Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Girls Against Girls {Book Review, Discussion & Giveaway}

My heart speeds up.  I see a single bead of sweat start to fall down my cheek.  Soon that bead of sweat will be a tear, but not quite yet.  She is coming.  I stand at the bus stop waiting to go to school and she is coming.  I am in the 5th grade, alternately known as hell – thanks entirely to her.  Today we are in for a special treat.  Her mother is a nurse and she has stolen a needle from her. As she plunges it into the skin of my arm over and over and over again, I know I can’t do this anymore.  So the next morning I force my little brother to walk to school with me, even though I have been told that I can not.  It is not safe where we live. We walk under the freeway overpass where in the future weeks a drunken man will grab me by the ankle.  We walk and we walk and we walk, morning after morning, because whatever dangers are out there, even the rapist they keep talking about on the radio, they don’t compare to the dangers that wait for me every morning at the bus stop.   Nothing is more dangerous than her festering hatred, and I don’t even know how I earned it.  Thank God that because of my parent’s divorce, I get to go to a different school next year.  I hope I can make it that long.

5th grade sucked for me. Truly and to its core.  There would be some other bad years, but nothing that compared to that one.  I remember when I was pregnant with my first child and The Mr. and I went to find out the sex of our baby, I wanted desperately for it to be a boy because I knew first hand how hard this world is for girls, and sadly it is often other girls making it that way. We have two little girls.  Last night the tween cried because the girl assigned to sit by her on the bus every day refuses to do so because she thinks the tween is “weird”.  Ahhhh, the glory of Girls Against Girls.  Sometimes I wonder, is there anything worse than being a teenage girl?

Girls Against Girls by Bonnie Burton is a nonfiction title from Zest Books that really challenges girls to think about why they do the things they do to one another and ways to end the cycle of girl against girl violence, which is primarily emotional and psychological but can get physical.  We all know what they say about “cat fights”.

“Hey, how long till the music drowns you out?
Don’t put words up in my mouth,
I didn’t steal your boyfriend”
Lyrics by Ashlee Simpson, Boyfriend

So why are girls so mean to one another?  Conventional wisdom has always said we are in competition.  I do feel like the world likes to put us in competition with one another.  Are we fighting for scarce resources, in this case men?  Jobs? Self respect?  Are we just born this way?  The truth is there is some truth to all of it.  We are taught to be competitive, we pass it down from generation to generation.  When you snipe at the neighbor or judge the woman on television, the children around you hear that and it becomes a model to them.  You can tell your children not to bully and judge but when they see you doing it – well, you know what they say: Actions speak louder than words.
“She’s my best friend. God I hate her.” – from the movie Heathers
Girls Against Girls is divided into 6 sections . . .
Section1: Why we hurt each other
Section 2: Methods of our meannness (Gossiping, the silent treatment, boyfriend stealing)
Section 3: Bearing the brunt of it (ways to deal)
Section 4: Calling in reinforcements (asking for help)
Section 5: Stopping the cycle (awesome section on dealing with emotions and taking responisibility for your actions)
Section 6: Teaming up instead of tearing each other down
Cyberbullying is discussed as well, a very relevant topic.  And there is a definite emphasis on dealing with the issues in positive ways and trying to stop the cycle.  The truth is, mean girls are not going to pick up this book (though they definitely should). No, it is the girls being bullied and tormented by their peers that will read this book, and it is a great resource for them.  It will help them understand that they are not really the issue.  But I would love to see every adult that works with or loves a teen read this books too.  Pair it with Queen Bees and Wannabees and look closely at what girl culture is like.  Then, put together some Girl Power programming and help girls have positive social interactions.
Some things you can do:
Have a girl power book discussion group.  Include titles like Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher.
Have a “Mean Girls Movie Festival” where you show movies like Mean Girls and Heathers.
Share resources with your teens like Girls Incorporated (www.girlsinc.org), The Ophelia Project (www.opheliaproject.org), Girls for a Change (www.girlsforachange.org) and some of the youth empowerment organizations listed here.
Provide positive opportunities for social interaction with craft events and other programming opportunities.  I have two rules at my teen programs: The BIC Rule (keep your butt in a chair, one butt to chair) and the Safe Haven Rule (all my teens know that my programs are safe places and no smack talk will be tolerated at all).  I don’t care if that is your sister who got you grounded by telling your mom about your boyfriend last night, you will not talk badly to her or about her at my programs.  You will be asked to leave after one warning.  This is non-negotiable.
“Being yourself is the best revenge.” Lynn Peril, author of Think Pink
To teenage girls everywhere: Be yourself and be kind to others
This is a good and, unfortunately, necessary addition to all teen collections.  There are no supplemental reading lists included, which is probably a good thing because they would always need to be updated.  But you can run with this theme and put together current reading and movie lists. There are also no shortage of songs you can put together for a Girl Power/Mean Girls playlist.  In fact, I would love for you to help me BUILD A RESOURCE GUIDE IN THE COMMENTS.  Leave your recommendations of teen book titles, movies and songs in the comments.

