Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Teen Roundtable: Feminism

It’s time again for our monthly Teen Roundtable with our Teen Spies! The topic for the month? Feminism. And one of our new operatives started us off with a most intriguing question.

The Disco Samurai (aka Matt): How do you gals feel about love triangles, and what they say about feminism? I only ask, because a love triangle with one guy and two girls, (or other gender identifying peeps) is rare, at least in YA.

Lissa: ooh I like those kind of love triangles too

Gracie: Actually I've wondered that.. how come there is no guy & 2 girl love triangles? Or, actually I don't know... is there?

Alexandra: In the Georgia Nicolson books, it's like a love polygon. There's a guy and two girls, a girl and two (three) guys, etc. etc. etc.

The Disco Samurai: I read the most amazing book last month: Brooklyn, Burning. The narrator, and his/her main love interest, never had their genders specified.

Alexandra: Anna and the French Kiss is a guy and two girls in a way

Lissa: I don't mind love triangles as long as they're well done and not the kind where the "chooser" goes and makes out with both "choices" one after another

Alexandra: Lissa, any examples specifically?

Lissa: the one in the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent is a great example of a well done love triangle, IMO. I mean, the gist of it is, that it's understandable, based on the circumstances that the characters go through, why Kaylee is stuck between two guys.

And the link to feminism?

Alexandra: So feminism and love triangles. This is what I think. It seems like there are more love triangles that center around a girl, because if a guy was the one who had to "choose" between two girls, it would feel sexist. Like he was leading them on, like the girls were idiots for being in love with him. Somehow, though, maybe for societal or cultural reasons, or maybe just because it's teen girls reading YA mostly, it doesn't feel as "sexist" if a girl is choosing between two guys. It's like, instead of one prince, she has two.

Like_a_Boss_(Copil): I like your take, Alexandra. I think people find "cads" less charming than a girl trying to decide between two love interests.

The Disco Samurai: I will say, that as a dude, it's basically considered pretty low to lead a girl on. At least, that's where I stand.

Alexandra: Yes, there's something that seems way more insincere about a guy who's got two girls after him than if it's the other way around. I think it's because of how love has been viewed over the centuries, with the male having all the power until very recently.

Erica: I don't know though - love triangles work well in that sense too sometimes, especially in historicals I feel like.

The Disco Samurai: Another good point, Alexandra. I think it's all about power (however twisted and just wrong it is to assume men have all the power)

Any other observations on the love triangle?

Erica: I have found a lot of the time, it's readers who make love triangles not the actual book. Like I see people talking all the time of how there is a love triangle in Angelfire by Courtney Moulton. But there isn't. Ellie only has eyes for Will and that won't change, so in some cases I feel like love triangles are more for the reader. The reader is the 1 choosing between 2 guys. If that makes sense?

The Disco Samurai: It's ALWAYS all about the reader. Subjectivity, and all that.

Karen: I agree with Erica. I'm shocked by how many reviewers think some books have love triangles but I never viewed them that way

Erica: And I see people who are like I AM TEAM CADAN. But I'm like, I love Cadan, but he is infatuated with Ellie, it's not actual love. Ellie and Will have been together for centuries

Lynsay: I agree. Like the reader wants to root for the underdog when he really has no chance with the main character.

Gracie: To be honest I'm not that interested in love triangles, just because it makes it so the book focuses too much on love which I don't necessarily like all the time

Lissa: I agree, Erica. I like love triangles where the choice isn't obvious because it kinda proves that the love triangle has something to do with the characters, and that it's not just added in because they're popular

Erica: Like that isn't a love triangle - just readers wanting there to be, because there are so many these days.

Alexandra: I love Erica's point about the readers making love triangles where they don't exist. I see that all the time--if you just check out fanfiction, tons of pairings that never happen in the books happen in fanfiction

The Disco Samurai: I also have to say, as a guy, who really doesn't get into romance in general when reading, I far prefer true love, to a love triangle. For example (I've only read the first) but Shiver was something I got into.

