Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Discussion: Get Off Your Fucking Pedestal


Often times in the genre of Young Adult, I feel as if the main character is put on a pedestal of sorts. By this I mean the main character is lifted far up and beyond the other characters in the story and is seen as more powerful/knowledgeable/simply better than everybody else. Sometimes it seems as if the main character is even condescending or judgmental at times because she is put on such a high pedestal.  I feel as if this occurs in a multitude of ways, all of which I find to be of annoyance to me but one way is certainly more problematic.

The first technique I have seen several times in YA to make the main character just seem utterly amazing and borderline perfect is the "special snowflake" trope. This one isn't a new idea and seems to occur most often in the YA paranormal and fantasy novels. Pretty much the main character makes discoveries about the supernatural world, is the true heir to the throne etc etc. Then we discover the main character has special abilities or perhaps there is a prophecy..AND THE MAIN CHARACTER IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SAVE THE WORLD FROM RUIN. Naturally the main character will become ultra amazing at her power right away with little training. From there on out nearly every character who crosses the MC will love her and if not they're totally evil. Despite impossible circumstances the main character will always prosper.

While the aforementioned method is irritating, a tired trope and has been done about a thousand times it's not particularly offensive or hateful. I find other methods of promoting the main character much worse, just because they usually involve the degradation and tearing down of the side characters in order make the MC appear even more "appealing".

An example of this would be an YA novel where the main character has a best friend/sister/acquaintance who is a little bit more sexually promiscuous than the main character. Honestly, I'm fine with this being included as I don't expect us all to be sexual in the same way or at all. However, what I'm not fine with is it being included, having MC point it out so frequently and then points out her own innocence right after or judges the side character for her sexual experience. This infuriates me as it plays into the societal ideal that sex = taboo/bad, therefore the main character is much more angelic and "good"  than her sexually active side character. When this technique is used it also makes it seem like the side character's only purpose is to solely exist so the main character appears more "wholesome" and appealing to the reader which frustrates me to no end. Not only is it slut shaming, but it also promotes unhealthy female friendships.

Another example of an side character whose entire existence is usually torn down is the quintessential mean girl. Not only is the mean girl often slut shamed/judged by the main character (see the above paragraph for more on that) but it also appears that this side character is often never developed in any shape or form. The mean girl is just mean for the sake of being mean it seems (which is also very unrealistic). While I don't justify bullying in any way, by not developing the mean girl beyond the stereotypical trope it honestly just seems like she's being included just so she can victimize the MC and evoke the reader's sympathy. It not only demonizes the mean girl but also dehumanizes her by making her once again, nothing more that a character to increase the MC's appeal.

It's truly unnecessary (and sometimes even problematic) for the main characters to be put on such a high pedestal, especially since it's usually done in at the expense of the side characters. I think it's a very juvenile and narrow minded perspective that the main characters must be "perfect" or appear "better" than every other character in a novel. I personally prefer the main characters in novels to be flawed and to be not constantly reminded about how much better she/he is than everybody else. I also enjoy reading about side characters and believe they deserve way more development and credit than just being a tool to further enhance the main character.

25 comments :

  1. YES Larissa THIS!

    It infuriates me beyond belief. I find so many main characters unbelievably judgemental but yet they've been painted as pure by authors who really are treating their teen audience with contempt. It comes down to putting other characters down to make their main character seem more worthy, more likable and even if the protagonist isn't trying to sway readers who see her as the wholesome victim, an author can choose their words to manipulate readers to achieve the same outcome. It's a bit like the whole Bella Swan scenario. Placing what are seen as a 'Plain Jane' type character and in Bella's case, having anything in her vicinity with a penis finding her desirable. It's unrealistic and authors somehow must believe it makes her more relatable as a character or feeding some inner desire for teens not only to be liked, but to be wanted and therefore validated by the opposite sex.

    But especially in the last two years, I feel aware authors are making the change to break down the tropes that plague young adult and authors like Stephenie Meyer are becoming obsolete. Attitudes within teen communities are changing, they are taking control of the labels society places upon them and breaking down stereotypes and barriers and that seems to be something that so many adult authors don't seem to comprehend. I can understand the frustration and call for diversity in books, not only to demand representation, but with diversity also seems to come an understanding and acceptance of characters who are sexually active, that behind the mean girl often lies deep seeded issues and perhaps a lack of confidence within themselves and that we don't need to drag others down to raise ourselves up.

