YA Authors’ Responsibility To Readers, by Sarah Alderson
The worst thing a writer can do is not say anything.
I have that quotation on a post it note stuck above my desk. Yet I wonder whether it’s actually accurate. It seems to me that one of the worst things a writer can do is to say something that acts in disservice of their gender.
Recently I’ve become more and more aware of the number of books being published, particularly in the YA realm, and by women too, which to my mind are damaging to girls. Books which do more to push back gender equality than any offensive statements by Kanye West ever could.
I’m talking about books that portray controlling, obsessive, even psychotic boys as hot and desirable because they have a six-pack, cheekbones you could slice salami on, and they kiss really well. Books that portray a healthy relationship as one in which the boy beats the crap out of any guy who so much as looks sideways at ‘their’ girl. Books in which men stalk girls, act out violently, manipulate and otherwise emotionally abuse the girl because ‘they love her’. Yeah, I’m not sure in what world that qualifies as love. And always the girl forgives said boy because she needs him, he’s her soul mate, she can’t live without him…and don’t forget…he’s hot!
Please. Is this what we want to teach teenage girls? Is this what we want for the next generation of women? For them to grow up looking for this in their ideal partner?
The thing that gets me most though is that these books are written by women.
(Referring back to the Kanye West comment he made on Twitter, what riled me most was not the comment itself, but the fact that his girlfriend Kim Kardashian backed him up, telling her millions of Twitter followers that it was OK to call a woman a bitch. Again…in what world is that OK?).
Let’s stop betraying our gender. We can’t ever expect men to grant us respect and equal rights if we can’t even respect ourselves.
As an author and as a woman I believe that I have a responsibility and a duty to my readers to portray both healthy male and female role models and healthy relationships. Girls who are in control of their stories, who are smart, resilient and know when a guy is being a total jerk. Girls who’d never let a guy control them or tell them what to do. Girls who kick ass and can look after themselves (admittedly, having that hot, intelligent and loving boy as a sidekick). My girls are heroines in the true sense of the word.
I don’t want to paint completely idealised romances either. My characters have flaws – they’re people after all. But mainly I want girls to read my books and feel stronger, feel prouder to be a girl, to come away feeling that it’s OK to not have a boyfriend, it’s OK to feel desire and want sex, but it’s also OK to wait – in fact it’s often a good idea to wait. I want girls to know that the right guy (and there will be one) is not the guy who likes to beat the crap out of people or tell you what to wear, what to eat and how to dress. But the guy who supports you, is kind, is loving and puts you not on a pedestal, but an equal footing.
Teenage readers are influenced by our words, by our stories. Make them count.