I've gotten some feedback from my post yesterday and while some of it has been supportive and some, well, less than pretty, there is one question that I decided to answer.
"So what is your take on feminism in YA?"
My post yesterday was specific to whether or not one has a right to talk about issues of feminism in YA, but I never addressed how I think about and engage with these issues in my own work (besides agreeing with Rachel Shukert's points).
It's a good question and after my last post, I will first endeavor
to explain why I am qualified to have an opinion on the matter. 1) I am a
feminist. 2) I read and write YA.
That’s about all the criteria you need, I think.
Now. Feminism in YA? There are decades-long battles of situational considerations, but as I said, Rachel Shukert addressed many of those beautifully in her piece.
Personally, it’s a rather complex process I
consider as I’m getting to know and writing my characters. For me, feminism is
about acknowledging that contrary to widespread belief and perpetuated myth, women
are human. I know right? Crazy.
But the normative idea in our culture is that men are human
and women are some sort of alternative—an alien-like species that is SO. HARD. to
"They’re like, from Venus, right?"
Er, NO? We’re human capable of the full range of human
experience and emotion. The good, the bad, the ugly and the wonderful. Any time
someone wants to put women in a box, even when they think it’s a good box
("Women should be treasured/put on a pedestal!"), they are not allowing them to
be fully human. And that, friends, is anti-feminist.
Women can curse. They can think about sex. They can be
tough. They can be soft. They can be whacky. Relational. Introverted.
Extroverted. Talk about sports. Talk about shopping. Talk about cars. Talk
about business. They can be cold and calculating. They can be empathetic and
understanding. They can dress like Vogue models. They can dress like gentleman
farmers. They can be really into cooking. They can use their ovens to store
It wholly depends on the individual because yes, women are
Shocking, right? *eyeroll*
So, when I write characters (from the main character to
small characters and everyone in between), I find I am constantly asking myself
if I am being true to that specific character. What would she authentically
do/say in that particular instance? And how will characters around her react? And how does she feel about this thing that she's doing? (is she battling against stereotypes? Does she realize it? WHY?) Etc. etc.
As it happens, this sort of thinking makes characters
stronger and better overall (male characters, too!) because they are more fully
realized, more real. And the bonus effect is that hopefully, the book as a whole is stronger for it, too.
As both a feminist and a YA writer, I enjoyed a recent post onJezebel.comon the subject. Personally, I read it as Rachel Shukert discussing her process in writing her book-- the considerations she made with respect to her own worldview and the audience she hoped to reach.
For what better or worse (I argue conversation is *always* better), the post has generated some conversations in the YA reader/writer community. Some criticisms raised are excellent. Like how Shukert could have included more examples of writers who are making these considerations and whose books fit the criteria she lays out. In fact, on her twitter feed Shukert later conceded that point.
She also says unapologetically that yes, writing for Jezebel.com (a very visible online medium) was in part motivated by her desire to promote her book. And for that, I don't think she owes anyone an apology and I was happy to see her tweet as much. Like basically, sorry, I'm not sorry.
But other participants in this conversation have called into question whether or not Shukert should have been the one to have written this piece. I find it telling that the people questioning don't take issue with what she says, rather, with her "right" to say it.
This is, after all, her first (and only!) published YA book, they say. They say there are other YA writers and feminists who've published several books and therefore they are the 'experts!' Jezebel should have interviewed them!
Pardon my Francais, friends, but that is BULLSHIT.
Not only does Shukert make some great points (the bit about femininity not being the enemy, rather, misogyny is is especially excellent, in my opinion), but as a member of the YA community of readers and writer and thinkers, and as, you know, a woman, hell as a HUMAN, she has a right to her ideas and opinions. And a right to express them wherever she gets an opportunity to do so.
Last time I checked, this is not an exclusive conversation (the whole point is to break down the doors of exclusivity!) There are not certain people who get to speak at the mic and the rest of us can just clap or snap our fingers or bob our heads in agreement. You have an opinion, you are entitled to share it. Full stop.
Are certain YA authors more visible in the conversation? Sure. And God bless them for making headway and keeping at it. But that doesn't mean that they are the only ones who get to speak forever and always amen. That's a bit like saying Charles Shultz shouldn't have ever written a solo essay about comics because BATMAN.
Get real. I also think the idea that there is a quota of published books one must have in order to be able to voice an opinion on feminism is YA is BS. And even still, though this is her first published book, that doesn't mean it's the first book she's written. If she's like, uh, me, she's got dozens of half-finished, trunked or in-process manuscripts on her laptop. Hell, I haven't published a single book (yet?) and I still have an opinion on the matter. And I'll be damned if I won't voice it. My little old blog doesn't get anywhere near the traffic of Jezebel, but still. Whether I've been offered a seat at the table or not, I'm going to take it.