    I adore this post Larissa. I think as a book community we need to talk about why authors still feel it's acceptable and what we can d as readers to ensure attitudes and tropes change.

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    1. YES Kelly, you make such valid points. Some authors really do treat their teen readers with contempt by having this super judgmental MC's who judge every aspect of normal teen life. I don't find these characters relatable at all and having the whole Bella Swan thing is definitely unrealistic. I just wish that innate need to write well liked characters through the means of tearing down other characters wasn't used so often.

      I have noticed a lot of changes but at the same times there's still those authors who buy into slut shaming and it's like really? At that point you can't even use the excuse that they're unaware, just as there's been so much outcry about it. As sad as it is when slut shaming still exists in the book I usually think it's the author's own mindset seeping in. And yes girl!!! We can definitely achieve success and greatness and all of the things without having to completely tear others down.

      Thank you Kells! <33 I definitely think there's more to talk about in regards to WHY this still occurs despite all of our negative response

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  2. This is VERY true! And while I was reading this, I realized how often this DOES happen. I am thinking back on sooooo many books where the main character is this straight-A, pretty, thin virgin who has never so much as drank a sip of beer or uttered a curse word. And then the side characters are these charity case messes that we should think that the main character is SOOOOO sweet for even lowering herself to talk to. UGH. It is seriously the WORST.

    And the thing is... I felt like that growing up! Like- sex was "bad", and I was the biggest goody-two-shoes in ALLLLL the land. It didn't make me any happier, and I am sure my friends thought I was kind of an asshole. I didn't look down on them- but I felt like maybe I was doing something wrong by NOT looking down on them? And yes, I did have one or two friends whose choices I DID look down on and judge, and in hindsight, feel very bad for. But I think that's the thing- as a society, we perpetuate this nonsense so much that young women don't know any other way TO think. If they rebel against this stupid expectation to be true to themselves, they're "less than" in the eyes of others. If they conform.. well, the cycle continues, obviously.

    And you know- when I see those types of characters/side characters in books, I DEFINITELY like the book less. Which is actually a really good thing, probably!

    FABULOUS discussion- I must go share this around, I cannot WAIT to read everyone's opinions!!

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    1. Yeah honestly you do see it happening quite often! Sometimes it's like super obvious and other times it is done in more of an subtle insidious sort of fashion. It seriously is the worst that the MC needs to be seen in such an angelic light to make her supposedly more appealing. Ugh. It honestly irks me so much when I see it now.

      And yes I definitely agree! The things we judge others on are definitely based on societal norms. We're definitely conditioned to learn that one sort of lifestyle is good while another not as much. Ugh honestly it's such a struggle for any girl to go and break societal norms and when they do they're judged super hard core and shamed for it. It's truly terrible.

      Thank you Shannon <33 And I'm with you, I've been loving reading everybody's views on the subject

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  3. THIS DRIVES ME ABSOLUTELY CRAZY. Especially in contemporary reads, the two tropes that you mentioned about the sexually promiscuous friend or the bitchy mean girl just annoys me to no end, especially in contrast with a perfect, angelic nondescript main character who everyone else finds beautiful, trust worthy and angelic. I mean how freaking unrelatable and unrealistic is that? I better connect to characters who are flawed in some way because they feel more authentic and well rounded. Also I love how these books in an effort to connect with the reader assumes that we have no qualms in slut shaming or judging other less than perfect characters. That all of us are insecure and meek and dream of at least 2 attractive guys going after you and protecting you. Down with that annoying trope, we need more realistic feminist fiction god-damn it

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    1. RIGHT! Ughh yes you defs see the tropes I mentioned more often in contemporary reads which are supposed to reflect real life and I'm just like jesus fuck. I hope real life isn't as bad, though I do know slut shaming happens all the time. Honestly the whole angelic MC vs. the sexually active or bitchy side character occurs waaaay too often for my liking.

