter because we’ll absorb the message anyway.
As women, we want to read about strong women and yet we turn to these romance stories and enjoy them. While talking to Rachel and Amy the other day (they have a much more firm stance on these YA romances than I do), I made the comment that we love old fairy tales and don’t hate characters like Cinderella because she is also saved by a man from a terrible home situation and lives happily ever after. We realize that it is a fairy tale and fantasy, not real life. I pointed out that these YA romances today seem very much like that to me—modern day fairy tales that are not always written well but resonate with us on that fairy tale level.
Amy’s Point of View
Fairy tales aren't always the most positive representations for women... but the thing with older fairy tales though is that they were quite often written BY men FOR men and were about keeping us women in our place. As female authors have been re-telling them, they quite often create stronger female characters and show the positivity in the situations. With the young adult paranormal books we are still stuck in the past, only we have women writing these disparaging situations for women. Shouldn't we want to build each other up?
The situations in these ya paranormal books are, in my opinion, often written they way they are because it is the quickest and easiest way to move forward. They are fighting? Well, don't have them talk it out respectfully, have him jump her and she will realize how much she loves him deep down and everything will get better. I refuse to give authors the pass anymore, so I will point it out.
One book isn’t a big deal, a constant barrage of the same unhealthy message certainly is.
Rachel’s Point of View
I just want to make it clear that I am not anti-sex in teen books. I think sex is an important issue and needs to be addressed. It's a natural part of life for teens and a good YA book should talk about it (so it's not taboo) but in a educational/responsible way. It should not glamorize sex, or make it 'a bad thing', just something that should be well thought out before you take that 'big step'. Making the decision to have sex takes emotional intelligence which a teen does not get just because they have turned 16. This is something that YA books seem to miss. Usually the character (and often the female) can't wait to be bedded and practically jumps the male! Although true for some teens, how about looking at why she feels so needy that sex seems like the best way to be close to her honey?. I'm all for a bit of a nakie romp but not because your parents neglect you and you want to feel loved. That does not send a good message.
Point is, paranormal romance does not send a good message to teenage girls and I really hope this all just a passing craze. It's time we started giving our teens (and adults) great books to read! Stories with strong, morally grounded heroines who take on the world and retain their individuality in the face of adversity! Who never stop fighting and live good,well-rounded lives. We need heroines who put education, achievement and being true to themselves before shacking up with a hottie.
Some good food for thought from Rachel and Amy. Make sure you check out both of their complete statements HERE
So my questions for readers this week are:
- Do you think that the female protagonists in YA romance novels are poor role models for young women?
- Do you think that teenagers are not capable of understanding these situations where young women depend on young men are fantasy and not how healthy relationships really are?
- Do you find some of the sexual content objectionable where it normalizes teen sex rather than make it something that should be more thoughtful on an emotional level?
- Are you disturbed by the trend of adult women fawning over these teenage boy characters who give so much attention (sometimes in a far too controlling way) to their female counterparts? Is it inappropriate?