Sunday, December 28, 2014

Looking at the Characters

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Okay, so over a week ago this post about one reviewer's pet peeves opened up a discussion on Twitter that apparently blew up. I'm not here about the drama (which actually didn't seem that huge, unless I missed a bunch of tweets?) and I wasn't even around for it. I heard about this through a friend and decided to check it out because I'm nosy and curious and goddamn but if there's drama in the blogging community, I want to know about it. And I'm not taking a side, because I'm stuck in the middle of this. On the one hand, I can see how harmful the hashtag was, but it also made me think about how I was reviewing and how I could potentially be catering to gender stereotypes and the incredibly harmful messages in books sometimes.

Anyway, so this created some heated tweets about how bad the #reviewpeeves hashtag was and how it was basically telling reviewers how to do what they do. How they should review a book. And, yeah, I can see that. I'm not okay with someone telling me how to think and feel, let alone write. When I review, it's my honest opinion. MY opinion, which I am entitled to have. No one can take that away from me or tell me how to review a book. And that's why this hashtag is harmful. It's basically telling people that THIS and THIS and THAT are not okay to use as reasons for how you rate and review a book. And NO reviewer wants to be told that.

Two of the person's review peeves in that article were the TSTL (too stupid to live) characters and the ones who are called selfish. I'll be the first to admit that I will call out a character for being selfish and unlikable and stupid. Because, here's the thing, a book has to have a little something called CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT. Sure, they make mistakes as people do. Of course they should be flawed and not always at their best. That makes them more realistic and relatable. But if there's no development, then I'm sorry but I'll find most of what the character does to be unlikable. There has to be growth, there have to be reasons for their flaws. They can't be there for no underlying explanation or just to move along a relationship or plotline. As for downsizing this to just talking about YA, yeah teens do stupid things and are selfish. They can be pretty damn unlikable. Setting them to a higher standard probably isn't that fair, but that can't be an excuse for a character who does things for seemingly no reason or warning. Not to mention, there are plenty of people in real life whom I think are selfish and unlikable, and I can think the same damn thing about a character. It doesn't matter what age level they are at.

As to the other review peeve of that person, I don't actually see much of it. But yay for a person continuing to read a genre that has disappointed them time and time again. Sure, it's probably the reason why they don't like it and they're probably setting themselves up for failure each time, but they're entitled to their opinion, no? Yeah, they could just mention that it wasn't for them, and they should probably branch out into other genres and types of books if this one is just not cutting it for them. But again, that's their opinion and their choice!

Even though I think this hashtag was harmful, some of the tweets got me thinking about how I review. Certainly I'm not going to change how I review, but that doesn't mean that I could possibly be perpetuating the cycle of sexsim and female characters being shafted for so many impossibly unfair expectations. Elizabeth May (author of The Falconer) tweeted, "I've noticed how many of my #reviewpeeves have to do with character critiques that are often (I believe unintentionally) gendered." And I totally agree with her. I can't tell you how many times I've seen male characters praised for being assholes (and certainly, I've loved those types of book boyfriends before) while female characters are put down for just being a girl. For being emotional and making mistakes when it comes to guys. For being soft and simple and jealous and envious and overreacting to something that's been said. Basically, it doesn't matter what they do because you can always find something to criticize. And I can't tell you how many times I encounter this with female characters who are confident in their sexuality. Males can generally get away with more than females can, especially when it comes to sex. Because, as much as we don't want to admit it, females (in real life and in books) are set to higher standards. And, therefore, they're judged to a higher level.

They're not fair, these standards. To be judged for something that a male is praised for is not only sexist but harmful. Often, female characters can't get away with the same things as males. And that makes me wonder and think about how I judge female characters myself. There have probably been moments where I put higher standards on them and criticized them too harshly for something that I should have given them more leniency on. Not just on females, but teens in general. I used to think that YA was nothing more than fluff and simplistic, and I have definitely held teens to a higher standard before. It's easy to judge a character for doing something that you would not normally do. It's easy to forget that humans are full of conflicting emotions and make mistakes. Have their moments of jealousy and rage, their moments of hurt and guilt. They put their foot in their mouths and overreact. They can be stubborn to the point of wanting to stab them. But again, I believe female characters are judged more harshly for all of this. 

