Thursday, November 8, 2012

The problem isn't her argument; it's how she frames it (AKA, some YA bloggers need to chill the fuck out)

Start by reading this.

And then read this. And this.

I will start by criticizing some things in the original article:

"I actually believe in manhood as something that’s real, that’s inherently different than womanhood, and that is, potentially, awesome. And I don’t find a belief in manhood to be reactionary or antifeminist — indeed, to blame the distrust of men on feminism would be wildly wrong, a cruel characterization of an optimistic movement. What feminism has made possible is an ability to have hope for new ways of integrating gender into the world. And I refuse to conflate a critique of the way male power is sometimes — even often — abused with a sweeping dismissal of manhood itself." 

One of the main issues with Mesne's article is she keeps trying to put things into boxes. (ie, that "manhood" = "power" and that the two are somehow separate from "womanhood."). The same applies to how she makes sweeping generalizations about YA lit and male presence in YA lit. Obviously, teenage boys in young adult literature span a wide range of archetypes and personalities.

But...

...what about the author's actual point?

"Well, Mesne's point is that boys in YA lit aren't manly enough." Or something.

*shakes head*

Yes, the author does say this: "Why is it that in YA literature — a genre generated entirely to describe the transition to adulthood — there is so much fear and ambivalence surrounding manhood?" But I don't think ranting about YA literature or males in YA literature was really the point she wanted to make. Sure, that is essentially what came out, but I think the gross generalizations she made were more of a frame for her argument than the argument itself.

Mesle's actual argument is here: "But YA literature shows us that in our cultural imaginary, morality has branched off from male social authority." And here: "I think that strength and compassion can be linked, that leadership is a responsibility, that privilege doesn’t need to be apologize for if it is generously used."

Whether or not Mesne is correct in attributing this observation to the majority of YA books, she still makes an excellent point: heroism doesn't have to mean throwing away your place in society. Power doesn't have to corrupt; rather, it can be used to enact necessary social change.

I don't agree with every element of that argument (more on this later) but it seems like several of the responses to the article neglected to even address that point. Mostly, I've seen a lot of "Leave my  genre alone, you ignorant tourist!"

I understand people getting reactive. YA is always getting shit upon by literary snobs and uninformed journalists. However, in this case, the backlash is unfair. For one thing, I have trouble seeing Mesle as a "YA Tourist." She gives several examples of modern YA books, and her examples span at least three or four different genres. She also mentions that she teaches courses about YA literature and gender theory (or at least that was what I understood). And while I think this article was poorly written, that the author needs to stop making sweeping generalizations about the entire YA genre, and that it was completely unnecessary to gender-ize this argument, I think that her ideas about coming of age, morality, and embracing power are worth a mature, civilized discussion.

And now that I've said that, it's time to address the author's actual argument:

As I said earlier, I don't think this needs to be a gender-ed argument. Yes, I acknowledge that males in our society have more power and privilege, but this topic would apply equally well to any type of power.

Basically, Mesne wants to see more portrayals of teenage males people who learn to embrace their social power and use it to better the world around them. In other words, why do we keep romanticizing (double meaning intended) the rebel/outsider? After all, real world rebels usually suck at actually accomplishing anything. So why can't we have heroes who, rather than rebelling, actually try to change the system from within?

Three reasons:

1. That's boring.

2. YA lit means they have to be teenagers. I suppose we could have a novel about a dystopian hero (or heroine) who works hard, studies hard, sucks up to bigshots and attracts supporters with his (or her) years of political experience and fine-tuned charisma, and then gradually transitions the society into a well-fed democracy...but wait. If this takes years, chances are these characters will no longer be teenagers by the end of the novel.

3. Rebellion is an important part of the teenage years--which means YA literature can't exist without it.

And now that NAlitchat has started, I'm ending this post. But I'm not finished with this argument. Point #3 is important enough to me that it's getting a whole post of its own.

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