Hi everyone! I’m back with another discussion post for you all, earlier in the month this time, so hopefully I might be able to do my regular two discussion posts this month as opposed to the one I’ve done for the last two months.
This month, I’m talking about something that’s really important to me, and something that I definitely think needs to be seen more in YA: platonic friendships between boys and girls.
The main focus on relationships between boys and girls in YA always seems to be the romance. That’s not to say that there aren’t platonic relationships between male and female characters in YA, but overwhelmingly, the focus still seems to be on the romance. I’ve spoken before about my issues with romance being overly prevalent in YA, and friendships being overlooked anyway, but I wanted to talk specifically about platonic relationships between girls and boys because I think it feeds into a bigger societal issue.
Society, and especially media, constantly reinforce the idea that men and women cannot be friends with each other, that the natural relationship between them should be one that is romantic. Obviously this is a ridiculous result of our heteronormative society, & it is perfectly possible for men and women to have platonic relationships with each other.
If the message that YA books are sending to teenagers is that the only way girls and guys can be friends is if one of them is gay or lesbian, then that’s not a great one for teens to be receiving. It reinforces the toxic messaging to straight teenage boys that girls are something that they are entitled to, that they are objects for their sexual pleasure and not other human beings worthy of respect. It doesn’t send a great message to teenage girls either if the only way that they see boys in the media is as potential boyfriends because it makes it seem as if the only way that we can be worth something is if they are in a relationship.
I’m obviously focusing on heterosexual characters here, but the same goes for queer characters, the only relationships they have with other queer people can’t just be romantic relationships, it’s so important to get to see those characters having friendships, as well as romantic relationships with other queer people. Society is so used to making romantic relationships the be-all, end-all of all relationships, that we forget how important friendships are, and fiction is a great place to highlight that importance.
Centring platonic relationships in fiction would also go a long way in making it a more friendly place for people on the aroromantic and/or asexual spectrum. Of course people who are aro/ace can have relationships of a romantic or sexual nature, but by placing less importance on romantic relationships and showing more platonic relationships, both between people of the same sex and people of opposite sexes, it will allow for a wider range of experiences to be represented in fiction & de-normalize the idea that the only relationships men and women can have must be romantic.
I can genuinely think of very few genuinely platonic relationships between male and female characters in fiction. It’s one of the reasons why the suggestion that Harry and Hermione should have got together in Harry Potter annoys me, because it’s one of very few examples in YA fiction of a girl and a boy who have a purely platonic relationship.
If you introduce a male and female character of a similar age in a YA book, it’s expected that the two will eventually get together, and because of this expectation, a lot of the time authors try to force a romantic relationship that just shouldn’t exist. So often I find in YA books that I don’t feel the chemistry between the love interests, and that they would have worked so much better as friends. I understand that it’s difficult because an expectation does exist for readers that a YA book will contain romance, but it’s so important to challenge this expectation because the more normal that platonic friendships between men and women are in fiction, it will go a long way towards reducing the expectation for platonic friendships in real life to turn romantic as well.
I’ve been attempting to challenge this particular problem in my own work, my first novel, This Is Not A Love Story. I wanted the central relationships in my book to be friendships, and particularly show that if you have a male and a female character narrating your book, then it doesn’t have to turn into something romantic between them. Tiffany is pretty clear from the start that she doesn’t have any romantic feelings towards Cam, and though Cam initially does, it never turns into anything.
The frustrating thing, particularly about YA is that it usually starts well. There are lots of male and female characters that are friends initially, but then it’s revealed that one had feelings for each other all along. Think Katniss and Gale from The Hunger Games, that could have been a really great platonic friendship, but of course, in order to create tension, he had to have feelings for her. There’s nothing wrong with people who were originally friends falling in love, I actually really enjoy relationships that start that way, but it doesn’t have to be true for every friendship between a male and female character in fiction!
We need to tackle this whole idea that “just friends” is somehow a bad thing. That there has to be some kind of a justification for men and women to not be romantically interested in each other. It demeans friendship to put it down as something “lesser than romance” especially when friendships can be some of the most enduring relationships of our lives. This starts by showing children, and teenagers, that friendships are just as, if not more important than romantic relationships by featuring platonic relationships more heavily in the books they read.
The friend zone is a classic myth that is used by men who are rejected. It’s used by men who believe that being nice to women means that they are entitled to have sex with them. If our media, and literature, showed more platonic relationships with men and women, and didn’t perpetuate the idea that men and women can’t be friends, then perhaps myth of the “friend zone” would not exist, because the expectation wouldn’t be that the only relationship men can have with women is a sexual one.
Overall, it is SO, SO important that platonic relationships are highlighted in fiction, both between heterosexual men and women, but also between characters on the LGBTQ+ spectrum as well. We need to show the importance of friendship in fiction, to tackle this idea that romance is the only kind of relationship that really matters, and especially to tackle the idea that men are somehow entitled to romantic relationships with women. I definitely think that having more platonic relationships in literature would contribute to a more healthy understanding of platonic relationships in society as a whole.
So there we go, my two cents on the need for platonic relationships between male and female characters in books. Anyone have any favourite platonic m/f relationships? Let me know in the comments!
I will hopefully have another one of these up at the end of the month, though I haven’t decided what it will be about yet. In the meantime, my next post will be my regularly scheduled Top Ten Tuesday post, which will be up tomorrow.