YA Girls and the Battle of Female Badassery

| |

What is that? Seriously, what... Is that me wearing a dress for no reason? CRAP. GET IT OFF GET IT OFF No, it's okay, I can deal. Dresses are fun. Fun and flirty and - yeah, my twelve-year-old self would kill me if she saw that picture.

That inner conflict right there reminds me of a question posed today in YA literature. Call it The Battle of Female Badassery: just how anti-dresses is a female character allowed to be? More specifically, how long can she avoid being swept off her feet by some hot dude?

Some Amazon reviewers have criticized Katsa from Graceling for being "anti-men" and "too butch." The weird thing is, Katsa does end up gettin' busy with a guy or two. Same thing with wild Katniss from The Hunger Games... and with all those awesomely snarky narrators from the contemporary genre. Across the board, YA plots tend towards making out - despite the independent chica's misgivings.

The message? A little badassery is great - I mean, girls today are the children of bra-burners. But don't go overboard with the Beyonceism. Who wants to read about a girl who's doomed to own thirty felines? You can practically smell the litter in the pages.

Gina Gender Roles: Hi! I'm Gina. I'm a sassy young lady who kicks men to the curb!
Gina Gender Roles: ): Okay

That leaves the question - what happens when the tables are turned? When those to-the-curb powers are extracted? (Sounds scientific.)

The other day, I came across a quote said by Walt Disney that made my Inner Baby Feminist sort of want to roundhouse-kick the screen.
"She believed in dreams, all right, but she also believed in doing something about them.  When Prince Charming didn't come along, she went over to the palace and got him."
Uh, what? Cinderella declared her independence by attending a ball and hoping the prince liked her fine ass? Hell no. Women are fierce! They shouldn't be portrayed in YA books like Almost Every Paranormal Romance Ever as soft-limbed dolls, powerless to resist the courtship of any dazzlingly hawt guy that comes along, faced with no decisions greater than Fuzzy Wolf vs. Sparkly Vegetarian.

In addition to the overused example of paranormal, YA fantasy abounds with female characters on a quest to... leave the quests to the guys. Even contemporary falls prey to Sarah Dessen Syndrome: troubled girl has all problems solved by mysterious hot dude.

Gina Gender Roles: Hi! I'm Gina. I rely on my love interest for my emotional well-being.
Gina Gender Roles: Gina will bbl

Yeah, Gina Gender Roles. You go cry in your shame. Come back when you've learned to be sassy and kick men to the curb! Except... wait.

Something's off here. Can Gina possibly be chill with everyone? What kind of measuring stick are we looking at?
  • On one side, too-sassy girls like Katsa - who end up gettin' it on anyway
  • On the other side, too-reliant girls like Cinderella and Bella Swan - Bella, whose protests against marriage in Eclipse never had a chance against The Expectations of 10 Million Horny Readers. 
It's true that market expectations play a huge part in this arena. Even YA books in no way labeled as romance are prone to delivering some yow-yow between the covers - regardless of whether the female in question seemed cool with livin' the Beyonce life.

And why not? That's what teens do: they have awkward romances. Girls like boys. Girls become reliant on boys. Love isn't a bad thing. Maybe Sarah Dessen Syndrome is just a reflection of a romantic dream... and maybe my twelve-year-old self should stop brandishing that knife and try on some dresses already.

Still, there's that problem with The Battle of FB. What about the sassily anti-boy girls who... stay anti-boy for the length of the book? Do they even exist in YA? Should they exist - or would that really stuff too much cat litter into a novel? What about the portrayal of an LGBT protagonist... wherein he or she is allowed to stay single, not defined by sexuality?

I open the floor to you, folks. And maybe you can convince me to stop buying dresses before twelve-year-old Emilia goes on a freakin' rampage. (IT COULD HAPPEN.)