Writing Tips

Feminism in YA: Knives and Candy

First, I would like to thank Dahlia Adler for inspiring me to write this post via her article What We Aren’t Talking About When We Talk About Feminism in YA.

Feminism is an important, vital part of my identity, but it’s also one of the scariest words in my life. Why? Well, I have a confession: I’m a bad feminist. I’m afraid to admit I’m a feminist on the Internet. I have no issues with this in RL (a.k.a. real life). In fact, I practically never stop talking about Feminism to my friends and family, but it’s not in any of my Internet bios, and despite reading Feminist conversations on Twitter (and all over the Internet), I mainly nod my head and shout at my computer…but I NEVER say anything on the Internet. I stay silent.


Because I’m scared.

I’m scared of the retaliation, of the sexual harassment many of these outspoken folks receive, and of the constant berating that happens for months afterward. In real life, I can walk away, but the Internet is forever.

Today’s the day I stop being afraid and I start being brave.

I am a Feminist.

What does that mean?

It means I want equality for both women and men. I shouldn’t have to expand any more than that, but the arguments and stigmas out there cause a lot of problems in many aspects of our culture and lives. That being said, this is a blog about writing and reading, so I want to focus on Feminism in YA, just as Dahlia did. Please check out her article. She tackles important topics, like female characters in STEM-related fields (science, technology, engineering and math) and sports that show how dedicated girls can be. Friendships between girls, relationships between a girl and her mother, and asexual females are also underrepresented, and one of the biggest trends is giving female characters masculine traits to make them heroes…instead of heroines.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a girl swinging a sword or kicking ass. In fact, that’s pretty awesome, too. But when that same character cries or has a romantic moment, many readers reject the character because she’s suddenly not “heroic” anymore. This idea is really damaging to female characters. It’s the idea that heroines need to be 1-D in order to be respected or believable.

As a reader, I saw this happen with Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas. I LOVED this book. It centered on a female assassin, and she is a tough fighter. That being said, she has also been imprisoned for a couple years leading up to the story, and this recent past makes her a bit weaker than her usual norm. She even throws up a couple of times, and she gets involved with some light romance. Many readers found this combination unbelievable or too girly. “She liked candy! Why would an assassin like candy?”

Maybe because she likes candy? Why do female characters have to solely be one thing? Why can’t they kick ass and like candy? Men like candy too. In fact, I mainly bake cookies for my roommate and my father—both men. I’m not even a fan of chocolate. I’m more of a salty snacks sort of a person. But that’s beside the point…

As a woman, I have many aspects to my personality, both feminine traits and masculine traits. (In the traditional sense.)

I have a knife collection, yet I teared up at that viral raccoon video where he lost his cotton candy in the puddle of water.

As a teen, I got into a lot of physical fights (with girls and boys), but I also cried if someone happened to hug me at the right time. (Not proud of the fighting. Just a truth.)

I drove a stick and shot guns, but I also squealed anytime I saw anything fluffy. (I still do.) I worked in a sports bar…and as a nanny.

I own tennis shoes and heels. I played sports throughout my schooling—basketball, track, and tennis—but I also loved school dances. My favorite activity was running through the woods with my dog and practicing with my throwing knives or with my bow and arrow. (Hello, Katniss. What can I say? I grew up in the Midwest.) Afterward, my husky would be my pillow, and I’d lie down in the forest to read a cheesy romance novel.

I can wield a knife in one hand and eat candy in another.

If I was a YA character, I'm not sure I'd be "believable" (Most of these were taken when I was a teen.)
If I was a YA character, I’m not sure I’d be “believable” P.S. Half of these photos were taken in my teenage years.

My life doesn’t make me any less of a believable person. So why are the characters unbelievable?

It’s an important question to ask in regards to female characters.

A female character—as well as a male character—does not have to be only one way in order to be believable. People have numerous aspects that make up their personality, and they react differently to many types of situations because they are also human.

So, next time your female assassin eats candy or falls in love, maybe we shouldn’t criticize.

Maybe we should talk about how awesome that is.


Author in a Coffee Shop, Episode 3 happens this Friday at 7 p.m. (CDT) on Twitter via @AuthorSAT. What is Author in a Coffee Shop? Exactly how it sounds! I sit in a coffee shop, people watch, and tweet out my writer thoughts. I also talk to you. 😉

Come get your books signed on February 13, from 1-3 PM! I’ll be one of several featured authors at a Barnes & Noble Valentine’s Day Romance Author Event in Wichita, Kansas at Bradley Fair. I’d love to see you! If you haven’t started The Timely Death Trilogy, don’t worry. Minutes Before Sunset, book 1, is free!

Minutes Before Sunset, book 1:

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Seconds Before Sunrisebook 2:

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Death Before Daylightbook 3:

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You can even read The Timely Death Trilogy on your new Kindle Fire!

Clean Teen Publishing is giving one away. Enter here.


22 thoughts on “Feminism in YA: Knives and Candy

  1. I enjoyed this post, Shannon. “I can wield a knife in one hand and eat candy in another” – I think that could be the subtitle of a future novel of yours perhaps?

  2. Great post! I admit, I don’t particularly identify or agree with feminism, or at least parts of it, but I’ve always believed that a female doesn’t need to be able to beat up bad guys in order to be respected or seen as awesome. So, I’m glad you tackled that subject in this post 🙂 !

  3. Fantastic post. I’m going to read Throne of Glass next. I’m currently reading The Paladin Caper by Patrick Weekes and couldn’t help but notice, after reading your post, that he writes female characters very well. As a reader I tend to notice when someone gets something wrong more than when they get it right. As usual you made me think. This is such an important issue. Thanks! ~Lynn

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed this post, and I hope you enjoy Throne of Glass too! Isn’t it great when you find an author that depicts female characters well? As George R.R. Martin said in an interview, “I just write them as people.”

      1. I can’t imagine that it’s easy to create a balanced female character even when you are a female author. How did you create Sophia Gray? She’s my favorite of your characters. She’s very complex. Do authors think about these things ahead of time or do they just unfold as you write a book? And should they be actively thinking about it?

      2. I try to keep it mind during the editing process, but honestly, I try to just write an honest story with an honest character, rather than force something about a character to have them fit the industry’s current trend. Take Me Tomorrow, ironically, is highly based off of me as a teenager (but of course with sci-fi exaggerations). The opening, as you might see in this post, was actually based off of my favorite activity – running through the woods with my knives and husky Shadow, while Sophia ran through the woods with her elkhound-husky mix Argos. I lived on a bunch of acres and had to check them just like her. My father also traveled constantly , like Sophia’s father Dwayne, but I did have an older brother, unlike Sophia. Lyn is based off a lot of nannies I had, since it was illegal for my brother and I to be home alone while my dad was traveling for work. Her friends are also very similar to friends I had. But overall, Sophia might be the most “complicated” because she is the most “realistic” character I made, since most of her isn’t made up. That being said, I think all authors are different. I try not to plan things like a character’s personality, but I know many authors do.

  4. I love this. I agree with Emma. If “I can wield a knife in one hand and eat candy in another” isn’t a title, some character you write must at one time say it.

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