What, exactly, is avengingsybil all about?
As evidenced in my first entry, I have serious issues with the way female sexuality is portrayed in the majority of books written for young adults. Rather than give a laundry list of said issues, I'd like to discuss my concerns in the context of specific books. The idea behind this site is for me to explore books and the sexuality issues that arise from them in an ongoing manner.
Why a blog?
I chose this forum for a number of reasons. One is that it gives me the opportunity to be more candid and gives more leeway in playing around with ideas than I'd normally have with a finished paper (though it occurs to me that the work done on avengingsybil could someday lead up to quite a paper). Also, as I mentioned, it is part of a ongoing project and will be continually updated.
Another reason I decided on a blog is that the entries are instantly published and a dialogue with readers (I hope to gain some of those, someday) can be immediately established.
Finally, though much scholarly work has yet to be done on the subject, I am interested in moving my ideas outward from academia, to pose questions to and share ideas with people who aren't necessarily Children's Literature students, but are readers who care about quality reading.
Why Young Adult Literature?
Problematic portrayals of the sexuality of women of any age is nothing new in novels (The Scarlet Letter, anyone?). I focus on YA literature not only because it is of personal interest but because, unlike typical "adult" books, the content of YA literature is often determined by its audience, readers of a specific age group. Sexuality is a huge concern in the lives of most members of this roughly 12 to 19-year-old age group, and while I don't believe adolescents and teenagers read only YA books (nor should they), they do provide fertile ground for discussing issues with sexuality because YA literature perpetuates stereotypes about girls and sex. The genre has come a long way from the teenage "problem novel" and the scare tactics within, but young women shown as victims or sluts or good girls have stood the test of time. Certainly novels written for readers in such formative years requires careful handling of sexual situations. But I don't believe that relying on commonly-held societal ideas about what young women should feel about sexuality is honest.
As in all literature, a good book is a good book. Good writing is good writing. But even in the best of novels, it's hard to ignore persistent messages embedded within. With Young Adult literature as a springboard, I want to change or at least challenge people's ideas, make them consider things they hadn't considered before, incite a little outrage and cause them to demand more from authors.
What about the portrayal of boys' sexuality?
A great deal of my issues revolve around the perpetuation of societal double standards regarding girls, boys and sex. Sure there are plenty of stereotyped images of boys in YA, and character after character behaves in questionable ways that remain unquestioned. But simply put, for the time being boys are on the advantageous end of the double standard and part of the push for change is to begin by evening up the score. I will discuss young men as they apply in situations with young women, but they are not the main concern of my study.
In the late 1960s Margaret A. Edwards, a librarian very important to the then-bourgeoning YA genre, stated, "many adults seem to think that if sex is not mentioned to adolescents, it will go away." She was also quoted as saying, "too many adults wish to 'protect' teenagers when they should be stimulating them to read of life as it is lived."* As I discuss books and add more and more content to this site, it's important that I emphasize that my work is not done with the intent of glorifying sex or encouraging young women to become sexually active. Young women will continue to be sexual beings despite repeated attempts to tell them they are not. They will make decisions about having sex regardless of anything they read in a book. The goal of my work is to make readers aware that what they read is not necessarily how things are. If I can get one young reader to challenge the notion that all girls in fiction need to be coerced into sex or that if they have sex they are automatically considered sluts while the same behavior is expected and excused in boys, if one person reading my rants can call an author on thoughtlessly reinforcing a double standard, I will consider myself a success in picking up the gauntlet thrown down by Ms. Edwards and her contemporaries so many decades ago.
Another advantage of the blog is that it allows people to let me know when I'm sounding a little too self-important. Myself included. Please note that by putting myself in the same paragraph with Margaret Edwards I am not equating myself with her in any way.
*Cart, Michael, ed., Love & Sex: Ten Stories of Truth, Simon & Schuster, 2001
Written material © 2004 Dawn Emerman