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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.


(Deleted comment)
Jan. 26th, 2011 03:20 am (UTC)
Totally in agreement about the interview not counting. For every Harry Potter reader who knows about that interview, there are probably at least ten more who have no idea. The vast majority of fans have only the epilogue to go by. And that's just appalling. Personally, I hated the epilogue for approximately 15~20 independent reasons. For the sake of brevity, I'm just going to focus on the ones relevant to this discussion.

It didn't tell you anyone's professions, except Neville. I cannot even begin to imagine how J.K. Rowling thought that would go over well with her fans. The very least she could have done would be to say whether or not Harry actually became an Auror, since it was only a topic in, what, three books? Yes, it's safe to assume he did it, but we don't know. And Harry wasn't the only character that got ignored; like I said, we only actually know about Neville. I'd like to know about Hermione, Ginny, and Luna, sure, but I care about what Ron is doing with his time too.

I think there's another huge problem with it that isn't really being touched on here, though. Hermione and Ginny both have very strong, forward personalities that vanish entirely in the epilogue. Hermione gets one line and Ginny gets two. The focus may have been on the kids, but Ron and Harry both got some little bits of character. Frankly though, Hermione and Ginny might as well have not been there. That's the main reason people tend to assume they became housewives, I think. Personally, I just think it's awful that their personalities are suddenly irrelevant.

There's one last thing I hate about the epilogue that is pertinent to this discussion. Did Ginny actually have any say whatsoever in naming the children? With Ron and Hermione there's no telling. But the Potter kids have Harry written all over them. I find it disgusting.
Jan. 26th, 2011 11:11 am (UTC)
I'm interested that you look at the epilogue and (I presume) feel disappointed that it doesn't tell us much about what the main characters did after Hogwarts, apart from have babies. I always assumed that the purpose of the epilogue was the children, hence the focus on them, rather than their parents. It just wasn't about Harry, Ron and Hermione (and Ginny, and Draco, and Bill and Fleur and everyone else) any more. JKR gave out more information in interviews because people were interested enough to ask, but the books end where they do for a reason. It's not about the rest of their lives.

I think it's slightly odd that on encountering the same information about male and female characters (that they married and had children) your assumption is that the guys have jobs but that the women didn't. There is no reason to come to that conclusion. I understand that perhaps JKR could have been more actively feminist and that had she shoehorned in the information about the women having jobs it might have left a clearer picture, and more clearly positive image, for some readers. But I think it's a little harsh of you to just blame JKR/the epilogue for offence felt caused by the (erroneous) conclusion you personally came to.
Jan. 26th, 2011 01:39 pm (UTC)
But... there's ALSO no indication they stay at home. If you make that assumption, that isn't necessarily the books' fault.

A 'simple ministry job'? I wasn't aware being a part of the government was now 'not enough' for a driven woman, nor simple; for the record, she gets several laws passed on her own back, which seems perfectly in line with her character to me. As to 'we never get given reason to assume they got a job', what? Yes we do. Hermione is a social activist in books 4 through 7. We have just as much reason to believe she will remain one as we do reason to believe Harry will continue wanting to be an auror. And as you yourself say, we don't get any indication Ron will get any specific job, yet you're saying the books somehow imply this anyway. It sounds to me like it's your own assumptions at work.

Not to mention, she isn't the 'type' to raise kids? There isn't a 'type' of woman who enjoys raising children. Mothers come in a variety of types. A woman being strong and driven does not mean a woman who can't raise kids, because a woman doesn't have to forego femininity to be strong.

"she seems to be much less focused on romance and relationship drama than just about anyone else"

And? Do women who do not purely define themselves by romance 'demean' themselves by choosing to get married, now? Getting married does not change the fact that she did not "NEED guys to define" her.

"And again, all the other women are either old spinsters or evil/crazy"

Says who? We don't know anything about the female professors' personal lives. Plenty of them may be married, just as plenty of the male faculty may be. It's a 'students don't know much about their teachers' thing.


Sarah Rees Brennan
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