Females in YA: Part 9 Feminism

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on February 3, 2015 in Females in YA, Writing, Young Adult |

Somewhere along the line the word “feminist” got a bad rap, so much so that people seem to be confused about what it really means to be a feminist. Feminism is simply the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men”. So if you think women should have equal rights as men, then you’re a feminist. No man-hating or bra burning required!

When the heck did feminism become a bad thing anyway? Turns out a simple Internet search turns up plenty of discussion on that topic already. See “When Did Feminism Become a Bad Thing?” by Daisy Lindlar; “Why men have a problem with the word ‘feminism'” by Martin Daubney; and “Feminism: Has it Become a Dirty Word?” by Barbara & Shannon Kelley…just to name a few.

The idea of feminism has been so construed to some kind of men vs. women mantra that even these 10 really famous women celebrities (including Madonna and Susan Sarandon) have come out and said point-blank that they are not feminists. Many of whom go out of their way to say they are “humanist” (whatever the hell that means…can anyone who isn’t a sociopath not be a humanist?), but I suspect that they are actually feminists and are simply under the delusion that feminism is a bad thing. There’s even a hashtag on Twitter #womenagainstfeminism. Really?

C’mon, ladies, let’s get our shite together and take back the word. (Initially I wrote “our word” but changed it because men can be and should be feminists, too.) Still not convinced you’re a feminist? Check out the article “Not Sure What Feminism Is? Allow These Famous Authors To Explain” by Maddie Crum. Even as I write this rally cry, it seems someone may have beaten me to the punch.

In September 2014, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson made a speech about gender equality (i.e. feminism) and launched the HeForShe campaign. Among the things she said about was this:

I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word.

Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive.

Why is the word such an uncomfortable one?”

After this speech, Watson faced both praise and criticism (see the article “Emma Watson’s UN speech: what our reaction says about feminism” by Michelle Smith), and also threats to release nude photos–which didn’t actually exist–of Watson (see “The Emma Watson Threats Were A Hoax, But Women Face Similar Intimidation Online Every Day” by Emma Gray). In my mind, it was yet one more thing to confirm that we do need feminism and that we need to show what being a feminist really is.

So by now you’re probably asking, “Ummmm, Katie, when are we going to get to the part about YA?” Patience, dearies, and you shall be rewarded! Before we get to the YA part, let me point you to one more article, “Teen spirit: young feminist heroes” by Kira Cochrane, showcasing real, non-celebrity young people and their insights on feminism.

Okay, so now we’ve finally reached the YA part of all this. Writers of YA have a huge impact on the lives of teenagers. We can take our own messages of feminism and weave them into our narratives (in a non-didactic way of course). And I, for one, think we not only can, but we should. Let’s not pretend that gender inequality hasn’t infiltrated not only the fictional world of YA but also the real world in which women and men writers are treated differently (see “A Censored History of Ladies in YA Fiction” by Kelly Jensen).

Will feminism be a central issue in every piece we write? Certainly not. But even when we write about something else, like first love or a daring adventure, I think it’s important to understand what messages, even indirectly, we are sending to our readers. Is every character we are going to write be a feminist? Again, of course not. But it’s important to examine our work and wonder if in it we are buying into and maybe even feeding into gender inequality. Let’s not pigeonhole our characters, thereby not pigeonholing our teen readers.

And just in case I haven’t given you enough reading to do already with all those links, here are a few more that make me hopeful for the idea of feminism in YA: “13 Contemporary Novels All Feminists Should Read” by Emma Cueto, “13 Female Young Adult Fiction Authors That Owned 2014” by Caitlin White, and “2015 Is the Year of the Feminist YA Novel” by Kelly Jensen.

Finally, let me state for the record that I, Katie Carroll, YA author, am a feminist.

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  • kell andrews says:

    Great post! And I, Kell Andrews, writer human, am a feminist.

  • Mirka Breen says:

    the word FEMINIST got a sour aftertaste because of some militants who emphasised their anger at the other gender. When you stress what you are for, not against, it’s easy to embrace.

    • Yes, it is much easier to embrace that way, Mirka. Too often an aggressive fringe element of a movement or religion gets all the attention so the true message gets construed.

  • Lily Cate says:

    Very well constructed post! I agree.
    I think the negative attitude attached to the very word “feminist” is an attempt to discredit the concept by framing it as an aggressive movement of some kind – which is ironic, because it is often the backlash and threats against women that speak up that are the real aggressions – instead of listening to the simple message that women do not want to be placed at an automatic disadvantage simply for being female.

  • Meradeth says:

    You sing it! This has been one my mind lately as I vie for a job in a male dominated field and have to deal with all kinds of shite that I know a man would never face. And wow does it make my blood boil! I hate how ‘feminism’ is seen as ‘bad’ and really hope that my books and work try to combat that!

    • Tough stuff, Meradeth. It bothers me that science is such a male dominated field. I think when girls see women working in male dominated fields it helps them to believe they can go into that line of work as well. Kudos to you!

  • I’ve been a little perplexed by the rejection of the word “feminist,” too. I understand that it has some negative historical connotations, but I hope those start to change. I guess we could keep trying to coin a new term for the concept, but no matter what you call it, it’s certainly something to be aware of in our writing.

    • It was a revelation to me when I saw and read that young women and girls were rejecting the term “feminist.” I felt like all that militant type stuff that was called feminism but wasn’t really happened awhile ago (like before I was even born…and I’m no spring chicken!), but it seems that the extremist view of it has remained.

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