Originally published in QMUnicate Issue 146, 28 November 2020
“Wake up, Y/N!”- my mother yelled from the kitchen.
I was going to be late for high school. I jumped out of bed and looked at myself in the mirror. Brown hair, blue eyes and the palest skin you have ever seen. I got dressed in some jeans and a sweater, I didn’t care much for fashion. Have I mentioned that I’m not popular or liked by any of the other girls in my high school? I get along with guys so much more, they almost see me as their sister.
As I had my breakfast, I pondered on what a horrible day it was going to be: I had a Maths exam and after that my least favourite class: History. And the worst thing was that I had Biology and I would have to sit down next to the proclaimed “bad boy” of my year: Zayn Malik. Ugh, Mondays.
Sound familiar? If you had Wattpad during the 2010s you definitely have read a novel that starts like this. Although I have no complaints about the entertainment aspect (this type of novels surely occupied much of my free time), I do have to ask: why is this archetype of adolescent girl so repeated? Even as we move on to more mainstream literature, we encounter this girl time and again.
Now, if you were an avid Wattpad reader like me, you probably progressed to (or picked up on the way) reading novels in the genre of Young-Adult. This genre is pretty vast since it contains all novels that are written for readers from 12 to 18 years of age. So basically, any book targeted towards a teenager audience. I have read all my life since I was six years old and during my teenage years (in which I still consider myself half immersed), this love for books intensified.
And this one-dimensional girl would appear to haunt me even in my sleep. Or should I say One-Directional? I’m very sorry about that. But on a real note here: encountering this type of character on each and every book that fell into my lap helped to create an unrealistic idea of what a woman, well, a girl of 16 would have to be: intelligent, but not too bright; beautiful but not gorgeous; naïve but not innocent; funny but not funnier than her male love-interest. Because there was always a male love-interest. And he himself would also be a walking stereotype, but thankfully for boys, these novels were not targeting them as the main readers. The teenage girl would also be boy-crazy, and this love and obsession would bring her to do crazy things: it would drive her life like it was its only purpose.
I’m not saying that love is not a legitimate preoccupation, but c’mon! We teenage girls are not as one-dimensional as the rest of the world wants us to be, we have hopes and fears and aspirations that go much further than getting ‘the man of our dreams’. And who said it had to be a man?
One of the sagas that I read from cover to cover was Twilight by Stephanie Meyer and I must confess, it is a really enjoyable read. But the thing that most people complained about is that Bella Swan, the female protagonist, is too plain, too boring. She falls in love with Edward Cullen (and who could blame her?) and she suddenly wants to become a vampire, and that appears to be her only one objective in life. And she’s a teenager! Where are her aspirations and dreams? Do they suddenly turn to dust when she met this handsome vampire? I would think not. As society advances past certain stereotypes that casually only apply to women (the hopeless romantic, the fool in love, etcetera) we want to see a development of characters in Young Adult fiction as well.
I recently encountered this in Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi, in which we meet Rachel Recht and Sana Khan who slowly fall for each other throughout this novel. What I like about them is that, beyond starting this relationship and being oblivious about it, they have ambitions and struggles of their own that don’t involve each other. With medical school and indie-movie festivals in mind, this novel paces through their lives and this includes their love affairs. But they also have to face their families with their high expectations and have to let go of their own mental barriers to get where they want to go.
The idea of who women are is very commonly linked to who the men in her life are. Women have been for centuries pictured as exceptions of the female gender when they were brilliant and mentioned as afterthoughts when they were lucky. In literature we can observe the same thing: we were swept under the rug for far too long. It’s time to change this: as we demand for representation across visual media (TV shows, movies, advertisement and so much more) we must not forget about who we are on paper.