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There is a picture I look at when I am feeling generally useless, or terrible, or unmotivated, or despairing, wishing that I had depth perception so I could be a truck driver or you know, any sort of mathematical ability so I could be an accountant.

I find anger very motivating - look at that!

Ms. Magazine did a piece on young adult literature and feminism in their fall edition, and they interviewed me (I felt so fancy. Mum, Ms. Magazine, check me out, are you proud?) They also interviewed smarter people than me, including the editor of the Demon's Lexicon series, Karen Wojtyla. She also edits Holly Black's books, so you can see she is clearly a fabulous editor and all mistakes I make are on me and not her.

I haven't read the piece yet (curse you Irish postal system, always losing my things) but I do remember saying at one point that I loved young adult books the best, and was proud to be writing them at this time, because it was thrilling that teenage girls, who are pretty often denigrated - seen as silly, shrieky, with girly being an insult, and so on - have created this golden age of a genre by loving literature. (Which is not to knock the guy or the grown-up readers of young adult, of course!) It makes me happy to think about people getting profoundly engaged and profoundly influenced by media.

I myself am very influenced by media. Okay, so let me admit to being gross sometimes. I think we all are, sometimes: the last time I realised I was being gross (both sexist and racist, actually) was... earlier today. But let me admit to a time I was specifically gross. At one time in my late teens/early twenties I wouldn't have thought I could be sexist. Because I was a feminist, and all! And yet I clearly remember discussing the female characters in the Harry Potter series and saying such things as 'She's too perfect - but I don't like the faults she has.' It took seeing people say the exact same things I'd said, but about girl characters in books/movies/TV shows I really loved, for me to realise 'Oh, wow. I was being pretty sexist, right about then.' And then I felt awful. But I'm really glad I got to read and watch the girls in books, movies and TV shows that I loved, just the same.

(Memo: this is not to say criticising fictional girls is bad! But one rule for me is seeing different criteria applied to guys than girls - if a guy character never gets criticised for being too perfect/who he's dating/what he's wearing, for instance, that's an indication that Younger Sarah might be doing it wrong.)

The thing about the picture that makes me angry - it doesn't make me angry just because it's sexist, which hey, it is. (Gentlemen: a world of adventure awaits! Ladies: well, you're ladies, right? That is your ONE ONLY POSSIBLE job? Leaving alone the fact that, say, schemer or match-maker might be a better description of what Emma actually does with her time.)

What this picture is really about to me is a portrayal of limitations placed on awesomeness. (I'm not making a call about the shows it portrays, just talking about the portrayal.) And the fiction I like the most is that which says 'There is no limit on awesomeness.' Because, and this seems a ridiculously obvious thing to say, having no limit on awesomeness means more awesomeness.

Like, my very, very first fantasy novel of all time was Tamora Pierce's In the Hand of the Goddess (I think my mother thought it was historical) and I didn't think much about the way the heroine being the action-heroine star of the show, who uses contraception and has sex with several dudes and it's all good. I just thought 'that is an awesome book.' Because I didn't have to trip on any limits to awesomeness put there.

Another example of limits put on awesomeness: books like What Katy Did and The Secret Garden. I love them. I love The Secret Garden so much it's kind of embarrassing. But in both of them a main character gets a seemingly-almost-magically complete healing, and that's a limit placed on awesomeness because it does tend to suggest a character cannot reach their full awesomeness without said healing. But those books were written a while ago, whereas R.J. Anderson's Knife (Spell Hunter in the US) was written quite recently. The wheelchair-using hero, Paul, is offered magical healing, and he says 'Yeah, thanks, but no, there's something else I want.'

The past is another country. We're learning to do things better here.

In Cindy Pon's Silver Phoenix I learned stuff about Asian myth that I didn't know, and that was awesome. I spent a good deal of time explaining and doing imitations for a monster made out of the bits of dead people to my increasingly upset friends.

There is a lot of room for improvement in media. I was horrified to read this post on Elizabeth Scott's blog talking about the LGBTQ landscape in YA - less than ten per cent of submissions have books with gay characters? Not even protagonists, though there should be more - less than ten per cent have them even there existing at all in a whole cast of characters? Methuselah on a bicycle.

