Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Search for Equal Representation

Thursday, September 13, 2012
I recently reread Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky in preparation for the movie coming out this month. The last time I read this book I was a lot younger and I didn't realize how so much of Perks went completely over my head. Rereading it now, I was blown away by how poignant and beautiful this book truly is, and how, even if you're only going through a fraction of what Charlie experiences, easy it is to relate to, as well.

Charlie is, essentially, the more contemporary version of Holden Caufield. I've done a post about Holden before, how even all these years later, teens can still find something in him that they connect with. It's the reason why books like Perks and Catcher in the Rye are so important; they let teens know that they are not alone. They also provide a way for teens to learn and cope with tough topics such as sex, drugs, and relationships, among many other things. 

However.

Why do the majority of coming-of-age novels have male protagonists? It's not that I mind reading them, or think that Perks or Catcher would be better with a girl in the lead role. I think both of those books should stay exactly as they are. However, when I tried to think of books featuring female protagonists that are along the same vein, this is what I came up with:
Looks a little unbalanced, huh?*

It wouldn't hurt if there were a few more books that featured a teen girl growing up and facing difficult situations such as the ones Holden and Charlie face. I feel this way for many reasons

For one, all teens definitely have sex on the brain, but while so many books talk about guys' hormones, good luck finding a novel that treats girls the same. (Jersey Angel by Beth Ann Bauman is an exception, which I mentioned in my review, but I wouldn't place it in this exact type of coming-of-age story, if you know what I mean.) When writing from a boy's POV, few authors are hesitant to talk about sexuality, masturbation, etc., but these topics are often avoided when the MC is a girl. Why is that? Aren't girls allowed to have hormones, too?

Also, girls' high school experiences are different from boys. While teen boys certainly have to deal with sexism (being sensitive is equivalent to being weak, if you can't play sports you're a loser, and other idiotic "gender norms"), what teen girls go through is often very different. There's the pressure from the media to be skinny, the idea so prevalent in YA everything that you need a man to complete you (NOT TRUE), and sexual objectification, just to name a few. Then there's the constant need to prove that you're just as strong/smart/capable as a boy, learning to say "no," and many other topics that can't be completely covered when a boy is narrating the story.

If there were more coming-of-age stories à la Perks, but featuring a female protagonist, I'd feel that more teen girls would be able to cope with these issues a little more easily. Maybe they'd even feel more comfortable talking about them. If nothing else, they would understand that they're not alone during this tumultuous time of their life. As a teen girl myself, I know I'd appreciate that.

And while the chart above certainly features really amazing books with female main characters, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a few more. 

What are your thoughts? Do you know of any coming-of-age stories featuring a female MC that I missed?
*Please note that I love all of the books listed on the left hand side of the chart and this is in no way a criticism of those works. 

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read it, but there's Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette? That's a pretty famous novel and they've got a tv show of it now.

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