Thank you for the book recommendations! I’m going to get my hands on these myself, I’ve heard really fantastic things about Delusions of Gender.
big fat feminist: Basically:
If a novel is divided between Good Women and Bad Women, it is not a feminist novel.
I don’t care whether the Good Woman is a virtuous tower maiden and the Bad Woman has vagina dentata and knows how to use them or if the Good Woman is a sexy Wiccan part-time knight and the Bad…
So… a woman cannot be evil/a villain in a work of fiction?
How are you NOT saying that?
Or… women can’t be in a state of conflict in a work of fiction?
Yes. You must explain why your theory isn’t as absurd as it sounds.
The problem is not whether or not women are evil or in a state of conflict in a work of fiction. The problem is whether or not they are evil based on adhering or not adhering to a standard of womanhood, as opposed to committing evil acts that are evil by nature. Judging women as “good” or “bad” based on their adherence to a construction of femininity is not feminist. There is a difference there, and it is huge.
And again, pitting a female protagonist who is “good” because she adheres to a construction of femininity against a female villain who is “bad” because she doesn’t is not feminist.
It’s not absurd. It seems you’re having trouble envisioning even a fictionalized world where women are not judged on “good” or “evil” based almost purely on the constructions of femininity within that fictionalized world — which is fair, because those books are not often written and when they are, they confuse the shit out of people (I’m looking at you, A Song of Ice and Fire). Are men judged as such based on their adherence to constructions of masculinity? Generally, no.
Here is a simplified example based on Disney movies I loved as a child: Robin Hood believes in providing for the poor through an equal distribution of wealth. The Sheriff of Nottingham believes in property rights and serfdom. Robin Hood is the hero because the tenets of his world are that greed and unfair taxation are bad. The Sheriff of Nottingham is the villain because he is greedy and treats his people unfairly.
Conversely, take Snow White and the Evil Queen. She doesn’t have a name, she’s just the Evil Queen. Snow White is “good” because she is beautiful and chaste and innocent; The Evil Queen is “evil” because she is vain, jealous, and arguably sexually active — if nothing else, she is dangerous because she is aging and moving further away from perfect femininity, and Snow White is young. They are pitted against one another because Snow White represents perfect femininity and the Evil Queen does not; moreover, the Evil Queen is evil because she wants to destroy that perfect femininity, because she is threatened by it. She hates Snow White because Snow White represents what she is not.
These are huge differences. Yes, one might be able to argue that vanity is objectively bad (I’m not saying I think that, but I can see the discussion going this way), but vanity is also traditionally gendered as a feminine flaw. Greed is not a gendered flaw. Robin Hood and the Sheriff are not enemies because they represent “good” and “bad” masculinity. Snow White and the Evil Queen are enemies because they represent “good” and “bad” femininity. This happens all the damn time. Fiction novels certainly CAN engage in this kind of boring stereotyping, but when they do they are sexist, and they are not feminist. Period.
I interrupt this blog for a moment of outrage.
Okay, maybe “outrage” is too strong a word, but when I saw the title of this New York Times opinion piece—“Adults Should Read Adult Books”—my first reaction was something like this. It’s no secret that I love young adult fiction and I fully intend to read it until the day I die. After reading the full article, though, it’s clear that this guy Joel Stein is just an idiot, more deserving of my pity than my anger. Still, I feel like I need to chew this thing up and spit it back out before moving past it, so here goes:
The only thing more embarrassing than catching a guy on the plane looking at pornography on his computer is seeing a guy on the plane reading “The Hunger Games.” Or a Twilight book. Or Harry Potter.
Oh it’s on, Joel Stein. I’m sure you didn’t realize this, but people who proudly declare that they have never read Harry Potter and never will, like it’s somehow beneath them to even crack the cover, are among my very least favorite people in the world. My boyfriend was one of those when we first started dating, and upon learning this I proceeded to read the entire series aloud to him until he changed his mind. For the record, it only took about four chapters for that to happen, but by that point I was a train that would not be stopped until I reached the last sentence of book seven. It was very much a turning point in our relationship.
