Thursday, March 28, 2013

Don’t Diss the Cheerleader!

Hi, P. J. Hoover here,  and today I want to talk for a bit about the stereotyping of girls in young adult literature. Namely, I want to talk about why I think it’s wrong and would love nothing more than to see it stop.

Let’s go with the stereotype that riles me up more than any other: the cheerleader. Lots of times . . .  (and for the record here I will attempt to refrain from generalizations. Yes, for everything I say, I am *sure* someone will be able to refute it. And I don’t want to go there. So anyway . . . ) lots of times when I read books with cheerleaders in them, there are certain defining characteristics of said cheerleader. For example, she’s got a really rocking figure. She also very pretty. And yes, she’s very popular. I mean, she is the personification of what so many others want to attain. And sure, having a nice figure is a pretty enviable character trait, but there are other traits that are not so enviable. Like this cheerleader is often bitchy. She’s cruel to those less popular than her (many times our sympathetic main character). She’s scheming. And let’s not forget the slutty factor. This poor cheerleader is often seen in the halls making out with her boyfriend of the week.

Am I seriously the only one who doesn’t see a problem with this stereotype? No? I’m not? Then why do we consistently see it in book after book after book? Is this simply the easiest writing solution?

It’s time for me to point out the fact that I was a cheerleader all through junior high and high school. Not only that, I was the captain of the varsity cheerleading squad. I am that girl. And now, with that out in the open, I have to mention the following things. I was not in general a bitchy person. I was not the most popular gal in the school. I was not bitchy and scheming. And I never took pleasure in making others feel bad. I was not a slut. I never wanted to embarrass people in front of others. Was I pretty? I don’t know. If you ask my mom, she’ll tell you yes, but that’s not exactly an objective opinion.

Did I ever make mistakes? Sure. That’s called being human. Every single one of our characters in our books should exhibit this quality, not just the cheerleaders.

So what was I? What defined me? Well, I worked hard and practiced to earn my spot on the team. I attempted to be a role model that others could follow. I was smart. I was good at math and science and loved reading fantasy and science fiction books. I had plenty of friends. I skirted around the edges of the “popular” crowd, friends with them but not quite one of them.

What I want is a book for the girl I was: a girl who breaks the stereotypes.


P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.


Jordan Dane said...

Well said. Stereotypes should be avoided. Jocks and nerds are big stereotypes too. I went to a private girls HS that didn't have sports, but we did have clicks or groups of friends that hung out together. Those grps tended to seem like stereotypes to me at the time, but the girls weren't mean-spirited or exclusive to the point they barred others out. But I think kids have natural tendencies to seek out grps they feel comfortable in. I felt like an indy rebel.

When I went to a reunion, I hung out with people I didn't do much with back then, but they turned out pretty cool as adults. Msde us all realize

Sechin Tower said...

This might stem from the fact that readers are more likely to identify with protagonists who are downtrodden, and that means they need someone to do the down-trodding. Cheerleaders are probably chosen as villains because they are assumed to be popular, beautiful, and hold all the power. but just because there's a reason for the cliche to be over-used doesn't make it a good thing.

There's opportunity for a writer here. Tell the story about the cheerleader who suffers and you'll have a truly memorable character.