I may have used a similar title before, but this is something I really want to talk about again.
So, I read a lot of YA fiction right now. Do you want to know why? Because when I was that age, stories with female protagonists were few and far between. Once I found one, I clung to her with both hands. Menolly in Anne McCaffery’s Dragons of Pern series . The sisters in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, although I like the Tumblr take on Susan far, far better than what happens to her in canon.
When it came to SF media other than books, my role models were… Ripley from Alien .
When I was 18 I discovered Tanith Lee, and for the first time encountered unapologetically bi, or what might more accurately be called pan-, sexual characters, and female characters that while more sexual than the McCaffery and Lewis girls/women, also seemed to have a lot more agency. Particularly in her short story collections, Red as Blood and The Gorgon and Other Stories . But Lee’s women were also unapologetically sexual. Her SF stuff, Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine featured at least one female character who, while not the main character, had agency and made her own decisions.
The newer generation of female protagonists in YA novels have more agency, and are more proactive than before. They take more pages from Tamora Pierce than CS Lewis. Melissa Marr’s main characters would be more likely to raise hell at the family that let her hand heal all wrong than run off.
I think we have a lot more books out there telling girls that they matter, that they can DO things, that they don’t have to sit around and wait to be rescued.
But even better than that, we also have a lot more books that tell queer kids and kids of color that they can be the protagonists in their own stories. That their stories matter and deserve to be heard. Now authors like Malinda Lo , Karen Healey , and Gabby Rivera are giving a wider range of kids words to use for their own identities while telling inclusive stories that broaden the worlds kids can imagine.
And I’m not really sure what people have against that.
I really don’t get it.
I mean, I spent a fairly large portion of my life as a well-meaning but mostly clueless white girl, but damn it, once someone pointed out that little Latina girls and little Black girls didn’t have dolls that looked like them, my first thought was, “Why the fuck not?” It wasn’t some small-hearted wondering about whether or not more brown dolls would mean fewer white dolls. It didn’t seem fair to me then, and it still doesn’t.
Asking girls, women, queer people of all genders, transgender folks, and POC to accept the white male stubbly, cis-gendered model or the white, blonde, pretty but not too pretty female analog as their only portal into fiction seems like bullshit.
And it’s ok if those stories aren’t your cup of tea, I guess, sort of. No one is going to make you read them. You can blissfully ignore the contributions of women, people of color and queer people to genre fiction all you want. I think that’s a terrible idea, but you do you.
However, I think it’s awesome that between YA and comics like Ms. Marvel, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Miles Morales as Spider-man a whole bunch of kids who previously had no one that looked like them in their comics and fiction, will have stories that speak to them, that help them cope in the way that Anne McCaffrey helped me cope in junior high.
And I am really, really ok with that.
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