The only time I’m O.K. with an adult holding a children’s book is if he’s moving his mouth as he reads.
I’d like to believe this is a poorly executed reference to parents reading books to their kids, but I have a sneaking suspicion Stein is actually making fun of people who learn to read as adults. Gross.
I’m sure all those books are well written.
Even when he’s trying to throw the counterargument a bone, he’s still wrong. The Twilight books are probably the four most terribly written novels ever to be published.
shut the fuck up
everyone read whatever the hell you want
YA lit is badass
holy shit wow
w o w this makes me incredibly angry.
TELL ME, MISTER STEIN, WHAT EXACTLY CONSTITUTES AN ADULT BOOK?
IS IT DAN BROWN’S LATEST FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND HOW LANGUAGE AND HISTORY WORKS?
IS IT ONE OF THE CONSTANT STREAM OF PURPLETASTIC ROMANCE NOVELS HITTING THE SHELVES?
IS IT A PULPY SCI-FI NOVEL?
WOW, I DIDN’T KNOW THAT MEDIA AIMED AT ANYONE YOUNGER THAN THIRTY WAS INHERENTLY INFERIOR.
THAT BECAUSE CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS ARE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND AND LEARN FROM A BOOK, IT MUST BE EMBARRASSING FOR AN ADULT TO READ.
IT’S NOT LIKE CHILDRENS’ BOOKS LIKE THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH DISPLAY INCREDIBLY CLEVER WORDPLAY THAT CAN BE APPRECIATED BY ALL AGES.
OR THAT SERIES LIKE ABARAT AND THE OLD KINGDOM ARE WRITTEN WITH SUCH DEPTH OF WORLDBUILDING THAT HALF THE ENJOYMENT IS SEEING HOW THE UNIVERSE EXPANDS AS THE PROSE GOES ON.
I’M SORRY THAT YOU SEEM TO BE UNDER THE IMPRESSION THAT A BOOK, NO MATTER HOW SHITTY THE PROSE, NO MATTER HOW FLAT THE CHARACTERS, NO MATTER HOW CONTRIVED THE WORLDBUILDING, IS ALWAYS A BETTER CHOICE THAN A YOUNG ADULT NOVEL IF IT’S AIMED AT THE ADULT CROWD.
GOOD FOR YOU.
YOU’RE A FUCKFACE.
I’LL TAKE MY ARTEMIS FOWL AND LEAVE NOW.
#THIS IS NOT TO SAY PEOPLE CAN’T ENJOY DAN BROWN/SHITTY ROMANCE NOVELS/PULPY SCI FI #BECAUSE GODDAMN LIKE WHAT YOU WANT JUST ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEMS AND /DON’T FUCKING CLAIM IT’S BETTER THAN ALL YA FICTION EVER/ #OH NO THIS BOOK DOESN’T USE ENOUGH FOUR-SYLLABLE WORDS IT MUST BE FOR BABIES!!!! #FUCK YOU #FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU #YOU ARE THE PROBLEM WITH ACADEMIA TODAY #YOU’RE PROBABLY ALSO A CLASSIST AGEIST FUCK AND I HATE YOU
Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
- C.S. Lewis
good fuck you
and fuck anyone who thinks they have the right to shame people for stories, and for loving stories and loving characters and loving worlds, because of the type of language that they use and the idea that it somehow lacks the depth or intelligence of the ‘adult’ (read: ‘well-educated, literate, white and historically male’) language code because it is told in a different way. because it has a different focus. because it has different goals.
this is not a ‘grown ups versus babies’ issue.
this is a ‘people who have access to a wealth of literary history, traditions, and educations who are benefiting their privilege of speaking the standard english variety in addition to their privileged position as educated members of society by decrying anything that doesn’t match that standard versus people who might not yet have had or may never have had those opportunities and privileges’ issue.
this is a ‘people who are perceived as being allowed to produce meaningful thought and people who aren’t because of nothing but society’ issue.
if people are writing stories then that’s good.
if people are writing stories that can be appreciated by people who don’t have access to the dominant literary paradigm then that’s really good.
if people who are teenagers, or second language learners, or speakers of a non-standard dialect, or learning disabled individuals, or people who don’t identify with the people and language and ideas represented by other kinds of literature, or any other kind of people want to read young adult literature, that’s good.
