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August 5, 2016

Gender Equality in YA Novels --- Guest Post by Kate F., Teen Board Member

By Kate F.

Several months ago, Teen Board member Kate F. had the chance to go to Book Con, a two-day long celebration of books, authors and readers. She wrote about her experience here on Teenreads. Now she is back on the blog with a post on Gender Equality in YA, which was inspired by one of the panels she went to while at the convention.

Back in May, I had the privilege of attending BookCon in Chicago. I took away a lot from the convention, which brought together thousands of book lovers from all different areas, but one of the best experiences I received was listening to the Friendship is Magic panel. On this panel, YA authors Sarah J. Maas, Susan Dennard, Victoria Aveyard and Alexandra Bracken discussed how the friendships they have made have increased their love of books. One key note that stuck with me during their panel was the discussion regarding gender equality, not only in young adult novels, but in other forms of entertainment as well.

The first topic they talked about was the Bechdel Test. The Bechdel Test is an evaluation used to determine whether a film, play or book is truly gender neutral. The Bechdel Test has three rules: 1) the piece features at least two women; 2) the women have to talk and interact with each other; 3) the women do not only talk about boys. At a glance, the Bechdel Test sounds fairly straightforward. But shockingly, there are a lot of movies and novels that fail to pass the test. How many times have you watched a movie where the main plot circled around a female protagonist in the middle of a drama-filled fight against another woman for the hot guy? Or, how many times have you watched a movie where there are next to no female characters? For young girls, watching cartoons dominated by men that only feature the occasional female romantic interest can be damaging to their idea of who they are as women.

Now take the Bechdel Test a step further. The female character should have at least one friend who is a boy, with whom they have nothing but a platonic relationship. I think all women encounter these situations where it is automatically assumed they are dating someone simply because the woman is friends with a man. Society needs to understand and recognize that women are more than just their relationship to men. Yes we can date, but we can also be nothing more than friends and be perfectly happy.  

That being said, society has begun to change their views of women in the past years and many novels --- particularly of the YA genre --- have begun to exceed the limits of the Bechdel Test! Below I’ve compiled my favorite novels that go above and beyond in terms of making women and men equal to each other. I highly recommend all of these novels to anyone looking for a good read that does not de-emphasize the role of women. Happy reading!
The Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
This series features a strong female heroine who kicks butt on a daily basis. She forms strong friendships with other women and her character development is portrayed accurately.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Although Hermione does not seem to have many female friends --- although we all know her and Ginny became besties --- she has a great platonic relationship with Harry. Not to mention Hermione is easily one of the smartest students at Hogwarts!
ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS by Stephanie Perkins
In this novel there are plenty of female characters that all have important relationships with the protagonist, Anna. Although there is drama regarding a certain guy, the two characters work past it and continue with their great friendship.
TRUTHWITCH by Susan Dennard
This novel features the perfect friendship between two female characters. Both of them build each other up and make each other stronger. Combined with a variety of other friendships, this novel passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors.
Laini Taylor centered her intriguing novel on a beautiful romance, but that is not the only heart-warming relationship featured in this novel. Karou, the main character, has a best friend she can always rely on and makes many other friends with men and women alike throughout the series.