Final thoughts: As my tween saw me reading this book she asked me, “We’re all the same, why would we be mean to each other?” Why indeed? (Man I love that girl!)

Girls Against Girls: Why we are mean to each other and how we can change by Bonnie Burton is highly recommended for all school and public libraries, and to everyone who loves and works with teen girls.  It is well organized, thoughtfull, relevant and has some cool graphic elements and inspiring quotes.  You know I love me some inspiring quotes.  Published by Zest Books. ISBN: 978-0-9790173-6-0.

Bonnie Burton is part of the Vaginal Fantasy Book Club which I discussed earlier.  Fun stuff.

Other relevant posts:
Youth Empowerment Resources

Girl Power/Mean Girls Booklist
13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
PBS has an empowering booklist for Middle School Girls
Macmillan’s list of Girl Power books

Leave a comment and be entered for your chance to win Girl in a Fix, Girl in a Funk, Girls Against Girls and Regine’s Book from Zest Books.  Open to US Residents.  Please don’t forget to leave an e-mail or @ for Twitter so I can contact you. Contest runs through Friday, November 23rd.

I’m just a girl? Gender issues in ya lit

“‘Cause I’m just a girl, little ‘ol me
Don’t let me out of your sight
I’m just a girl, all pretty and petite
So don’t let me have any rights” – No Doubt, Just a Girl

I watch the Walking Dead.  I have seen every episode.  Afterwards, I hop online and go to the forums at TWOP (Television Without Pity) to discuss the show.  One very troubling aspect of this show is that in this zombie apocalyptic future, the women do the laundry while the men get the guns and protect the women.  TWD has been widely criticized for its retrograde view of gender roles in a post apocalyptic world.  It’s like Leave it to Beaver, but with zombies.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHzOOQfhPFg]

Recently, Crunching and Munchings brought up the same conversation regarding gender roles in ya dystopian, using Crewel by Gennifer Albin as an example.  You can read their discussion here.  This is such a natural extension of our discussion of ya lit and body image, I thought I would share my two cents.

As a woman, I do have a problem with gender roles in ya literature – all ya literature.  And yet, I do see this return to more “traditional” (though in my view vile) gender roles as being a realistic trait in dystopian literature – especially when you view it in terms of today’s political climate.  In fact, as I mentioned above, it is not just in lit but in all types of post apocalyptic worlds that we see a return to sterotyped gender roles.

Click this link to see the recent gender assignment that @gameism recently shared. In this assignment, students were asked to put the following things into boxes labeled Boys, Girls or Both: Erector sets, Legos, Barbies, Cooking, Arts and Crafts, Bikes, Computers, War video games, Board games, Jump rope, Stomp rockets, Playing school, Puzzles and Swimming.  In my world, they should obviously all be in the both category.

So tet’s examine a few ya lit titles, shall we?

In Crewel by Gennifer Albin, the world is run by a group of men called the Guild, despite the fact that some women have the literal power to weave the world.  Here, women are culturalized to value beauty and spend a great amount of time and effort trying to attain this beauty.  Basically, the men are distracting the women.  It’s easier to control distracted people.  I view this as being very culturally accurate actually; the cosmetics industry spends billions of dollars advertising getting us to spend thousands of dollars a year on cosmetics.  And then there is clothing, diet fads, etc.  It’s easy to get so caught up in how we look in this world that we lose focus on what’s really important.  And trust me, the culture has a lot of (negative) things to say about how we should look if we want to be “pretty”, aka accepted and valued.  If I was going to take over the world, I would definitely use this tactic – it is much less violent; just tap into people’s greatest insecurities and get them to focus on that while you sneak in off the sidelines and slowly chip away at their rights. (Previous discussion: It’s a Crewel World; Gennifer Albin talks Crewel)

Gennifer Albin on Adelice and Beauty: “Adelice’s background growing up with parents who did not wish her to become a powerful Spinster, a mother who disliked the obvious chauvinism in her workplace, and a father who clearly loved and respected his wife, allow her to have a more balanced approach to her own life. She is not dissuaded by cosmetics, clothing, and parties, because she has more self-respect than most girls her age. Her parents showing that they valued each other as well as her and her sister, helped to create this anomalous attitude, which filters into her personality. Whereas someone like Pryana has been groomed to be an ideal Eligible to the point of fostering ruthless ambition in her, Adelice sees herself as an equal to those around her. This causes her problems in interactions with people like Maela and Cormac, who don’t share this belief, but it also enables her easy interactions with boys, whom she doesn’t fear or idolize.”

In Shadow and Bone, there is again an emphasis on beauty that, quite frankly, troubled me and distracted me from the other lush parts of this world created. Here, the privileged class, who also happens to be magical, uses their magical abilities to help each other attain almost perfect beauty standards.  It’s a perfectly good waste of magical abilities if you ask me.  But although I hated this aspect of the book, there is a lot of great stuff here.

In pretty much every paranormal out there the lead female is overly sexualized, so there’s that.  Also, she is always falling in insta-love, usually with a guy you wouldn’t want your best friend dating in real life – because we must have a man to be complete.  I could give you specific examples but just go browse the shelves and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Then you have books like The Forsaken where the main character initially seems maybe strong and fierce, but when she is sent to a feared place called The Wheel, when she is rejected from her very world and is sent to what is essentially a life or death situation – she falls in love with that dreamy guy over there on like the second day.  Here, she has no idea if she will survive and what the rules could possibly even be – and yet on day two she is swooning over a fellow outcast.  I found this storyline to be so incredibly unbelievable because, let’s face it, in this instance survival and figuring out where you are and how to survive would be your sole concern.  In fact, I view the issue of insta-love as being a side shoot of the gender issues: it sends the message that girls need someone, often even an unhealthy someone – again, I’m looking at your paranormal – in order to be “complete”.

A notable exception in all of this is the lead character in Rae Carson’s series, The Fire and Thorn Trilogy.  Here our main character is overweight and, although she gets in better physical shape over the course of the story, she is never an overly idealized character.  Many of my friends and family have loved books 1 and 2 of this series, in part because the main character is so inspiring, realistic and relatable.

So let’s return back to Crewel, shall we?  I read Crewel as a more feminist piece of literature where our main character, Adelice, eventually grows wise and begins to reject the constructs of her world.  She sees the men in power around her, and the evil that they do in its name, and plots to if not overthrow it, at least find a way to personally escape it (which she does do with the help of two male allies, but they have become friends to some extent and they have inside information that she needs).  To me, there was a turning away from this notion that men are the leaders that has the tremendous potential to be followed through with the next book.  In fact, this was definitely a more promising storyline in Crewel than in some of the other dystopians that I have recently read.  It is hard for me to judge the gender issues of this book alone because it is clearly a central issue of the trilogy and it is just being set up in book 1. (You can read my full review of Crewel, which I loved, here.)

But why this return to gender stereotypes?  My primary guess would be because they accurately represent the world we are currently living in.  Today we have presidential candidates talking about binders full of women and how he lets his female staff go home early so they can cook dinner for their families (he has obviously never tasted my cooking).  Our elected representatives are vetoing legislation asking that women receive the same amount of pay for doing the same job because, well, it apparently would be too hard on businesses to treat women the same as men.  And there is a vast war going on regarding a woman’s right to make reproductive health decisions for herself.  In short, we still very much live in a man’s world.  And make no mistake about it, if a huge apocalypse happens, there are a lot of people out there who would love to take advantage of the situation to seize power and put women in “their place.”

