Mundie Moms

Monday, January 6, 2014

Trust Teenage Girls

Recently on Tumblr, Cassandra Clare responded to a message titled: TRUST TEENAGE GIRLS. In it's message a fan talks about Jace and Clary's relationship and how teens might interrupt it. I'm posting Cassie's post in it's entirety, because one, I've been asked this similar question pertaining to my recommending of this series and other YA books that have relationships similar to how Jace & Clary's is perceived and two, because I love Cassie's response. *Taken from Cassie's post here*
Trust teenage girls.
"I’ve put some thought into this question and while I’m not sure if I’m going to get it across clearly, I will try. In regards to the relationship arc in City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls between Clary and Jace: While the notion that love can either raise us or tear us down is significant, how do you reconcile it with a relationship that becomes unhealthy both emotionally and physically? I mean, Jace clearly goes through a lot and while his altered state of mind/being lays the blame for his actions elsewhere, doesn’t the abuse Clary endures in the name of love a little bit perverse? As a somewhat adult (23), who is well adjusted, I accept and understand that the dynamics of a relationship are fluid but in recommending the series to teenagers who are considerably less rational and far more impressionable I worry that they make take the wrong message from the books. At times Jace and Clary’s relationship almost encourages females (or any partner in a relationship, though I would suggest the line of thinking tends to be feminine) to accept abusive tendencies in relationships and fosters the “it’s my fault”/”he didn’t mean to hurt me” lines of reasoning for the sake of love. Jace’s altered state of being reminds me of those who act out of abuse in the throws of addiction, and as such, the altered state allows the abuser an excuse for his actions. I’m not sure if I am reading too much into the dynamic but I am having a hard time reconciling the relationship with the strong and willful nature of Clary, as a heroine… any thoughts?" — (redacted but if you want your name included, asker, drop me a line and I will.)

To address the specific question quickly: Except for the short scene at the end of Lost Souls, Clary does not have a relationship with Jace in City of Fallen Angels or City of Lost Souls at all, healthy or unhealthy. To clarify: Clary isn’t in a relationship with Jace because, as she realizes at the end of COLS, mind-controlled Jace is not Jace. He looks like Jace and professes to love her, but her arc is in realizing that that doesn’t matter, which is actually a mark of realizing what makes a healthy relationship. Clary sees beyond false-Jace’s looks and the feelings that apply to her to the bits that make him a good person and which have been taken from him: his morality and that common characteristic that they share, willfullnessi.e. the exercise of free will. Evil!Jace has no free will, and therefore isn’t Jace. That is not a fact that can be put aside or ignored. Fantasy is magic, which means it de facto explores situations that no one in our world is ever going to find themselves in, and for which there is no analogy. In this story arc Jace really is in a magic mind-control situation; that is not just a metaphor for something else. It’s a thing happening in the books. He has literally become, through magic, a totally different person. Yes, it’s true that there’s always a metaphorical value to a magical world, but a magical world is not only metaphor, or it isn’t actually fantasy.  

The other thing that is interesting about fantasy is that if you do decide to read it metaphorically, its metaphors are often broad enough to be flexibly applied to a range of personal issues going on with individuals. For instance, someone wrote to me and said that the situation with Clary and Jace in CoLS helped them deal with their relationship with a partner suffering from depression; another that it helped them with a family member who had PTSD. Neither situation is what the book is about, but the metaphor was flexible enough for them to find something in it that applied to them personally.  If you do decide to read CoLS as a metaphor for an unhealthy relationship between Clary and Jace, well — Clary’s relationship with mind-controlled Jace indeed isn’t okay and everyone in the book knows it, including Clary. Her decision to go and rescue him is a brave one — and bravery is often willful and reckless, the direct choice to put yourself in the path of danger. She already thinks of  evil! Jace as dangerous. She plays along with his idea that she loves him to get the advantage, but at no point does she ever consider mind-controlled Jace her boyfriend, or skipping off into the sunset with him a viable possibility. The value mind-controlled Jace has that he is the key to getting back real Jace. When it seems that getting back real Jace would be impossible or at to high a cost, she resolves to kill mind-controlled Jace and then actually does it — it’s only luck and magic that keeps Jace alive after she stabs him. 

