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Bad Romance (or, YA & Rape Culture)

Once in a while every girl has to do something she knows is bad for her, even though she knows it's stupid and she'll probably regret it later. Last night I started reading the bestselling YA fantasy Hush, Hush, which friends and the internet have repeatedly assured me that I would hate. I had no intention of reading it until I randomly picked it up and kept reading. To be honest, I kinda enjoyed it, the way I enjoy movies about super-intelligent sharks who want to take over the world, or episodes of Stargate: Atlantis. The way I enjoyed Twilight until I threw it across the room.

That said, let's face it, it sucks.

Hush, Hush is the story of a Bad Romance: quite literally, the heroine is caught in a bad romance with a stalker who shows up, will not leave her alone, refuses to leave her life, and tries to kill her. All of this is made acceptable by the fact that he's hot.

I. Actual list of stuff that happens in book, which will probably piss you off. Warning: may be triggering to victims of sexual assault, harassment, or abuse.Collapse )

II. Hush, Hush & rape culture:

Hush, Hush repeatedly and systematically reinforces rape culture, not just blatantly through scenes like the one mentioned above, but through all the ways Nora behaves early on as she's dealing with the stalking. She is both a victim of rape culture and a perpetuation of it.

"Another post about rape" is the best outline I've ever read about how women are taught from childhood on to behave in ways that perpetuate rape culture. Since reading it I've become more aware of the ways in which, when a man is making me uncomfortable, I traditionally opt for polite silence instead of setting a clear and firm boundary (which I've also noticed the men around me have no problems setting with women who make *them* feel uncomfortable). How whenever I try to set clear and firm boundaries in social settings, I'm laughed off or dismissed, or my concerns are treated as joke fodder and added to a list of things I can be teased about. This is real; this is happening, to me and countless other women like me - when I mentioned the "biology teacher makes girl spend *more* time with the guy who's stalking her" thing last night on twitter, one of my friends responded sadly that she knew someone that exact situation had happened to in real life.

So no, not so much joking here.Collapse )

III. You and me could write a bad romance.

Many, many, many reviewers have commented about the fact that they find the hero creepy, that they failed to see what redeeming characteristics he had to begin with, that the relationship between the main characters is "psychotic." But I have yet to see anyone point out that this is not necessarily a flaw of bad writing.

It's easy to single out Hush, Hush because it's one of the worst examples, and it's also a runaway bestseller, which makes it, like Twilight, an easy target for hate. But it's not alone.Collapse )

The cumulative effect of all this is that girls grow up learning all about how to behave politely to unwanted suitors, just as the Fugitivus article points out. At the same time, girls also learn that girls' stories--by which i mean stories who have girls' development and growth as their center and focus-- usually go like this:
If a girl is politely distant to a guy (Lizzie Bennet), it means she wants to sleep with him.
If a girl resists a suitor who's trying to take her down a peg or two (Taming of the Shrew), it means she wants to sleep with him.
If the girl manifests a desire to be single (Emma), it means she wants to sleep with him.
If a girl demonstrates outright hatred of a boy by breaking a chalk slate over his head (oh, Anne <3333), it means she wants to sleep with him.

I would never in a million years want to rob the world of the love that is Anne/Gilbert or Lizzie/Darcy or Emma/Knightley. But my point is that when faced with all of the evidence that supports the idea of girls eventually submitting to guys, when faced with the fact that stories about girls typically end in girls falling in love with guys, then it's really hard not to read Hush, Hush as sitting at the extreme end of an ongoing societal fantasy in which women go through character arcs of various types that inevitably end in heteronormative sexual relationships. The end result? No always means yes. Yes always means yes. No, No, No, always means yes. (edit: I have talked a bit more about what I feel is essentially a heteronormative pressure exerted on the literary arc here.)

Hush, Hush is extremely self-aware; it knows that its hero is stalking and sexually harassing its heroine. Its heroine complains of harassment loudly and repeatedly, but the text expects us to assume that her repeated no means "yes" -- the text wants us not to take no for an answer. The author, Becca Fitzpatrick, as well as the society that produced Becca Fitzpatrick, both want the heroine of this book to have her "no" rejected over and over, until her resistance is worn down and she gives up and gives in and starts to love the thing that's attacking her and trying to kill her. The social arc of Nora's womanhood demands that she shut up and submit to her sexual subjugation. For god's sakes, the freaking title of the book is BE QUIET.

Nora is what happens when you drag Lady GaGa's character out of the bathtub and force her to forge a male-based identity, where everything she does is seen, even in her own mind, as a reaction to the men that are controlling her lives. Did I mention Nora's stalker can read her mind? The heroine has literally no way of maintaining control over her body because he's determined to invade it, mentally and sexually. In essence, one way or another, she's gonna get raped.

And that's okay, because in the world of Hush, Hush, rape equals love. It's the natural end result of a society that grooms women for a Bad Romance.


_____

eta: Sirayne at University of Fantasy has a great follow-up post with further examples of Hush, Hush's misogynistic violence. Again, warning for possible triggers in descriptions of predatory sexual behavior.

eta2: and a further follow up to both posts by Choco at in which a girl reads: Post 1: Why YA Needs to Change; and the Follow-up Post. Both are must-reads and excellent expansions of the discussion.

eta3: a post about the intersection of vampire culture with YA literature, and how that relates to creating progressive roles for women in fiction. interesting.

eta4: callmeonetrack discusses the arc of heteronormative romance throughout literary tropes in response to this post.

eta5: Sumayyah of The Raven Desk asks: "And writers. You're not obligated to write anything but what you want to write. But take a good, hard look at what you're writing. What is the message you're sending out? What are you telling both the girls and the boys that are reading your work? Are you helping reinforce the idea that it's okay for a girl to be silent and harassed and that it's okay for a guy to harass her? That yes means no? That love starts with malicious, dangerous, hurtful acts and that this is the foundation for a healthy, lasting relationship?"

eta6: Raych at Books I Done Read has an amazing, fully accurate, hysterical take-down/summary of Hush, Hush, here. And My Friend Amy has a great post about how books like Twilight and Hush, Hush reveal and reflect social conditions rather than teach them.

eta7, March 2011: ra_black has a powerful post about the pressure to be polite. and MelindaPendulum has a fabulous and smart response to the 'YA mafia' blogosphere debate that touches on the problematic nature of trying to censor criticism of books like Hush, Hush. "don't come and write crap for me and then tell me I should be nice about it."

Thanks to everyone who's been boosting the signal on this post. I really hope we can keep talking about this. If you do catch any more discussions like these above, please let me know! :)
Tags: books, meta, politics
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