Females in YA: Part 1 Growing Up Female

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on July 17, 2013 in Anecdote, Books, Females in YA, Sports, Writing |

IMAG0921Lately I’ve been coming across a lot of articles (here’s one in The Atlantic about women and love in novels and another about women in fantasy novels) about how women are portrayed in books. My field of writing is books for teens and kids, so this got me thinking about how girls are portrayed in YA.

The best place to start, for me, was to think about my own experience growing up a female. Sure, I spent plenty of thought and energy on boys during high school. I had several serious boyfriends throughout the four years. And even when I didn’t have a steady boyfriend, I went on dates with boys, held hands with them, kissed them. So, yeah, boys were important.

But boys weren’t the only thing. I was a bit of a jock in high school, and damn proud of it. I’m willing to bet just about anything that my high school boyfriends attended more of my sporting events than I did theirs (when you play three varsity sports, there isn’t much time to go watch your boyfriend’s basketball practice). My friends and I wore our own letter jackets to school, not our boyfriends’.

And friends were important too, really important. Many of my high school memories are of cruising around in my best friend’s car with two of our other friends, all girls. Did we think about boys? Of course, but usually we were just hanging out, looking for fun stuff to do and trying not to get caught doing stuff we weren’t supposed to be doing. And I had a couple of really close guy friends too, and the line between friendship and more-than-friends didn’t really get crossed with those guys.

I would say my teen years were spent being pretty darn confident about myself as a young woman (in many ways I was more confident as a teen than I am now). I dated boys and thought about them, but they weren’t my everything. I had goals and dreams and fun without boys being at the center of it.

So is the reality as I knew it (which I have to think reflects at least some of the reality that exists for teens today) reflected in the YA books out today? Well, that’s a good topic for Part 2, don’t you think? What type of experiences do you think are universal and relevant to teen girls today?

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  • Katie Clark says:

    Great subject! I agree. As a teen, sure I liked boys! But that wasn’t my whole life.

  • Meradeth says:

    Now you’ve got me curious: what sports did you play? 🙂 Love this topic. I was definitely not boy obsessed in high school. I knew a few girls who were, but I didn’t have a boyfriend, didn’t date, and was pretty much hell-bent on getting through and on to college. Definitely not the norm probably, but I knew what I wanted, lol!

  • Leona Pence says:

    Interesting topic, Katie. I liked boys as a teen but usually dated those a few years older. I was shy and concentrated on school and getting good grades.

    I grew up in a poor family as one of eight kids, six being girls. I think my mom’s goal was to see us married and settled down. I got married on my 19th birthday, long, long ago lol

    I have much more confidence now than I ever did as a teen. It might have been different if I hadn’t been so shy.

  • Ann Herrick says:

    I liked guys, but didn’t obssess over them. Couldn’t understand girls who were thrilled with *any* type of male attention, not all of it positive.

    • I’m sure I did my fair sharing of obsessing at times, but it was never my whole life, like all there was to being a young woman was pining after a guy. And, yes, much of that male attention wasn’t necessarily worthy of bragging about.

  • Marva says:

    I was into acting, so many the boys I knew were gay. I loved those guys, and we all had a great time as theater rats. Also made me a strong supporter for LGBT rights.

    I also dated a lot of straight guys, but my most fond memories of HS also were my best lessons in equality.

    • What a nice perspective to have had at a young age, Marva. I bet a lot of teens could relate to this these days with so many more young adults being comfortable about being out.

  • Mirka Breen says:

    I truly appreciate the links to the articles and your thoughts on this, Katie. I was just having an exchange with a writer-friend about females and romance novels. I find that you’d have to go to MG to find good stories with female protagonists that are not about finding a soul-mate, but about the understanding to one’s soul.

    • Thanks for reading, Mirka. I’ve read more than just those two articles lately, but I didn’t bookmark them all and couldn’t find most of them in my searches. MG does seem to be a good source for nonromantic story lines.