And it kind of kills me that I could have unintentionally perpetuated this sexism in books and the stereotypes of genders. I need to be more conscious of this. I think more people need to be conscious of this. And how their own gender socializations play into how they feel, think, and judge a character in a book. Sure, they're not real. It isn't life. But books are just one of many tools that continually reinforce old stereotypes and society's many diminishing views, perpetuate sexism and traditional gender roles. Not all of them are like that, no. However, they haven't exactly helped to make them better. And that's why I am so, so happy that there are many diverse books coming in the next few years. Ones that challenge society and gender roles and old-fashioned values. Ones that need to be written. #WeNeedDiverseBooks. :)

I've honestly been thinking about this a lot, especially after all of the books I read where people shame women for having sex, hooking up with more than one guy, or flaunting their confidence in their sexuality. I almost wrote a whole post about it, about casual sex in books and how it's portrayed in both males and females in particular, but never finished it. This whole gender inequality is especially present in romances. I love romances; I love contemporaries. I love New Adult. But those genres are so terrible when it comes to gender stereotypes, sexism, and misogyny. And I become annoyed and seriously pissed off at the constant slut shaming and male leads whose best charm is that they're an asshole to everyone. Let's just stop the never-ending cycle of bullshit, shall we? 

This wasn't meant to be a feminist piece about how women are unequal even in books. And it wasn't meant to bash the person who wrote that article. It was just meant to take a closer look at reviewing and how both male and female characters are portrayed and talked about in general. Something that has bothered me for a very long time but only recently taken root in my mind. I'm not going to change anything about how I review because of this hashtag, but I do know that I'm going to be more conscious of how I'm looking at the characters (secondary ones too) and what they say, especially the females. 

Your turn!
How do you feel about this #reviewpeeves hashtag? Do you think that characters are judged more harshly in books than they would be in real life? Do you think there's an unequal balance in female and male characters when it comes to reviews and criticisms?


  1. I miss so much on Twitter! Goodness. Okay. I read the post in question, and of course, checked out this hashtag. I do have thoughts (of course I have stuff to say, come on). Now, I do understand the people who argue that it is their right to say whatever they want, to have an opinion about reviews, etc. But I think it is a very, VERY slippery slope, and lines will absolutely be crossed.

    It's one thing to say "I don't like when characters are called selfish" (which, in itself is kind of a weird argument because... what if the character IS acting selfish? I digress.), but it can very easily devolve into "I don't like when reviewers yammer on about The Hunger Games and overuse the word 'Shenanigans'.", and well, shit just got personal.

    Now, as to the gender issue: I would venture to say that the vast majority (not all, but most) of YA book bloggers/reviewers are female. So I think that the inequality issue boils down to the way these women feel about themselves, values that society in general have forced upon them. Because in these instances, you are likely to have a female author, a female character, and a female reviewer.. so it isn't like it is some man writing women inappropriately, nor it is a male reviewer bashing female characters (now, I KNOW there are exceptions, but I am just speaking in generalities here). My point is, this an insanely deep rooted problem that I don't think has a thing to do with how we review, but much more to do with how we THINK in general. And I agree with you, that needs to change, but it won't do so overnight.

    Anyway, I think this is a really thought provoking post, I have been contemplating my reply all day. One thing I must agree with completely is the disdain for the guy who acts like a jerk getting all the praise. I find that completely infuriating, in books and in life. Amazing post, Holly!

    1. Reviewing IS sometimes a slippery slope, and I think that most people generally don't cross the line. But there are those few who make it personal and who seem more intent on criticizing everything just because they can.

      I absolutely agree with you on the gender issue! Certainly I've criticized females more harshly before, which makes me want to be more conscious of it all now. I almost talked about how it's mostly female authors that I find this in (but only in personal experience, as I think I only read two books whose authors were male in the past few years) but wasn't sure where I was going with it, so I took it out of this post. It's definitely easier for us to criticize our own gender and place them on a higher scale. But so much of how we review and think about a book comes from our life experiences and what we've been taught. Society has played into this with its own gender socializations, but so many of them are demeaning, diminishing, and unequal. It very much has to change, but I agree that it won't be overnight.

