The YA Novel and Bad Romance

To set the context for this post, let me tell you about the academic thesis I nearly wrote. I was (am still) interested in the question of perpetuation of rape culture in certain YA novels and though I didn’t do much research before I switched to a creative thesis, I still am very much passionate about the topic and about the lack of progressive female characters in books aimed at young adults. The books I planned to analyze were Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick and Twilight by Stephenie Meyers. As you may all be aware, there already exists quite a volume of work dissection Bella and Edward’s relationships, feminist readings and reactions to feminist readings of The Twilight Saga though the same cannot be said for Hush Hush. Because the following is a blog post and I am rather pressed for time, the following post will necessarily be shorter than it should be; it also won’t contain any specifics and will be mostly opinion based as I have not done as thorough research as I wish to before I write anything official about this. My only intention with the following post is to start a discourse, provoke thought and perhaps critical commentary and awareness about what is being produced for young adults/people who read YA novels.

Stephie had a wonderful post about romance in dystopian novels and I’ll leave you to form your own thoughts about it. My main concern is about YA novels as a whole, subgenre inclusive, and the romances depicted (often unhealthily) in them.

It is common knowledge that young adult literature often has quite an intense focus (so intense that sometimes the original premise is subsumed by the romantic plot) on romance. While this is another subject and I’ll be discussing it later, at this point, I’d like to discuss the kinds of romances usually common in YA novels and work in the problematic aspects of the type being discussed.

1. The Love Triangle

Source: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m81rvqgdMJ1rymx61o1_500.jpg
Source: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m81rvqgdMJ1rymx61o1_500.jpg

We have discussed love triangles before but not in any great detail but you will have realized that none of us here have any great fondness for this particular trope. I’m sure if one analyzes it, one can speak in their favour as they present the protagonist with a choice. And there have been love triangles that have been handled quite well though I cannot name any at the top of my head (in my defense, it’s late)  but what makes this trope problematic more often than not is the total objectification of the female who is being fought over. (To be fair, guys are also objectified but not as much as women are.) Almost always, the female protagonist will be a passive speculator in this fight, not coming out to assert herself or to make a definite choice. She will instead wring her hands wondering what to do without making a choice. These kinds of situations end up with the two boys vying for the girl’s attention and fighting amongst themselves almost as if the girl has no say about who she ends up with and that makes me very angry.

Objectification is extremely damaging and all women know what it feels like to go through it. Here’s an article that talks about one woman’s experience with objectification.

2. The Bad Boy

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So yeah, this. I don’t like this at all. And yet this trope proliferates the YA novel like some unending nightmare. YA protagonists, of the female variety, let boys treat them badly over and over again simply because they are hot and somehow irresistible. They mistakenly believe that if they stick by the dude and endure the atrocities he puts them, they will somehow redeem the dude, change him into a nice person. Right. More insidious, however, is the perpetuation of rape culture in books that put the bad boy on a pedestal, portraying him as misunderstood and soft on the inside. If you are not familiar with rape culture, wiki defines it as:

Within feminism,rape culture is a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape.

If you are still confused, maybe this .gif will spell things out:

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Or perhaps this one:

Source: http://theviewspaper.net/wp-content/uploads/Rape-culture2.jpg
Source: http://theviewspaper.net/wp-content/uploads/Rape-culture2.jpg

Do some more reading about rape culture: a post by Fugitivus.

Now, let’s apply rape culture and bad boys to YA novels and you get Hush Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. Rather than do a full analysis of the novels of the novels, I will just direct you to wonderful posts by people who have pinpointed EXACTLY why Hush Hush is a cause for concern. Read Lissa’s review, and The Book Shop’s article (which inspired this one), the University of Fantasy also talks about this. Another article about the Twilight movies and what it says about abusive relationships was also a quick interesting read. 

So why are all these things cause for concern, you ask? If you remember, in our Fairytale month (September 2013) we talked a lot about how children assimilate culture through fairytales. They learn power dynamics, gender expressions and everything in between from books and tales that are narrated to them or read by them. I don’t think that fiction created rape culture but I do think that fiction perpetuates it to some degree. If there is no critical awareness both on the sides of the reader and the writer, being with someone who explicitly threatens to rape you will continue to be construed as romantic.

This post is not to imply that all YA novels contain problematic (or bad) romances. There are some that approach romance in a wonderful manner. Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow all contain romances that grow gradually and give a more substantial portrayal of relationships than is present in other books. One could argue that the landscape in the YA romance novel genre is changing but I’d have to ask you to provide evidence of such a claim because I recently read a novel that made me want to smack things and I’m usually a very mellow person. In the interests of fairness, this article about feminism and the YA romance novel does bring up good points but, in my opinion, the cons majorly outweigh the pros. Twilight presents as romantic: stalking, threatening, and the intrusion into and the eradication of the concept of personal space. It normalizes such courtship rituals and I cannot see it as being in any way a healthy example. Surely there are ways we can celebrate women.

In conclusion, I’m well aware that this post is massively lacking but I hope you enjoy the fascinating reading material I brought to your attention. Do give them a read. And maybe then, we can have some interesting discussion about the YA genre and bad romances.