As some of you know, Aura from my Shade series is in the Tournament of Heroines over at YA Sisterhood's blog. Which I was kinda psyched about, despite the fact that I have a looming January 3 deadline for Lust for Life and shouldn't even be thinking about the Shade characters, much less figuring out incentives and gathering votes--FUN THOUGH IT MAY BE.
But here it is almost 4am, and I'm thinking about this tournament. Why?
The tenor of some of the heroine posts (especially the "How is your girl better than her opponent?" section), and the ensuing discussion in the twitter-sphere, have me a little worried, and almost wishing Aura hadn't made it.
I think the question, "What makes a heroine?" is an extremely important discussion to have. Some people, including Aura's opponent's advocate, have very strong feelings about what a heroine is and isn't. And we should examine society's beliefs and preconceptions critically.
But when thrown into the cauldron of competition, those opinions can turn nasty. Part of me is dreading next Wednesday, when Aura's fans and I will have to hear all about what's wrong with her. She's not your typical kickass swashbuckling heroine. She's never killed or even punched anyone (um, yet--she still has one book to go). She's never saved a life (yet) or led a revolution (yet). She's just a girl who is herself.
Women can be extremely harsh when they talk about other women. This happens in real life, of course, and it really pervades reader reactions to female characters--especially online where we don't see each other face-to-face. Men can get away with all sorts of scurrilous behavior, and they are called "rogues" and "alpha males" and "bad boys." They are swooned over, more often than not.
But if a woman's actions hurt someone, she's a "bitch." And God forbid she is involved with more than one guy--then she's a "slut" or considered "weak" and "indecisive." It's okay for boys to play the field, but not girls. Girls have to be perfect.
But wait--not too perfect, because then they're "Mary Sues" and are clearly a manifestation of the author's deepest fantasies. (It's only female authors accused of playing out emotional issues through their stories.)
It's not just on blogs. I could fill a book with all the mean things people sitting next to me on convention panels have said about Laurell K. Hamilton or Stephenie Meyer. This doesn't happen to male authors. Not in public, at least. We afford men, both real and fictional, a different level of respect.
For instance, I can't think of any advocate post in the YA Crush Tournament that "dissed" a character. The "worst thing" anyone ever said about Zachary was that he wore a skirt, which I thought was hilarious. It never got personal.
Why do women hold women to a higher standard of morality and behavior? Why are female characters judged so harshly? Is it because we want every female to be a positive role model? Why can't they just be real people, with faults and weaknesses like the rest of us? Boys and men can be well-balanced characters because they have nothing to live up to. They don't represent their gender the way girls women do.
Why do guys get to be human, while girls have to be superhuman?
It's the same for people of color, or non-heterosexual characters. They're scrutinized against a very narrow standard--a character can't be "too black" or "too gay," because that's stereotyping. But if they're not "black enough" or "gay enough," then they're being whitewashed (or straight-washed--is that a word? It is now.).
So because straight white males are society's default, by virtue of their position of power, those are the only characters who get to be themselves and not a representative of their group.
Getting back to the tournament: I'm not suggesting we shouldn't argue about the value of heroic deeds, or that we should "all play nice" and walk on eggshells. I merely ask that everyone show the same respect for the characters (and authors and fans) that they did during the YA Crush Tournament.
My plea to advocates: defend your heroine without diminishing your opponent.
My plea to spectators: appreciate the advocates' hard work and keep discussions amicable.
My plea to voters: reward those who run positive campaigns.
Today's competition features two strong but friendly defenses of fascinating, complex characters, Luna from Harry Potter and Sophie from Hex Hall. The posts celebrate the wonders of these extraordinary girls without slamming the other. I hope more advocates follow these examples.
Many new friendships came out of the YA Crush Tournament last summer. I will always cherish those memories and the folks who supported Zachary, most of whom I "speak" to online on at least a weekly basis. Let's not let this heroine tournament harm those friendships.
It's not my place to defend Aura--Brooke of Brooke Reports will do a fantastic job herself. But I will say this: I never set out to write a heroine. I set out to write a real person, with real conflicts and feelings that people could relate to. She is not Everygirl, representing her entire gender. She's not Wonder Woman, a superhero saving the world. Aura's just herself, and I love her.
You don't have to love her, or agree with all her choices or the way she makes them. But I do ask that you respect her. And that you respect Bella. And Nora. And Luce. And Clary and Tessa and all the other fabulous girls who are loved so fiercely by their readers and their authors.