  • I personally believe that fiction needs to convey larger life lessons than what is always relevant. If we keep to what is relevant, there is the potential for generalizing young women and what they’re into and want in a novel. But, if we write from their perspective but point them toward an enriching adventure that brings about self-worth, this is what literature should do. Inspire a new way to be happy.

    Thank you for the blog post!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer. I, too, believe literature is larger than what is relevant. There’s universal truths to that part of life when you are growing up, and I think the best YA taps into those truths.

  • Interesting article. What I’d be interested in is whether the trend towards feisty girl characters is going too far; authors (including myself) suggest them as role models but should all girls (or boys for that matter) strive to be like that? I know that my daughter says that the feisty girl thing has been done to death at this stage

    • Ann Herrick says:

      Yes, a lot of girls are shy and quiet and yet stand up for themselves too (I was one).

      Confession: My YA novels are mostly romance or at least have an undercurrent of romance. IMO girl-boy stuff is a major part of high school–and beyond! 😉 That said, I like to think there is more than only romance in my books (and many other YA romances), that there are other issues, concerns and interests too.

      • Definitely, Ann, romance is an important part of high school. No doubt there. And there is romance in my books too, but I think it’s clear that romance isn’t the only thing important to teens.

    • Hi, Philip! There does seem to be an overabundance of feisty girl characters. I think it’s important that all types of personalities are represented in literature because many different types of characteristics are important in the world and they different personalities all have their merits.

  • So awesome to read all your comments and see everyone’s opinions. I hope you all tune back in next week (probably Monday) for part 2. I think I’ll take a look at my own books first, and then maybe make a part 3 about other books in YA. But thanks so much for contributing your thoughts in what I think is a really important topic.

  • Beverly says:

    Wow! Great post. Seeing your letter jacket brought back memories. It’s been a long time since I was in school and my letter jacket was for being a majorette in the band, not athletics. I still have it though along with my yearbooks. Yes, I liked boys, but I loved music and being in the band. Those guys were my dates, not the athletes.

    • Thanks, Beverly! It was fun to find the old letter jacket and bring it out…I might have tried it on if we weren’t in the middle of a huge heat wave! 🙂

  • Erin says:

    I think the romance is part of what made Twilight and similar books so popular with older (not old–just not teen) women. Remembering that first love and the excitement that goes with it and being able to “re-experience” it vicariously through a character is attractive.

    I’m spending more of my time lately “talking” to teens on Twitter and stuff in prep for my YA book release. They mention school, books, and family problems a lot. Most are “in love” with fictional boys over regular boys. Now, I realize this sampling is small, but I’d say teen girls today don’t only focus on boys.

    When I was a teen, I definitely noticed boys and spent plenty of time thinking about them, but I also spent time hanging with friends, reading, playing sports, and participating in theater activities.

    While I agree that YA should present a well-rounded picture of girls, I’m still a sucker for a good love story! 😉

    • Ah, I see you mention Twitter and connecting with teens and it makes me feel like I NEED TO BE ON TWITTER to sell more books! But then my stomach gets all in a twist and my brain yells, “Please, no more social networking!” LOL!

      Seriously, though, thanks for such a thoughtful comment, Erin. One of these days (probably when all the teens have moved on to something new) I’m going to be asking you for a Twitter tutorial! 😉

      • Erin says:

        Twitter is VERY time consuming–I’ll give you that!

        I’d be happy to do a tutorial when you are ready! 😉

  • Patrice says:

    You make such a good point here. I get really disappointed and frustrated when I read YA books that have everything revolving around some guy. Most girls I know, myself included, like you said we played sports, we wore our own jerseys/letter jackets and we liked boys but they weren’t our priority. Writers need to be careful of what they write into stories because young girls are reading these books.

    • Thanks, Patrice. This topic has been tumbling around in my mind for awhile. It’s taken me some time to figure out how to talk about on the blog, though. Glad to see it’s resonating with people.

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