I’ve been mulling about this for a really long time and I would like to start by explaining to any and all who might read this that I have not personally read the books in question. Believe me, I tried, but I couldn’t. My brain went into denial and refused to allow the words to go in. Eventually I said ‘fair enough’ and gave up, realizing finishing even one chapter wouldn’t do me any good (in fact I’m pretty sure it would lower my IQ). But I have plenty of friends who have read both series and I myself have (shamefully) watched a few of the movies, so I do know what I am talking about.
First of all, let’s take a look at young girls today. Starting from middle school (yes, middle school, not even high school, people) we all feel the pressure to be more than what we are. Oddly enough, I don’t mean academically. From as early as the age of twelve, we’re being pressured into being prettier than we are, skinnier than we are; we feel inadequate if we don’t have a boyfriend, if we don’t wear make-up or if we hang out with someone other than the pre-assigned ‘cool crowd’. I’ve been there, we’ve all been there, and whether or not we’d like to admit it (and regardless of what side you were on at the time), we’ve all suffered from this pressure and, at one point, tried to change ourselves. Some of us did give into it and change, some of us didn’t, some of us changed gradually of our own accord (it’s called growing up); but regardless of what we’ve been through and of how wrong we all know that is, young women today are feeling it even more than we did. Think about what you’ve been through and multiply it by 10 – crazy right? How is a thirteen or fourteen-year-old supposed to cope with all of her classmates telling her she’s ugly and she needs to be prettier and she sucks if she doesn’t have a boyfriend?
The way we all escape reality.
They turn to books.
Young Adult (henceforth YA) fiction has experienced a boom of ridiculous proportions in the last two years with the publishing and success of the Twilight saga. I’m not criticizing Stephenie Meyer – good for you girl, you had a wet dream about vampires and you managed to turn it into a billion dollar empire of badly-written books – but I am criticizing the books themselves. We’re at a crucial point in time where children as young as eleven years old are committing suicide due to bullying and peer pressure and the way girls have to cope with it is escaping reality via books. In my time, I had Harry Potter; I had romance books, sure, but cute, cluffy, pink-cloud-ish romance books; I had Artemis Fowl (remember that?) and a lot of other very good fiction books meant for my age and that, in the end, carried a good lesson. But imagine yourself as a fourteen-year-old girl who is the only one in her class without a boyfriend and who is called ugly by everyone she knows; imagine you are that girl and you decide to read Twilight. What does the book tell you? What does it teach you?
It teaches you that you are no good without a boyfriend and it’s okay to be in an abusive relationship; that you should be weak and desperate in order to keep your man no matter what; that you should put your family in second place while you try to transform yourself into whatever woman your boyfriend wants you to be. That if you don’t want to kill yourself the second your boyfriend breaks up with you, you’re not normal.
Is this really what we want to teach young women today? Is this what we want them to learn from books… and from life? Something tells me that in about 10 years, there will be a boom in all sorts of domestic abuse because the girls of today are being literally taught to be weak and submissive instead of strong and ambitious. They will latch onto the first guy they find, they will do everything and anything to themselves and their friends in order to be the perfect woman for them and they won’t even care if their husband hits them or abuses them; because that’s the way they’re supposed to be. They’re supposed to be “the wife”, “the girlfriend” and nothing else.
So with Twilight telling them it’s okay and it’s expected of you to be the weak one and to be your husband’s floor mop, along comes a little thing called 50 Shades of Grey that tells you… well, exactly the same thing. Except that the main character is even more of an idiot than Bella Swan and the writing manages to be even worse. In fact, Twilight spawned hundreds of different series of YA fiction books with supernatural elements and in all of them there’s a connective line – the easily-influenced young girl of a main character who’s never had a boyfriend and whose entire life is either around being ‘hunted’ by someone else or caring/obsessing over their ‘dark brooding and sexy’ (i.e. possibly violent and abusive) boyfriend all the time. Go into your bookstore, go to the YA section and flip through a few pages of… well, anything. It’s all like that, everything.
I honestly don’t care if these books are published. If you think your writing is good, go ahead, give it your best shot and publish it. I’m not a literary major, I’m no one with the authority to criticize; what really bugs me is that young girls today are reading this kind of thing and only this. And I’m seriously concerned about what they’re learning from this, what kind of life lesson they’re taking from this sort of literature. You might argue and say that you only learn from books if you allow yourself to – but you’re probably over 20 now. When I was fourteen, books influenced me and they influenced me a lot. JK Rowling taught me lessons, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle taught me lessons, even Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe taught me lessons when I was fourteen – even if only in terms of vocabulary.
I don’t want you girls to grow up into weak, submissive women who only think about getting a boyfriend and keeping him, getting married and having kids. It’s okay to want a relationship but remember you are so much more than that. Women are powerful creatures. We have the tools to do anything and become anything we want to be. Focus on your dreams, on your ambitions. It’s okay to read Twilight, it’s okay to read badly-written pornography like 50 Shades of Grey et al. But remember that is not you and that is now who you should be. Be strong, be fierce, be who you want to become; never aspire to become an Ana Steel or a Bella Swan.
There is so much more to life than getting a guy. I just wish there were books preaching this instead of the opposite.