Let’s Talk: FE&L #1- Should YA Authors Write Empowered Female Protagonists?

female


 

Why Are Empowering Female Characters Important? 

Eden

Writing empowered female characters in YA Literature

I was invited by Batool to write about female empowerment in Young Adult books and literature. Thank you so much for asking for my thoughts!

At first I wasn’t sure where to start – do I talk about my favorite strong female characters? Do I share how I don’t always like my female protagonists to be a badass? Or do I write about my experiences as a Teen Librarian, and what I see teens reading and requesting?

Turns out, none of those things are what I want to talk about. I want to have a conversation with other YA readers & reviewers about whether YA authors should write their female protagonists as empowered. This is intended to make you think, to bring up questions for discussion, and not as an accusation or social statement.

Why do we need strong female protagonists?

While there is evidence that positive role models in books and other media have positive influences on youth, there is a definite lack of evidence that negative or neutral characters have negative effects.

What does this mean? That there is no consensus on whether characters who are not strong influence their readers to be that way as well. This is a similar concept to the idea that youth who enjoy violent video games are not influenced by them to be more violent.

I do agree that strong and positive role models in fiction for young adults are important, and they do have a positive impact on a lot of young readers. On the other hand, if the majority of YA readers want to read books with strong female protagonists, then I think the YA market will reflect that. Publishers know what they’re doing, and they’ll respond to what the readers want.  And there should be books like this available for all genders of readers. And there are:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/18/ya-books-heroines-_n_4467453.html

http://www.gurl.com/2014/01/06/ya-novels-strong-female-heroine-characters/#1

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2014/03/20/strong-female-characters-ya-lit/

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/31157.YA_Books_with_Strong_Female_Characters

The responsibility of the author

However, does this mean that YA authors should write their characters as empowered, strong, and positive? Is it the responsibility of the YA author to create fiction that will have a positive influence on the reader?

I don’t think so. In my opinion, the author has little to no responsibility or obligation to write their characters a certain way. A female protagonist does not have to be a kickass heroine who saves the world all on her own. She doesn’t have to stand up to the oppression from her evil stepmother, or fight back against her abusive boyfriend or girlfriend. For one thing, that isn’t realistic or representative of female behavior. Second, the author has no obligation to send a message of empowerment to his or her readers. The author doesn’t have to send any message at all – they can simply tell the story they want to tell, and if  they want to have a feminist message they can do so. Or not. It is up to them.

The authors telling the story are able to tell whatever story they want. I can make criticism of the story, and discuss how it could have been better or worse; as a reviewer I can discuss the appeal or lack thereof of a particular character, and also why I did or did not like that character. It is their story, their product to sell, their made-up world, and I personally feel that I have no right to tell them how they should and should not write.

Questions for discussion

Does that sound controversial? If you think so, I would like to know why. I understand that my opinion differs from the majority of YA readers, and I would very much enjoy having a discussion about other viewpoints.

Why do you think we need strong female protagonists in YA literature?

Do you also think we need weak, un-empowered female characters?

Do you feel the author has a responsibility to the readers, and how so?

What obligation does the author have to the reader, when designing characters?

Have female characters in YA made a strong impact on your or someone you know? How so?

Further reading:

http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2013/03/14/what-we-talk-about-when-we-talk-about-strong-heroines-in-young-adult-fiction/

http://www.stackedbooks.org/2013/06/female-sexuality-in-ya-fiction_2136.html

http://commons.emich.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1356&context=honors

http://www.readingteen.net/2014/10/on-author-responsibility-in-ya-books.html

http://leighannkopans.blogspot.com/2012/04/do-ya-writers-have-responsibility-to.html


 

eden

Eden Grey is a Teen Librarian and YA Lit reviewer. You can find her on Twitter –@edynjean– and Blogging Between the Lines. Eden also contributes to Teen Services Underground and YA Books Central.

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5 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: FE&L #1- Should YA Authors Write Empowered Female Protagonists?

    • I really agree with you on the idea that it should be the author’s choice. The author is the creator of their work, so they should be given the freedom to choose whatever direction they want to go in when it comes to their characters. Just like a reader has the choice of what they want to read, the author should have the choice of what they want to write. Besides, there’s so many options out there, if a reader doesn’t like the fact that a specific character isn’t empowered then they don’t have to read that book.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You are so right – I often forget that it is completely the reader’s choice to consume that media. They can read what they want, or not, and if they don’t like certain aspects of certain books, it was their choice to read it. I feel like we don’t talk about choice enough in the world of YALit and reviewing.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I think some people worry that the teenagers who read YA are very impressionable (especially those between the ages of 12-14), and that a lack of empowering characters could have a negative impact on how we see ourselves. Yet, the way I see it, teenagers are smarter than we’re given credit for. We can tell when a character has traits that we respect, and we can tell when a character has traits that we don’t. In relation to the video-game topic you mentioned, just because I’m playing a violent game doesn’t mean I’m going to walk out into the street and emulate that violent behavior. Likewise, just because I read a book with a “weak” female character, doesn’t mean I’m going to alter my personality so that I could be more like her.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Very, very good arguments! Those are all things I think about when people discuss how books or characters should be written a certain way. I respect the reader more than that!

        Liked by 1 person

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