‘When you judge a woman by her appearance, it doesn’t define her, it defines you.’
Okay, so this is my review for Soulmates by Holly Bourne which I DNF’d at 12% as well as a discussion/rant about how detrimental the ‘not like other girls’ clique is. As a quick disclaimer, there may be a turn around of the character’s attitudes and opinions but I do not get the sense that it will happen anytime soon or at all, so I’m not reading on and have no authority to speak of the last 88% of the book. I’d like to start off with a very long quotation from Soulmates. As a bit of back story, the main character Poppy has just been complaining about how she doesn’t want to study Romeo and Juliet and would prefer Macbeth.
Frank looked at me for a moment. “You’re really not like other girls, are you?”
I looked at the row of girls sitting opposite us. They were four identikit blondes Frank and I regularly took the piss out of because they obviously spent about two hours getting ready for college- full face of make-up, GHD ringlets, fake eyelashes EVERY day. They were hanging on Ms. Gretching’s every word, simpering whenever she said the words ‘soulmate’ or ‘true love’.
I gestured towards them. “Thank God,” I replied.
There are numerous problems that come up here, so I will be providing a comprehensive list that is more for my benefit than yours.
- Shaming people for liking Romeo and Juliet
- Shaming people for being interested in love
- Shaming people for wearing makeup
- Shaming people for their appearance and making stereotypical judgements
- Stereotyping girls
Okay, so the first one is easy: you can have a character dislike a book, sure, but shaming people who like it is not okay. This goes along with, in this case, shaming people for wanting or desiring true love. Poppy is shaming the girls for ‘simpering’ when these topics are raised, which is basically calling their hopes or fantasies pathetic and stupid, which is never an okay thing to do. You wouldn’t shame someone who really wanted to go to med school for getting excited every time doctors were mentioned, would you? No, of course not.
The next major issue here is that Frank and Poppy ‘regularly take the piss out of’ the girls who were wearing full, intense make up and had blonde hair. This firstly and foremost bullying, something which should never be promoted. Secondly, this is shaming anyone who wants to wear makeup. It is shaming someone for making a personal decision to put something on their face either to cover something they don’t like, show off something they do like or express themselves. Thirdly, this is playing into the stereotype of blondes being shallow and stupid. Personally, as someone with blonde hair, I find this incredibly insulting that part of their identity is being ‘blonde’. You wouldn’t say ‘the four identikit brunettes….’ would you? Probably not.
Finally, the last and biggest issue here is stereotyping girls. By saying that Poppy is ‘not like other girls’ and then having Poppy say ‘Thank God’ after looking over at the ‘four identikit blondes’ is stereotyping and shaming in two different ways. Firstly, by saying that she is not like other girls in relation to the ‘four identikit blondes’, you are insuating that all girls are specifically like the ‘four identikit blondes’ or that most are. Then, by saying ‘Thank God’ you are insinuating that that personality and those interests or decisions are somehow inferior and lesser to those that Poppy makes. I personally know plenty of girls who, for example, wear little make up and they are no better than my friends who wear lots of make up.
Basically, having someone be ‘not like other girls’ insinuates that all girls are a certain way, whether that character wears lots of pink or never wears makeup, you are forcing girls into a stereotypical box. In addition to this, by the characters considering this a good thing you are saying that the stereotype is bad, something you shouldn’t be.
Point blank: do not shame people for their decisions, their appearance, their interests, the way they choose to dress and never, ever promote bullying in your literature.
I hope that I have properly conveyed what I wanted to talk about in this post. Please let me know what you think and start your own discussion, I would love to hear your thoughts. Whilst this was my review for Soulmates (the 12% that I read, anyway), this is mostly a discussion and this cliche comes through in many pieces of literature. Having a character be unusual for the time period or highly unique is wonderful. Generalising others in order to achieve that is not creating an unusual or unique character and this applies to all characters, not just women.