street team: why aren't there girly girls in ya anymore

Why Aren’t There Girly Girls in YA Anymore?

Posted January 27, 2018 by Amber in Bookish Things, Reading / 22 Comments


With the rise of modernity, we come to a world in YA literature where all proper heroines are gleefully trading in their gowns for breeches.  But why?

Because dresses are a symbol of gentle femininity, of demure responses and calculated flirtations?  While I am all for the rise of the strong woman in YA, I am a little confused as to why this means our fearless YA heroines cannot embrace their femininity with pride.

I am not a girly girl.  Not in the least.  I thrive upon lazy autumn days with combat boots and blue jeans and tank tops and one of my handful of faux leather jackets.  I rarely wear makeup, but only because that is my vibe.  Not because I think little of it.  Not because I’m rebelling from the system.  Honestly?  It’s a good 90% because I’m too lazy to bother.  Fancy days are bright red lipstick, mascara, and my hair properly straightened rather than twisted into a messy bun.

In this way, I relate to many of our pant-clad heroines, but I think in doing this we are creating a world where dresses and makeup and shopping are considered silly and weak.  Not intentionally, perhaps… but where are the women in modern literature who enjoy these things and are still strong and brave?

And, lets be clear, it is possible from a fantasy heroine to POSITIVITY kick ass in a dress.  Take Kahlen from Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind for example.  That girl is a force of nature.

Something needs to change.  It’s about time YA represents not only hero(ine)s of all shapes and sizes, of all sexual orientations and colors, but also of all dispositions.  Not all girls are earthy and rough.

Enter Enne Salta.

Enne probably isn’t the first of these characters, but I really hope she won’t be the last.  YA desperately needs to offer a little more variety in its heroines.  Even in series where dressing up is part of the accepted culture, the heroine still vies for pants.  America from The Selection comes to mind.

Enne does not ask for pants*.

*She might ask for pants?  I’ve only read the first two chapters.

Enne is terrifically aware of of the etiquette of the people around her.  She’s not only proper in her attire and her ballerina’s bun, but she behaves like a lady.  She reminds me of a young Mary Poppins, and I mean that in all the best ways possible.  She’s driven and doing what she must do, but there’s no need to get dirty in doing it.

YA needs more girls like Enne.  Because in our world, there are girls like Enne, and they deserve to be represented, too!

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Ace of Shades releases on April 10th, 2018

Add it to your TBR on Goodreads, or preorder it through any of the links below

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This is a #ShadowGang Post

As a part of Amanda’s publicity campaign, the #ShadowGang is committed to bring you amazing insight and insider information on Ace of Shades.  We’re also split into teams.  I’m team #Irons, and you’ll be seeing Ace of Shades content on this blog every Saturday.

Don’t forget to check out my other Shadow Gang posts for all the Ace of Shades goodness!

Who are your favorite girly girls in YA?

How do you identify – proper or rouge-ish?

Have you added Ace of Shades to your TBR?

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22 responses to “Why Aren’t There Girly Girls in YA Anymore?

  1. I have never clicked on a discussion post this quickly. I found your topic EXTREMELY interesting. Dresses do not mean demure and submissive personalities. We want more feminists, activists, strong leads, but one thing doesn’t take another, does it?

    I’m not a girly girl either. I mean, I may look like one at first glance, but know me better and you’ll see that I’d NEVER waste my birthday mone neither on clothes or on makeup. not until today, at least. But I do like dressing up and feeling nice, I do enjoy femininity. A character that I would enjoy would be one that has both sides, but at the same time, I still love to read about purely girly girls too!

    I think it’s the new stereotype now. If your book doesn’t have ONE strong female character, sarcastic or murderous, then it lacks diversity and it’s not feminist. One thing doesn’t take the other. I miss girly girls too, and it wouldn’t hurt me to read about some very soon!
    Great discussion! Like hell, I’m reading Ace of Shades. I can’t wait!

    Sophie Alex (@bookslikewolves) recently posted: Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Much About
    • Amber

      Enne will be definitely up your alley!

      I agree SO MUCH with what you said. If we’re denying our femininity to fit this “badass” stereotype, isn’t that in itself unfeminist? I like feeling pretty. Am I usually too lazy to bother with it? Heck yeah. But pretty dresses and fancy heels are AWESOME. I’m starting to find the overly sarcastic characters tiresome. I’m a super sarcastic person IRL… and I don’t know many other people like that. Also the sarcasm mostly confuses people. Oh well. We talk about diversity a lot in book in regards to the Big Three: Race, sexual orientation, and disability… but we don’t fully represent personalities at ALL.

  2. This was actually one of the things that drew me to The Selection! I loved the whole concept, but I also loved that America was different from every other YA fantasy/dystopian heroine. The same with The Glittering Court (which I didn’t love, but I DID love Adelaide). I totally agree with you!

    • Amber

      America is a really good example of a girl who liked pretty dresses (though, she did ask for pants! 😉 ). I actually think that the best character example in that book was Marlee. She was strong no matter what happened (and she went through a LOT), and she was a really sweet, girly girl. I’d like to see a Marlee spin-off (is there one?).