      Thank YOU for such a thought-provoking comment. It got me thinking even more. :) And oh, I am SO over those assholes who are praised for their assholeness. They're not even appealing to me anymore.

  2. HI HOLLY. I like this post a lot.

    I think I already talked to you about the whole "someone shouldn't tell you to think a certain way thing". So yeah. I'm also very mixed about the whole gender issue going on when reviewers put down the female characters for casual sex, thinking too much about a guy, etc. etc. Hmmm.

    I think if I were to read a book about a female MC and all she thinks about is that one guy, I would get bored, which would lead me to criticize the MC. I don't think it is necessarily because she loves thinking about guys so much, but more that I want something different (or for something to happen, I guess.) To be honest I don't read much romance because I'm slowly branching out of fantasy (I've started with contemporary for now, ones that don't just focus on romance). Hmmm.

    Also, I really wish there were more male MCs in young adult. Because in that case, I could actually compare between the two characters. I would love to say that I judge characters based on their decisions no matter WHAT the gender, but I'm not in the position to say that because I haven't read many books with a male MC. So it is to remain a mystery.....(though I am reading Red Rising right now and it is great)

    MY THOUGHTS ARE MIXED. I DON'T KNOW MAN. I'll just pay more attention to what I write. Wait. hmm, sometimes I don't like the male side characters (or romantic interest) because of....something....Gah I don't know.

    1. I'm glad you liked it! I was...very nervous about posting it.

      dude, I get really bored when the MC only thinks about the guy and vice versa, actually. But so long as the story is interesting, I won't mind. I read a lot a romance, so it's natural that most of it is about the main characters, how they think of each other, and their relationship.

      Yes, this! I want more male POVs in YA; you don't see it nearly often enough. I think that could help to make all of this better. Then again, I read a lot of contemporaries and romances, and most of the time, they're in dual POV. I try to judge them fairly, and I hope I accomplish that. It just bugs me when there are constant assholes being praised for being assholes and girls being slut shamed (usually because of the jealousy of the female MC toward the love interest). I've read about it way too often, and I'm definitely going to be looking more closely at it and make sure I'm not helping the cycle of sexism.

      Haha, it's a lot to think about! And heck, I could just be blowing things out of proportion, but I really just wanted to see what others thought of this. I saw on the hashtag that I wasn't the only one who had these same thoughts, but I wanted to delve a little deeper into the subject.

      Thank you for a thoughtful comment. <3

  3. I hadn't really heard about this discussion until now, so I am glad to have stumbled across it on your blog! I would agree, no one should tell us how we write our reviews. It's a favour to the author to even promote their books, and our honest opinions are what is usually valued by the readers in general. And I think it is a shame that the person who is reading the same genre over and over hasn't tried and explored some more of them. I would agree, maybe some variation and coming back to the genre might help more than preparing to hate a book and in the end, well, hating it -.-

    I can see that about gender equality when it comes to judgment of main characters. Personally I am someone who doesn't like book boys who are mean and cruel but have that 'bad boy' affect about them. I am someone who prefers a gentlemanly character, which makes me thing even though I may have some the gender inequality in my own reviews, I don't have as much of it. I will try to be mindful of it in the future ^^

    But without character development and a likeable main character, you'd have lost me.

    1. I don't want people telling me how to review, so that really irked me while checking out the hashtag on Twitter and seeing comments on that post. But for me, I do want to make sure I'm not being too critical (not that reviewers can't be too critical; it's just for me personally, I don't want to be like that) while also sharing my feelings and thoughts on the book.

      I love my bad boys, but I have grown tired of their overdone character arcs. And I like my characters to be more well-rounded. But yes, I feel like I've had gender inequality in my reviews before, and that makes me want to be more conscious of it, especially because I think it's very present and harmful (at least in many of the reviews I've read for romances mainly).

      I think the first thing that stops me from continuing a book is if I like the main character or not. So yeah, I don't agree with that person's article. It all depends on tastes and feelings. Reading is, after all, completely subjective. :)


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