      And exactly! Characters that have flaws are instantly more relatable. I honestly find characters who judge or slut shame less appealing so??? Authors please stop including them omfg. We seriously do need more YA feminist fiction. I swear I'd write it myself if I could haha

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  4. PRAISE! Everything in this post makes me want to go around shoving this in YA authors' faces so that we can see more change when it comes to protagonists!
    The perfect heroine IRRITATES me beyond belief. No is that perfect in the real world, especially not real world teens. It's honestly the Mary Sue effect. Authors put themselves in the place of their characters and act out their fantasies. It's not something I'll ever understand, but I want to see more flawed girls in YA.

    Fantasy and paranormal books are notorious for putting the female main character on a pedestal! I mean I'm okay with the trope more often than not, but what bothers me is when they are made to be so freaking perfect that everyone else around them pales in comparison. How about we get groups of girls who can slay the demons, win the throne and save the world instead but still have the girls have vulnerabilities and flaws? Oh and how about we also get some male characters who don't actually fall into the girl's vagina because she is so SPECIAL?? >.< No, not every boy IRL is going to fall madly deeply in love with you. I think this is why I've gotten so irritated with Celeana from Throne of Glass. I liked her in the beginning because she was flawed, but then all of a sudden she turned into this mega perfect girl, and everyone loves her and wants to bang her and she's a queen now or some nonsense. I know she's a fan favorite MC, but she just doesn't do it for me. Might I suggest you try The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine?? She's the opposite of a special snowflake and she is very flawed!

    OMGGGG the innocent MC v/s the slutty/promiscuous/bad girl bff trope! Having a couple of books with characters like that was okay because let's face it, girls in real life, can be so terrible towards other girls who aren't like them, but it's gotten so repetitive now. I'm very quick to DNF books like that! Miranda Kenneally's Things I Can't Forget has a character who is like that. She's a virgin and she judges people very easily, but she grows so much throughout the book and realizes how terrible she is being!

    The stereotypical mean girl trope can truly go fuck itself. I'm not opposed to the idea of mean girls because they exist, but you're so right when you say that the only reason they seem to be added to books is because the author wants to make the MC seem like the nicer, more innocent one. Yeah ... no.

    I do feel like we're starting to see change, particularly with YA contemporary books, and in my book, any change is a positive thing. I really hope one day we can come to the point where ALL books just stop putting MCs on a pedestal. That will be a great day for YA!

    Seriously, Larissa, you are brilliant and bow down to your eloquence and willingness to talk about these topics! Keep em coming!

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    1. I know omfg, there's been so much backlash against slut shaming and the like so STILL seeing it is like??? Come on authors. Kick your characters off their fucking pedestal pls. I find these perfect characters not only to be hyper unrealistic but also unlikable. This really is amusing to me as I believe for some authors they think by making their characters perfect they're likable?? LOL hardly. With Celeana omg. I stopped reading at Crown of Midnight tbh just because I heard my ship completely sinks and honestly just because of the turn her character takes apparently, which you seem to also dislike. Definitely can think of a lot more YA heroines who deserve more praise.

      And yeah I've started to see change too! But still there are books out there that slut shame and everything and it makes me wonder. I know there's other people than me being vocal, I just wish some authors would at least take into consideration you know?? It's the reason I make these posts you know.

      Thank you so much Nick <33

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  5. Wonderful post and I agree with all your points. The "special snowflake", can-do-no-wrong MC is tiring to read again and again. I do think it's a more common trope in fantasy/paranormal type stories though, where the main character is portrayed to be a saviour of sorts, the only one who can save the world, who holds all the power in their little pinky. I think we're slowly starting to see change and readers are starting to call it out, which is great.

    I remember you from YA Midnight Reads and I'm glad to have discovered your new blogging address :) I always enjoyed your discussions and I'm looking forward to more of your posts *waves*

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    1. <33 Thank you Rebecca! And ugh yeah it's really Mary Sue like and the special snowflake trope is just so predictable in itself, I definitely am reading a lot less of the special snowflake trope which does make me happy but I do still see it pop up and I'm like... really!? Hahah.