So when I see this type of world building in ya dystopians, I see it as being an accurate reflection of what is the most probable scenario.  That doesn’t mean I like it.  But it does make for some great discussion in book clubs.

Let’s take for a moment and evaluate the very realistic post-apocalyptic world of Mike Mullin’s Ashfall to get a better look at what would probably happen. (Insert obligatory spoiler warning here) In this disturbingly realistic account, all rules of law have broken down and it is quite literally a matter of self-survival.  The strongest and best armed survive and take control.  Men rape women.  I don’t like it, but history seems to suggest that this is indeed what would happen. The world becomes a dangerous place in the absence of rule of law.  That is part of what makes Ashfall such a disturbing (although good) read, you can imagine this happening; it often seems like we are one super volcano away from this reality.  Also, the girl in this book, Darla, is pretty badass and essential to her and Alex’s survival. (Want another example of a nuanced look at the roles of women in a zombie apocalypse? Check out the Ashes trilogy by Ilsa J. Bick.  Alex is tempted but makes awesome choices.)

Which is why I want to see more feminist tendencies in my ya lit.  I want there to be a strong message to our developing teens: you are more than your body, you control your destiny, you are an important part of the whole.  You do not need a man.  This is not always the case unfortunately.  We do over-emphasize looking certain ways (both in our stories and on our covers), our girls fall in love with the first cute guy they see (even when they have controlling or sadistic tendencies), and far too many of them still have to be saved instead of being the ones saving themselves.

At the end of the day, we are still sending very strong cultural messages of what girls are supposed to be in the books we read, the tv we watch, and even in our classroom assignments.  We even use the idea of being a girl as an insult: “you throw like a girl”, “don’t cry like a girl”.  These insults suggest that there is something wrong, something less than, with being a girl.  At the end of the day, I want teen girls to know that they and they lone get to define who they are – and they have value.

I am the mom of a tween.  She spends time doing her hair and wears foofoo dresses every Sunday to church.  She also goes to Karate three nights a week and asked for a Science set for Christmas.  She plays with Barbies, but she also plays with Legos (the real ones, not those new pink ones that emphasize shopping and once again tried and uncultured girls to a certain dictated standard of femininity).  She reads Origami Joda and Wimpy Kid with her Judy Moody and Ivy and Bean.  Nobody puts baby in a corner, and nobody should be putting her in a box either.  Think of how much potential our girls have and let them explode outside the box – you never know what kind of things they can accomplish.

You cand download this poster at https://www.box.com/s/kvvgnd4z5xlrlrpq4uj4

What ya lit do you feel has strong female messages for our tweens and teens?  What do you feel are some of the worst gender role/stereotyping issues that you see in ya lit? Tell us in the comments.

Sometimes, the Girl Gets to be the Hero (Buffy as a Feminist Hero by Molly Wetta)

I watched my first episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer my freshman year of college. I went home for a weekend because I was distraught after breaking up with my high school boyfriend. My younger sister, in an attempt to cheer me up, said, “at least your ex-boyfriend isn’t going around killing your friends,” and then forced me to watch “Passions” with her.

This was also just about the time I started to identify as a feminist. I was aware of feminism as a high schooler, but I never proclaimed myself a feminist until I took Social and Political Philosophy with the director of the Women’s Studies program my first year in college. The confluence of my own feminist awakenings and my discovery of BtVS has inextricably woven the two together in my mind. I have always viewed Buffy through a feminist lens.

But even if one is not predisposed to associate Buffy with feminism, the show still provides a framework for exploring various feminist issues. The show’s concept deliberately subverts a common teenage female stereotype of the ditzy blonde cheerleader by imbuing her with supernatural powers that give her not only the strength but the obligation to save the world. There is an entire subfield of cultural studiesdedicated to exploring the myriad of questions that Buffy prompts, and I’m not attempting to cover the ground of an academic discipline in a blog post. Whether or not you think Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a feminist show, there’s no doubt that it invites discussion of feminism, which is an important reason it’s still relevant ten years after going off the air and why the comics, graphic novels, and related publications are read by fans both old and new.

