You may remember a couple of months ago I was disheartened by a trilogy I had just finished with the portrayal of an abusive relationship as a romantic notion. I spent a long time discussing this with friend and author Rebecca Gibson, and we found we had a lot of the same thoughts and feelings about the trend. I was so happy when she readily agreed to write a guest post on the issue, so buckle up because this is topic that Rebecca is really passionate about!
Why Toxic Masculinity in YA Fiction Can Do One
Or any fiction, really, because let’s face it—toxic masculinity is a particularly horrid head cold that’s long over stayed its welcome.
Now, as you will know if you’ve ever encountered me in real life, I have some opinions on this. And by ‘some’ I mean freaking millions. So strap in, ladies, gents, and non-binary folks, we’re diving in.
What I find bizarre right now in the world of fandoms is how romanticised abuse seems to be. Despite the MeToo and Times Up campaigns, still readers fantasise about villains who lock up their damsels in distress, hurt them, and cause irreversible psychological damage. But it’s okay! Because they love them and it’s all because of their own distressing past. They just need fixing. (And did you see those *insert jewel here* eyes smouldering beneath that sexy emo fringe? Beat me up, Scotty…)
Let me say this only once: If a man hits you, belittles you, locks you in a tower, or wants to use your magical powers to take over the world for his own evil gains even though it might kill you, DO NOT DATE THEM. Run as fast as you can in the opposite direction and don’t look back. And if you use the ‘but he’s so hot’ or ‘he’s just misunderstood’ excuse you can go sit in the corner.
A jawline so chiselled you could slice up your heart with it does not excuse psychopathic behaviour. (This also counts if they have pointy ears. A certain blonde spring dwelling faerie is not a misunderstood, damaged soul. He’s an abuser who deserves to spend his immortal life alone sans his favourite parts.)
I’m not just speaking of magical and/or physical abuse, either. A man controlling where you are, what you do, who you see, or belittling you in any way is also toxic and should not be romanticised. They are not doing it because of love, or because they care, they are doing it out of their own need for manipulation and control.
As a society we’ve been made to believe this is just how men are. That nice men, kind men, are a fiction, except they’re not in books, either! If they are it’s as the side-kick, the best friend, the punch line to a joke. And so I ask, when did respect and kindness become unattractive? What twisted, backward steps led us here?
Good guys are sexy too—louder for the people in the back!
To complete this post, I put out a call on Twitter for recommendations of books with healthy relationships and/or non-toxic men because my mind was completely blank. Especially when it came to hetro relationships. (Gay book characters seem to know what consent is, go them!) The overwhelming response by errant tumbleweeds proved all my points. However, I did eventually manage to squeeze a few recommendations out… (Note: I’ve not read some of these. I’m relying on the good natured Twitter user here. If you disagree with any of them feel free to type a respectful comment below!)
- Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
- The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
- Witch Child by Celia Rees
- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
- My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
The fact it was so difficult to get these recommendations is evidence we desperately need some respectful relationships up in here. YA is aimed towards teenagers and so responsibility comes with writing in that genre. We are failing our audience by teaching them toxic masculinity is okay. Not even okay, but sexy. Views will not change overnight, but small changes lead to big results, and books are an excellent place to start.
[For more content from me please feel free to head on over to my blog here: https://losttwentysomething.com/ or follow me on Twitter/ Instagram @TheRGibson]