Why Feminism in Literature Shortchanges Our Girls

We’ve come a long way from finicky fairy princesses who snooze through the most exciting scenes of the story in an enchanted sleep. Today’s princesses not only fight their own battles, they often have time between breaking curses and defeating monsters to put a cocky prince or two back in his place.

While, as the parent of a girl, I’m excited to see these literary ladies take an active role in their stories, what worries me is the withdrawal of the hero. He’s stands around awkwardly, waiting for the girl to finish wrapping up the conflict so he can maybe, possibly slip in a kiss?

Again – I love the messages in these stories that teaches girls that they are a force to be reckoned with, that they can be brave and fight their own adversaries. And do I want my daughter growing up thinking she must have a man in her life in order to be happy? Of course not.

But I’d like it if her literature did a little more to point out what makes a man worthy of a lifetime commitment. These passive guys featured alongside some of YA’s fiercest chicks just aren’t worth a girl’s time, in my opinion. Where are the men? The real men. The heroes worthy of these modern warrior princesses.

The Hunger GamesOne of my favorite things about The Hunger Games is Peeta’s character. When I first read the series, I worried that he would be a soft, sweet, awkward boy that Katniss couldn’t help mothering. Sure, he’s got the baker-boy-who-can-lift-flour-sacks thing going for him. But could he hold his own in the face of the whirlwind that is Katniss?

And he does. Without his sense of strategy, she would be lost. Without his cleverness, neither of them would survive the games. Her skill and knowledge save them as well, but together they are a powerful team. Each one’s strengths compliment the other’s weaknesses. I love it. I love the message about crafting an admirable relationship with someone who uses their strengths to protect you. These are the things I want my daughter to look for in a man someday.

I want to see more books that craft those sorts of balanced relationships. I’ll have to keep a list of the ones I come across in my own reading and post it here in the future. Because I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to see strong young men in YA alongside the ladies.


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About Kasey

Reads things. Writes things. Fluent in sarcasm. Willful optimist. Cat companion, chocolate connoisseur, coffee drinker. There are some who call me Mom.

8 Responses to Why Feminism in Literature Shortchanges Our Girls

  1. I find your title is really misleading, and belies your point, which is that to see relationships in which both characters have strengths and weaknesses, and their personalities compliment one another. Feminism in literature is in no way antithetical to this. I can’t even think of a story in YA or MG where I’ve seen a “withdrawal of the hero” when there has been a strong romantic subplot. Do you have examples? If you’re looking for YA books that do demonstrate a balanced relationship, I’d suggest a book I just read: These Broken Stars by Meagan Spooner and Amie Kauffman. A guy–a former soldier, and a girl–a heiress, crash land a space ship on a foreign planet, and struggle to survive. They both save each other numerous times.

    • Hi Molly! Thanks for stopping by.

      I guess I feel like the message I’ve internalized from extreme feminism is that not only are we as good as men, but we don’t need them. Well, maybe as sperm donors. But that’s about it. Which I do think opens the door for passive men to continue to be passive and let us girls handle all the hard stuff. Too many of us go for these kinds of guys because hey, they’re nice, but what they really want is someone to take care of them exclusively, and I think that’s a bad thing. As you said, there should be mutual aid and help. Good character on both sides of the romance equation.

      Yes, examples. Though she’s one of my favorite authors, I found Robin McKinley’s retelling of Robin Hood (Outlaws of Sherwood) to be this way. Robin Hood is an unwilling hero at best, and it’s Maid Marian and Cecily who are the real doers and fighters. Abbi Glines’ novel Just For Now also follows this pattern. I really don’t get the attraction between hero and heroine – though he’s a good big brother, he’s also not a great boyfriend? I don’t know. I felt like there was some real inequality in their relationship. In Suspicion by Alexandra Monir, I found few reasons to like or trust her crush. He was apparently quite hot, but there wasn’t a lot else happening to make me feel like he brought any real value or was worthy of her. He seemed kind of… inept? In Ella Enchanted, she breaks her curse by just deciding to. There’s really no team effort, and while her relationship with the prince is charming, he sort of just passively sits by until she handles things.

      It’s true that there are lots of books out there in which this is not so. Which is awesome! I do have These Broken Stars and it’s been on my list to read for some time. I’ll move that to the top of my list, thanks to your recommendation!

      • Some women don’t need men as lovers are partners — perhaps as friends. And judging from you’re views, it seems odd to say that you’ve internalized this? Perhaps you mean your perception of “their” argument (which is absolutely reductive?)

        I haven’t read any of your examples (not that I’m not well read in YA — it’s my job, just not those specific titles) but I’m still not sure your specific details make it clear to me. So the Robin Hood character is passive? RE: Abbi Glines, what sort of inequality? I find it difficult to fault Ella for breaking her own curse?

        Perhaps my lack of understanding of your view point is on a fundamental level. You seem to want all literary relationships to depict an ideal, while I think there are room for all kinds of stories, and readers should be able to draw their own conclusions regarding them. I don’t view fiction as didactic.

        I really wasn’t trying to pick a fight — part of my job is recommending books to parents and teens/children, and I came upon your blog in a search for review sources that regarded children’s and YA from a conservative standpoint. I really liked your matter of fact details about content, and found them superior and with less judgement and provided more context than sources such as common sense media. In browsing your reviews I noticed this post. I regularly write about literature and feminism, so it piqued my interest. I am truly trying to understand your perspective, even if it differs from my own, and was hoping for specifics in storytelling, characterization, or plot that you feel follow this pattern you speak of.

        • Thanks for clarifying – I wasn’t trying to argue, either – Sorry. 🙂 I’d like to be able to better communicate my thoughts on this, but perhaps the best idea will be to formulate those descriptions, as you said, on story, plot, characterization and take that to a new post. 🙂 I think it’s worth exploring further, and clearly I’ve got more processing to do on this topic.

          Thanks for your compliments. I feel like my mission is to inform and let parents or readers decide for themselves which books are appropriate for them. I hope others find it helpful, too.

  2. Loren Secretts says:

    Really enjoyed this post! I’ve had these thoughts exactly, but never put them together so articulately.
    And I recall thinking when I first read The Hunger Games, ‘Finally! Here’s the kind of boy we’d want our daughters to date’. (That is, Peeta)

    • Thanks, Loren! Glad to know I’m not alone on this one. 🙂 It’s always a little scary to post opinions that aren’t in line with the pop culture norms. But it’s definitely something I feel strongly about.

  3. Brandon says: