John Green Privilege

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We need to talk about John Green.

We will talk about the seriously problematic content of his books one day when I have time, but for now I think we should focus on the author himself, or at least the version of the author he puts out to the world online.

Today, Green launched into an incoherent Nice Guy Twitter rant on how unfair it is to mock Twilight & its fandom. It’s not without merit. Indeed, Stephenie Meyer, her work & the primarily female fandom have suffered from the kind of dismissal and misogynistic mockery that no male led creation on that level of popularity really has. We’ve all mocked Twilight because it’s the narrative of pop culture – the rise, the fall & the rebirth. However, I took some serious issue with many of the things Green said, including this point.

No.

No it isn’t.

Let’s talk about privilege.

I’m a white, university educated, able-bodied, cis woman. I experience sexism but in the long and hard game of life, I’m playing with a relatively full deck. I’ll never experience racism, transphobia or ableism. When I talk to someone who does experience these awful examples of discrimination, I listen to them and don’t interject with my uninformed opinion because I will never experience any of these things, meaning I really don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t dismiss them or laugh at them or tell them how it really is. That would make me an arsehole. Now, sometimes I am blinded by my privilege because I don’t know how to live any other way and don’t always see where I’m going wrong. When someone calls me out on this, on my privilege, I learn from it because I don’t want to hurt anyone or perpetuate harmful ideas and stereotypes that have destroyed countless lives.

I’ve talked about the privilege that permeates the publishing industry before. It’s an industry that favours straight cis white men of a middle class background because that’s what life favours. It’s one with almost none of the roadblocks faced by those considered minorities. As such, the stories these individuals tell are usually categorised as somehow being a universal experience, while stories by women are dismissed as being solely for women.

When Twilight came out, I was a teenage girl, and this was a book for teenage girls. Not specific teenage girls, just all of us. Of course I read it. I disliked the series but continued reading because I was curious. My serious issues with the content led me to begin reviewing YA because I couldn’t believe that rape culture & the perpetuation of abuse as a romantic trope was not only considered acceptable but that it was the genre standard.

I mocked Twilight too, because it scared me. It terrified me to see something so obviously wrong held up as the ideal romance, and criticisms of it dismissed as reaching or jealousy. It wasn’t just me either. Many other women talked, and we yelled and screamed because we were angry and bewildered that nobody else could see what we saw. We laughed at the clunky prose, the po-faced earnestness and the sparkling because sometimes we laugh to stop ourselves from crying. Satire is a powerful weapon, one governments often try to shut down. We never saw ourselves as being Jon Stewart or the South Park gang; we just did what we did in the hope that people would listen, and many did. The books still sold by the boatload and Stephenie Meyer has the kind of economic security that most women will never have. She has options because of it. None of this negates the abuse she has received but let’s not pretend that all women are on equal standing here.

John Green will never experience sexism. He will never have to scream and shout to have his opinion even acknowledged because of the platform he has and the fact that he’s a straight cis white man. He gets to be the saviour of YA while women who wrote stories like his for many years before him are long forgotten or left in the shadows. The sad thing is that his opinions on this issue will be held up as a wonderful example because we’ve lowered the bar for success so much to the point where a man acknowledging that women are people makes him worthy of a gold star. He is awarded for acknowledging issues that female writers have been discussing for generations, including in YA. John Green writes tales of universal appeal where women talking the same topics write romance.

This is an issue. This is privilege.

It’s important for us to keep having complex, substantial and nuanced discussions about the problematic content in YA, privilege prevalent in the media and the continued dismissal of women’s voices because these issues aren’t going away, and we all have voices that are worthy of respect. We speak for ourselves. John Green does not speak for me.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I actually enjoyed John Green’s rant and I didn’t have as many problems with Twilight as you – I get much more annoyed with novels like Beautiful Disaster – but I totally support your point that while his books gets lauded, similar female efforts are dismissed out of hand as ‘trashy YA romance’. However, if this misunderstanding gets boys reading about sensitive male protagonists and brave women, I can live with the double standard for a little while in the hopes of a brighter future. 🙂

    • I am curious, did you have examples of “similar female efforts that get dismissed as trashy YA romance” in mind with this comment?

  2. Ceilidh, I’ll let you speak for me before John Green. First off, he isn’t GETTING our point. Secondly, he’s butting his head in based on the movies. Thirdly, fuck off, and everything you said. I don’t get why the whole goddamn world loves him and ignores all this stupid shit. Female writers write the same shit- better, much better. There are male authors, too, much better than him, and they don’t engage in this kinda shit.