“This is why Joss Whedon is my Hero”
Image from Shawnee Small blog
Arguments can be made both in favor and against BtVS as feminist. Though the show’s creator, Joss Whedon, is a self-identified feminist who explicitly states that Buffy is intended as a feminist work, Sarah Michelle Gellar, the actress who portrays Buffy, has claimed in interviews that she doesnt label herself as a feminist. This tension is at the heart of what makes BtVS great. There aren’t easy answers, but complicated contradictions that allow viewers to explore issues from gender to sexuality, ethics to metaphysics.  

Buffy is a girly-girl. She may be able to kick some demon butt, but the first thing she wants to do after destroying the Hellmouth is go to the mall. In part, due to the proliferation of kick-butt girls in YA fiction that reject femininity, there is a common misconception among some teens that for a girl to be “strong” she can’t embrace her girliness at the same time. Buffy offers another way of being a strong young woman. She hunts vampires in stylish leather boots and halter tops, staking them just after delivering a snappy pun.  

Being a vampire slayer results in several complications in Buffy’s life—many of them romantic. From having your boyfriend turn evil after you sleep with him (Angel), to having your boyfriend resent you for being stronger (Riley), to engaging in a self-destructive relationship fraught with violence (Spike), Buffy experiences a wide spectrum of heartache. Buffy’s romantic entanglements are more than just good drama, however—they can prompt reflection by those navigating real-life relationships. Buffy makes mistakes, and learns from the consequences. Buffy writers did not shy away from controversial topics like teen sex, dating violence, and attempted rape. During the series finale, Buffy explains to Angel that she is “cookie dough” that’s “not done baking yet.” Her primary interest is in finding out who she is, rather than allowing a romantic relationship to define her.  

BtVS was a groundbreaking show. Whether it was the critically acclaimed silent episode “Hush” or the musical episode “Once More with Feeling” before Glee was a hit, Joss Whedon was a pioneer pushing the limits of the pop culture frontier. Perhaps the most important achievement of BtVS was exploring the first lesbian romance on television. Willow and Tara had a complex relationship that wasn’t free of conflict and helped create a generation more accepting of the LGBTQ community. 

It isn’t just the ladies of the Buffyverse that challenge gender stereotypes. When, following Tara’s accidental and very unsupernatural death, Willow’s grief plunges her deep into dark magic, it is her childhood best friend Xander—not Buffy, with her strength—that stops Willow from destroying the world in “Grave.” His appeal is an emotional one rather than a logical argument or an exercise in physical strength. Rather than the knight-in-shining-armour swooping in to save the day, Xander uses his relationship with Willow and their history to pull her back from the edge, a tactic that might be considered stereotypically feminine.  

Popular culture doesn’t offer nearly enough feminist role models. Buffy may not be the ideal, but the storylines and characters of Buffy the Vampire Slayer provide a framework for feminist discussions. It’s my belief that public and school libraries—as community centers and sites for education —have the ability to serve as places of consciousness raising about sexism and oppression. Including Buffy-related items in collections and promoting them is a way to contribute to feminist consciousness raising. 

In the final episode of the television series, Buffy poses the question: “Are you ready to be strong?” After seven seasons on television, Buffy the Vampire Slayer the characters represented many different ways to be strong woman or man, regardless of gender.
Editor’s note: In a time where we have just had the discussion about ya literature and body image, it is nice to have strong, empowered female characters that remind teens that girls they can be the hero.
Slayer Scavenger Hunt

Did you notice some words written in red in this post? If not, go back and take a look. You’ll want to, I can reassure you. Why? Because we are having a Buffy themed scavenger hunt! How fun is that? To find out how to participate, read the details below. And I know you’ll want to participate because we are working on getting some GREAT prizes lined up for the winners!
  • Write down the words each week (Sept. 8 – Oct. 20), putting them in an order that makes sense. All together these words create a quote from Buffy.
  • During the last week a form will be made available on all three blogs where you can turn in the quote that you have pieced together.
  • On the last weekend of The Sunnydale Project, Oct. 27, the quote will be revealed! We will then draw a winner from those who have correctly completed the quote.
We really hope you have fun with this! We’re still finalizing the prize, but it’ll be worth participating for! An announcement will be made when all details have been finalized!