      And awww that's awesome! I just don't remember you omfg have you commented on my posts before?? Either way I appreciate all of your kind words immensely and can't wait to get to know you better <33

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  6. Awesome post! I was thinking today as I listened to Harry Potter that one of the things I love about it (despite the fact it's irritating the heck out of me right now lol) is that Harry may be 'The Chosen One' but not everyone loves him, or even likes him. He's not the smartest, he makes mistakes. Sure, he miraculously survives all the time, but it's almost always because others have helped him do so.

    What you've said describes a lot of what I've read in YA that has a female MC, which is really disappointing if I think about it too hard :( I hate it when main characters get all the glory and are perfect know-it-alls who are the only ones that can defeat something. I like flaws and awesome secondary characters that have a point, give us more of that!

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    1. Thank you lovely! And omg yes, Harry Potter is definitely one of my favorites series ever. But yes, Harry Potter has the potential to be the biggest Gary Stu ever. But no, he is instead flawed and isn't perfect. I love that, and also how brilliant the side characters are also. I'm forever in love with Hermione tbh.

      And yeah it really is sad how many YA novels include aspects of this post. I'm definitely with you, I'm so over perfect characters and undeveloped side characters

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  7. I really don't like stereotypes in books usually. Because that's just not realistic and I'm tired of reading about the perfect main girl that every guy wants to have resulting in a harem for the girl that's worthy of its own anime. NO NO NO. One example for me, or that's what it's starting to look like, is the Throne of Glass series. NO. Make it realistic and keep it simple!

    I do say -usually- because there are times where a stereotype filled book can work. And that's when the book just has fun with it. When it's the point that there are stereotypes and it's not meant to be a super original book. It knows it has stereotypes and it has fun with it. There are books like that and I do enjoy those.

    THANK YOU for giving me a post to add to my "WHAT-NOT-TO-DO-IN-MY-OWN-BOOKS"-list, haha. XD

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    1. Yeah honestly stereotypes come across usually to me as being so contrite. And yeah... Throne of Glass really seems to have gone in a direction I'm not a fan of. I stopped reading at Crown of Midnight cause apparently the love interests and such have changed and the MC has become quite the special snowflake with everybody adoring her.

      I think stereotypes in a book work best when those stereotypes are lifted if that makes sense? Like you find out there's more to a person than just fulfilling a stereotypes. Or like a satire sometimes does the trick for me (:

      LOL no problem, oh god girl I could definitely give you many more things to add to that list.

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  8. PREACH LARISSA! I completely agree with this 110%. It makes me so annoyed when characters are treated as "better" or "more special" than other people. It drives me absolutely nuts. Thank you for sharing this amazing post and for so eloquently explaining one of the things that needs to change in YA.

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    1. Yes omg. It's honestly so annoying and yet also so unnecessary, like why include it at all?? thank you so much as always for you super kind words <33

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  9. Ugh YES LARISSA YES.

    I think the worst for me is when the MC constantly shames that one girl who is with the boy she likes, or MC is slut shaming her friend or someone else because she's so "innocent" and "pure" and NO. You're just MEAN for slut-shaming. Gah.

    I also am not a fan of the special snowflake either. I think I tolerate it if the story or plot is really good, but really only tolerate. Also, do you think this differs from male vs. females? For example, I don't know if you've read Red Rising, but I feel like not many people notice that the main character in that is a Gary Stu, and is good at everything and definitely put on a pedestal. But not many people have noticed? (I mean I still love the book and all) But there seems to be some sort of bias?

    Anyways, AWESOME DISCUSSION LARISSA!

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    1. Ugh YES Val YES ~~~
      hehe [;

      UGH yes that's actually the worst. Like the shaming isn't even because of her own insecurity but a boy?!!? What the fuck. ugh slut shaming your bff certainly doesn't make you a good friend. It's honestly so mind blowing that books like include these things and throw it off like it's nothing.

      Ugh yeah special snowflake is more annoying than offensive but still. And yeah I personally hate it in both females AND males, but I have noticed a discrepancy in that Gary Stu's seem to get away with being themselves more. It's like the females enjoy reading about the perfect guy?? which is a double standard lol if they hate reading about the perfect female.

      Thank you so much <33

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  10. ASDFGHJKL LARISSA I NEED TO GIVE YOU LIKE 348324273812 HUGS FOR THIS POST PLEASE! You pretty much said what everyone's been thinking for forever.