(and furthermore, this is just looking linguistically at the issue — i don’t even want to get into the fact that young adult books are often just relatable because they deal with themes that resonate with people, and that sometimes people who are oppressed and lack privilege identify with stories about personal identity and strength and reclamation rather than stories about people who aren’t oppressed and don’t lack privilege.)
so basically if you are ever saying that the type of language you use determines the importance or intelligence of your thoughts and stories and ideas, that its complexity or simplicity (read: conformity to straight rich white western straight cisgender dude tradition) determines a certain level of value or worth or meaning, that a story must be told only by the educated and the privileged and the ones who are capable of writing in the narrowly-defined literary tradition that we’ve come to valorize,
then you need to sit the fuck down and think about what you’ve done.
if i ever see this man i will actually hurt him which is not a good reaction but woooow i don’t even care
fuck you literary critics. i read books on death and dying and suicides and genocides and politics and massacres and Other Pretty Damn Serious Shit and if i want to escape that for one goddamm moment and read a book from my childhood or from young adulthood THAT IS MY RIGHT.
i am so sick of these men (literary criticism is LARGELY a man’s world) dictating what the rest of the world should read and why. go grasp yourselves firmly to any single one of the white men who became literary successes BECAUSE they were white men and leave readers alone.
HOWEVER YOU IDENTIFY
READ WHATEVER THE FUCK YOU WANT, THE LITERARY ESTABLISHMENT IS A JOKE.
Reposting because it’s important:
Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence.
WOW THIS MAKES ME SO MAD
LIKE I JUST
THERE ARE SO MANY, MANY THINGS WRONG WITH IT
Look I had this professor, Professor Dowling, from whom I learned SO MUCH and whose ridiculously high standards essentially made me certain of what I could achieve given hard work. But here’s the thing: despite his monumental influence on my own self-worth and the way I read and analyze literature, Dowling was (is, he’s not dead and as far as I know hasn’t undergone any major life changes that would make this point null and voice) an asshole. He’s an anti-choice, classist, racist, sexist asshole who once also pulled me aside to tell me out of genuine concern for my future that feminism would get me nowhere in life and I should put it aside as a phase. These two things - the fact that he taught me most of the things that made me a capable and apt student and the fact that he was an asshole - are not mutually exclusive and my feelings about him are very complicated.
I tell you this story to tell you another story.
Dowling had Slug Club. He called it Thursday Club, but it was Slug Club, right out of Harry Potter. He did not know this - he’d been having it long before Harry Potter was published. In Slug Club, we would all sit around and drink tea and have wildly high-brow intellectual discussions (which I found increasingly pompous and irrelevant, but that’s beside the point) and one day we were talking about literature. I was rather passionately making the argument that Twilight had a dangerous message and didn’t even have the redeeming quality of being well-written, and someone else in the room was responding that she didn’t think there was ANYTHING damaging about Twilight AT ALL, and didn’t even understand how I was coming up with that idea, and Dowling was listening to us go back and forth and watching me get more and more frustrated and finally, after I’d said something I didn’t even believe, that you might as well not read if you’re just going to be reading trash (NO I REALLY DON’T BELIEVE THAT, NEVER HAVE, NEVER WILL, DIDN’T IN THAT MOMENT, said it mainly because I was frustrated and wanted this girl to shut up), he interjected.
Let me remind you that Dowling is an asshole. He and I rarely see eye-to-eye on anything, which mainly comes from his inability to recognize that intellectual elitism is often vulgar and unnecessary and has a lot to do with privilege and my inability to concede that intellectual elitism has very occasional merits (I’m not even conceding this now, mind).
Dowling said, through the miasma of his intellectual elitism, something like “Reading is reading. Reading what you perceive as trash — and there’s no arguing taste but it is a highly subjective measure — is no more or less valuable than reading Nabokov. It’s the action that’s important, not the thing being read.”
He’s right, you know. And Joel Stein could learn a thing or two from this asshole who formulated my ability to actively read.