Jo Talks Books: On Whether There Is A Double Standard Between Male and Female Characters In Young Adult Fiction

Hey everyone! As I said at the end of my last discussion post, my final discussion post of May, concluding the gender and gender issues theme of the month,  is going to be about whether or not there is a double standard between male and female characters in Young Adult Fiction. Have you ever noticed that no matter how mean or cruel or nasty or downright abusive that a male character in YA fiction is, as long as he’s hot, he can do no wrong? Guys like Edward Cullen who are beloved by entire fandoms even though they treat their girlfriends like crap. Meanwhile guys who are actually nice to the girls in their lives are seen as boring, even though in real life, we all know we’d rather have the sweet, caring, okay boring guy, than the brooding, mysterious moody guy who treats us like crap. But if a girl does something that is considered unlikeable? Well she’s not a hot guy, so she gets immediately hated, whilst the sexy male character who acts just as badly, has his behaviour excused, because he is a hot guy. If a guy in Young Adult Fiction sleeps with a lot of girls, he’s seen as experienced  and yet if a girl does it she’s slutty? It’s bad enough that these stereotypes are perpetuated in real life, but do we really need them perpetuated in the books we read too?

Appearance is an area where both male and female characters are equal, they are both held to impossibly high standards. Most YA male love interests seem to have to be tall, with perfect abs and be mysterious and brooding and look like a movie star and I’m sorry, but I don’t know any teenage boys that look like that, it’s not at all realistic and I wanted to talk about that here, because it seems like the book blogging community has less of a problem with unrealistic male characters in YA than we do with unrealistic female characters (hence where the double standards come in). Heck, I’ve probably done the same thing myself a few times, not picked up on the flaws in a male main character just because he’s attractive. I’d like to think that I don’t, but I’m sure I have done. Why can’t male characters just be average? Why do they have to be super hot? Newsflash to authors, you don’t need your male character to be perfect in order to appeal to girls, we are quite happy with an average looking guy, he’ll probably even appeal to us more because he’s more realistic.

But it’s not just male characters who are expected to look perfect. Female characters are as well. One of the reasons I love Hermione Granger so much is because she reminds me very strongly of me, dark, frizzy, uncontrollable hair and generally pretty average looking, always with her nose in a book. I can relate to that. However, the new breed of YA heroine, looks wise at least, is not at all relatable. More often than not, they are thin, white, have perfect teeth, perfect hair, perfect eyes, perfect everything. Tip to YA writers, making your main female character look perfect is a good way to get your female readers to hate her instantly. I want to see more diverse characters, period, both male and female who aren’t movie star attractive. I’d like to see characters who are overweight, characters of different races, characters who are disabled etc. Yes there are some great books out there that show these kinds of characters but there needs to be more! The world is so diverse, it needs to be reflected in YA fiction!

Female characters in general are held to much higher standards than male characters I think and I’ve definitely noticed that I’m more hard on female characters than male characters, I don’t know if other bloggers are the same. It seems as if female characters are never good enough, they’re too perfect or they’re too flawed, they’re weak, they’re vain, they’re too independent, they’re too reliant on a guy, she’s bratty, bitchy, spoiled, the list goes on whereas you never get these same complaints against male characters. For me, I just want the characters I read about, whether they be male or female, to be complex. To have good traits, but also to have flaws, just like real life people. I don’t just want male characters to be brooding and mysterious (classic YA male trait) nor do I want female characters to be the perfect girl that every guy falls for (classic YA female trait). I want them both to be complicated and flawed and that remains the same, even if I may have higher standards for female characters than male characters.

Another place where male and female characters are held to double standards in YA fiction is when it comes to sexuality. Have you ever noticed that most of the heroines in YA fiction are virgins? Now this is fine. What is not fine, is that the hero is nearly always sexually experienced. Where all the virgin guys? There are plenty out there, I am sure, but yet it always seems that it has to be the girl in YA fiction who is the virgin. It makes it seem like it’s somehow wrong for the girl to be experienced. What’s wrong with both of them being virgins? Or the guy being a virgin and the girl being experienced? Or them both be experienced? I don’t want to see the experienced guy being seen as desirable, and yet experienced girls be seen as sluts, because that’s sexist. Equally I don’t want female characters in YA to have to be virgins and be good and pure and girls having sex being seen as wrong whilst it’s totally fine for guys because that’s a double standard that’s unhealthy. I want to see guys who are nervous about having sex as well as girls, because there must be some out there!

Another double standard is intelligence. Intelligent male characters are seen as quirky, eccentric, attractive etc whereas intelligent female characters can be seen as know-it-alls. Think Gus from TFIOS, he is very intelligent and this is seen as a positive quality for him, whereas, Hermione in Harry Potter, a female character, is seen as being a know-it-all because of her intelligence.

Finally I want to talk about the double standards of emotional and physical strength. It seems as if characters can be physically strong but then any signs of emotion is seen as weakness or they can be physically weak and then are allowed to be emotionally vulnerable, but only if they are a girl. Girls are allowed to be physically weak because this is expected of them, but guys are not allowed to be physically weak because they’re expected to be strong. Think about it. How many male main characters are physically weak? Not many. They’re not allowed to be weak because they’re male and therefore have to be strong. Same goes for female main characters who are seen as “strong”. They embody the typically masculine traits of being strong, therefore they aren’t allowed to show emotion because they’re seen as weak. I hate this idea that strong characters can’t be emotionally vulnerable. You can be strong and still be emotionally vulnerable. YA guys also don’t seem to be allowed to be emotionally vulnerable as much as YA girls and that needs to change, because the idea that being emotional is a feminine trait is a bad stereotype to perpetuate for both girls and guys. It would be great if more YA books showed emotionally vulnerable guys to show that it’s okay for guys to be vulnerable. It’s bad enough that these stereotypes exist in real life, we don’t need to see them in books too!

