Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What's in the boooooooooooooooox?

Friends, I'm frustrated.  I've seen a few blog posts lately that talked about (and proudly paraded) certain stereotypes that can be associated with your "YA female protagonist" based on what she looks like, and a few blog posts that blatantly assigned archetypes to YA females, putting our favorite heroines into categories.

I just...we're put into SO MANY BOXES already, as real people, that I hate to do the same to our fictional characters.  Because it's really not acceptable to put us (or them) into boxes.  One of the things I love about our world is that everything isn't always totally black or white.  There are so many subtle differences between people and yes, while people can be categorized into being "smart" or "tough" or "hilarious" or "badass" it doesn't mean we should be.

Nor should the color of someone's hair, or eyes, or skin, completely define who they are.  Yes, it can be part of someone's identity, and sometimes it may even be the identity someone identifies with most/leads with, but that's not all there is to someone.  And please, whatever you do, if you're trying to sound knowledgeable about the ways society assigns stereotypes based on different "physical aspects" of a character, please don't only make your post accessible to one race.  It's extremely exclusive and just not okay --or, better yet, just stop perpetuating the stereotypes.

I get it, the whole putting people in boxes/using archetypes thing. Sometimes it's comforting to know that we're part of a group, that there are others like us, or that yeah, we've written someone who's just as badass as Katniss Everdeen. I'm not saying we should all abandon every box we've ever put ourselves into (whether voluntarily or not).  I certainly have no problem claiming that I'm biracial, or a Hufflepuff, or that I'm lucky enough to have received a college education, or that I write YA.

I'm just saying that we need to look, to really look, at the way we're characterizing young women in our books.  Physical attributes can be helpful to some readers when "picturing" a character, but, at the end of the day, I don't care** about what a person looks like.  I care about how a person acts.  I can empathize with anyone as long as I care about what they're going through, or can understand why they made a choice (and, even if I don't understand why they made a choice, I'll still care).  I want someone that I can root for, or root against.  For someone that will make choices I agree with and choices that will make me want to throw a book against the wall.

I want a character who's as well-rounded and real as any person I know.

What message are we sending to girls, or anyone who reads our books, if we're constantly adhering to the same tropes we grew up with, just because they're familiar?  If we always have a heroine who sits around, with little agency (or desire for agency) until some really hot guy comes along and then, only then, does she decide it's time to take control of her life?  Or what are we telling them if we make things like "smart" and "attractive" mutually exclusive?  Can't intelligence be beautiful?  And, even if you do happen to be the studious sort, that doesn't mean you can't still have a social life, or that all your free time is spent doing homework.

We need to break the cycle --to let everyone, not just girls, know that it's fine to be just them.  No, it's more than fine.  It's great, wonderful, amazing, terrifying, beautiful, confusing, and so much more.  Because THAT'S what life is. That's what YOU are.

People, and characters, aren't one dimensional.

I want to be more than what I look like.  More than my hair color, eye color, skin color.  I want to be what I act like.  I want to be someone who can love, hate, cry, be angry, crack a joke.  I want to be smart, I want to make mistakes.  I want to be different,  but sometimes I want to be the same as others.  But, most of all, I just want to be me.

Stereotypes and boxes exist -- but that doesn't mean we need to use them.

**I'm still a fan of putting more diverse characters in stories.  I'm just saying that, if someone doesn't look like me, I'll still be able to empathize with them.  I don't care if they have purple skin, three arms, and happen to be a dinosaur/alien hybrid. I'll still care about what happens to them if they're a well-rounded, three dimensional character.




    You already know how much I agree with you, so as not to risk ranting, I will just say: YES.

  2. Just wrote this blog post about YA Heroine Archetypes because I was tired of seeing the same ones rehashed over and over again. I wanted to draw peoples' attention to how easy it is to put their characters into boxes. And to how crucially IMPERATIVE it is to let them break out of those stereotypes. Totally understand your venting.


    1. Oh, I agree, it's far too easy to put people into categories based on personality traits or appearances, and I think the more people we have talking about it the more we're aware of what we're doing!

      It's kind of sad when these things are so common that they're all so easily identifiable. I appreciate you pointing out how easy it is to do that to our characters! Definitely keep the conversation going :)

    2. Agreed! Acknowledging the problem is the first step to recovery, right? =)

      The sad thing is I'm not sure how often writers realize they're categorizing their girls like this. Humans are complex creatures. If novels can't at least offer some insight into understand others better, then what do we have to offer the world besides more cheap, shallow entertainment? I want more!

    3. Yeah! People are more than "one thing," and characters need to be portrayed in the same way! Yayyyyyyy for complex characters!

  3. I agree. Just like in life, we're not only introverts and extroverts. We exist on a spectrum. Life is a freaking rainbow, and we should use all the colors in our fiction. Nice post. Thanks!

    1. YES! Pretty much everything you just said :)

      Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Just stumbled across your blog and LOLed at the title of this post. (Please be referring to Brad Pitt's line from the movie Seven)

    I agree with you about stereotypes... But I believe it goes even farther. Some people get an idea for a story and then take off running, using everything they can see and use, tired plot structures, tired dragons, tired elves vs. dwarves, tired love triangles...
    I think the best stories come from several inspired ideas, not just one or two.

    By the way, you'll be happy to know that the lead female in my current WIP is FAR from the damsel in distress. In fact it's her saving the dude's butt!

    The next, most important girl is bat sh-- crazy and in love with a battle halberd... (she believes it proposed to her)

    Forget boxes, says I.