Jessica: The rest of the Shiver trilogy remains Triangle Free

Karen: Aww, I love true love too, TDS

Lissa: Yeah I like real romances better too. I feel like they're stronger than love triangles because you see the characters defeat problems that don't have to do with The Other Guy

Like_a_Boss_(Copil): Jessica: Maybe we should make a sticker you can put on books: This YA Certified Triangle Free.

Jessica: YES...I think that could be quite a selling point. I feel like readers are tiring of the triangle.

Erica: I think I'm probably one of the only ones - but I don't care if there is romance or no romance in a book, triangle or no triangle. Whatever works for the book, then I am cool with it.

Gracie: I want to see characters deal with things bigger than which guy to choose from. Erica: Books without romance are those rare gems you rarely find.

Like_a_Boss_(Copil): Does the triangle automatically exclude romance?

Erica: No...I meant like books without a love interest and romance or triangle. I count love triangle as romance.

Gracie: I find it so refreshing sometimes when there's no romance in a book.

Alison: I am usually a sucker for a good romance, but I read one of those gems recently, Erica. And LOVED it. Perfect Escape - doesn't come out until July, but really good.

Lissa: For me, a selling point is romance. What sucks is that the romance is usually what makes the book suck for me

Karen: I'm a romance-ahololic . The more the better.

Getting back to feminism, I asked our operatives and spies to check out two websites that listed top YA books for the feminist reader. The list included familiar titles such as The Hunger Games, Pride and Prejudice, The Golden Compass, Speak, Wrinkle in Time, and others. You can check out the lists here and here.

Here’s the reaction and ensuing discussion:

Laura: Well, The Hunger Games – definitely.

Erica: Pride and Prejudice, Harry Potter definitely

Lissa: The Book Thief I agree with. And Ella Enchanted.

Laura: Woah! There's a lot of books on the Goodreads one I haven't read yet. Eeek! But The Mortal Instruments? Hmmm. Not sure about that.

Lissa: The Book Thief depicted feminism well. Liesl, and every other female character in the story, was intelligent and capable of all types of emotions.

The Disco Samurai: I really liked Please Ignore Vera Dietz, in which a girl lost her best friend to another girl, and then death, but was able to move on, and not lose herself, to losing a guy.

 Lissa: Oh man, that was one of my favourite books last year.

Gracie: Ooh I loved Please Ignore Vera Dietz... it was done excellently.

Erica: Twilight is on that list? Umm...

Laura: Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist? Really?

Erica: I actually really liked Twilight, I just don't see it as feminist

Lissa: Graceling is on that list?

Erica: I don't know about Graceling....I feel like she was TRYING to have Katsa be a feminist, but in doing that she tried to hard and just had a character who was stuck and unable to move forward as a character.

Lissa: Yeah Erica, that's why I'm astonished about Graceling. I find it sort of anti-feminist, really.

Erica: I loved the idea of Graceling and love loved loved Fire and Bitterblue, but Katsa was just such a stuck character. I felt like the only thought in her mind was "I won't get married" and it drove her life.

Alexandra: With Graceling, I can see why Katsa was so adamant about her position on marriage and kids. Because in today's society and certainly in a more medieval one, women really are kind of "expected" to want kids and marriage and all that shebang. And as a woman who doesn't want kids, I do find myself defending that point of view CONSTANTLY. Katsa had a hard life, so I don't blame her for being angry and for being so volatile about her points of view. That being said, her personality kind of undermined the message that women are allowed to not want kids and that it doesn't make a woman any lesser if she doesn't have kids or get married. A lot of people found Katsa to be really hard to like, and it definitely can seem like her anger is pushing some kind of feminist agenda. I understood Katsa pretty well, so I didn't feel that way, but it definitely makes sense why people read her like that.

Erica: Alexandra - I totally understood that point of view. I just wanted Katsa to have some growth throughout the book beyond just saying I don't want to get married. I didn't necessarily want her to get married or anything, but just have growth as a character beyond just having a one track mind. If that kind of makes sense.

