I guess we’re going to talk about girls with swords today! You may have seen the Bad Take of the Week floating around Book Twitter:
I have the time and the spoons today, so I’m going to try to dig into the complete mess that is this
It’s a flimsy article. No evidence, just a nonsensical argument that the trend is too much. So at first, I chalked this up to lazy outrage-bait. Nobody has ever lost clicks by pointing to something popular and calling it overused and anti-feminist.
But I think we have a bigger problem here. This article is so incoherently obtuse that it doesn’t justify its own existence. Basically, this can’t be the writer’s real problem.
Let’s look at the article itself. Even in a short post, strikingly little of the article is about the author’s problems with this trend. Most of the post is devoted to explaining why sword-wielding girl knights have been important to the author, even though she’s not generally a fan of action scenes.
In addition to Wonder Woman and Eowyn, Bluemle cites four examples of weapon-wielding YA heroines she’s read and loved. (I would be remiss in not pointing out that these characters, introduced in 1983, 1990, 2008, and 2003 respectively, are also all white, conventionally attractive, able-bodied young women in European-inspired fantasies, but we’ll get back to that later.)
Bluemle clearly understands that sword-wielding girls in YA lit are 1) fun to read and 2) can be important representation. We end up with only a
“I think what gives me pause is that, increasingly, we seem to be equating power and strength with weapons, battle, and conquest—which feels a little like giving in to centuries-old male visions of strength and power—power over, strength that requires someone else to fall—rather than celebrating the creative and constructive versions of those qualities, and what they look like in actual women…. It’s just that, in a society already plagued by devastatingly real violence, I find myself yearning for new definitions of what “badass”
So what, exactly, are Bluemle’s reservations with girls with weapons on covers? They suggest a violent and dominant (and therefore, inherently masculine) version of power at odds with “creative and constructive” power of “actual women.”
Yikes. So let’s unpack that. This objection only makes sense if you, in the year of our
->Proficiency in combat is the domain of men
->By now, we have “moved beyond” visions of power that involve violence
->Imagery of a girl with a weapon inherently equates strength with conquest (in a way that imagery of a boy with a weapon does not)
->”Actual women” are creative and collaborative, not combative
->Real-world violence means we should have less violence in books
->We don’t have room for different kinds of heroines and different ideas about power
The article wants to simultaneously claim that Katniss and Alanna and Wonder Woman were needed representation… but at some point in the past year or so, we passed the cutoff point where no further representation is needed. Which
It’s a completely incoherent argument. Her issue (where are the collaborative, non-violent heroines) has absolutely nothing to do with her observation (there seem to be a lot of girls with weapons on covers lately). It’s a complete
You want new, diverse “definitions of what badass looks like?” Great! So do I! You could conceivably write an article arguing for more representation of what you think badass could be. In fact, I’d love to read those articles. But they wouldn’t start with a bunch of covers representing something completely different. You don’t prove an absence of X by citing a bunch of examples of Y. You have to start by looking for what you want to see.
Because if you take even a passing glance, it’s obvious that YA is exploding with visions of badass female characters, knife-wielding or not.
Just look at this year. Want a fantasy heroine that resists oppression through
Or, if you really don’t want to be reading stories with violent plays for power… why are you looking in fantasy? Non-violent fantasies exist, sure, but warfare and domination are motifs of the genre for core thematic reasons. Look somewhere else! Try YA contemporary. We’ve had plenty of badass, strong, creative heroines this year that never pick up a weapon. Try Love from A to Z, or On the Come Up, or With the Fire on High.
At this point, I’m not really trying to refute the argument. I’m trying to show that the argument doesn’t stand up to even the slightest scrutiny. This take would be a dumb tweet–it has no business being an actual post from a person in a gatekeeping position in publishing.
The article isn’t a literary or artistic argument about covers and the imagery of weapons. It’s about Bluemle’s emotional reaction to seeing those covers. Her statement is this: This is enough. We have too many girls with weapons on covers. I’m uncomfortable with it and I’m not sure exactly why, but it feels overdone and unfeminist.
Up until this point, I’m confident that what I’ve written is a reasonable reading of the text. I don’t want to go too far in theorizing about the author’s unstated views, but the article
Because look at the covers. Not all of them are fantasy. Not all of them even feature weapons on the cover at all. But a lot of them feature characters of color and the names of authors of cover.
Look at the post again. Look at the lineup of covers chosen for the sharing image. It makes it very hard to swallow that the bookseller’s problem is with the “new crop” in particular.
Complaints about trends tend to come exactly when POC participation in that trend reaches a critical mass… and it’s hard to ignore the timing here.
Book Twitter had been doing its
Tochi Onyebuchi (who wrote one of the books referenced) breaks down the article’s logical incoherence:
Patrice Caldwell wrote an excellent thread that covered many problems with the article (and what it means for publishing):
Katherine Locke actually digs into a possible reason for the cover trend:
LL McKinney took the chance to hype some weapon-wielding non-white characters hitting shelves soon:
Zoraida Cordova has some great insight into what a grown-up version of the article might have talked about:
Cit Callahan points out the hypocrisy:
So anyway… I will be collecting all the sassy tweets and pictures of authors of color holding knives that come across my timeline