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.
Isn't our disdain FAR more misogynistic than anything in the stories?
— John Green (@realjohngreen) February 19, 2014
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.