When I started this blog, I said I wasn’t going to make posts about politics or religion. Because, for the most part, discussing such things just gets me riled up and irritated with nowhere to direct it, and that’s an unpleasant feeling. And, for the most part, I think I’ve stuck by that. Anything I talk about here, I try to make it relate to writing or creativity, at least tangentially.
The point of the above disclaimer is to assure whomever is reading this that yes, I really am going to make this about my writing.
I read something disturbing the other night, which ties in rather…uncomfortably…with some other issues that have been on my mind lately.
What’s been on my mind are Biblical atrocities. (Lovely small thoughts, right?) What I read about had to do with YA fiction and rape culture. Well, it started with an article on rape, and the societal and cultural conditioning that enables it. Here it is, for the interested…though be warned, there’s a picture of someone flicking off the camera right at the top. From there I rabbit-trailed via the comments to some other posts on some disturbing trends in recent YA titles. Like how it’s OK for a boy to stalk a girl he likes…cause, you know, he really LIKES her and it’s destiny and all. How it’s OK for a bad boy to ignore it when a girl tells him to stay away, because, you know, she’s actually attracted to him on the inside and she just needs to realize it.
The example used was, of course, Twilight (which I’ve at least ranted about in the past, if not here)…but also Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick. Which caught my eye, because I’ve read that one, and enjoyed it when I did. And I was completely, utterly floored because those bloggers are right. There is creepiness in that book. Here is the relevant post, which lists the disturbing factors. But just to give you an idea, here’s a quote, and I’m going to bold the parts that really stuck out at me:
“…Nora, the POV character in Hush, Hush, spends the first third of the book trying to get the fuck away from the dark brooding guy. She goes to her biology teacher, not once, but three times, to tell him explicitly, “I don’t feel comfortable sitting beside this guy, he’s harrassing me, please let me move.” He tells her each time that she’s overreacting.
The biology teacher also allows the brooding guy to harrass the girl openly, in class, in front of other students, in a scene where her mortification and embarrassment are used as examples of how to tell when a girl is turned on, which for some reason is part of the curriculum in Maine’s public school system. Yes, you heard this right. There’s a scene where a teacher allows a girl to be sexually harassed in public as part of her education.
After the harassing-in-class, Nora brings the teacher a copy of the school code and points out to him that he’s ignoring her basic right not to be stalked in his class. His response? “Let’s just give it a few more weeks. Oh, and I think you should spend more time with that guy who’s stalking you, so why don’t you tutor him? :D”
In desperation, she asks the guy who’s stalking her if maybe he can use his powers of persuasion to get their teacher to stop seating them next to each other. His response is predictably, “but why would I want to do that?” at which point she all but gives up…”
I have read this book. No, the above is not an exaggeration. What disturbs me (and I’m quite appalled at myself, honestly) is that I did not notice this until it was pointed out to me. I who claim to want to write for teenagers, did not notice the overt message being conveyed here. Now granted, Hush Hush is a fantasy, and as such there are other factors at work here. The biology teacher is not listening to Nora partially because the stalker guy (Patch) has mind control abilities and has been “encouraging” the teacher to make them sit together. That wouldn’t happen in the real world. Plus, we (the reader) know that Patch is not as bad a guy as he seems to Nora.
However, I mentally went over this scenario as it would play out in a typical high school classroom. Say a girl really was being forced to sit next to a guy who was harassing her. I can see that playing out exactly as it does in this book, with everyone telling the girl she’s overreacting and she needs to get over it…and that frightens me. The poor high school girl doesn’t have the readerly benefit of knowing that this guy is actually a dark fantasy hero with a heart of gold…all too often, in real life, he’s not. All she has is her instincts that are telling her this guy is a creep…and everyone around her (including authority figures she trusts) telling her she needs to ignore those instincts and not cause trouble and really, why are you being so hard on the poor guy who digs you? Just give him a chance…
And people wonder why women EFFING GET RAPED.
This is what young adults are reading today. And if I, with my twenty something years of experience with the world, completely missed the creepy factor in this book…how is a teenager going to see it? Short answer: they aren’t. Boys will unconsciously learn that girls actually like being stalked and harassed, and that stalking and harassing will eventually get her to go out with you…and girls will learn that being stalked and harassed is a sign of true love and that her instincts telling her otherwise are just signs of repressed attraction. Barf. Barf, barf, barf.
Being confronted with one’s own privilege and blindness is disturbing. I do not want my writing to in any way express or contribute to girls being taught that they should ignore bad behavior in guys just because they’re hot/charming/have good intentions/can’t help themselves because True Love/Destiny. However, if I cannot even spot that crap in someone else’s writing without having it pointed out to me, how will I be able to spot it in my own? I worry because I like dark heroes. I like bad boys. But right now my worst fear is that I’ll write an Edward Cullen into one of my stories and not realize it.