Author Andrew Smith is having a good year. His last book, Grasshopper Jungle, won a Printz Honor and he’s been getting good reviews on his new book, The Alex Crow. He’s been called the Kurt Vonnegurt of YA and Grasshopper Jungle has shades of Slaughterhouse-Five with it’s multi-layered plot lines that are kinda absurd. However, he started a controversy after comments he recently made to Vice.com Here’s the quote that got him in trouble.
On the flip side, it sometimes seems like there isn’t much of a way into your books for female readers. Where are all the women in your work?
I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all. I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.
So, he’s saying that the reason that his female characters are one dimensional is because he has had no experience with them so he can’t write them. By that logic, what experience does he have with giant insects that he was able to make them believable? Anyway, it’s not surprisingly, many women in literary circles took to twitter and other social media and called him out on this comment and in response it seems Mr. Smith deleted his twitter page. In return, many of the women who criticized have been harassed and bullied for speaking up. Criticizing someone’s work is not bullying them and nor is having a valid point either. This has sadly become all to common on social media. Let’s not forget that Gamer Gate is still going on. That many women on the internet are threatened with violence for nothing but pointing out sexist practices and trying to start conversations to change them.
I like this tweet by author Shannon Hale.*
but I feel for women author they really don’t have the luxury of creating one dimensional characters the way men authors do at least when it comes to female characters. I feel like it a female author wrote male characters the way that most female characters are that they would be undoubtedly called on and probably wouldn’t publish another book. But that’s just me.
I liked Grasshopper Jungle. My only beef with it was the fact that the only real female character in it, Shann was a non-entity. As I wrote in mini-review of the book earlier this year.
Weird. In one way, it was refreshing to have a novel take on bisexuality in such a head on way but on the other hand, the female lead Shann, is pretty one dimensional. So it’s progressive in one way and a step back in another way.
So one one hand, he wrote a compelling story of a boy struggling with his own sexuality against the backdrop of apocalyptic destruction by giant grasshoppers. On the other hand, the few women in the story were the girlfriend, who is a none issue besides being the main character girlfriend and mom of the main character’s best friend who is promiscuous. So, in Mr Smith’s own words, he is ignorant of all things women so he’s just not going to put the time into writing them.
So this has turned out to be a longer post then I intended but that’s OK. We need to talk about this. We need to talk about the lack of diversity in literature, whether it’s adult fiction or young adult fiction. We need to stop allowing authors get away with lazy opinions that because they are not female or minority that they can’t possibly write those characters so they don’t and when they do, we should call them out on it and not fear being, harassed, threatened or bullied. Andrew Smith is good author as he was just recently honored with a prestigious award so he should be held to higher standard but then again all authors should be too.
So I ask you, what is your opinion on this or this topic? Sound off in the comments below.
*Speaking of Shannon Hale. Here’s an account from a school visit she recently did where only girls were given permission to hear her talk, not the boys.