In conclusion, there are definitely double standards between male and female characters in Young Adult fiction but on both sides. It isn’t just female characters that fall victim to double standards, male characters do too. Like I said in my post last week, I reckon this is a reflection of the stereotypes that exist within society already, since all of the things I’ve mentioned in this post are double standards that happen in real life, not just in books. But books are such a powerful medium for changing ideas and I think it would be really great if Young Adult Fiction challenged some of the double standards of society when it comes to gender, rather than perpetuating them, because that would send a really powerful message out to teens that these double standards might exist, but that doesn’t mean that you have to accept them.

So over to you. What double standards have you noticed in Young Adult Fiction? What does Young Adult Fiction need to do to challenge gender stereotypes? Who are your favourite characters who challenge gender sterotypes? Do you find that you are harsher on one gender of character rather than another and if so which gender? Let me know, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

I will have my first discussion post of June for you, most likely next week, but it could be at the end of this week, depends when I have time to sit down and write it! I will be talking about reviewing  what I like to refer to as “meh” books, books that are 3 stars and you don’t have a strong opinion about either way. In the meantime however, I will have a new Wishlist Wednesday post for you tomorrow, as well as my May update for my #RockMyTBR challenge, so stay tuned for those!



13 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: On Whether There Is A Double Standard Between Male and Female Characters In Young Adult Fiction

  1. Bookmark Chronicles 01/06/2016 / 12:58 am

    So true! Girls that a smart are always described as “plain Janes” and if she’s attractive then she also as very low intelligence as if they can’t be both. Such bullshit. Very great post, I love that you call these things out

    • iloveheartlandx 01/06/2016 / 11:01 am

      I know right! It’s infuriating! Like you can be smart and pretty? It’s actually quite common! Thank you!

  2. carlalouise89 01/06/2016 / 1:44 am

    You know what I hate, too? When the author pretends that the main female character doesn’t think she’s good looking (think Bella, Twilight) but EVERYONE around her thinks she’s beautiful and gorgeous and amazing. It’s so infuriating. If people always had that reaction, and were constantly asking you out, you would know you were pretty. I don’t know if that’s a double-standard, but it drives me mental. Great post!!

    • iloveheartlandx 01/06/2016 / 11:00 am

      Ugh I know! I hate that too! It’s like if you really are that beautiful and everyone was always falling in love with you, you’d know it. No one is that oblivious!

      • carlalouise89 01/06/2016 / 12:34 pm

        I know!!! It’s so infuriating!

  3. Melanie Noell Bernard 02/07/2016 / 9:01 pm

    Ah. The age-old debate about double standards and the worst part about them, even as we take away one double standard another seems to pop in its place. Though, my favorite part about your post is the realization that double standards exist for both females and males. This is huge! So many people think that double standards only exist for one gender (whether in real life or in literature) and I think it’s great that people are finally starting to acknowledge both sides of this field.

    Oh! And the very first thing that came to mind when I started reading your discussion is a quote from the movie (originally book), ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ where Andy comments about how if Miranda were a man, no one would notice anything about her except for how well she does her job, which is huge. Double standards seem to be most common in the workforce, but they exist in all facets of life.

    I, personally, can’t comment on male stereotypes as I don’t read much YA with male MCs, but goodness knows they exist. Heck, I write stereotypes and double standards into my own novels (the second thought running through my head while reading your post. Thank you for opening my eyes to my own gender bias. I hope to change this in my next round of edits.) Yet, I think the biggest reason we haven’t been focusing on the double standards for men is because A) many YA MCs are female and B) most YA readers are female. (Not all, but most.) As a result, our discussions are heavily leaning towards females.

    The good news: things are changing. Writers are really starting to focus on making female MCs ‘stronger’, but the problem there is the lack of ‘realism’. They may have noticed the problems, but they’ve only traded it with another one (because the new ‘strong’ female MCs are just 1-dimensional girls with no emotions.) Still, the acknowledgement is a step in the right direction and I hope that as we continue to discuss these double standards and antiquated stereotypes for genders.

    Thank you for hosting this discussion! It was really great (and eye-opening for me). I just started doing discussions of my own this past week on my blog and it’s great to see how much people have to say and helps broaden the mind to other viewpoints and angles to a topic! ^.^

    • iloveheartlandx 02/07/2016 / 11:28 pm

      Wow, first off, thank you for your long comment! Yes it was very important to me that my discussion focused on both males and females because as a feminist, I think that’s a very important part of equality, to acknowledge that double standards exist for both genders. Ah yes, I haven’t read the book of The Devil Wears Prada, but I’ve seen the movie and that part is in it. I always loved it because it’s so true! It’s hard to find examples of male stereotypes in YA because most YA main characters are females, but they are there especially in the MC’s main love interest. I’m glad that my post helped open your eyes to your own gender bias, often it’s very subconscious! I think you’re probably right on both counts there. I completely agree on that, there are a lot of writers who are trying to make female characters stronger but they lack emotion, although there are great emotionally complex female characters who are also strong, you just have to look for them. Yes I agree, we do have to acknowledge the problems in order to make steps to improving them. No problem, I’m really glad that my discussion post has helped you with your own and made you think more about the topic, which is my main aim in writing these!

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