Saturday, 27 June 2015

Discussion: Girl Hate in Books (+Female Friendships)

If you want, feel free to skip down to the discussion questions if you don't want to read the whole post -- they'll sum up what I want to talk about anyway.

I want to talk about girl hate in books. By girl hate, I mean the main character putting down other girls in a variety of infuriating ways that are so painfully misogynistic and anti-feminist (I'll give specific examples in a bit).

It's something I see way too much of in books (and it's always certain types of books -- usually NA/YA romance, in an awful attempt to make the main character seem great in comparison to all the other girls), especially recently...and it's just so -- disheartening? Makes me lose a little bit of faith in the world. And it's even worse when it's paired with a lack of good female friendships in the book.

A book can be problematic and still be enjoyable to read, a book can be guilty of the things I'm about to talk about and still entertain me. It's something I can overlook, I can like a book in spite of it -- but I'm beginning to realise that it's because I've become desensitised to it and that bothers me.

I don't like seeing the main character be horribly catty towards other girls.

I don't like seeing the main character slut shame the female characters while the male ones get a free pass -- I don't like anyone being slut shamed. A person should not be judged by the number of people they've slept with, only the way they treat other people.

I don't like it when the main character uses make-up or shopping as indicators of a character being vapid with nothing else to offer.

I don't like the main character deciding that a girl is a skank/slut because of the clothes she chooses to wear...and I really, really, really hate that the mean girl character is always described as wearing a certain uniform (skin-tight, skin-showing, heavy make-up, etc.).

I don't wear make-up often and when I do, I don't wear much. But make-up is awesome. There are girls that have turned make-up use into an art form. Girls who can do winged liner perfectly? I have so much envy! Ones who have the confidence to rock a bold lip colour? So much respect. I happily sit in the back seat of the car watching my best friend apply eye liner in the passenger seat while we're driving... Dude, that takes talent.

Wearing make-up does not mean a girl is insecure. Wearing a lot of make-up does not make someone a slut. Girls, more often than not, wear make-up for themselves. Not all girls wear make-up to impress guys, and if any do, so what? Nothing wrong with wanting to get all dressed up and have people find you attractive.

Can we take those misconceptions and set them on fire now? Just...burn them. They're worthless.

And let's talk clothes... First, you cannot judge how many people a person has slept with based on the clothes they're wearing. Unless they're wearing a t-shirt that flat out says "[THIS] is how many people I've had sex with" (but even then, it could be a lie, just sayin'). Second, even if you could know that someone was a "slut" based on their outfit...having a character judge someone based on that makes the character kind of an asshole.

You can't tell if someone is a good person based on how many people they've had sex with -- you can, however, tell an awful lot about a person who tries to shame someone for something they have no reason to be ashamed of. A girls clothes don't tell you anything about her that really matters and neither does her sex-life.

So yeah... I hate seeing female characters judged like that because it's not okay. And it's such a ridiculous double standard because the male characters in books (and males in life, in general) get away with the same things and worse.

Back to the make-up and shopping thing. Why are liking those things always used as negatives? Just like liking pop music or certain types of books or TV shows? A girl can like those things and still be an awesome person. You can't sum up who a person is because you know they like make-up and shopping. We don't let our best selves spill out for people we barely know -- it's something that is earned by the ones that stick around long enough to know us.

Writing a female character off as if she's worthless because she's into stereotypical feminine things (which, again, is misogynistic as hell)... It's infuriating. Those things don't tell you the heart of a person, they don't tell you the kind of friend they are or anything of real importance.

And why, why, why do authors have the dude say "You're not like other girls" as if it's a compliment, as if being like other girls is a bad thing... It isn't, and if a guy tries to use that as a compliment you should be offended on behalf of your entire gender, not swooning.

What is even worse is when the main character describes themselves as not being like other girls, that's just -- why? You don't want to be like other girls, fine, you're out of the band...go sit in the corner and think about how ridiculous you are and you can only come back when you realise that girls are awesome. Girls are fierce. Having amazing friends that are girls is one of the best feelings. You should be proud of being like other girls, not distancing yourself from it.

