Thursday, June 13, 2013

YA Guy Hosts... Erin Albert!

Hi folks!  I'm fortunate today to have a guest post by the amazing Erin Albert, who's been following the blog from day one and whose own YA fantasy novel THE PROPHECY comes out this fall.  Erin's going to talk about her own experience with YA "guy books," past and present.  And so, without further ado, here's Erin!



Thank you so much for having me here, Josh!  I can officially vouch for this blog.  It’s not a He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, though I would gladly accept the title She-ra, Princess of Power!  J

I’ve been curious about the presentation of gender roles in books and movies for quite some time.  My college senior thesis related to this very topic.  For my final “exam,” I presented a paper tracking the evolving role of women in Disney movies.  Think about it…the earlier Disney films featured helpless damsels in distress saved by dashing, strong princes (usually by his kiss--for example, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White).  Fast forward a few decades to find Mulan kicking butt and taking names while saving the male lead or Merida in Brave without a male counterpart at all.  I personally prefer the ones where the male and female help one another like Beauty and the Beast or Rapunzel

Interestingly, I think the role of boys in books has gone the opposite direction--from main characters to supports for the main female characters.  When I think back on the MG and YA classics I read, most had male leads (sometimes male animal leads).  I enjoyed Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Super Fudge (and all the related Fudge books), Charlotte’s Web, Ralph S. Mouse, The Outsiders, The Hobbit, How To Eat Fried Worms, Shiloh, Stuart Little, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Witches… I could go on, but you get the picture.  Side note:  Many of these books were written by women though they contained male main characters.

I wonder if people freaked out because girls appeared underrepresented and sought to create more female main characters.  In trying to create a balance, the pendulum swung back the whole other way.  For a while, female main characters dominated MG and YA and, for the most part, still do.  Boys went from being the heroes of the tale to the love interests helping to facilitate the story.

I applaud the efforts of writers like Rick Riordan who are bringing back the strong male lead while including an equally strong female lead as his complement.  Like Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel, the Percy Jackson series seeks to strike a delicate balance, engaging and uplifting both males and females. 

I’m curious to hear your thoughts.  What books do you think strike a good male/female balance?  Do you prefer male main characters to be written by males, or do you think females can write from a male perspective just as convincingly?

For those interested in knowing more about me and my upcoming novel, The Prophecy, please like me on FB (Erin Albert Books), follow me on Twitter (@ErinAlbertBooks), and/or subscribe to my website (www.erinalbertbooks.com). 

Thank you again, Josh! 

Until next time,
Erin

32 comments:

  1. Take 2...

    Thanks so much for having me on the blog!! :) I'm excited to be here and looking forward to hearing from your readers! :)

    Erin (aka: She-ra)

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    1. It's great to have you, Erin! (Or She-ra, or Xena, or whatever you prefer!)

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  2. What a great post! I see we had a common taste in books when we were younger.

    I have to confess, I've never really paid attention to whether the MC was male or female- I just look for a good story to take me away from the world. However, like you mentioned, I do prefer the stories where the male and female have to work together to achieve their goal.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, Mary! As a reader, I've always been drawn to strong female characters. So in my own writing, I try to do the same: create strong, complex women, no delicate princesses or one-dimensional love interests.

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    2. Mary- Thank you for stopping by, love! :) I agree, I love a well told story no matter who tells it. I'm not surprised you and I had common reading tastes!

      Josh- Is there such a thing as a non-complex woman?? ;)

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    3. Erin--in real life, no. In fiction, sadly, too often yes!

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  3. I love this post! I've always been intrigued by the representation of female characters in Disney movies. I think you're probably right about the reason so many leads are female nowadays. For my part, I'm just as likely to enjoy books and movies with male protagonists as female ones, and I think authors can do a fantastic job writing characters of the opposite gender. JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter. John Green wrote Hazel Grace. Suzanne Collins wrote Gregor. Wally Lamb wrote Dolores. It's great when there is a strong male AND female presence in a book or movie. We shouldn't go overboard either way! :)

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    1. Hi, Jimena! One of my favorite YA books when I was growing up was THEN AGAIN, MAYBE I WON'T by Judy Blume. The teenage boy's voice was so convincing, I could have cared less that a woman wrote it. So I totally agree with you--it's the writing that counts, not the author's chromosomes.

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    2. I remember stories about women using initials instead of names when they wrote from a male perspective.

      Judy Blume rocked no matter what perspective she selected!! Agreed, writing is paramount!

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  4. Great post! I totally prefer those stories where there's a balance between the male and female leads. Though, I do like a good female butt-kick-and-take-names character, too (Buffy, anyone? :). It's definitely a tricky balance to strike, and since I have a *lot* of nephews (5, yikes!) I've had a hard time finding books to recommend that demonstrate this well.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Meradeth! I thought Erin Bowman's TAKEN (male narrator, w/ two strong female characters) is a good recent example of how to strike that balance. Ditto with Meagan Spooner's SKYLARK or John Green's THE FAULT IN OUR STARS (I didn't care so much for LOOKING FOR ALASKA, whose female lead seemed rather a mess, both psychologically and literarily). I also like writers who alternate between male and female p.o.v., as Julianna Baggott does so brilliantly in PURE and Maggie Stiefvater does well (if not quite so brilliantly) in SHIVER.

