Boys v. Girls–who’s the hero?

This is really interesting: right on the heels of my post a couple of days ago about the female YA writer’s responsibility to write strong young women comes this post from Guys Lit Wire (an excellent blog that shows boys do read!) about whether or not young men need weak women in the fiction they read (via Finding Wonderland). The discussion begins with Glenn Beck’s interview with Ted Bell, a YA writer whose newest book, Nick of Time, just came out. Basically, Beck and Bell bemoan the state of YA and children’s literature today, where the girls get all the glory and the men are emasculated by the fact that girls and young women can “save themselves” or, horror of horrors, save boys.

Ooooookay…to their credit, the men over at Guys Lit Wire are not impressed with this argument at all. They find the idea that to be a hero the boy has to save a girl pretty antiquated (which it is), and point out that lots of times, in real life, there are no boys around to save the day (they give an example of a recent honor killing, but there are infinite numbers of less tragic examples in all of our day-to-day lives). But the thing is, this is pretty stupid. All YA is not emasculating to boys, and anyway their idea of “emasculating” is pretty narrow. They think that if the boy isn’t swashbuckling and rescuing damsels, then they’re not “learning to be a man”. Well, guess what? That sort of “adventure”, in our current times, has nothing to do with “being a man”. If they were bemoaning the lack of books that teach boys about respect or dignity or self-understanding or human connection, if they were saying that all books are like The Rachel Papers, filled with cheap sex and narcissism, that’d be one argument. But if it’s just that girls do all the rescuin’ in today’s YA market, well, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

Both of the YA books I’ve written/am writing (AUT and MB, respectively) are narrated by boys. Well, AUT is half narrated by an eighteen-year-old boy and half narrated by an eighteen-year-old girl, but I can’t help thinking of him as the primary narrator. I’m a woman (obvs). And I felt no need to let A, the girl, do all the cool hero stuff–I split it up, fifty-fifty. I thought that was pretty fair–they’re both strong, smart, decent people, they are each capable of seeing connections, making discoveries, and saving the day. Same thing with MB–while it only has one narrator, and that narrator is an eighteen-year-old boy, he has a female companion in the book and, like I’ve said in the past, she’s pretty awesome. So, again, half and half. But W, the male narrator in MB, has stuff to learn from JC, the female character in MB. So he’s going to screw up and make mistakes and do all that stuff that teaches you how to be an adult, male or female. That’s the kind of stuff we all need to be reading. And that’s the kind of stuff I aim to write.

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