Moving on again...

The ex girlfriend doesn't always have to be vilified. The girl who likes the same guy you do doesn't have to be an awful person. GIRLS DON'T HAVE TO HATE GIRLS BECAUSE OF GUYS!!! Why can't the characters just acknowledge that, hey, I like this dude, this other girl likes the same dude -- we have such good taste in dudes! Or to realise that if the ex is such an awful excuse for a human being, what does that say about the love interest if he actually dated such an awful person?

Just...No. Stop making girls hate girls. Stop making the main character all high-and-mighty because she's "not like those other girls" when the real problem is the bad characterization of those other girls and the misogynistic way the main character judges them not the fact that some other character likes wearing short skirts and red lipstick. Stop trying to raise the main character up by putting other female characters down.

I think that's enough ranting for one post. Basically, I want girl hate in books to stop (well, within reason, it is okay to write female characters in a negative way, it's okay for them to be the bad guys of the story....but can we stop doing it in the ways mentioned in this post?), I want well written female characters.

And I want to see good female friendships. Friendships where they talk about guys but also talk about more than just that. Friendships where they're fiercely loyal. Friendships based on more than just convenience or common interests, ones that run deeper than that. There is so much that girls talk about, so much that they do, that doesn't revolve around guys and I'd love to find more books that reflect that (e.g. Code Name Verity -- how I adore thee!)

Discussion questions:

1. Does girl hate in books bother you? Is it something you can overlook, or is it a deal-breaker for you?
2. If it is something that bothered you, when did you realise it? Because for me, it's something that has been so ingrained in us from a young age that it realising how wrong it was took some time...seeing the double standards, the was a gradual thing.
3. Can you recommend any books with excellent female friendships?
4. What about books that don't vilify any female rivals for the love interests affections?
5. I've not read enough to judge, but are these things present in LGBTQ+ romances? Is it something that is more of a cis-het issue?

I guess that's all. Sorry I got so rambling, but the past three books I've read have all been guilty of these things and it got under my skin.



  1. Love this post! I wouldn't say it's a deal breaker for me, but it's definitely irritating. I feel like I've read the same book over and over again because of it. Many of the YA novels I've read recently have been like this. It's so...ugh. I actually didn't realize it until recently. The last book I read had "girl fight" written all over it, and I kept thinking SERIOUSLY? AGAIN? Girls just don't seem to get along. I'd like to find more books with strong female characters and friendships as well. :)

    1. I just end up so disappointed when it happens in a book that could've been so great if it had been written with more positive portrayals of girls. It's sad because girls can actually be so fiercely protective of each other and getting catty with each other over guys is just silly so it bugs me so much to see it in books all the time.

      Code Name Verity has an epic female friendship, I can't recommend that book highly enough. I'm sure there's some more on my favourites shelves too but I can't think of them off the top of my head... I think I'll do a post soon dedicated to recommending books with good female relationships. :)

  2. Fantastic post. I now point out girl-hating if it occurs in the books that I read, because I'm so tired of this bitchy trope.

    1. Depending on the book's merits, I'll probably take off a star for girl-hate.
    2. It was a gradual thing for me as well. As I've become more aware of feminism, and read more articles about these kinds of damaging stereotypes, I've subsequently become more aware of the feminist issues in the books that I read.
    3. Gah, I can't think offhand, but again, if female friendships and support are prevalent in a book, I make sure to point this out in the review.
    4. YAY!
    5. That's an interesting question. I think it is more of a cis-het thing, from a female perspective, but that's not to say it doesn't ever occur in LGBQT books, because it does.

    1. I think I may start doing the set star deduction thing, that's a good idea. I do point out when it is a particularly present part of the book but I usually try to make my rating based on overall enjoyment then I get so annoyed with myself for trying to overlook something that should not be overlooked. =P

      I had a lot of trouble thinking of examples of books with good female relationships (whether it's friendships or just with the female characters in general) too... I know they're out there, but it should be easy to think of them, there should be so many that we're spoilt for choice and yet I'm struggling to come up with more than one example. o.O



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