Monday, March 17, 2014

Abuse Narratives in young adult dystopian fiction

Since graduating, I have taken to reading a lot of fiction.  I have a bit of an obsession for young adult dystopian fiction and sometimes read a bit of zombie/magic/fantasy and, on occasion, even vampire fiction.  I started to notice some disturbing trends in the literature and made a spreadsheet to confirm these tropes.

In case you aren't familiar with this language, a trope is a common pattern in a story or recognizable attribute in a character that conveys information to the audience. Tropes often perpetuate stereotypes.  For more information on tropes, see tropes vs. women

Currently, there are 71 books on my spreadsheet.  The stats person in me feels the need to say that these are in no way selected randomly; they represent what is available in mostly ebook and audiobook from the two public libraries I can access.  However, I did try to borrow from the top selling books tagged as "young adult" and "dystopian" on Goodreads as a rough guide to indicate that these are largely what youth are reading at the moment.

The most disturbing trend, and the one I am going to discuss in this post, is what seems to happen when a female author writes about a female protagonist (46 of the books in my spreadsheet).  Here is the story that played out more often than not...

1. Girl in mid to late teens gets rescued by a cute but mysterious boy early in the story (even in Hunger Games, although we don't know it until a bit later in the story)

2. Girl is conflicted between two potential dating partners.

3. One of the dating partners is abusive in some way - emotionally or physically, often both (one of the book jackets actually said "he loves her, he wants to kill her")

4. It is deemed to be "not his fault" because ... (he was brainwashed by the capital, he is fighting a transformation into a supernatural being of some sort, he is a supernatural being of some sort and it is in his nature to bite/kill, he was raised in another area where this was how things work and doesn't know any better).

5. Love interest #2 treats her like a human being (88.2% of love triangles or 68% total books)

6. Girl somehow survives everything  (often because of a girl-power awesome piece, but sometimes because one of the two love interests fixes everything for her) 

7. Girl lives happily ever after with abusive asshole, who is now a nice guy

The most disturbing part for me is with respect to #4.  In many real abusive relationships, the abuse is explained away as not the fault of the abusive partner - he is just under a lot of stress right now, he is not acting like himself, etc.

Some of the behavior in these books is scary.  In Twilight, Edward watches Bella sleep by sneaking into her room and everyone is ok with this?!?  If someone snuck into my room to watch me sleep, I would call the police, not date them.  In so many of these books, the love interest tries to kill the protagonist (even in The Hunger Games) and we are all ok with this because it is not his fault.  Sometimes, instead of being physically abusive, love interest #1 is merely hostile, rude, secretive, mean, spiteful, or otherwise an ass not worthy of her time.

I think it is also important that most of these girls kick ass.  It can seem empowering to watch Katniss survive the games twice and take down the capital, often saving Peetah in the process, or watching any other female character use her intelligence and physical strength to take down whatever demon / faerie / vampire / soldier / government / etc is in her way (reminiscent of Buffy), BUT, even though she is a strong and independent character, she is still in an abusive relationship with love interest #1.  Also, thank you Divergent for not doing any of this (not my favorite series, but notable in that the whole love triangle / abuse thing is barely there).

I get that this is fiction and it isn't telling young girls to go date vampires who are going to beat the crap out of them the night they lose their virginity, but when such a high percentage of the relationships that girls are reading about and watching on television excuses abuse, it can definitely lead to a situation where abusive behaviors seem relatively normalized much in the same way that study after study has shown that watching programming that incorporates rape myths make teens and college-aged adults more likely to believe in rape myths.  

Other issues with these books;

Number of books/series with at least one non-white character; 31% 

Number of books/series with at least one LGBT character; 23% (this is artificially high - there were a total of 3 series with LGBT characters;  Revived had a trans character, Adaptation had 3 queer characters including 
main characters, and the Sweep series had at least 5 LGBT characters, so I read 9 of the 14 books, HOWEVER none of these are actually dystopian despite being tagged as such).

Number of books where female protagonist stays single; 0
Number of books where male protagonist stays single;12%

Average number of female characters (non-protagonist) that have any real character development; 1.68 per book

Don't get me wrong - these books are not all bad.  There is also a lot of positive commentary coming from them, which is why I like them and continue to read them.  Most of them provide some kind of insight into the world; ideas of good and evil as shades of grey and not just black and white, issues with censorship, obedience, government/social control, war, better ways to organize socially and politically, what constitutes freedom and choice, is there such a thing as "human nature" and what does it look like, ethical issues with science and genetics, environmental sustainability, beauty ideals, racism, social class, poverty, Indigenous issues, religion, the importance of art, linking militarism to sexual violence against women... I could write several posts on these aspects alone!

In the next few weeks, I would like to write about tropes with other gender groupings for author/protagonist. 

Also, please continue to recommend books and series that you particularly liked!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Why the "friend zone" isn't funny

I love to read memes and visit a lot of sites that have a variety of memes.  However, I am getting sick and tired of all of these comments about the "friend zone."

I'm sure you have heard of this concept - it is when women overlook a perfectly acceptable dating partner and think of them only as a friend, even though this guy wants to be more than friends and has been extra nice to this particular woman to try and win her over.

It is also women's way of exerting power over the male species and to continue having them do our bidding (insert evil laughter)....

Here are a couple of supposedly hilarious examples;
Friend zoned.


It even suggests that women use this power intentionally to abuse and manipulate men or just treat them like shit;

Friend Zone Level 99

But this is incredibly sexist.  It suggests that women owe sex to men who are nice to us.  It is also insulting to men, suggesting that the only reason a straight cisgendered male would be friends with a woman is to get her to sleep with him.

friendzone. The friend zone myth is dangerous and insulting because it perpetuates the idea of women as a prize or a reward for being 'nice'. It dehumanises wom

This "friend zone" ignores what women actually want in a relationship.  It makes women seem like spoiled brats who drag men around to do their bidding.  It makes men seem like victims because a woman they were nice to does not want to sleep with them, which implies that men are entitled to sex from any woman they would like to have sex with.  It makes it harder for women to say no without being thought of as selfish or manipulative, especially if the guy has been nice to her.  It implies that it is a bad thing to be friends with a woman (if you are a hetero cis man), which I can only assume is because men are so much more interesting than women and the only thing women are good for is sleeping with.

This friend zone can be dangerous.  It reinforces many of the same ways of thinking that supports date rape as an excusable behavior. In the next comic (from a page that explicitly refers to the rape zone), you can see the myth that women will intentionally seek to gain financially from male friends, and that men should be paid back in sexual favors for spending money on a woman.

 I have seen several images linking this friend zone to sexual assault - I debated whether or not to include these images, but I really don't want to give them any more hits than they already have, but there are a group of memes about putting women in the rape zone if you have been friendzoned and a series of posts entitled the fuck a friendzone movement.  These might be meant as jokes, not actually encouraging men to assault women, but with the prevalence of rape myths and sexual assault, there is nothing funny about them.

So please stop sharing "friend zone" images unless it is to explicitly point out how sexist they really are.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What passes for journalism these days....

So, on the bright side, this article made me want to post again for the first time in over a year (or maybe that has something to do with being back in academia).  On the down side, nobody is going to read this because I haven't blogged in a year...

This article in a local newspaper is one of the worst pieces of journalism I have ever read.  It is about the city's decision to fly the rainbow flag in support of LGBTQ athletes in Russia.

Not only does the article completely fail to contextualize the reason for the rainbow flag flying at city hall, but it presents some incredibly hateful views without refuting them or even suggesting that they might be discriminatory.

A few quotes...

"Raising the rainbow flag at Tom Davies Square will confuse children, one Star poll respondent believes."

I have children.  Neither of whom have ever been confused by a rainbow flag despite multiple exposures to them.

"“It's discrimination against married couples, having something like that,” another said, while a third person agreed."

Ignorance is discrimination against everyone... I win.  Also, note the completely heterosexist assumption that all married couples are straight.

