Following the death of her girlfriend, Iona’s spiral of self-blame and apathy brings her closer to Cyl. He’s stronger than her, despite the fact that she works for him as a swimmer in the post-apocalypse. He’s also taller, smarter, more cruel and more conventionally attractive because, why not?
Does it sound good? Hopefully, that’s the rough explanation of the disaster of a novel I’ve been trying to write for about four years now. Does it sound familiar? Probably. It’s also every young adult novel ever.
Or, in the words of an alpha reader and friend of mine who is witty, kind and, above all else, brutally honest, the plot was: “Twilight but bad.”
But looking back, for as long as I have been reading young adult novels, they have failed me. Not just in the sense that reading Divergent 16 times when I was in sixth grade did not make me nearly as cool as I expected it to (did I throw this fact in here as a last-ditch attempt to prove my coolness, maybe), but because so many of them are the manifestos of internalized misogyny I thought I could draw strength from and have influenced my writing and worldview.
I’ve written a lot of feminist pieces for The New Mexican, and that forced me to really examine what feminism means to me and how much I want that to shape me as a person. I know I don’t want to be the type of person who sends the message, subconscious or otherwise, that girls are not enough. I do not wish to perpetuate the idea that the end goal, the peak of success, for a woman, is to be protected, cared for and often dehumanized by a (probably much older) man — a concept that has existed in literature for centuries but gets to fly under the radar today.
I think a lot of female authors are successful in accomplishing the same goals I aspire to in my writing. But they write what they have seen, and what they witnessed was a massive double standard. They write what they know, and what they know is how to be a woman who stares down a kind of sexism that is more central to society than most people are willing to acknowledge.
Natasha Preston, someone whom I admire immensely because she built her own career as a writer and is incredibly successful, probably grew up playing with Barbies that were too thin to walk and being sent home from school because the amount of leg she was showing might be “distracting” for her male peers.
Stephanie Meyer, who wanted most of the producers and directors on the film adaptations of her books to be women, in order to help them in a field that is completely dominated by men, also wrote Twilight. Enough said.
Becca Fitzpatrick — whose public life consists of her scaling mountains, traveling, and going out to dinner with friends — also wrote a book, Hush, Hush, in which an academically gifted 16-year-old girl’s life is turned upside down by a much older boy who stalks her for most of the novel, until she sacrifices her life for him.
I admire Fitzpatrick and her work immensely. But just like Fitzpatrick’s protagonist, I’m 16. Is that book an example of what my life should be like? Saying I’m “not like other girls” and being manipulated into romantic relationships by older men? The story, and others like it, only continues the cycle of romanticizing the act of men pushing women’s boundaries.
Do we want to tell young girls that their whole lives should revolve around someone who doesn’t always treat them well?
We need to raise the bar for what’s expected from female protagonists. Because if that’s what I’m constantly being told is the standard, the ideal, it might.