Let’s Talk: Navigating YA Gender Geography

Just an FYI- for this post, I’m mostly talking about YA Fantasy. That’s the main genre I read, and it’s the one I think most of my non-reader friends could really get into.

The whole idea for this post came about a loooong time ago, when my little brother and I went to the movies, and (no exaggeration) every preview we saw except for one was a YA novel being turned into a film. After about the fourth one, I head my brother kind of mutter under his breath “Yay, another movie about a girl saving the world.”

And, at first, I wanted to fight him, because, hey, I did my time. I have read book after book, “classic” after “classic,” and seen movie after movie where I had to try to identify with a male protagonist and his male mentor and his male villain and his only-there-for-eye-candy love interest.

angry

At first, I was angry. I wanted to say, “Yeah, another girl-saves-the-world movie. And it’s about damn time!” But then it got me thinking.

Understand that my brother is a few years younger than me, and my dad was a huge nerd. So we grew up on Star Wars, Star Trek, and Narnia; all of these were series where, for the most part, men and women had equal parts in saving the world. I mean, the Star Trek of our youth was Voyager, which had the first female captain, and a borg-turned-beautiful woman who saved everyone’s lives multiple times.

voyager
That’s my childhood, right there.

But, because I’m an avid reader, I’ve been exposed to a lot more gender injustice than he has. I’ve read so many novels that were a huge disservice to women. I went through the process of seeing only books that were pretty clearly sexist, to seeing this whole YA genre explode and give women the credibility they deserve.

But he hasn’t had that same experience. He grew up seeing both genders portrayed fairly equally (though definitely not perfectly). So his comment got me thinking, has the YA gender pendulum just swung in the other direction?

Because, let me tell you, I’ve seen my fair share of unrealistic expectations reflected in male characters. All these hot, funny, thoughtful, badass, well-read, etc. etc. male characters who are just as unrealistic as a sexy G. I. Jane. Or worse, male characters who were pushed to the side so that the incredible “not-like-other-girls” girl can take center stage.

After thinking it over for a while, I took a look at my bookshelf and asked myself, “Which of these books would I actually recommend to my brother?” If I wanted to turn my non-reader brother in an guy who couldn’t devour books fast enough, which books would I hand him?

And I could only come up with two. Two books with what I considered well-written male characters, and they have both male and female protagonists. (For the record, the two were An Ember in the Ashes and Six of Crows.) It’s not that I think he would hate a series like Throne of Glass or The Wrath and the Dawn, he’d probably enjoy them. It’s just that these are very female-centered books. And when you’re trying to get someone who’s never really been much of a reader to enjoy books a bit more, they really have to connect with the character they’re reading about. Which can be hard if it’s an author of the opposite gender writing about a character of the opposite gender.

So all of this is simply to ask: Has gender representation in YA become more fair? Or do we still have some work to do for our literary fellas?


Let's Talk

Thanks for reading!

What do you think about the gender atmosphere in YA? Do you think there is fair and equal representation? Do you think we still have some work to do? What are some books or series you think have incredible representation? Let me know in the comments below!

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17 thoughts on “Let’s Talk: Navigating YA Gender Geography

  1. This post was so good. Very nice work.
    I actually think the balance has shifted to where there are more female protagonists. It seems really hard for me to find male protagonists and female protagonists that I actually like.
    Something about a lot of books with female protagonists that bothers me is that a lot of them have the love triangle trope or the badass female who has to work alone to save wherever. Like I wish they would ranch out more with the characters. Also we need more LGBT and POC protagonists all around, but that is for another day. 😂
    Lovely post. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is such a fantastic topic for discussion! I really love seeing strong female leads but I think it becomes difficult when they are presented as ‘different to other girls’ because they are no longer attainable and relatable. It’s actually funny because recently my favourite female characters have been side characters (my main genre is contemporary so these are people like Mauve in One of us is Lying by Karen M. McManus and Tarin in Beautiful Broken Things by Sara Bernard) because they aren’t presented as ‘different’ they’re just ‘there’. In terms of male characters I think it is difficult because there is currently such a fad for amazing female leads and I think ensembles are definitely the way to go because it really does give the best of both worlds, like I honestly can’t believe how amazing every member of the crew in the Six of Crows duology is and they all have their good parts and their flaws which just makes them all the more relatable. Another book with a mix of males and female is The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater which has a main crew of three/four guys and one girl but then also has a family of amazing strong women so that’s one I might also recommend! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Very interesting topic! My nephews (14-year-old-boys) and I were talking earlier this year about what they were reading, and I was sad to hear that they mostly have just been rereading books because they have a hard time finding books they are interested in for their age. As the self-declared book maven of the family I took it upon myself to gift them with new and fun books for them to dive into….I have to say it was a really difficult task. For their age it was really tough. I scoured the internet and chatted up the staff at the bookstore to come up with a few options. Plenty to choose from for younger than them (many written long ago), but not much for them now as teens. I found some and have since started to keep on the look out for books I see that I think they might like so I have a store of recommendations and presents for them now that I see how tough it is for them to find something new to read. Speaking of books…sorry this comment got so lengthy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lengthy comments are the best comments!

      That’s pretty similar to my problem! It’s just so frustrating to see how far we’ve come with our lead ladies, only to realize how far we’ve fallen behind when it comes to our leading men.

      Like

  4. Good point! I think YA tends to be unrealistic about female leads, especially when it shuffles guys off the stage just for the sake of a strong female. I mean, women are strong. I’m all for epic females but the best characters work with other people. Six of Crows is a great example of a balanced cast.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly!! I love seeing more strong female leads, but not at the expense of great male characters! And I’d love to see more female leads who are strong in ways other than swinging a sword or insane amounts of magic.

      Like

  5. Love this!!! I’m actually attempting to write a book (not that I’ll ever publish it, just a hobby to improve my writing skills), and ran into this exact dilemma! So I made my two main characters a team. The male character is better at some things than the female, and vice versa. So many authors have hopped on the strong female lead train and its starting to get played out. I wish some of these authors would at least make the female lead a clumsy, plain idiot who just happens to save the world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love team books! That’s why I love Six of Crows so much! All of the characters have different skill sets that compliment each other.

      And I wold totally read a book about a girl who’s super clumsy and just kind of “oops, I saved the world… I think?”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You bring up some really interesting points! YA books nowadays (Fantasy especially) almost always have female leads and not only that but the female leads have to be strong and fierce and ready to take on the world. I also cannot think of a YA Fantasy other than Ember and Six of Crows that do a good job in having both male and female characters (probably why those two are my favorites). I would say The Dark Artifices series by Cassandra Clare has pretty great gender representation too. Awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!

      It’s just a little hard because of course I love fierce female leads, but I’d also love to see some female leads who aren’t instantly amazing with every weapon they pick up, or some fellas who have just as big a role saving the world as our ladies.

      I may have to check out The Dark Artifices; I’m always here for some great gender representation!

      Like

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