Lissa: I agree with you when you say that it was Katsa's personality that took away from her choices. Not wanting kids - no matter under which circumstance - is a right, and Katsa obviously had to fight for that in her timeperiod. Still, I think that the way she handled the whole situation could have been handled better.

Alexandra: I did see that Katsa falling in love was a scary thing for her. Not that it's a total kind of character development, but for someone like Katsa, so self-sufficient and certain of what she wants and believes, falling in love can't have been easy because in a way having a male partner in her life kind of takes away what she built--at least in her eyes.

Laura: Dreamland by Sarah Dessen definitely delivers a strong message about feminism, but not until the very end. Sarah wrote Caitlin’s character brilliantly through all her changes and really showed how she evolved into herself and, ultimately, an independent woman. On that note, has anyone read a book where the author has tried and failed to write about feminism or a feminist in general?

Like_a_Boss_(Copil): I'm interested to hear the answer to Laura's question.

The Disco Samurai: Me too. I mean I can think of books that fail feminism in general (maybe Twilight) but not any books that tried to raise feminism up ... and failed.

Like_a_Boss_(Copil): I would think it would be a hard sell in a book meant to be feminist but failed to do so. Have you ready anything like that, Laura?

Erica: I feel like there are a lot of books that have strong female characters, but don't necessarily have a feminist view. Like Harry Potter - Hermione is one of the strongest female characters in YA lit, but I don't find that series particularly feminist.

The Disco Samurai: Agreed on Hermoine (love her so muich BTW). Not that, as a man, I really have much perspective on what's proper feminism, but I didn't see Hermoine as it.

Like_a_Boss_(Copil): <3 Hermione

Alison: I think of feminism stances as more fighting for equality and defeat of stereotypes on women. Hermione just SPEWed for the underdog. And I loved her for that.

Lynsay: So is feminism just a strong female character or is it advocating for rights?

Laura: My idea of feminism is both - a strong character who fights for equal rights.

Like_a_Boss_(Copil): I feel advocating is a strong part of a truly "feminist" book

Laura: Tried probably wasn't the right word to add. I know I've read many books with, as Erica mentioned, lots of strong female characters that weren't quite feminists themselves. Hermoine is a good example and Cassia from Matched and plenty more.

Alison: I wonder if Laura's point and question maybe is asking about all these strong-willed heroines and maybe the authors are trying to create said strong-willed characters to make their books more appealing.

Lynsay: Understandable, but could the author be using that character to try to illustrate their own feminist views? Or does it have to be really strong?

Alison: Just throwing this out there, but one book that did and didn't do that for me is Catching Jordan.

Erica: I LOVED THAT BOOK SO SO MUCH

Alison: It's about a senior girl who's a quarterback and trying to break barriers and I felt there were so many things she was fighting for the right to do that made her so strong, but then I saw her as so weak when it came to the guys in her life.

Erica: I felt like she was very much a teenage girl.

Jessica: I loved that she wouldn't accept no for an answer when it came to playing in college. But you are right about the guys in her life...it's like she spent so much time fighting for things in sports that she didn't really know how to do it in her personal life.

Erica: And I loved her attitude towards football and how she was so persistent. I feel like the fact that she had never had a guy she felt anything for in her life though before then, it was new experience for her. She was no longer just "one of the guys" for everyone

The Disco Samurai: Haven't read it, but I've known girls who played hockey, and stuff like that, and I think that kind of courage is great for feminism

Like_a_Boss_(Copil): I wonder if there's an inherent struggle to make a "feminist" book and staying true to those ideals and still staying true to YA which, in some respects, represents the time in all our lives when we are defining identity (especially with regards to our love interests)?

Erica: I think some of the time too people want to make a book into a feminist book, when in reality, that wasn't the intention at all.

WHEW! Just so you know—this conversation could have easily extended beyond our normal hour. Awesome questions. AMAZING discussion.

Do YOU have anything to add? Have YOU seen those lists? Care to follow up any of those questions for us? What’s YOUR take on love triangles? On feminism? Or stories that feature strong female characters?

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