But one of the most popular YA series in the world right now (The Hunger Games) centres on an action heroine. I saw a whole crowd of (mostly teenage girl) readers let out a spontaneous cheer at the mention of the gay couple in Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments books. There are books like Malinda Lo's Ash with a lesbian romance front and centre, and also teens can watch a video of someone saying 'hey, I'm okay, I'm awesome, I have this great partner, I wrote a book!' And that matters. (And since I have mentioned both Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo, I wish to link to their Diversity in YA, because I think it's an excellent thing that I am really proud to be part of.)

So, I've got to believe it's getting better, it's getting better all the time. And I look at Awesomeness-Limiting portrayals of media and I think 'that's not all there is, there is going to be more and more awesomeness until the awesomeness-limiting is eliminated.' And creating (to the best of one's ability, which I do, though I've been deliberately not mentioning my own stuff in this post) and appreciating awesomeness?

That's really important. So I think about that, and I feel better.

In fact, I feel awesome.

Comments

evewithanapple
Jan. 25th, 2011 04:40 pm (UTC)
And she would have been a character of colour, which- as of now- the poster is completely devoid of. I understand why they picked the Doctor, Merlin, and Sherlock- they're all the main characters of their respective shows- but Annie is just as much a main character as Mitchell (and actually, I think Nina's been upgraded to main cast now, so that's two leading ladies) and aren't there awesome archaeologist ladies on Primeval? Surely they must have SOME shows with female main characters. I think part of the problem is that ad relies on characters who literally headline their shows (Doctor Who, Merlin, Sherlock) and while they have plenty of shows with female mains, none of them are the "official" main character- hence the person who made the ad disqualified them. It's a sad statement on the way the industry works, really- you can have ladies, just don't put them front and center. Or if you do, make sure they're sharing the spotlight with a dude.

(I am also looking forward to Annie and Mitchell this season, but I'm peeking at them through my fingers because there are SO MANY WAYS that it could end terribly (I was going to say "that it could derail" but I didn't because that is a terrible pun.) and I am 99.9% certain that the writers will put at least one of these ways into practice. Possibly more than one.)

Edited at 2011-01-25 04:40 pm (UTC)
be_themoon
Jan. 25th, 2011 07:58 pm (UTC)
Merlin has two leading ladies as well (although one is getting downgraded to recurring next season, I believe) and also a recurring female antagonist (again, Merlin, what is up with that), and one of them is not only a character of color but also the future Queen of Camelot! Guinevere is simply the best, though then again, she hasn't really been given her own story yet. :( And Primeval has - two leading ladies this season, and last season there were four (if you count antagonists, though one left halfway through the season). Being Human, of course, has Annie, who headlines her show just as much as Mitchell does. And now Nina too, I believe! Doctor Who has Amy (awesome) and River Song (though she's recurring and not a regular). Sherlock, of course... has none. Which sucks. There's also all the BBC Austen adaptations going on, there's Downton Abbey which has more important women than men, I'm pretty sure, and I believe I'm missing a show or two with awesome ladies in it.

I saw that ad about a month or two ago and ran around in circles for a bit.
evewithanapple
Jan. 25th, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
I'm familiar with Merlin- I watched the first two seasons, but the second was such a disappointment that I couldn't get past the first few episodes of the third season. (I believe Morgana is the second female character/recurring character as well as the antagonist?) Primeval I don't watch, so I can't comment on, Doctor Who has the various companions- though they always take second place in promotional material after the doctor- and Sherlock . . . ehhhhh. I enjoy the show a lot- I've been a Sherlock Holmes fan since I was old enough to read, and I identify with Sherlock a lot- especially since they seem to be portraying him as someone with ASD. But the show does need a lot of help with balancing the cast, as well as treating the female characters they do have better. Molly's repeated humiliation is really uncomfortable to watch, and while the show itself doesn't do much with Sally, the way fandom degrades and slut-shames her makes me angry. I have heard we're getting Irene Adler next season, so there is that.

I believe Downton Abbey is an ITV production though, not BBC. So it wouldn't appear in their promotional materials. And while I enjoy Austen adaptations, I do with they'd produce some original female characters instead of repeatedly mining the same books for them over, and over, and over . . .

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