She’s not like other girls. 4

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.

And

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.

4 thoughts on “She’s not like other girls.

  1. Reply decayingorbits Nov 27,2015 18:00

    I think it is sad that so many people have projected so much hate and negative energy on Bergstrom. I don’t know the guy or his wife, haven’t read any of his stuff, yet I don’t take away such horrible emotions from what he said. i first saw it when Wendig put it on his blog. Frankly, I think Chuck does have a Schtick — just like Hugh Howey said — and saw this guy’s interview as a chance to assert his dominance as the white male defender of all that should be right in the author/YA universe.
    Bergstrom might just be some guy who likes to write and got lucky — and all of a sudden he says something that bugs him because he has two daughters and a WIFE WHO AGREES — like why does society keep feeding pink ponies to girls and then wonder why people think it’s not feminine of them to become engineers? Well, I agree with you that they aren’t mutually exclusive.
    But this guy did not just piss all over YA authors everywhere. He didn’t say women are shit and should stay in the kitchen.
    For goodness sake, I hope you recognize the vitriol you have spewed on this person is what is wrong with our society these days.
    One perceived wrong word and it’s “Kill the pig! Kill the pig!”
    Sad. So sad.

    I’m not trying to start a fight, but I am so fucking sick and tired of people saying things and having internet mobs calling for their heads.

    • Reply Rachael Nov 27,2015 18:11

      Where he pissed off a lot of YA authors was basically pretending that he’s the first person who’s ever done morally complex YA, which is a silly claim of itself.

      Please, reread my post and tell me where I said anything like, “Kill the pig” or claimed that he said “women are shit and should stay in the kitchen.” Rather, what I saw in his words was a common refrain of the femmephobia that comes with being in a misogynist society. And that his wife agrees with him on that is neither here nor there. I used to dismiss the feminine out of hand in the past, myself.

      I have no idea what Chuck said. Didn’t read his post. Really don’t care what Chuck said either. What bothers me and continues to bother me is that heroism and classic “femininity” are continually presented as mutually exclusive, and that heroic girls in YA are so often depicted as becoming heroes when they take on stereotypically masculine roles and behaviors. There’s nothing wrong with this of itself (other than my increasing concern that violence/lone wolfism is presented as the only true path to heroism) but the narrative has no breadth. I don’t like that girls get forcefed princess shit. But I also really don’t like that they’re given the message that if they happen to like pink princess shit or be girly, they can’t be heroes, they are shallow, they’re lesser than people like me who are in to “boy stuff.”

  2. Reply Emma Bull Nov 29,2015 12:01

    Yet another way in which Buffy fought to save the world. Cheerleader, aspiring prom queen, figure skater, clotheshorse…and vampire slayer.

  3. Reply Darren Meyer Nov 30,2015 16:53

    PREACH. I’m trying to raise two amazing little girls, and this dichotomous attitude that girls must _either_ be “girly pink and princess and rainbows” OR “tough, gothy, ‘tomboy’ type” is incredibly frustrating.

    From the more-conservative folks, I get lectured when the girls step outside “girl” norms (like by showing interest in bugs or mud or karate or athletics); from the supposedly-liberal folks I get lectured when they decide they want to wear a tutu and play princesses. It’s hard enough to keep my head and keep telling the girls they can be themselves without folks who have a platform cocking off about how you have to be the _opposite_ of frilly if you’re to be a hero.

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