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    2. My Dream Team member Kim is a tutor. She said she has trouble finding books to recommend for young boys too, Meradeth.

      Josh- I will have to check out the books on that list I haven't read. Thanks! :)

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  5. You know Erin, mothers are not represented well in Disney movies. I can't think of many movies, off the top of my head, where the mother lives to the end. Usually she's dead before the story starts, but sometimes she's shot in the meadow.

    I've always liked strong females, especially in YA--and I agree female MCs have become the norm in YA. I also have a fondness for gender androgyny which probably dates back to my childhood when I learned, only after playing through the entire game, Metroid's Samus Aran was a woman. Sorry, should I have said "spoiler alert"?

    ***Shameless plug alert***
    (Ok, maybe a little shame)

    My upcoming book has a male and female lead. And for a bonus, male and female villains.

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    1. Hi Eric! Good point about the absence of mothers in Disney films. The studio would explain this by saying their stories are fairy tales, and wicked stepmothers abound in fairy tales, but of course that begs the question of why Disney can't free itself from a story structure that's hundreds if not thousands of years old.

      Oh, and no need to feel ashamed about the plug--plugs are good!

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    2. Eric-- I'm convinced Walt Disney had some sort of mother issues (I sound Freudian). Bambi is so traumatic...

      I look forward to reading about your male and female leads and villains! :)

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    3. My main character's mother is dead at the beginning of my book. Oops! Is it too soon to sell the rights to Disney? They could run a trailer before Star Wars. Where's Luke and Lea's mom? Dead!

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    4. True--dead moms are everywhere in literature and film for young people. Which is because... well, I guess according to psychoanalytic theory and Bruno Bettelheim, it's because little girls all want their moms dead so they can have undisputed access to their dads. But does that mean fairy tales are solely for girls? STAR WARS is definitely slanted toward boys--so why isn't Luke's dad the one who's dead? Where's Freud when we need him?

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    5. Oh, Freud would love this conversation! LOL! :) But now we're getting into Jung's Electra complex, Josh.

      Disney, call Eric! LOL! ;) I will be on the lookout for the trailer when I go see the new Star Wars!!

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  6. I love the Lord of the Rings:) Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli, Gandalf, Bilbo…Aeowyn, Galadrial, Arwen…But I also love female leads, I think a well-written character will ring true to their gender regardless of whether they have stereotypical gender character attributes. I think male-female partnerships are becoming more popular in all aspects of story telling, i.e. Bones and Booth on the small screen:D One of my all time favorite couples.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Heidi! There's a discussion going on over at Goodreads about Peter Jackson's decision to add a female character to the second installment of THE HOBBIT, just as he moved the Arwen story (which occurs mainly in the appendices to LOTR) into the movies. The interesting thing to me is that movies where men are sidelined (famously THELMA & LOUISE) are often criticized for that fact, whereas there's seldom a peep about male buddy-movies (GROWN-UPS, DIE HARD, Stallone's last 14 films, etc.).

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    2. Heidi-- Yay, I LOVE Bones and Booth! I also like that their relationship is the inverse of traditional gender stereotypes.

      Josh-- Yes, interesting point.

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    3. I love The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit too, but the books have almost no female presence. I think adding more female characters is okay as long as they're not just there to be "Female Characters." I'm not thrilled about having Kate from Lost in the second Hobbit movie.

      Does anyone know about the Blechdel Test? It tests if there's female presence in a movie, but you can gender-flip it too. An astonishing amount of movies fail it for female presence, but almost none fail for male presence.

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    4. Jimena--I didn't know about the Blechdel Test, but that's a really fascinating way to quantify the gender imbalance in Hollywood films. (By the way, my academic book FRAMING MONSTERS has a chapter about monstrous women in fantasy films such as ALIENS, JURASSIC PARK, etc. I'm thinking of running a giveaway of the book on this blog, so stay tuned!)

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    5. That's interesting! I'm tuned. ;)

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  7. Jimena-- Interesting...never heard of that. Where do I get more info? THANKS!

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    1. Erin, it's the Bechdel Test, not Blechdel. My bad! Here's an excellent essay: http://thehathorlegacy.com/why-film-schools-teach-screenwriters-not-to-pass-the-bechdel-test/

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  8. I'm with Mary, I never put much thought into the lead's gender. Even when I write, I don't sit down and think, "With this book I want to bend young minds to think beyond gender identity and pursue a higher purpose of compassion identity." However, I might sound a lot smarter if I pretended that's what I did...

    Great post, Erin. Good to meet you YA Guy.

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    1. Nice to meet you too, Kai. I agree, it would probably kill a work of fiction if the writer approached it as some sort of statement about gender identity. On the other hand, there are great novels where gender identity is front and center (e.g, THE HANDMAID'S TALE, and I hear good things about BUMPED too). But it's almost certainly best to let whatever "statements" are made emerge from story and character, not through authorial imposition.

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    2. Thanks for reading, Kai, and for mentioning it on Twitter! :)

      I have BUMPED on my "to read" list. Gotta find time to read more!!!

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