Done looking for the critics ’cause they’re everywhere
They don’t like my jeans, they don’t get my hair
Strange ourselves and we do it all the time
Why do we do that? Why do I do that? Why do I do that?
-P!nk, “F**kin’ Perfect”
While working on this post (originally it was just going to be one post, WHOOPS), I emailed my mom and asked her what books she read with female protagonists growing up. My mom was (and is) a great reader, and got in trouble as a kid for reading when she was supposed to be napping. So what was she reading under the covers when she was our age? What were the heroines like, pre-1970 and the Womens’ Rights movement? She wrote back:
I am not a pretty girl
that is not what I do
I ain’t no damsel in distess
and I don’t need to be rescued
so put me down punk
maybe you’d prefer a maiden fair
isn’t there a kitten stuck up a tree somewhere
-Ani Difranco, “Not a Pretty Girl“
We get these ideas from a few different places, I think.
First, we define the Other Girl. We may not even know any Other Girls — I certainly didn’t. Every girl in my class was as smart or smarter, as nerdy or nerdier, as I was, and I can’t think of anyone I knew before college who even got close to the Other Girl stereotype. But the Other Girl is very much what we’re fed as an ideal by all kinds of American media. She’s the Covergirl. She’s bouncing through our movies and our advertising and our books, blonde by hook or by crook and there to attract men. She’s Cosmopolitan, she’s Sex and the City, she’s years upon years of Miss America pageants, she’s Barbie, she’s most of the contestants on America’s Next Top Model.
God help you if you are an ugly girl
‘Course too pretty is also your doom
‘Cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
For the prettiest girl in the room
And God help you if you are a phoenix
And you dare to rise up from the ash
-Ani DiFranco, “32 Flavors“
There’s a trope in YA lit that I’ve seen get called out a fair amount in recent months on the tumblogs, arising in part from the boom in YA speculative fiction aimed at girls that followed Twilight‘s success. Our heroine, introducing herself/being introduced, describes herself as roughly this:
- i just never felt attractive even though by some standards i’m kind of okay i guess i’m thin and white with shoulder length brown hair and big eyes
- i’m very mature for my age very grown up yes yes serious
That’s from Tumblr user delladilly’s list of tropes that are getting too much play in YA lit at the moment. (The first part is also well worth reading, as are her follow-up posts on how hard it is to find diverse characters and plotlines in YA and why YA is great in spite of the work it still needs to do on itself.)
Bella Swan (and her adult counterpart Anastasia Steele) is by far the best example of this. She describes herself as plain, pale, brunette, klutzy; she has trouble connecting with her peers and prefers to bookworm away with classic literature like Wuthering Heights. She wears flannels and drives a pickup truck and doesn’t like to shop:
Wayne Young’s “Raven Steals the Light.”
Last time I was talking about structure and formula, I was talking about music — songs that are formulaic and modular, and the way their relatively rigid structures allow for creative expression. Today I want to look at (or at least start to look at) that concept in storytelling.
This is gonna be harder for me to pin down, I can already tell, for a number of reasons. First, there are so many different story structures out there, including many I’m probably not even familiar with. Second, because I think it’s really easy to just slip into kind of a Joseph Campbell/Edward Casaubon “key to all mythologies” mode, and that’s not exactly what I’m interested in. The hero’s journey and its related archetypes are certainly examples of this concept, but they’re not the only ones. How about we call what I’m talking about “formula stories,” to get away from the term “archetype” and its associated baggage a bit, and move on from there?
And having agreed on a vocabulary, let’s dive in.
And so, I finally join the rest of my generation in attaching my blog to a Tumblr.
I had a couple interesting conversations with my mom while back home about self-promotion and marketing your writing; Mom and I both want to make our writing profitable, but Mom has the time and self-motivation to actually take classes and go to conferences and stuff like that to learn about how to do that, while I generally sit around with no pants on going “Eh, I’m a Millennial, I have an intuitive grasp of social media, right?”
I think sometimes I underestimate the value of stories. Don’t get me wrong: I am always going to be on the front lines saying that stories have an enormous effect on culture, on our values, on our psychology. It’s just that I think I, personally, have tended to discount the effect stories have had on me and my development. When I first started thinking about a post about stories, I was going to write about Cinderella and Snow White and Savitri and the anxiety-inducing myth of perfection. And that’s a post I’ll probably write one day!
The story on my mind right now, though, is Little Red Riding Hood.
As many of my friends have been forced to hear over the last couple months, I am an enormous fan of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter books and movies. All two of them. Boy, isn’t it a shame he didn’t write more about what Lecter got up to after escaping? I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone off the rails into creepy Freudian shenanigans and death by Moray eel at all. But I think we’re all glad he didn’t write some kind of phoned-in prequel giving Lecter a bizarre excuse for being a monster, just because Dino de Laurentiis wanted to milk the franchise for every penny it was worth.
Even if he had, we’d still have the exquisite Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, and any insanity that crept into the franchise later in its life couldn’t change the fact that those are excellent books and Silence is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I just love Will Graham and Clarice Starling, okay? Especially Clarice. Talk about an awesome role model for a young woman.
Diminutive ladies kicking ass and taking names: Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) doesn’t care that she’s shorter than you.
(Beyond this Read More I’m going to be talking about content from and spoilers for NBC’s Hannibal, including the season finale, so consider yourself warned.)
When I started this blog, I thought it was going to be about the process of becoming an adult — you know, figuring out what I want to do with my life, changing the world, singing “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?” every day, stuff like that. Because, you know, I’m in my twenties, and it is therefore not unreasonable to assume that I’m, you know, an adult. Hell, 150 years ago, I would be married and having children; 700 years ago I would probably be on my third kid and running a household of one size or another. If I were a guy (or a particularly enterprising cross-dresser) I’d already have learned a trade and be working at it.
Instead . . . Well. Here’s what an adult apparently does with her morning on the first day of February in 2013.
1. Wake up.
2. Fall out of bed.
Drag a comb across my head Make coffee.
5. Watch an episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena because I promised some people I would.
6. Feel like that was a productive use of the morning.
7. Realize that wasn’t really a productive use of the morning.