  3. YEEEEES!! Please, let’s get some girly girls YA who can still kick butt. Please? I feel like every other book I read has had some sort of dig at how ‘silly’ or ‘uncomfortable’ dresses and make-up and pop music is and it just….uggggggggh. Stop. Being girly or liking to dress up doesn’t mean a character has to be weak and stupid and giggling over boys all the time, but YA seems to have forgotten this. I probably take it personally since I LOVE dressing up and feeling princess-y, but overall it’s just not a respectful or healthy mindset to reinforce this idea that ‘feminine=bad’.

    • Amber

      Agreed! I think that the perspective is that getting away from the Victorian ideals (dresses, women as houeskeepers, mild and demure personalities) is a feminist move, but … it’s not really, is it? Feminism is about equality, not certain behaviors. Women should be able to keep their femininity and still rescue themselves. XD

  4. I’ve always been a tomboy, I think mostly because I grew up with boys and tomboyish girls, so it was just how everyone behaved. I don’t really care about makeup because I think I’m fine the way I look.
    Having said that, dressing up is fun. I like dresses and skirts and I like feeling pretty. I get really annoyed by the YA heroines (especially in historical fiction) who just MUST wears trousers because all the boys do!
    It’s become my personal crusade to write girls who are tomboyish…and like dresses. And who learn to swordfight in a skirt. (I personally find it more freeing to move around in a skirt than the tight jeans that most girls wear, so….)
    Anyway, really cool post! This is a pet peeve of mine, and I’m glad other people are addressing it too!

    • Amber

      Yes, yes, yes. Sword fighting in a skirt is amazing. Even just thinking about it visually – steel and cloth spinning and slashing in a frenzy – is so much more appealing. Who needs pants to swordfight?

  5. This is so true! I love kickass heroines, but… What’s wrong with being a kickass heroine AND a girly girl? Why are the two considered mutually exclusive?!
    And even if dresses or whatever aren’t really an option for what they’re doing, so they maybe don’t wear them all the time, that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy wearing a dress either! I was reading a book the other day, and it made me really happy, because the main character was a super kickass warrior- but she was really excited to get some nice dresses. It was awesome, but… It also made me realize how rare it was to see that in a book.

    • Amber

      It is really rare to see, and often when we do see it, the strong character falls into a pile of giggling girlishness than doesn’t fit her character, as though dresses = silly and pants = strong. I’m going to make it a goal to PERSONALLY write more female character who are feminine but also awesome heroines. 🙂

  6. interesting post! I never related dresses and makeup with being weak. I think there are plenty of strong and brave heroins in Romance, Historical Romance and PNR that are girly however, maybe not so much in YA fantasy and YA contemporary! Great post

    • Amber

      I can definitely see the girly girls coming out in historical fiction – I haven’t read a historical fiction book in a little while. :). But you make a good point! It is very genre specific – fantasy and science fiction do seem to enjoy empowering women while also defeminising them, which is a super bummer. But it won’t be true across all genres.

  7. I couldn’t agree more! There are so many girls out there who love dressing up, wearing ‘girly’ clothes, makeup, shopping etc and I fear that sometimes fiction nowadays is showing them that that’s ‘wrong’ and ‘not feminist’, which is ridiculous of course. Enne sounds amazing – I’m going to need to look into Ace of Shades 🙂

    • Amber

      Definitely look into Ace of Shades! Levi is a pretty great character as well – from what I’ve read so far they both sort of break out of traditional tropes. Close enough to be familiar, but with something entirely their own. It’s great.

  8. Saxmei

    SO. While I agree that a YA kick-ass heroine in a dress would be a welcome change to the oversaturated tomboy norm and would do wonders for demonstrating femininity as strength, I wonder if there is a subconcious aversion to it based on a sexuality perspective. I feel as though the kick-ass girly-girls in pop culture get wayyyyyy sexualized and almost immediately. Usually by men, but it happens with women sometimes as well! I have two kick-ass women protags in my current WIP, and one is a princess-y princess, super feminine and BA. One of my current prereaders is obsessed with the feminine one and makes explicit comments constantly about her. As a writer, it’s disturbing because that’s not how I want people to perceive her. I don’t want to be responsible for feeding into the cultural trope of sexualizing strong women simply by making them both… well, strong and women.
    And I feel like that happens more often than not. Bubbles was the go-to Powerpuff Girl crush of creepy teen boys everywhere, and I feel like popular media is littered with examples like that. It’s just a thought!

    • Amber

      Sexualization is a problem. Writers do need to be careful between finding the balance between femininity and strength, otherwise it twists. I’m thinking of a lot of the female superhero flicks (not Captain Marvel), even up to Wonder Woman’s costume in the most recent itineration, and the way Harley Quinn (who I genuinely like) is SUPER sexualized.

      So this post was written as part of a street gang promotion for Ace of Shades by Amanda Foody, and while I do have fundamental plot-related issues with the trilogy, I really appreciate what she’s done with the character referred to here. Enne Salta manages to balance femininity and bad-assery, but the way that Amanda does it is by creating a world that feels like a mix of burlesque and Victorian England. Enne herself is not a sexualized creature, but there are other girls that present a contrast to her. But, none of these girls are in the forefront and I don’t think most (any?) are named characters. I think that using the constraints of a “prim and proper” girl has allowed Amanda to create a girly girl without falling into a sexualized image. But it’s rare, and I personally wish the world was in a place where it could accept a curvy girl with a penchant for dresses and a mean right hook as a human and not an object of desire.