A few weeks ago, I started watching Prisoner, otherwise known as Prisoner: Cell Block H in America and the UK. Australians, I give you permission to laugh. Believe me, if a foreigner started gushing over Days of Our Lives or As The World Turns, I'd be somewhat amused. I see you asking: what relevance does an Australian soap opera have to American YA literature? To that I say everything.
An undercurrent of sexism lies in American entertainment. It's on tv, it's in music, and recently it's found a way into YA literature. I'm not talking about sexism against women; that's been covered by my fellow bloggers. I'm talking about sexism against men.
In recent YA novels, teenage boys aren't treated fairly. For years, women have been against objectifying their bodies, but now they're doing the same to men. It's become difficult to pick up a book that doesn't have a handsome sculpted Adonis as the heroine's designated love interest.
Women have spoken against being treated like nothing but pretty shallow girls that need to be taken care of. When the same treatment is given to men, nothing is said. Is this because boys don't read YA or perhaps sexism against men isn't acknowledged in a male-oriented society.
Other times, male characters are made weak and docile in order to make the female lead seem strong. Bringing someone down in order to pull yourself up isn't feminist; it's wrong.
This is what I call double standards.
It's when a women screams sexism against a man writing a sexy female character who is seen as disgusting and slutty, then turns around and writes every male character in her book as being obsessed with sex.
It's when men are seen as stupid oafs in order to make women seem smarter.
It's when books like The Color Purple, that portray nearly all men as being abusive and/or rapists, are touted as symbols of feminism.
Then we have a trend that stretches back as far as the 80's. I'm sure some of you have seen 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink, and The Breakfast Club. What's something all of those movies have in common—besides Molly Ringwald and The Brat Pack? Our heroine never gets with the nerd.
(I refrain from saying, the nerd never gets the girl because remember, neither men nor women are something to be won. We don't live in caves anymore.)
The heroine gets with either the handsome bad boy or the handsome rich boy; never the intelligent average guy. Seeing a problem?
Now, with the advent of books like Twilight and Fallen, we're faced with the same problem all over again. While our heroines are quite plain and average, their love interest must always be handsome and rich. Usually, he's a sexist jerk and he enjoys putting the heroine down on many occasions.
What happens to our intelligent, nice, somewhat nerdy/geeky boy? He's usually shoved to the side or acknowledges that the heroine wants a handsome, rich jerk. Remember Ducky?
The nice, intelligent boy is never attractive. At best, he's cute, like a little brother. Or, if the nice, intelligent boy is actually attractive, it's soon discovered that he is evil and has an alternative motive. Don't believe me?
Hush, Hush: Patch Cipriano is an attractive sexist jerk that frequently terrorizes Nora Gray. Elliot Saunders is an attractive nice guy that is initially open and friendly to Nora. While Nora is suspicious of both, we find out that Elliot is evil. He soon starts displaying controlling behavior and Patch must save her. Because nice guys are never actually nice guys.
Fallen: Daniel Grigori is a jerk that flips Luce Price off the first time he sees her. He continues to emotionally abuse her throughout the novel. Cameron Briel is a nice guy that tries to show Luce a good time. She frequently brushes him off and treats him like dirt. Both boys are equally attractive. It's soon discovered that Cameron is evil and Daniel is good.
Evermore: Damon Auguste is a jerk that frequently ignores Ever Bloom to fawn over her arch-enemy, Stacia. He is condescending and treats her like a child. He also refuses to get a divorce so that he and Ever can truly be together. Jude is a nice guy that helps Ever whenever he can. It's soon discovered that he is her soul-mate. Ever, however, is suspicious of him and soon stabs him in the back with a knife, believing him to be evil.
These are examples from three very popular books that have spent weeks on the New York Times Bestselling List. What do they teach boys? If you're attractive and nice to a girl, you must have alternative motives. The average nice guys are treated just the same. Kody Keplinger discusses double standards on her blog, but they're apparent in her work as well.
Twilight: Edward Cullen is a jerk to Bella Swan. He treats her like a child. Jacob Black treats her like an equal, but she doesn't like him as much as she likes Edward. When Jacob becomes attractive and muscular, he turns into a sexist jerk. Apparently, a nice guy can't handle good looks.
City of Bones: Jace Wayland is an attractive sexy jerk. He treats Clary like a dumb child. Simon Lewis is her cute best friend who has loved her for years. She chooses to date Jace in favor of Simon, even though she once thought Jace was her brother.
Blue Bloods: Jack Force is a rich jerk who has ignored Schuyler Van Allen for years. Suddenly, they are in-love, but he continues to lead her on. He goes back and forth between Schuyler and Mimi, his fiance, who is also Schuyler's arch-enemy. Oliver Hazard-Perry is her cute best-friend that has liked Schuyler for years. She preforms the sacred kiss on Oliver, bonding them together for eternity. Oliver cannot love anyone except for her, as she has literally prevented him from moving on. She chooses to marry Jack, ignoring the feelings that Oliver has for her.
Apparently, there is no middle ground. Either men are all sex-obsessed pigs, nice guys that will never get with the girl, or handsome sexy jerks. Are you seeing a problem?
For years, women have been either sluts or sacred virgins. There was no in-between. Now they're perpetrating the same sexism they fought against.
How is it healthy to tell a teenage boy that being nice will get you nowhere? How is it right to say that intelligence = ugliness/evil and handsome = ignorant jerk? How can you praise books that say attractive nice guys are evil?
What does Cell Block H have to do with this? In that show, many of the men and women are very sexist. But the show itself isn't sexist. In fact, it mocks sexism by proving the sexist characters wrong. Keep in mind that this show was made in the late 70's, but somehow it manages to treat both sexes equally.
The women say things like, “All men are idiots,” or “What can you expect from a man?” Yet they manage to show men and women in an equal light by making sure that the character's opinions are different from the show's opinions.
The Boondocks features many sexist and racist characters, but the show openly mocks racism and sexism. Why is it so hard for YA literature to do this?
Instead, we're treated to lines like, “Guys only want one thing.”
For some guys, this might be true. But for many it isn't. And the characters that think this way are never proven wrong. This isn't a bad romantic comedy. This is YA literature, made for teenagers!
I'm left wondering if I should give up on YA. This is what we're praising, forty years after the women's rights movement.
Next Friday, we're discussing adultery in YA. Tomorrow, the Duck will continue the discussion on sexism and double standards, focusing on teen author, Alexandra Adornetto.