Finally, the stats presented are absolutely absurd -

Of thirty-seven people called in to the poll hotline, 35 were opposed to the flag being flown. On the website 67% said no, 30% said yes and 3% were unsure.

Note that the other 165,000 people who live in this city decided that the rainbow flag is such a non-issue that they don't feel the need to pick up the phone to complain about it!

Seriously though, here is the problem - the average person reads this, shakes their head and moves on.  But people who hold homophobic opinions read this, feel that their opinions are validated and that most people think like they do, and they continue to spread hateful opinions on the internet, in schools, in the workplace, etc etc.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Not loving the anti-choice protest that I see Every Single Morning

I pass pro"life" protesters with pictures like this one every day on my commute to work.  It's a great way to start your day off with a grrr.

  Photo: At 26 weeks we are talking about a fetus not an infant. If you have to play with language to make your point, maybe you should reconsider the stance. I am totally bringing my pro choice sign for tomorrow's commute.

 It is my least favorite thing about working so close to the hospital (which is the only place that has abortion services in my city, which means it is the only place to put these signs to shame the women who need to access abortion services).

I just want to say, at 26 weeks, it is not an infant, but a fetus (or, if born at this age, a neo-natal preemie that may or may not be old enough to survive).  The language and photo are problematic for many many reasons.  Less than 1% of abortions in Canada take place after 20 weeks, and when they do, it is usually because the baby has no chance of surviving and the mother doesn't want to put her body through carrying a baby that is going to die to term.

Also, a fetus in the womb is probably not smiling.  But it looks cuter in the photo if there is a small smile on the baby, I guess.

Also, I keep planning on bringing a sign that I can fold up into my backpack that just says PRO-CHOICE in big letters and then I can hold it up while I walk past them, so I can at least feel like I am doing something.  I started trying to organize a protest, but they are usually gone by 10am and most of us have to work.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

no words...

Seriously, how the fuck does this even happen?


The minister for the status of women actually votes for a bill that will lead to the criminalization of abortion!  This is clearly who Harper chose in charge of my rights...

Also on the attack against women, I just found out that the university is no longer going to fund a coordinator for the women's centre.  Because we don't have issues like sexual assault, sexual harassment, or any other form of sexism on campus anymore.

Friday, September 21, 2012

First attempt at blogging again

I have been trying to blog all week and have found it impossible to write about topics that I would normally be all over... like this one by a friend of mine.  

Last weekend, I received some news that set of my blogging spider-sense (that's a thing, right?) to the point where nothing else really mattered, and I can't write about it due to confidentiality issues and my lack of anonymity.  So I am stuck in this space of finally having my blog back and being thrilled to be online and committed to writing at least one post a week, but being entirely unable to think around this one block in my head when I think about social justice.

Does this happen to other people?

I have been talking a lot about the census release, so maybe I will start with trying to write about that after a reporter decided to strip everything critical that I had said about the topic... Wednesday, StatCan released data on families in Canada from the 2011 census and there are headlines about changing families or new types of families.  The problem is that single parents and common-law relationships are not new... if you really think about it, it is the nuclear family that is new.  But, as a news source, it is much more responsible to assume that the idea of family that exists within eurocentric capitalist patriarchal countries is the original family.  

Families take on different forms in various cultures at different times.  Same-sex couples are not new, but they are more often openly defining themselves as same-sex couples as opposed to pretending to be just roommates, and laws allowing them to adopt children and get married have allowed them to take part in what we consider to be more traditional family forms.  And they are now being measured on the census.  Single parent families are also not new, in the early 1900s there were a lot of women with children widowed in the war who raised families as single parents. If we take the census data seriously, homeless people do not count, and there isn't a single person in Canada who deviates from the gender binary.  

We have to stop thinking about the census as a reliable source of data or of the results as representing new forms of families as though the nuclear family is the ideal that other families are supposed to strive to achieve as it sets up one type of family as inherently better than other forms.  And we have to get more critical reporters.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Back Online!

I have not been posting lately due to technical difficulties, but I am back and expect posts to resume shortly!

You have no idea how incredibly happy I am to have figured this out!