The objectification of male characters in adolescent fantasy literature

Isabelle Zigrand

English Literature

4th

Year of study:

A majority of current Young Adult (YA) literature targets female audiences with strong female heroines and a heavy focus on romance. However, there is a gap in the literature about how male characters are described in these novels written by women. I will be specifically looking at the nonhuman male characters in one YA fantasy series and how they are portrayed in hypermasculine ways, as well as sexualised by a female gaze. One of the most popular current YA fantasy series, Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas (2012-18), stands out with its incredibly attractive and muscular male characters. One of my findings after analysing the series was that the male characters are confined to their role as love interests and lack agency and depth as characters compared to their female counterparts. They appear to exist mostly to provide the powerful heroine with a romantic plotline and are described in objectifying ways that prioritise their physical appearance and sexual appeal. This phenomenon can be further explained by the profitable nature of the YA book industry, which provokes the publication of books with potentially problematic representations of masculinities for the sake of making money. It is important to become aware of these issues, as having a balanced representation of male characters is crucial for young impressionable readers. The presence of strong heroines for girls to look up to does not need to be at cost of excluding equally interesting and inspiring male characters. Calling for more critical reading of adolescent literature will provide the necessary awareness to demand more inclusive literature in the future.

I am a 4th year English Literature and History student at the University of Glasgow and for my dissertation I researched the portrayal of male characters and masculinity in Young Adult fantasy literature written by women. In my free time I love reading Young Adult books, especially fantasy, and in the last few years (influenced by my literature studies probably) I have started noticing a trend of hypermasculine, overly attractive and sexy male love interests in these books I would read in my free time. When it came to picking my dissertation topic then, this immediately came to mind, as I am interested in gender studies as well as literature. During my junior year abroad in North Carolina in the US, I was able to take a couple of classes that focused on issues of women in literature, which made me think about the lack of discussion of men in literature. I personally enjoy reading Young Adult books a lot, which is exactly why I think it’s important that we talk more about it, as young readers are impressionable and easily influenced by what they consume.

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