Here is an essay I wrote on the definition of feminism in fiction.
Feminism in young adult fiction is not a subject that should be tip-toed around. It is a defining movement in culture today and authors can provide powerful, inspiring examples for young women in their fiction. Often times a book is labeled as “feminist” purely because it has a female lead. True feminism relies on a variety of factors. Gender equality, an exploration of womanhood, and the compelling story of a woman’s life are among the most prominent. Feminism in young adult literature is used to set positive examples for readers and encourage them to embrace the aspects of both genders.
In order to achieve true gender equality in a novel, both male and female characters must be present without falling into gender specific stereotypes. It is not uncommon for females who are not the point of view character to be given a single defining characteristic and then left undeveloped in young adult literature. Female characters can also not endorse male stereotyping. They must view everyone around them as equal. V. E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy features Delilah Bard, a women who often cross dresses as a man. She does not view either gender as inferior and does not stereotype other characters based on their own.
Outside of fiction, young girls begin their explorations into womanhood every day. Fiction shouldn’t exclude that. A truly feminist novel makes sure to include it. There are plenty of stories about “becoming a man” but less about what it means to become a woman. In Alison Goodman’s novel Eon and its sequel Eona, the main character is a teenaged girl who has been forced to live as a man in order to pursue her goals in life. She eventually learns that being a woman is not something to be ashamed of and embraces the role. In order to truly explore womanhood, a novel cannot skim over the unpleasant parts or the insecurities that come with it. Everyone’s journey is different, and those differences deserve respect. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli follows a Jewish character and overweight as she battles against her anxiety and fear of rejection. The story does not fail to cover up the scary parts.
Women lead remarkable lives. Their gender does not define their experiences. In Code Name Verity, a historical fiction novel by Elizabeth Wein, two women become stranded in Nazi occupied France; an English spy and the Scottish piolet who brought her there. The spy is captured and tortured while the pilot remains relatively safe. Both face horrifying obstacles and exhibit exorbitant amounts of bravery as they remain strong for their countries and each other. The lives of women can be fantastical as well. Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus follows an illusionist as she is forced to play a game of magic and falls in love with her opponent. There is nothing stereotypical about any of these novels’ characters.
Feminism can be a finicky subject. Ask a hundred different people to define it and they will give a hundred different answers. It is these opinions that keep the topic alive and prevalent in our culture, especially in young adult literature. Some novels are more visible than others, but they are there. Women, like men, use books as an escape, a break from reality. It is only fair that they be given the option to read about strong women themselves. Feminism is a key culture and belief in human society and novels will be sure to immortalize it. Women deserve to have their stories told, whether they be true or fictional. Women deserve to be known.