Gender and YA Tropes

Believe it or not, a lot of YA tropes are tied to gender.  Having recently read a YA book that I felt relied on gender stereotypes and thus disrupted what should’ve been a talk about worthy book, I thought I’d take the time today to discuss some of YA’s most common tropes and gender.


1) The Bad Boy:

Have you ever noticed it’s always the bad boy not the bad girl?

Okay, I take it back.  Occasionally, there are a few bad girls in YA but the depiction between the bad boy trope and bad girl trope are quite different.

I’ll start by defining the bad boy:

He can act like an asshole and it’s perfectly okay, he has issues (bad childhood, bad breakup, daddy issues, wearing pants that fit a little too tightly) there’s always a reason.

With the bad girl, well, she’s just a bitch.  Got to reform that hag a la Taming of the Shrew style but add some more misogyny to it.

A part of me wonders if this is mostly because the bad girl is more often than not the protagonist, but then I read Walking Disaster in which Travis “Fucking” Maddox learned not one lesson.

It’s not only the supreme ass-holeness that is treated differently, but promiscuity is also treated different as well.  Having a male character who has had multiple partners as a certain mystique about him.  Oh, conquering the big playboy.  Having a female character who had multiple partners deems her a slut.

Double standards much?

If you look at the amount of bad boy vs bad girl books out there.  Bad boy books far exceed bad girl books.  Honestly, it’s a surprise when I pick up a YA  book and see that the love interest isn’t an asshole.  However, finding a YA book without a Virgin Princess is more difficult.  Oh, sure, you can find it.  But the book is going to be all  about how that character is redeeming herself for being an awful person that has had sex.


2) The Mary Sue:

Mary Sues are highly prevelant in YA.  And they’re all stinking perfect.  And they all fit within stereotypical gender roles.  Since she’s the most infamous YA Mary Sue, let’s use Bella Swan from The Twilight Saga to discuss this trope in more detail.

Bella physical description is of a relatively feminine looking protagonist who’s thin, but curvy.  Who doesn’t have really any opinions of her own in the world, other than the flavor of the book and wanting to be a vampire.  And who’s useless.

Of course, Meyer tries to argue that despite her weak state, Bella is actually the most powerful character in the book.  This whole argument is climaxed by ultra Super Sue Bella! in Breaking Dawn.

Running around in evening wear has to make you extra special.

But what did the Sue do to get her powers…nothing.

Well, die after having a child birth that made me pretty sure that if I ever want to reproduce I’ll probably either get a surrogate or just  adopt.

The point is, the character didn’t struggle. She did nothing in her struggle and representation of a traditional female character.

Which isn’t a terrible thing.

It’s just kind of archaic.

And here’s where people will be like just becuase you’re a feminist doesn’t mean I have to be one too.

True, you don’t.  And I respect the decisions that Bella made (even though I wholeheartedly disagree with them), but for the love of  God you should at least address that the situation is not ideal.   Why can’t this character be flawed physically, have goals that don’t involve her boyfriend or being turned into a monster, and if she wanted to go the traditional route have it make sense.

Of course, not all Sues are as extreme as Bella (well, not all have a demon baby), but almost all of them end up leaning on the significant other.  And give an unhealthy look on codependence.


3) The Virginal Myth:

Oh, dear lord.

If you lose your V card, girls, it’s not the end of the world.  The myth just started because of concerns of legitimacy prior before Maury Povich started telling men whether they were or were not the daddy.

However, many YA books would tell you that you’re going to be ruined if you have sex.

Okay, in recent years this trope has thankfully faded a little.  I credit writers like Meg Cabot for this.  Several of her Princess Diaries novels address the ridiculousness of this crap.

However, there are still certain books that employ this stupid trope.  Most recently, I read a 2006 novel (Ten Things I Hate About Me) that used this stupid trope to the point where I had to DNF it.  Grant it, the book had religious undertones but I’d say that sexism not religion made the bulk of the erroneous arguments in this sad excuse of a novel.

This trope is not only limited to contemporaries, but to paranormals as well.  Remember The Immortals series, well, virginity played a huge role into that obnoxiously long series.

4) Dresses!  Dresses!  Dresses!:

I sort of went off on this one in my review of The Jewel, but dresses seem to be a big marketing device in YA.

To be honest, I don’t mind being manipulated.

At least superficially because I love pretty dresses.

However, when the dresses are actually included in the book that’s where I have the problem.

To sum up my review on The Jewel and I guess on my review of the Selection trilogy-now omnibus series-is that the dresses are used to try to hide issues with the book.  And with both of these books, it caused more problems in good.

Plus, as a woman, I’m sort of insulted that an author/publisher thinks that a pretty dress can totally distract me.

Cover yes.  But a description of a pretty dress…well, I’d rather just look at them.

5)Slut Slamming:

You ever notice how dudes are never slammed.  This one, sort of goes back to trope number one.  But instead of focusing on the lead characters, I’ll be talking more about the side characters.

For example, I recently read Josephine Angelini’s Trial by Fire in which the main character’s crush ( a relatively minor character) turns out to be cheating on her.  Later, when she meets his AU he’s still a playboy but instead of faulting him for it.  She’s perfectly okay with it.

Now, skip about three hundred pages and and the main character is calling a bit character a slut.

The same goes with Alexandra Adornetto’s recent release, Ghost House.  Adornetto’s work has also been filled with slut slamming, and Ghost House was no different.  But what makes this particular book worthy of mentioning is that the character that was constantly being slut slammed was having an affair with the love interest.  And that character wasn’t blamed for anything. While all the blame was put on the other party.

Concluding Thoughts: To be honest, I could’ve continued going on about this but I thought for now this would give you a general idea about just how polarizing tropes can be in their views towards gener.  It’s sort of a shame, considering that a lot of YA is female oriented.  Do I think it’s something the publishing industry cook fix?  Absolutely.  Do I think it will be fixed anytime soon?  Probably not. 


2 thoughts on “Gender and YA Tropes

  1. Oh man! The virgins and the slut shaming are high up on my list of pet-peeves! And don’t even get me started on bad-boys… Who seem to not actually have any redeeming qualities at all.
    Also, missing or absent parents are pretty big in YA, and it always makes me happy when there’s at least one parent who is doing her or his job.
    Great post!

    • The whole disappearing relative trope is disturbing as well. On this one, I have notice too trends where the love interest’s family is completely non-existant or is actually said to be a big part of the novel (i.e. pimping out the couple). The protagonist family is almost always invisible though. I think there’s only a few books where they actually played a significant role.

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