The First Snowflake
Over the past few weeks, I've been repeatedly stumbling onto comments and blog posts about a particular article -- an article I first noticed because it actually linked my Common Clichés series and I started getting a noticeable influx of traffic from the site. This article has inspired some criticism for a particular comment regarding female protagonists being a "trope" in YA fiction. Which strikes me as sort of ironic, given that I said something similar on my Paranormal Romance post, although I'd intended it a different way (and have since changed my mind even on that and gone back to edit it out).
My original comment implied that female protagonists were a "trope" in paranormal romances, and that it might be interesting to see some from a male point of view. However, what I actually meant was that I thought it would be beneficial for some male readers to see realistic portrayals of romantic teenage boys in recent literature without it being a big thing about masculinity. I also encourage GLBT portrayals in YA, so I thought some Queer male-narrated Paranormal might be a fresh change. I'd never intended to imply that we need more boy books because wah wah wah where are all the boy books, because we all know how I feel about that.
Even so, I realized that the way I'd worded it basically sounded very much like "girl protagonists are so cliché!" Which, ugh, no. But since I didn't feel I'd made the point clearly or that it was necessary to have something about girls potentially being clichés floating around, I took it out.
And yet... I can't deny that I used to exist in a mindstate where I was pretty concerned about boys not having boyish books to read. I partly attribute this to the fact that I'm a pretty intensely empathetic person, and I used to do this thing where I'd try to see everyone's point of view, no matter how extreme, in the same light and try to understand where they were coming from. I still do that, to a degree. So when people started going on and on about the lack of male representation in YA, I tried to see where they were coming from and said things like, "Well, yeah, of course teenage boys deserve good books, too." Which I look back on now like hahahaha since when have young white men not been represented in literature what was I thinking.
I also attribute this to the overwhelming pressure on ladies to use softened, coded language and disclaimers when talking about feminism. Ladies, you know what I'm talking about. Whenever we start talking about female inclusion or feminist struggles, some dude (or several dudes) pipes up to say, "Well, I'm not like that. I don't have it easy, either. Why do you have to be so mean and exclusive? [Secret translation: why are you being such a bitch?] I didn't do those things to you. Whatever. Have your little *girl's club*."
If you're like me, which I know many women are, you've been raised on a steady diet of "don't make people feel bad; always be polite and nice because no one likes a RAGING FEMINIST BITCH." Which is the only kind of feminist, I guess? So we learn to preempt such accusations of meanness and exclusivity with disclaimers like "I know not all men are like this! I love men!" or "It's really important to consider how this affects boys, too!" It's really not that surprising that this eventually blends into constant handwringing and trying to "include" boys and advocate for more male presence, because heaven forbid anyone think we're a horrible exclusive girl's club of man-hating feminist bitches. Or something.
Here's the saddest part: this IS about men and boys, too. It's about them because upholding stringent gender roles harm people who are not biological cisgendered males, and they encourage (mostly straight white) boys to continue to believe they are owed space everywhere, and any space that's taken up by someone who isn't them is an encroachment on something that should be rightfully theirs, which in turn creates feelings of anger and resentment. This is patriarchal masculinity at its finest, and it inspires pain for everyone involved: women because we always have to nod our heads and say "yes yes yes, of COURSE you matter, of course you do, you poor baby" lest we be branded misandrists, and men because they are not learning that it is okay to not have representation in every single space ever, and that's not going to hurt them and could in fact teach them a good deal about empathy.
It bothers me a lot that we keep asking the question "what about the boys?" When really we should be asking "what about everyone who isn't straight, white, and middle-to-upper-class?" You want to talk about lack of representation in YA? Let's talk about the people who are actually severely underrepresented, maybe.
Anyway, here's my point for those still tuned in: I can understand why this mindset exists and keeps coming up over, and over, and over again. I understand why many female writers keep saying "yes, absolutely, boys TOTALLY need more facetime in YA." I don't agree with it, but I understand it, and although I'll criticize it to my dying breath, I usually find it difficult to hate on. When your choices are "mollycoddle the dudes" or "be accused of exclusive bitchism," it's little surprise that many opt for the former. Which is to say nothing of potential internalized misogyny, but we'll skip over that for now.
I literally still have to stop myself from going back to pepper in reassurances that I'm not talking about NICE men. Because let's be real: actual nice men know who they are and what they're about, and they can handle criticism of patriarchy. Much like white people who take mortal offense to criticisms of whiteness, dudes who get really insecure whenever anyone's discussing the general concept of patriarchy are showing their stripes.
What do you think, my lovely readers? Even my lovely readers who are also dudes.