Feminism in Young Adult Fiction

Normally on this blog, I restrict myself to doing book reviews and tags. However, a few days ago I did my first author interview with Lucy Coats. I had never done one of these before and was honoured to do it. I thought that as I had done something that was new on the blog, why not continue the trend? So here I am, talking about two things of which I am passionate about: YA and feminism.

Yes, I call myself a feminist, but I will never claim to understand the suffering that women go through on a daily basis, just for being the gender that they are. I would say, however, that I am a man who respects women as I respect myself. I recognise the suffering of women, all around the world and I recognise that it is wrong and that things need to change.

I am white. I am a male. Both of these attributes, no matter how irrelevant they are to my intrinsic value, will mean I have a better life than any woman, whether she be white, black, gay, straight or anything else. I am gay. Yes, this leaves me open to prejudice, but I will still be treated better than a woman. I, because I am a man, will be favoured over women when applying for the top jobs. I am proud of the progress made within LGBT+ rights, but I am subsequently ashamed of the progress made in women’s rights in comparison.

Being sixteen, years old I would say that I have rather unusual views for boys my age, especially based on the ones I know. I am proud to have these views, but I found myself asking where these views had come from. At which point did I think the degradation of women was wrong? At which point did I realise that gender was not something that had to set us apart from human beings?

It was at this point that I realised that my current views and opinions had come from two places. Firstly, my foster mother has taught me a lot about respecting women. I also think a lot of respect I have for women comes for the respect I have for her. Secondly, I would say that I have learned a lot from literature, so was yet again left with the question of where did it all begin?

The ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ series by Rick Riordan is a middle grade series, but, perhaps surprisingly, was the first time I could remember in which I was shown strong female characters. Specifically, Annabeth Chase was and is one of the most influential female characters for me. She was extremely clever, but also able to hold her own with the boys when it came to fighting. Never before when reading had I been able to look upon female and male characters and see them on an equal footing.

At the time, when I was around ten or eleven years old, I was just in it for the adventure and the action. I never once acknowledged the fact that the series included a strong female character. This was mainly due to the fact that I had not even thought about my own identity, let alone think about the differences between men and women and why they did or didn’t matter. In fact, it was not until I had thought about what to write in this post that I realised how big a role ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ had played in giving me the views I had today. If you have a child, boy or girl, between the ages of eight to fourteen or no matter how old you are, this series is a great read.

Now, you may be reading this post thinking that you have never even thought about feminism or if you yourself might be a feminist. You may be reading this and thinking “what is a feminist”?

“Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

You may recognise the above quote from Beyoncé’s song ‘***Flawless’, but the person she sample in the song is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Adichie is a Nigerian novelist and is heralded as one of the most prominent voices in feminism right now. The above quote defines feminism as a movement that seeks equal opportunities fro both genders. One of the most common misconceptions about feminism and feminists is that they only want rights for women. This is simply not true. It is people misunderstanding feminism that has led to the creation of groups such as ‘Meninists’ and words such as ‘Feminazi’. It is so, so important that feminism is presented correctly in every media and this is where books have a big role to play.

After making the step up to young adult fiction  at the age of fourteen, I finally realised that gender discrimination was wrong. The understanding that I currently have about what women go through every day and of feminism itself comes from reading young adult novels. An example of some great books that deal with feminism and the struggle of women are shown below.

Both the authors above, Holly Bourne and Louise O’Neill, write about the issue of feminism in their YA novels. I have not yet read any books by Louise, but am going to begin reading ‘Only Ever Yours’ on Monday. However, I have read and enjoyed all the Holly Bourne novelsm except her latest, ‘How Hard Can Love Be?’ When I asked her on Twitter, Holly was kind enough to share her view on feminism in 140 characters or less:

“Feminism is the answer to the undeniable fact that half the human race is routinely sh*t on.”

Holly Bourne’s novel ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ was a somewhat life changing experience for me. The main thing that I took from it was the Bechdel test. To pass the Bechdel test a film, book or TV show has to include a conversation between women that has nothing to do with men. While researching I was shocked to discover how many of my favourite films failed the test. You can see the list here and you can read my review of Holly Bourne’s ‘Am I Normal Yet?’ here.

Another important thing in YA literature would have to be the inclusion of intergender friendships that do not turn into anything more than that. The obvious choice for this would be Harry and Hermione from the’Harry Potter’ series by J.K. Rowling. The assumption that a girl who is close friends for a boy must have romantic feelings for said boy is ridiculous and ludicrous. These friendships are something I love to see in novels of any kind.

Thank you very much for reading my post on feminism in YA. This is something I feel very strongly about, so a lot of effort went into this. Also, a huge thanks to Holly Bourne for her quote and amazing books.

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9 thoughts on “Feminism in Young Adult Fiction

  1. Ah. I like this. I’ve always been really weird when it comes to feminism because it always focuses on the equality of the sexes, whereas I’m more focused on gender equality, like, for all genders. (I consider myself agender.) But anyway, people always talk about the inequality of the sexes. And…I mean I GET it I guess, but at the same time I don’t because I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it. I’ve always strived in school, and no one thought thought that was weird. Collage was always obvious. I never felt like I couldn’t be anything if I worked hard enough for it. Then again, I’m also pansexual and haven’t ever experienced anything towards me specifically ever (even when I’m dating a girl), so maybe I’m just oblivious. The inequality is in the numbers obviously, though in the United States, the U.K., etc., it’s not NEARLY as much as a problem as it is in other countries, but I have really never gotten it. I understand the importance of strong female characters, but is it bad if I say that that’s been done? I mean, that’s not always the case, but it seems to be kind of a thing right now to have strong female characters. For me, I’d rather see someone who’s trans or gay or some non-binary gender be badass and clever, as I don’t see that very much, but I love when I do. But the last time I read a YA book with some kind of damsel in distress? Uh, never? Well, maybe, but it’s not common. I still agree with you, though… 🙂

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    1. Hi, thanks for the comment. In terms of LGBT+ characters in YA, I’m probably going to do a separate post on that. I f there are any other hard hitting issues or as I categorised it ‘Real Talk’ you would like me to discuss please let me know!

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  2. Pingback: The Sunday Post #1: An Exciting Week – How To Read Books

  3. Dan – this is a great post and very interesting to read your POV on Feminism in YA. We need more feminists like you. You’re right too, about this ridiculous need to pigeonhole relationships between ‘book’ boy and girl as romantic. I was thinking about this only last night, while watching Shadowhunters on TV. The relationship with Simon and Clary would have been so much more interesting if they had simply been friends without the added layer of him being in love with her at the beginning and her not noticing. (At least those books/films do very much pass the Bechdel test.) I wish I didn’t have to be a feminist – but maybe your generation will finally change things. I hope so. I’d love to see a post from you on LGBTQ+ in YA too. That, as you know, is something I have explored a little in my own writing. It’s crucial that as writers we think about inclusion in all areas, and it IS slowly happening, as books like those you mention above show. Louise O’Neill is a brave and uncompromising writer – you should also read her ‘Asking for It’ – a very difficult but ultimately enlightening book.

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