Handler’s Min is smart, ever-so-slightly pretentious, and prone to fits of melancholy—just like, ya know, every actual teen girl reading the book.
- Barnes & Noble review of Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up, because all teenage girls
who read this book are obviously exactly the same.
When I taught in a girls’ high school, I generally had two reactions when sharing what I did for a job. The first was, ‘Oh god, I could never teach teenage girls. (Teenage girls are hideous.)’ The second, which came most often from teachers who taught in co-ed schools, was that teaching girls was a walk in the park, because girls are so much better behaved in the classroom. So which is it?
Neither of those assumptions is true, and I have wondered where it comes from. Once I started wondering, I didn’t have to look far.
Media is partly to blame, with the disclaimer that media reflects existing views in a society, and can also be interpreted by misogynistic audiences in unintended ways. (This is what concerns me most about Breaking Bad - Skyler-hate – and Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie: Private School Girl.)
The genre of ‘reality TV’ is an especially obvious example of the ways in which storytellers like to depict teenage girls and young women. People are actually studying this stuff:
The report took the form of a survey, and asked tween and teen girls, both reality show watchers and non-watchers, a variety of questions about what they saw on reality TV and how it affected them. The results were rather disheartening, with a majority of girls stating that reality TV places girls in direct competition with each other (86%) and that gossip is a normal part of a friendship between girls (78% of reality show watchers compared with 56% of non-watchers). And boys certainly also come into play: more watchers than non-watchers feel that girls need to compete with each other for male attention (74% vs. 63%) and that they feel they’d be happier if they had a boyfriend (49% vs. 28%).
While counting reality TV as a genre of fiction, is it our fictional culture, perpetuating the mythology that teenage girls are competitive, nasty and gossipy? Whether it’s TV advertisements, sit-coms or novels, there are very few ways in which teenage girls are portrayed positively in fiction. I’m starting to think that the sullen teenage girl trope feeds the idea (mistaken, I believe), that teenage girls are terribly difficult while teenage boys are not. It’s part of that whole Venus/Mars ideology in which women are complex and men are simple. While I’m fully conversant with the difficulties of the teenage years, I do think that it’s unhelpful to make these distinctions along gender lines. There is far more individual variation than gender variation, which makes gender distinctions unhelpful.
Though perhaps if we expect our teenage girls to be image obsessed and bratty, then that is what they will become. Likewise with boys and sullenness, though I know less about the trials and travails of boys.
Here is an example of a typical adolescent girl in adult, mainstream fiction:
‘Only because I told you every time he looked uncomfortable,’ reminded Loren, who had that pretty but gangly appearance of many twelve-year-old girls, pre-teenage and just beginning to take a greater interest in what was worthy of ‘cool’, be it music, clothes, or Mother’s make-up. Sometimes she assumed a maturity that should not yet have been learned, while at other times she was still his ‘princess‘ who loved her dolls and frequent hugs (the latter more occasional than frequent these days).
Loren had been adamant that no way was she leaving her friends and school in London to live in a place thousands of miles from anywhere, a place where she didn’t know anybody, a place she’d never even heard of. It took some persuasion, plus a promise of having her very own cell phone so that she could keep in constant touch with all her girlfriends, to convince her things would be okay in Devon.
[Her father] realised at that moment that he missed the extra ‘d’ and the ‘y’ at the end of ‘Dad’ and wondered when it had started happening. Was Loren, his princess, growing up so fast that he hadn’t noticed? With a jab of melancholy that perhaps only fathers of growing daughters can know (sons were way different, except to doting mothers), he swung back in his seat, glancing at Eve as he did so.
- The Secret of Crickley Hall, by James Herbert
I wouldn’t accuse James Herbert of being a great stylist, nor would I count him as a writer who offers insights into the complexities of human nature. But I would expect a little more imagination from any published and much promoted author, instead of relying solely on the trope.
As noted on the TV tropes page, ‘If the teenage daughter is the show’s protagonist, she probably won’t be this character, or at least, not as extreme a version.’ To paraphrase: in stories about teenage girls, for teenage girls, the main character is likely to be more rounded. The problem with this is, it is mainly teenage girls (and some adult women) are reading books about teenage girls.
What I’d like to see are fewer bratty-sullen-teenage-girl tropes in fiction aimed at a wider audience. That said, I’m sure there are a few out there. Can someone point me in the right direction?
NEW STUDY SAYS TEENAGE GIRLS ARE SEXUALIZED ON NETWORK TELEVISION from The Mary Sue
Regarding the tendency for girl stars to pose naked for men’s magazines once they hit adulthood:
It’s not just attempts to classify these spreads as empowerment that’s so frustrating. It’s the photos’ implicit suggestion that little girls growing up is somehow remarkable, or dirty, or wild. Why do we continuously liken the release of these photos to “good” girls gone “bad”? Why do we still put such a premium on feminine purity that any evidence to the contrary becomes news?
from Policy Mic.
Quoting from a GQ article, Group Think points out the sexism of certain kinds of journalism (ie shitty journalism):
“By now we all know the immense transformative power of a boy band to turn a butter-wouldn’t-melt teenage girl into a rabid, knicker-wetting banshee who will tear off her own ears in hysterical fervour when presented with the objects of her fascinations. Hasn’t this spectacle of the natural world – like the aurora borealis or the migration of wild bison across America’s Great Plains – been acknowledged?”
The GQ writer who published that is either oblivious to or doesn’t care about the historic (though uncomfortably recent) use of the word ‘hysteria’ to describe and disempower women.
The Top 5 Female Character Stereotypes & 1 Tip To Avoid Them from The London Screenwriters’ Festival. If only all published authors were aware of the tropes and the history. If only writers were keenly aware of inequalities. If only…
REAL GIRLS, FAKE GIRLS, EVERYBODY HATES GIRLS from The Zoe Trope talks about Mary Sues and coins a word for her counterpart: the Sarah Jane. “It turns out the vast majority of talk about Sarah-Janes – realistic, flawed, prominent female characters in fiction – *still* centres on what is wrong with them, and all the reasons they are SO ANNOYING for… not being perfect?”
In Defence of Solipsistic Teenage Girls from YA Highway gets it right.