Before fully discussing the topic of feminism and romance in Young Adult literature, I think it is important to establish some definitions. When discussing feminism, there can be many interpretations and ideals about what exactly is feminism; therefore, the three different waves of feminism will be referenced separately and as their own categories. However, when feminism is stated as an overall subject, it simply means, in the context of this article, that it is gender equality between men and women.
The first wave of feminism, according to The Magazine of Pacific University was to, “…open up opportunities for women, with a focus on suffrage.” The second wave focused more on sexuality and reproductive rights. This wave is arguably the most radical as well. The third wave of feminism, while not completely defined just yet, focuses on the idea of the appearance of feminist-like qualities (i.e. dressing very girly and in dresses and bows). However, these feminists, while dressing girly and very feminine also show the world that they have a brain and are highly intelligent women.
Young Adult literature itself is also not easily defined. Some may see it as the time period in a person’s life when they are an adolescent or teen. However, as shown on numerous blogs and articles, there are 20-somethings and beyond that also enjoy reading Young Adult literature. The focus of YA is mostly on teenagers though. In fact, according to the article “How I Picked 10 Best Feminist Teen Books of All Time,” by Jessica Stites, she says that, “Many YA authors didn’t think they were writing YA until their publishers told them they were…”
As a teenager who has read books and novels in the YA genre for a long period of time, I have seen the rise and growth of strong and independent female characters. These heroines show that not every girl needs a man in her life, but if there is one that’s okay too. For example, in the popular series The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, I was drawn to Katniss’ ability to fight for her life and those around her without having a man drag her down. There are times throughout the series where she indulges in the simple pleasures of romance, but often she is confused and angered when anyone shows affection towards her, and she ends up pushing them away.
On the other hand, there are the YA series and novels that make the feminist inside almost every woman cringe. Bella, from the Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer, is the epitome of a Mary Sue. In literature a Mary Sue is defined as a one-dimensional, boring, character that is reliant on others to function. According to the website YALSA(Young Adult Library Services Association) in the article by Chelsea Condren titled “That’s Not Very Feminist of You, Bella: Feminism and YA Romance Novels, “[Bella] gives up her life for a boyfriend and gets married as a teenager and there is lots of creepy patriarchal imagery surrounding the female body.” While the article agrees that Bella is a huge set-back for feminism, it also explores the idea of how much men hate the Twilightsaga. This is important because, “…anything written by women that makes men uncomfortable has a place in feminism.” (Condren)
I agree that it has a certain place in feminism, but Twilight is not feminist by any means. Although, the huge success of Twilight spurred the creation of a plethora of other paranormal romance novels written by incredible women. Not only paranormal romance, but action, adventure, thriller, and many other genres of YA literature with strong female characters. For example, in the Divergent series has a huge fan base and that trilogy also has an amazing heroine.
Sadly though, with the spur of so many new YA novels and series I have often seen in my personal experience, that the content of these novels are not as good as a book that was well-thought out and planned through such as the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling (which also exhibits strong female characters!). In the article, “Judging a Book by Its Cover: Publishing Trends in Young Adult Literature,” the author Cat Yampbell states, “Literary merit becomes irrelevant if the book does not, or cannot, reach the reader.” In a world where time is money, it is essential for publishers, cover designers, and typographers to design books that are visually appealing to a reader. In this sense, the content of a book is lost altogether.
Compared to adult books, though, I think because of this aspect, readers are more drawn to YA novels. The covers are fun, synopses are cute and sweet, and the stories are not, usually, dark and depressing. In both genres there are the token novels with the steamy covers and women throwing themselves at men, but typically YA has a good balance of feminism and romance under its belt. Some of my favorite YA books have a heavy romance component, but the stories most often involve girls who can think for themselves and, while sometimes making mistakes with men, make their own decisions and decide for themselves who they want to be.
I have not read a large amount of adult novels, however, there are a few in particular that stand out to me as having romance components with strong heroines. I read Gone with the Wind in eighth grade and ever since, Scarlett O’Hara has been one of my all-time favorite characters. She often reminds me of Cat from the Nora Roberts MacGregor Groomsvignette. Both characters are spunky and resist the men who throw themselves at their feet. I like the idea in adult literature that there can be men who, while financially stable, handsome, and can help a woman out of her dire situations, can still be refused. Yes, in both cases, the women eventually cave and proclaim their love for the handsome Rhett Butler and Duncan MacGregor, respectively, but they still remain powerful.
I have seen throughout the class that many girls take a liking to more strong and independent characters because they can relate to them more, since that is what our class is made up of. Throughout our discussions I have seen many girls change opinions and stances on feminism and romance based on the Nora Roberts book we’ve read and few movies we’ve seen. The fact that an analysis of a single adult romance book could change so many young women’s opinions is both troubling and enlightening. It is troubling because it shows that even at such a young age, girls (and boys) can be influenced by so many different types of media. However, I think the sheer fact that a book or movie could change someone’s opinion so strongly is fascinating. It shows that one piece of media can change a previous ideal and spark an inspiration inside someone.
For example, when we watched the movie “When Harry Met Sally”, many girls pondered over the question if men and women could be just friends. This idea often also comes up in YA literature. Often there are love triangles in which the main heroine shows her ability to make her own decisions by choosing one man, or refusing both to stay single and happy the way she is now. In my personal belief, men and women can be just friends because most of my friends are men. There is so many benefits like less drama, better companionship, and often having the male perspective on a situation can be life saving and intuitive.
No matter a feminists age, he or she can still enjoy the simple pleasures that Young Adult literature has to offer; simplicity, women finding themselves in a world ruled by men, and sometimes even a bit of romance. As a young woman myself, I can easily relate to the girls in YA novels who struggle with the internal struggle over whether to give in to her romantic desires and be “swept off her feet,” or to stand tall and open doors on her own or pull out her own chair.
I think above all women can have a balance between feminism and romance and also have some of both in their relationships. Women can still take care of themselves whilst having a man to support her and encourage her as well. In YA literature there will always be those few characters who set feminism back a few years and cause our internal girl power gene to squirm, but more and more recently, strong feminist characters are coming into light in the publishing industry and this shows that in pop culture many girls are able to stand up more frequently about their feminist ideals without having male backlash. Besides, one book can change the world, so imagine what a whole slew of books can do for feminism and romance in our modern world.
Condron, Chelsea. “That’s Not Very Feminist of You, Bella: Feminism and YA Romance Novels.” YALSA: The Hub. N.p., 22 July 2013. Web. 7 Nov. 2013. .
Rampton, Martha. “The Three Waves of Feminism.” The Magazine of Pacific University. N.p., n.d. Web. 7 Nov. 2013. .
Roberts, Nora. The MacGregor grooms. S.l.: Penguin Group US, 2012. Print.
Stites, Jessica. “How I Picked 10 Best Feminist Teen Books of All Time.” Ms Magazine Blog. N.p., 22 Oct. 2010. Web. 7 Nov. 2013. .
Yampbell, Cat. “Judging A Book By Its Cover: Publishing Trends In Young Adult Literature.” The Lion and The Unicorn 29.3 (2005): 348-372. Print.