    John Green is being an asshole telling us our disdain is misogynistic. Might I even say, misogynistic? Or does that make me a misogynist, too? I’m not sure, might have to tweet him.

  3. Have you seen his follow up to his tweets? Was wondering if you were going to address it, because I still find his bullshit to be problematic even after he “cleared it up” for us.

    http://fishingboatproceeds.tumblr.com/post/77224629639/ive-seen-your-comments-on-twitter-and-facebook-and

    In short, he is telling us that WE are misunderstanding him, and he goes on to Greensplain that he actually meant something totally different than what he said at first. Fuck him. FFS.

    • I’m not a fan of this apology, nor am I particularly enamoured by his tweets today regarding the Daily Dot article written on his influence (disclaimer: I’m Twitter friends with the article’s author). It all felt a little like dusting ones hands of any responsibility or claim to influence, which is far more evident than he seems to believe. If his name and good words didn’t help sell other people’s books then the books of David Levithan, a man whose work is stunning and influential in YA (not to mention his work as an editor), wouldn’t have “From the co-author of Will Grayson Will Grayson with John Green” on the covers in the UK.

      Also, we’re totally using “Greensplaining” in the future. If you said something you didn’t mean to say then you still need to apologise when you correct yourself because those words still have immense power when coming from the mouth/tweets of someone so beloved and popular.

  4. I’ve been having these same thoughts but much less developed or brilliantly laid out. THANK YOU. Thank you thank you.

  5. I’ve heard the same thing from many women — Sarah Rees Brennan, for example, has very strong ideas about why there is so much woman bashing even among women, and I think Meyer is a victim of this. When I read the Twilight books (as an adult), I was really impressed by Bella’s independence in many ways — she’s a capable cook, manager, and functioning adult. She is given some magical wish-fulfillment boyfriends, and she interacts with them in ways that would be deeply creepy if they were real, but they aren’t.

    Many many girls enjoyed Twilight, and I agree with the people Green is echoing when I say that it’s problematic to assume that they and Meyer should be vilified. I completely get why people might not like it, but I also get why many people do, and it’s not because they hate women.

    • Totally agree. Just because readers like certain “elements” in stories doesn’t mean they’re sexist, or the story is written by a sexist author. It’s unfair to paint everyone with the same wide brush, those who enjoy books involving imperfect males. If the males were perfect, then people would complain of “Gary Stu” syndrome, right? If girls and women loved Twilight, who are YOU to say it’s wrong? Or sexist? Just curious… literature would be awfully boring if all the storylines involved perfect males who were never domineering, over-protective or whatnot. You know?

      But whatever.

  6. So I know I’m a little late to the party, but I was recently discussing this with some friends and I came to a realization: John Green is years behind this conversation. Most women (me included) came to the realization their disdain for the fandom may be misogynistic about 5 years ago. There are many things that bother me about his little rant, but one that I haven’t seen touched on yet: he’s taking credit for something thousands of women have already come to, and, actually, moved past. We are now in the place where we can address the extremely problematic things in the text without dehumanizing the fan base. And in light of that, what he says is so much worse. Him pushing all of our complaints aside as “ridiculing people’s enthusiasm for unironic love stories,” has just made everything we say something that we’re clearly just saying because we “aren’t like other girls.”

    John Green. Please stay out of conversations you know nothing about.

  7. It is frustrating to see straight white men who have not realized that society does not ask/want/need them to be an authority on everything. I see the premise of being a nerd is that you like to explain/teach/talk down to other people who have less “knowledge” than you but that isn’t an excuse. That is living down to the stereotype that you have tried(somewhat successfully) to co-opt. John Green has had a positive net impact in the world but that has come at the cost of others who are much less privileged getting less light. Being a the stereotype nerd is not helpful. You can embrace the name and re-imagine the stereotype to be a person that is willing to accept that they are wrong. He isn’t a bad person by any stretch but he is a bad role model for straight white males who are coming to realize that they too can be an authority on subjects that they have no personal experience with. That is what scares me the most because I could have easily been a blind follower of him taking his word as gospel. If I hadn’t listened to people who had different experiences than me I would not have even noticed that I respected the word of a straight white male more than that of others. To the other straight white cis males or those with more than your appropriate amount of privilege. http://theangryblackwoman.com/2009/10/01/the-dos-and-donts-of-being-a-good-ally/

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