An open question regarding sexism and misogyny in the children’s and YA publishing industry.
First, some background: A little over ten years ago, I wrote a YA ms that had alternating POVs—one male, one female. The girl was vain, manipulative, and selfish—all layers in a veneer of desperate self-protection driven by a bone-deep fear that she was inherently unworthy and unlovable (rooted in a traumatic loss that took place in her childhood).
What happened to this ms? As it made the rounds the girl character was consistently deemed unlikable. Around this time I realized that I was trying to avoid “going there” so I rewrote the book forcing myself to do my job and stay in the extremely painful-to-write male’s voice, mind, and heart. The girl character did not change at all; her actions, motivations, and words were exactly the same. The only difference was that now readers got the character through a male POV; in other words, they were one step away from experiencing the girl rawly and directly.
The book (Damage) quickly sold and got a positive reception.
A couple of years later, I wrote and sold a YA book with a single male POV. The POV character was vain, profane, bullying, selfish, and actively cruel—all layers in a veneer of desperate self-protection driven by a bone-deep fear that he was inherently unworthy and laughable (rooted in an undiagnosed learning disorder).
The book (Out of Order) was quickly published and was generally praised for its accurate depiction of a real teen guy.
And all of this—plus repeated, repeated experiences reading:
a) pre-publication YA ms whose authors are told by editors/agents to change realistically flawed female characters so that they present as “likable” or “everygirl”
b) reviews of published YAs calling realistically flawed female characters “unlikable” or “unpleasant”
has given me the very strong sense that publishing prefers its girls to be generically palatable and/or shallowly token-spunky. As a writer friend has pointed out, girls are allowed to wield swords so long as they aren’t negative or angry about it. My own observations tell me that a boy character can curse, lie, cheat, bully, steal, and kill, and still be deemed likable and someone to root for. But a girl who has a prissy streak? A judgmental bent? Not so much.
There are exceptions, of course. But I believe I have seen—and am seeing even more, as the larger publishing industry discovers that YA can be a huge moneymaker–a clear knee-jerk prejudice against realistically 3-D girl characters. And here’s what’s odd: the majority of people who work in the children’s/YA end of the publishing industry are women.
What do you think is up with that?