Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Bella vs. Buffy or Why I Hate YA Heroines
Okay, hate is far too strong a word. But I have been very disappointed with most of the YA heroines I've read lately. I so seldom find girls I would have actually wanted to be friends with as a teen. Swoon-worthy boys abound, but I usually find the girls unworthy of their affections. Can't anyone write strong but vulnerable young women?
In almost every YA book I've read in recent year, the heroines tend toward two extremes: passive, shallow characters who exists only to build up the stronger, male character (ie, Bella) or they are brash, untouchable characters who don't need a man, only to fall in love in spite of themselves (ie, Buffy). And both types seem to view the desire for marriage and family as a weakness. The girls I knew as a teen were smart, resourceful and sensitive. They loved easily and wore their wounds like badges of honor. They were complicated and irrational. They were so much more than the girls portrayed in YA books today.
In the interest of full disclosure, I read all the Twilight books and (mostly) enjoyed them. I watched (the first couple seasons) of Buffy and enjoyed that as well. But isn't there a balance between girls who can't walk straight on their own and girls more likely to give someone a roundhouse kick than the time of day?
I relate to the weak heroines. I'm clumsy, unathletic and much better at mental tasks than anything physical. But I am fully capable of taking care of myself. I have a strong sense of self-preservation. I've learned to make up for what I lack in strength of body with strength of mind.
And I do admire the ass-kicking heroines. I'd love to have hair-trigger reflexes and the skills to take out anyone who underestimates me. But inevitably, after a tearful breakdown, the kiss-ass heroine realizes she cannot live without some boy and lets her obsession with him define her from there on out.
Women are strong and not because they can do everything men can do. They are strong because they can do things men can't do. Like carrying children and giving birth. The very things these YA heroines reject as weakness are the things I view as strength. Only the strongest risk mind and body to protect someone vulnerable with no thought of personal gain. And what is wrong with demanding some level of commitment from a boy before giving yourself to him?
I would love to see more YA heroines who use their brains instead of brawn to defeat their enemies. Girls who don't need a boy to tell them who they are. Girls who are clever and confident. The kind of girls I've known and admired throughout my life.
I know I fail at this as a writer. It's too easy to fall into those established archetypes. But I've tried to create a heroine who is at least worthy of my hero. I've tried to create a character I'd be proud to have as a daughter. Because the girls I know are neither weak and passive nor brash and untouchable. They are both and they deserve better than shallow stereotypes.
So what do you think? Are you disappointed with YA heroines or am I overreacting? Any recommendations for YA heroines you do like? What are some stereotypes/plot lines that bug you?