There’s something I’ve noticed about white middle-aged men who write thrillers with young female protagonists.
On the 24th, S. (Scott) Bergstrom basically pissed off the entire YA community in an interview with Publishers Weekly with his claims that the category is bereft of moral complexity. This sentiment is echoed in his Amazon author page: “What has disappointed me about so many YA novels is the lack of internal conflict when it comes to difficult moral choices.”
While that’s clearly pretty messed up, considering the fact that YA has some of the most morally complex books I’ve ever read (like seriously, has he been reading picture books or…?) what also bothered me was the way he touts his “strong heroine” in interviews. In this interview, he trashes “princess-this, Barbie-that” femininity, and the ideal of “a woman in a pink dress and a nineteen inch waist” – which is ironic, considering that the main thing mentioned in the PW interview about his main character is that she starts out overweight and then becomes, ahem, “a lean warrior with hair dyed fire-engine red.”
(No idea what her Manic Panic has to do with it, but okay.)
Bergstrom describes his character as the opposite of the “cheerleader-prom queen.” She’s “bullied by her prettier, richer classmates”, but turns into a gun-slinging army-jacket-wearing shoots-first-asks-questions-later badass (once she loses the weight, of course, to symbolize her personal growth and all.)
The thing that annoys me is how he makes this character out to be some groundbreaking feminist revolution. The “action girl” is not new. There’s a TVTropes page to prove it. YA is spilling over with Katniss Everdeens, Triss Priors, Meadow Woodsons, and a bazillion other kill-em-dead lady warriors who abhor pink, avoid dresses at all costs, and shoot first, ask questions later.
The thing that confuses me is that these male authors always seem convinced that theirs is the first.
Once, in a writing group populated mainly by older males, I listened to a thriller author explain that his protagonist was not like other girls. “She’s tough,” he explained. “She’s not into girly things.”
What I don’t think these male authors realize is that when they reassure us constantly that their female characters would never deign to touch anything pink-Barbie-cheerleading-related, is that it’s pretty clear that this disdain for femininity doesn’t just belong to their characters. It belongs to them. And they’re telling us that the only way a female character can be strong is if she acts, in every way possible, like a man.
See, these male authors are going to save us from traditional feminity by daring to write a female character who rejects it with the scorn it deserves. They often cite their daughters as inspiration for their rescue mission. They’re going to provide a positive example for the poor young girls drowning in pink.
But here’s the thing: I like pink. It’s my favorite color.
I’m also the author of a thriller coming out next spring with a main character who may or may not have murdered the boy she hated more than anyone else.
She also likes pink.
Liking pink and enjoying traditionally feminine things does not mean a girl can’t be strong. Strength can be conceived in many ways other than traditionally masculine, bullet-after-bullet strength. This is feminism 101, guys. Introductory course stuff.
So my message to Scott Bergstrom is this:
It’s okay! You can lay down your mantle. I’m sure it was a heavy burden, your duty to rescue girls from the chains of femininity by writing the world’s first strong female character. Lucky for you, the young adult category is full of women writing girls who express their femininity and strength in hundreds of diverse ways.
I’m sure you’ll be very relieved.