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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

imagined_away
Jan. 25th, 2011 05:54 pm (UTC)
I love this post.

One of my favorite things about Jamie in your books is that he's gay but that's not just what his character is. He's fine with being gay, and while coming out stories are obviously important is nice to read about a character who just happens to be gay.
Which actually reminds me of something I've been wondering since I read the second book. Is Gerald bi? His reaction to Sin in TDC made me think he might be and I'm just curious. (I think I maybe be the only person to lament just how true the Bi People Don't Exist trope seems to be)

And also, though this is really rather unrelated, I just finished the Hunger Games and holy crap did I love that series. Realistic portrayal of youth reaction to a shit-ton of trauma? Sign me up.

Basically I love how YA fiction if getting more and more diverse. And on days when I'm trying to explain to my dorm mate why "feminism" does not mean hating men, and yelling at myself about slut-shamming, it's nice to know that I can curl up with some of my favorite books where it doesn't matter what people are, just what they do.
sarahtales
Jan. 25th, 2011 06:55 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you like the post, and even gladder you like Jamie!

I think Gerald is actually pretty messed-up and it's complicated sexually: he's had a touch-deprived childhood, an adolescence that was all about training to be evil among people whose affection he couldn't trust, and now when barely out of his teens has to be the leader, planner, mover and shaker of evil and all the evil plots thereof. I think he's pretty much going to flirt with anyone to get an advantage, and through nobody knowing what/who he likes he both gains an advantage and may not be quite aware himself. I don't think he had any real interest in Sin at all, though to be fair she wasn't interested in him either. ;)

In short, I agree with you completely about there needing to be more bisexuals in fiction, but I fear having Gerald be explicitly bi would be furthering the Evil Bisexual trope in romance novels, and also imagine Gerald's sexuality as a complex thing that just doesn't come up that much in the novels, as people are focused on stopping Gerald's evil plots rather than wanting him to talk out his hang-ups.
imagined_away
Jan. 25th, 2011 07:02 pm (UTC)
I have to admit I'd rather there be fewer bisexuals than they all be evil x.x

Gerald's sexuality being this huge complicated mess makes sense because Gerald and Alan are (I feel) competing for must fucked up person in this series. The only reason I paid any attention to his (perceived) notice of Sin was because it reminded me of how Alan sees Sin as pretty (Mae made a comment in the last book about him and Nick giving her appreciative looks) even if he doesn't much like her.
Oh my God that sentence was so long. I'm sorry >>
sarahtales
Jan. 25th, 2011 07:21 pm (UTC)
I promise bisexual characters in future serieseses!

Alan and Gerald have lots in common, but since Alan was hugged and loved as a child by his biological parents, I think he - actually ended up with a different set of issues romantically, in that he is like 'LOVE - REDEEMS YOU, LIFTS YOU UP WHERE YOU BELONG, MAKES YOU NORMAL!' So his impulses are channeled into pursuing the idea of a great love and doesn't pursue someone who he thinks is hot but not nice because he doesn't want anything casual. Whereas Gerald wouldn't pursue it because he wouldn't even see it: he'd be looking for the advantage to be gained (Just sex, what are the benefits in that) and probably the closest he can get to romance is the idea of someone very powerful he could be pretty sure wouldn't screw him over. (Jamie, so ideal in many ways, if not for his depressing morality.)

Er, which is to say, I think you see the competition for most messed-up very clearly! But I have now written a lot more than you ever needed to read about Alan and Gerald's differing approaches to Sin for you, so sorry!
imagined_away
Jan. 25th, 2011 07:28 pm (UTC)
I could seriously read anything you write about the characters in this series for ages and ages and never get bored.

I just want to give them all a lot of hugs. Especially Alan and Gerald. But only if Gerald's like asleep or something and won't kill me. Alan, I feel would welcome hugs! Any hugs!

(are there any planned futures series? are you not allowed to say? am i just hoping like a crazy lady?)
sarahtales
Jan. 25th, 2011 07:46 pm (UTC)
There is some stuff I cannot say as yet, but I hope to be able to say (some of it - there's a lot of stuff!) soon. ;)
live_momma
Jan. 25th, 2011 09:00 pm (UTC)
That line... That line was like when it's almost Christmas, and you realize that your parent(s) just got home from the store, and they were carrying/smuggling something into the house and hoping you wouldn't notice, because it's ALMOST CHRISTMAS. Obviously, you can't just knock your parent down and peek, but the temptation is there.

