female characters · tropes · ya

Femininity in YA fiction

You know what would be nice? Reading a YA fantasy or sci-fi novel with a butt-kicking heroine that doesn’t demonize femininity. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve come across recently—both ones I’ve read and ones I’ve read reviews of—that star a spunky teenage girl who rejects anything and everything that is considered “feminine” because she thinks that makes her weak. She scoffs at the girls and women around them, for they are shallow and petty and enjoy wearing dresses and makeup. (Cue me trying to find a good wall to bash my head again.)

I’m getting really sick of the scores of books where the heroine’s strength must come at the expense of anything “girly” or “feminine.” I’m sick of being told, over and over, that these heroines aren’t girly because being girly is the same as being stupid and weak. I’m sick of “not feminine” constantly because equated with “strong.”

Frankly, I’m sick of being told that the only way to be a strong person, the only way to be independent, the only way to be a good heroine, is to utterly reject anything associated with women because it’s frivolous, surround myself with boys and scoff at any girl who doesn’t.

To the YA writers who are churning out this content, because apparently quite a few don’t realize: There’s nothing wrong with being a girl or liking traditionally “girly” things!

I repeat: There’s nothing wrong with being a girl or liking traditionally “girly” things!

At the same time, of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a boy or liking traditionally “boyish” things. Apply the same principle to any combination of gender identities and behaviors: Basically, your gender, no matter what it happens to be, is all right, and your likes and interests are all right, because they’re yours and nobody can tell you who you should be. Nobody should give you crap for being who you are. Nobody should tell you that you have dress or act a certain way, or have certain interests, to be a certain thing (like, say, an awesome heroine in a YA novel). Nobody has the right to kick you out of the club because they think your personality has conflicting traits.

But that happens all the time. In fiction, female characters, female identities, and traits, behaviors and interests that have been traditionally thought of as feminine are constantly mocked and trashed. We’re getting the message that, for a girl to have value, she must reject her femininity because it’s worthless. And that’s all kinds of messed up.

Did you know that you can wear a dress sometimes and kick butt other times? You can even do both at the same time! Did you know that you can use weapons and be a trained fighter and embrace your emotions? Or get this: You can form close relationships with other girls—even the dreaded “girly girls!”

Isn’t that shocking?

To a fair few writers out there, it probably is—and that saddens me.

Does anyone have recommendations for YA novels that don’t do this? Goodness, I need something new to read.

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