Why would anyone want to emulate a relationship which everyone in the book thinks is bad, in which the only partner who is happy is mind-controlled, and that ends with the girl stabbing the guy presumably to death because he’s evil? Which brings us back to the topic of teenage girls. What happens with Clary and Jace in CoFA and CoLS is thing that will never happen in real life, and teenage girls know that. They are not so stupid that they are going to read about a girl trying to rescue her boyfriend from being mind-controlled and decide that means an unhealthy relationship is desirable any more than they are going to read Lolita and decide they want to go on a road-trip with a middle-aged pedophile. Neither experience is presented as any fun, and while I strongly object to the fundamental idea that teens are parrots who copy any behavior that seems fun, I hope we can at least credit them with not wanting to emulate behavior that is no fun at all.

 For a long time, growing up, I saw these kinds of messages about books being bad for you mainly coming from the far right — messages that said that teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to read books about characters who were gay/did drugs/got pregnant because they would immediately become gay, drug-addicted and pregnant. Now more and more I see this coming from the left as well — people who say that no one should read Laurie Anderson’s Speak because it is about rape and it might be triggering. People who say that my books, or Sarah Rees Brennan’s books, or Holly Black’s books, or Maureen Johnson’s books, shouldn’t be read because they contain gay characters but those characters do not behave in the ways they think gay characters should behave (despite the fact that less than 1% of YA books contain gay characters, so once you start crossing books with gay characters in them off your list because “Alec is shy” — yes, I’ve seen that — you wind up with a smaller and smaller pile of books with any LGBTQ+ representation at all. I’m certainly not saying that I do an A+ perfect job of representing gay characters, but i do think it’s important to try because if no one ever tries, then there are no books with gay characters in them to be bought, and then no one will publish more and further, and they will stop existing. Imperfect representation is a stepping stone to good representation.) People saying that books with unhealthy relationships with them shouldn’t be read even if those relationships are depicted as unhealthy and everyone in the book thinks they’re unhealthy. Because, the argument goes, teenage girls are too impressionable, too stupid, to pick up on subtext, obvious clues, or even things that are outright stated in the text — or too stupid to notice if a writer is being sexist, or ableist, or homophobic. But they’re not. They notice those things; some of the best comments I’ve gotten about problematic issues in my own books have been from teens.

Let’s just keep saying it. Teenage girls are not stupid. They are able to tell reality from fantasy. They are able to understand that when the bad guy does something, it means that thing is not something anyone is cheering them on to emulate (thus an entire generation was able to read Harry Potter without removing their own noses and committing genocide). Despite reading Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games, teenagers have not started killing each other with crossbows or swimming to the bottom of the ocean to see if they can breathe. And speaking of the Hunger Games, Katniss also has a mind-controlled boyfriend who treats her abusively — in fact her puts his hands around her neck and tries to strangle and kill her. Later, he gets cured, and Katniss winds up married to him. If we assume teenagers do not understand context (as Jace in CoFA and CoLS is not Jace at all; Peeta is in fact actually mind controlled, it’s not a metaphor for being on drugs or having anger management issues) then we have to worry about them reading The Hunger Games, too. And then you’ve opened up that big black pit that books disappear into when someone has decided that a book is bad for teenagers: sometimes the locked cabinet in the library, or even the dumpster outside.

 Talking about problematic issues in books is great and necessary, but I am concerned with this new twist on an old idea: that every book that is problematic must be condemned. Literally every book on the face of this earth is problematic: books should not be kept from teenagers because they are problematic, and teenagers should not have what is good for them dictated solely by others. If you are not a teenager now, then think of yourself when you were a teenager. Think of the book that kept you company and gave you succor and told you there were other people out there like you and helped you through dark times. Was it problem-free? I doubt it. Mine wasn’t. No book is. But it helped you, maybe saved your life. Now think about the person who wants to protect you from that book. Would you have thanked them?

I wouldn’t.

Trust teenage girls.
My thoughts:

I appreciate the fan who asked the question, as myself have been asked similar questions when it comes to being an adult reading YA, and why I recommend books to teens. In true Cassie fashion, I love what she says, because it's so true. I can list the books growing up in both middle school and high school that were "banned" because in reading them readers might be influenced by what they read. Let me just say, teens are more influenced by the crap they hear in music, play on their xbox (etc), see on TV & in movies than they are in books. Don't get me going on why if someone wants to ban a book, they should start banning songs, and tv shows long before they try to ban a book.

That's not to say they're not influenced by books, as they are, but there are a lot of other things in a teen's environment that also influence them.

Teens are not stupid. Books are an outlet for them, just like they are for us adults. Teens should have access to books that allow them to not feel alone, to help them cope, escape, inspire them, move them etc. We don't live in a blissful world, and books should both reflect the beauty and the ugliness that makes up our world, as much as they should also offer advice, help, inspire us and give us a safe place to escape to.

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