Lately 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?