    The special snowflake trope REALLY gets on my nerves, but that, at least, is understandable and can sort-of be justified (although it's STILL annoying) by the fact that the main character IS the "main" character for a reason.

    THE FIRST EXAMPLE WITH THE SEXUAL BEST FRIEND UGHHH. WHAT IS THE POINT, EXACTLY?! WHAT IS THE POINT IN EVEN HAVING A BEST FRIEND IF THE ONLY REASON SHE'S THERE IS SO YOU CAN JUDGE HER AND MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT YOURSELF!? You should just carry a fucking Barbie doll around with you every where you go. Jesus Christ, if that's all you do, then you're technically not the purest little flower you're making yourself out to be!

    Okay, the mean girl trope I might not 100% hate, because growing up, I've found that I DO usually attach myself to the "mean girls" in our batch. But maybe it's because I'm a bitch too, heh. The only thing I don't get about this trope is how they're okay with each other. Like, how the heck are they not influencing each other if they're bffs and are together all the time. It's just... what!?

    But girl, preach. This post is life.

    Aimee @ Deadly Darlings

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    1. <33 I ACCEPT ALL OF THE HUGS AND MORE AIMEE CAUSE HOLY FUCK I'VE MISSED YOU SO MUCH.

      I'm forever annoyed by the special snowflake trope and think authors should consider that we're not five and would understand if the MC isn't flawless.

      OMG RIGHT AIMEE, THE REASON FOR THE SEXUAL BEST FRIEND IS SO PROBLEMATIC. It's a terrible example of "friendship" and promotes girl hate which is never okay. LOL I love the barbie doll example you've given though cause it's so true. It's so fucked up that this trope exists

      And yeah the mean girl trope mmm. Like yes, I fully admit I can be a bitch sometimes. But like the "mean girls" in YA are cartoonishly painted as villains for no reason and it's like ummm what??? It feels just so unrealistic to me.

      <33 love you

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  11. I read this post a while ago but finally have time to comment :)
    I think this is one of the reasons why I got so annoyed of YA recently. All these perfect and goody goody (and judgemental) MC's are so fucking annoying. What annoys me most is that when a MC does a mistake and gets judged for it. Hello? We all make mistakes, why can't characters.
    And the MC's being judgy about the friend or girl (probably an enemy) who either likes to drink/date/wear makeup and assumes shes shallow or a slut.
    It makes me ragey!

    Nereyda│ This Girl Is Obsessed

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    1. Don't worry about it love, I totally get being busy! Lol I'm honestly so busy and my commenting schedule...what schedule :p

      Yeah it's certainly got me annoyed at the moment. All of these MC's seriously act so angelic and god forbid if somebody isn't exactly like them. AND OMG A MISTAKE NEREYDA HOW FUCKING UNFATHOMABLE. Like that never happens in the real world pshhhhhhh.

      I definitely agree with you girl! The narrow minded definition of "shallow" in YA is so rage inducing

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  12. I SO dislike special snowflake MCs. There can't be only one person in the entire world/planet/solar system/kingdom/town/city who can save humanity. Because if that's true in reality, we're all screwed.

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  13. Can I just start kissing your feet right now for writing this damn beautiful post? No? That's weird? Okay. Sorry!

    But seriously, this post is so perfect. There is nothing I am more sick of then the 'perfect' MC and her 'slutty'/promiscuous best friend trope. Slut shaming is already such a probably in YA. We don't need this too. We shouldn't need to be explaining this shit any more - it's no okay to slut-shame, and virginal doesn't automatically = good. It's like that Taylor Swift video (You Belong With Me?) & Madonna/Virgina Complex incident all over again. Ugh!

    And the bullying-the-perfect-MC-just-to-show-how-nice-she-really-is trope has been in YA so much lately - more than usual I feel, unfortunately. I actually just finished a book called Cloudwish which is meant to be about ethnic diversity in Australia (and in that area, it is pretty good), but our MC gets bullied by these pretty, 'airhead' girls for no reason, and they have no characterization whatsoever. It ruins all this great talk about diversity and feminism by using those stereotypes (and also throwing in the gay best friend and nerdy Asian guy too).

    Great discussion as always, Larissa! Sorry for another ramblish comment.

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