(I will not knock down the author and make her tell me all her secrets. I will not...)
tommyrotter
Jan. 25th, 2011 07:15 pm (UTC)
Hahaha, just a drive-by comment to say that I'm glad my characterization of Gerald lines up with yours, and that I love him as a character. I still have hope that the gang will adopt him and give him the family he's resented and jealously coveted all his life, but then again Nick and Alan will likely not be keen on the whole forgiveness angle. Maybe Mae and Jamie can adopt him and lovingly despair over his morally bankrupt ways...
zumie_ashlen
Jan. 25th, 2011 09:27 pm (UTC)
Passer-by commenter here just wanting to mention how glad I am that you're aware of the Evil Bisexual trope. I had wondered about the correlation of gay people/magicians in your books (Jamie, Seb, possibly Gerald, and then the others are unknown?). I'm guessing that was more coincidental than anything though?
sarahtales
Jan. 25th, 2011 09:57 pm (UTC)
Not coincidental, no. ;) So little is coincidental, because writers tend to think about their books to a deeply embarrassing degree few will ever know the deeply embarrassing depth of!

I am puzzled by what you see as a correlation: we're introduced to magicians via the characters of Olivia and Arthur, both of whom are heterosexual and indeed whose baby together is pretty much the Start Of All The Trouble, and don't get a gay magician until the very end of the first book.

Said magician is Jamie, perhaps the most good and moral character in the series, who's open about being gay and keeps the magic a secret in a very deliberate contrast that he explains in so many words: one thing is not like the other, one thing is harmful, and being gay cannot harm anyone. (Sad it still needs to be said, but I felt it does.) Seb is the misguided one who embraces something harmful and hides something that isn't, the dark mirror of Jamie's choices, which ends in death. So I use magic to contrast with homosexuality, yes, but not to correlate with it.

Gerald's sexuality being complicated is a whole other issue. After all, a not-inconsiderable portion of my cast are demons, and their sexuality is a complicated affair as well. ;) That just comes from feeling sometimes sexuality should be complicated in books.

Edited at 2011-01-25 09:58 pm (UTC)
zumie_ashlen
Jan. 25th, 2011 11:52 pm (UTC)
Oh, sorry! I just had wondered if maybe... gosh, this sounds silly in retrospect, but that magicians tended to be gay? (maybe homosexuality attracts magic, I don't know, haha).

The contrast thing seems so obvious now that you say it--thanks, I sometimes miss really important things in books. :D
sarahtales
Jan. 26th, 2011 12:01 am (UTC)
No need to be sorry. ;) But no, magicians don't tend to be gay. They just are sometimes (Jamie, Seb) and aren't sometimes (Arthur, Olivia, Helen, Celeste, Laura, although I don't think I go into Celeste's relationships at any point) and sometimes can't be entirely defined (Gerald). So, just like everybody else!
sauntau
Jan. 29th, 2011 06:25 am (UTC)
Although that might be a fascinating magical system--where magic is linked to a specific sexuality (especially if it was set in a society where said sexuality was frowned upon, discouraged, or outright taboo.)

I love what you said about Alan's warped ideas about love. I think I tend to, as a reader, unconsciously assume that there is one character in any given novel is completely reliable and always right about everything (and in books like Life of Pi, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and the Catcher in the Rye, assuming that the narrator, however likable he may be, is infallible, is a dangerous assumption). I guess I pick one character to identify with, and I want to think that they're always right because I want to think that I'm always right, maybe? Somewhere along the line my superego must have nominated Alan for the position of "the character who's right about the meaning of life" and I didn't fully realize until just now that he's just as messed up as everybody else, both in his worldview and in his actions.

This may sound weird, but thank you, SRB, for helping me realize a more mature way to read literature. This perspective will transform how I think about some of my favorite books and movies.

Yay for YA introspection!
r_hayburn
Jan. 26th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC)
I read that as "a not inconsiderable portion of my cats are demons, and their sexuality is a complicated affair as well." Thought the stress of authorness had gotten to you. ;D

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