I’m not that tuned in to YA because I live under a rock, so this was the first I heard about Bergstrom poking YA authors as a whole in the eye. Went and read the interview linked in that post. Have some serious fucking problems beyond the general feeling of dude have you just managed to sleep through the existence of Katniss Everdeen?
A couple quotes from the interview:
As the father of two daughters, I became pretty appalled at the image of women they received from the culture. It was all princess-this, Barbie-that. It was almost a satire of femininity. My wife—a very strong, highly-motivated attorney—was appalled too. What century were we living in if the feminine ideal little girls learned about was still a woman in a pink dress and a nineteen inch waist? I decided to create a female heroine who was the opposite of all that—a young, strong female who discovers real heroism within herself.
I knew I wanted to create a strong heroine for The Cruelty, the opposite of the cheerleader-prom queen. She starts as a lonely, introverted girl, bullied by her prettier, richer classmates. After her father is kidnapped she transforms herself into a cunning, strong warrior.
As the auntie of two fantastic little girls, one of whom has already gone through a princess phase that left me feeling like I was going to be vomiting pink rainbows for the rest of my life, I have serious fucking problems with this. Because you want to talk about the shit society does to young women that leaves us fucked up forever?
It’s telling us that pink and the trappings of stereotypical femininity are signs of weakness while simultaneously punishing us if we eschew those trappings.
It’s convincing those of us that develop an allergy to pink that we’re “different from other girls” and therefore better, and encourages us to shit all over the women who should be our allies in the struggle because obviously if they’re feminine, they’re losers.
It’s conflating the feminine with the misogynistic bullshit view of the feminine. There is nothing wrong with liking princesses and makeup if you derive personal strength from them. The problem isn’t the makeup. The problem is the societal narrative that says you deserve to be dismissed because of it. The problem is the poisonous bullshit that says women are lesser and attacks the outward appearance of womanhood as if that’s the root of the problem. Because you know what? Not wearing pink and not wearing makeup isn’t going to save you from the pay gap.
It’s telling us that the only heroism that counts is the sort that girly girls can never exercise. It’s telling us that heroism is connected only with violence when some of the most impressive heroes in the history of our species have been those who exercised radical non-violence. It’s telling us that the lone wolf is the real hero when the greatest movers of our societies have been the organizers.
Oh, and you know what else? Some of the most fantastic fucking people I’ve known in my life were cheerleaders in high school, and I’m ashamed I started out believing the stereotype of them as queen bitches. And the cheerleaders I once knew who were jerks? How much of that was because they, like every other woman in this fucking society, got fed the bullshit notion that being female is a zero-sum game that someone has to lose?
So yeah. Problems. Major fucking problems.
I spent years getting told I “wasn’t like other girls” because I didn’t like the feminine stuff. And I spent years thinking that made me better, which is such bullshit I’ll carry that shame until my dying day. And this is how fucked up that narrative has left me. I have to constantly question myself and my own gender presentation because of it. Do I not like dresses because of internalized misogyny, or because I really don’t like dresses? Do I hate being called miss and ma’am because there’s still part of me that believes to be female is to be lesser, or is it really because I feel more like a goddamn sir? Is my knee jerk, emotional reaction of I’m not a girl because I’m really not a girl or because I’ve been taught to hate girliness and still haven’t expunged that cancer from my brain? Is the queerness of my gender an internalization of the shit that’s been fed to me my entire life, or because I’m just bent this way? I don’t fucking know. I’ll never fucking know. At least now I’ve finally figured out that it doesn’t make me better. It just makes me different and that’s okay.
But I resent the promulgation of these poisonous narratives. I resent that in 35 years there’s probably going to be another person like me who’ll be asking these same questions and having these same conflicts because people can’t figure out the problem isn’t pink, the problem is that we’ve all been taught to hate women.