Opposites (Still Must) Attract

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Title: Opposites (Still Must) Attract Constructions of Gender, Sex, and Sexuality in Modern Young Adult Literature
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Gregg, Bre
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2012
Publication Date: 2012


Subjects / Keywords: Gender
Young Adult Literature
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: This English Literature?Gender Studies thesis explores constructions of gender, sex, and sexuality in modern Young Adult Literature published within the last decade. Close readings were performed on six texts, looking to the possibilities offered for adolescent girls and boys concerning their performances of masculinity and femininity, and their enactment of heterosexuality. Analysis of these texts revealed that prescriptive hetero-gendered relations are instilled within characters when they reach puberty; once girls' bodies can be identified as female, they are subject to the social pressures of normative femininity and sexual harassment. Girls' entrapment within femininity, and the social treatment of this femininity, is delivered to readers as an inevitable and individual problem, removed from the realm of systemic gender issues where it actually resides. Masculinity is presented as predatory, and is dependent upon display of heterosexuality. Hetero-romance is delivered as the ultimate solution for normalizing any individual problems.
Statement of Responsibility: by Bre Gregg
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2012
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Wallace, Miriam

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2012 G8
System ID: NCFE004590:00001

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Material Information

Title: Opposites (Still Must) Attract Constructions of Gender, Sex, and Sexuality in Modern Young Adult Literature
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Gregg, Bre
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2012
Publication Date: 2012


Subjects / Keywords: Gender
Young Adult Literature
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: This English Literature?Gender Studies thesis explores constructions of gender, sex, and sexuality in modern Young Adult Literature published within the last decade. Close readings were performed on six texts, looking to the possibilities offered for adolescent girls and boys concerning their performances of masculinity and femininity, and their enactment of heterosexuality. Analysis of these texts revealed that prescriptive hetero-gendered relations are instilled within characters when they reach puberty; once girls' bodies can be identified as female, they are subject to the social pressures of normative femininity and sexual harassment. Girls' entrapment within femininity, and the social treatment of this femininity, is delivered to readers as an inevitable and individual problem, removed from the realm of systemic gender issues where it actually resides. Masculinity is presented as predatory, and is dependent upon display of heterosexuality. Hetero-romance is delivered as the ultimate solution for normalizing any individual problems.
Statement of Responsibility: by Bre Gregg
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2012
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Wallace, Miriam

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2012 G8
System ID: NCFE004590:00001

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OPPOSITES (STILL MUST) ATTRACT: CONSTRUCTIONS OF GENDER, SEX, AND SEXUALITY IN MODERN YOUNG ADULT LITERATURE B Y BRE GREGG A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Dr. Miriam Wallace Sarasota, Florida May, 2012


! ii Table of Contents .. ...ii Abstra ct ................................ ................................ ................................ ....................... iii Introduction ................................ ................................ ................................ .................. 1 Chapter One : Embod ying Femininity in YAL ................................ .......................... 6 Criss Cro ss 11 Lush .... 15 What My Mother Doesn't Know .....21 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things .24 Conclusion..33 Chapter Two : Display ing Masculinity in YAL ................................ ....................... 3 6 The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian ..38 Lush .43 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things ..47 Criss Cross .. 50 What My Mother Doe sn't Know ...55 Conclusion ....60 Chapter Three : Compulsory Heterosexuality, Hetero Romance, and Other R eadings/Readers in YAL ................................ ................................ ......................... 61 Criss Cross .. .65 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things .. 72 Lush .. 74 Olive's Ocean .. .76 The Absol utely True Diary of a Part Time Indian .. 86 What My Mother Doesn' t Kno w .. 92 Con clusion ... 95 Conclusion .. 97 Bibliography 100


! iii Opposites (Still Must) Attract: Constructions of Gender, Sex, and Sexuality in Modern Young Adult Literature Bre Gregg New College of Florida, 2012 ABSTRACT This English Literature / Gender Studies thesis explores constructions of gender, sex, and sexuality in modern Young Adult Literature published within the last decade. Close readings were performed on six tex ts, looking to the possibilities offered for adolescent girls and boys concerning their performances of masculinity and femininity, and their enactment of heterosexuality. Analysis of these texts revealed that prescriptive hetero gendered relations are ins tilled within characters when they reach puberty; once girls' bodies can be identified as female, they are subject to the social pr essures of normative femininity and sexual harassment. Girls' entrapment within femininity, and the social treatment of this femininity, is delivered to readers as an inevitable and individual problem, removed from the realm of systemic gender issues where it actually resides. Masculinity is presented as predatory, and is dependent upon display of heterosexuality. Hetero romance is delivered as the ultimate solution for normalizing any individual problems. Dr. Miriam Wallace Division of Humanities


! 2 Introduction In this thesis, I explore constructions of gender, sex, and sexuality in modern Young Adult Literat ure (YAL). I selected YAL published over the last decade from a sample of prominent award and / or banned / challenged books (sometimes achieving both statuses simultaneously), whose plots center on depicting current experiences and constructions of young adul thood. 1 Specifically, these texts focus on transitioning identities, from children to young adults, and the constructed natural arrival into hetero gendered relations. I analyze the ways in which the texts construct binaries and normalize and essentialize gender, sex, and (hetero)sexuality. My analysis shows that this popular YAL constructs fixed binaries in gender, sex, and sexuality that limits possibilities for multiple and diverse readings and experiences. The six texts I explore are: Criss Cross (2007 ), Lush (2006), What My Mother Doesn't Know (2001), Olive's Ocean (2003), The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part Time Indian (2007), The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things (2003). These texts promote and encourage gender essentialism and antagonisms which are imagined as sex differences that are crucial for characters to understand as they enter into heterosexual romantic (and inevitably sexual) relations, posed as a necessary step in maturation. Turning to Marilyn Frye's understanding of sexism ( Th e Politics of Reality ), these YA texts are sexist at root; they assert sex (which is then instilled as !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 I consulted the American Library Associ ation's list of banned and challenged books from 2000 2010, selecting Lush What My Mother Doesn't Know The Absolutely True Diaries of a Part Time Indian and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things All shared "sexually explicit" as one of several reasons they are marked for banning. From the Newbery Award list of nominees and winners (2000 2010), I selected Criss Cross and Olive's Ocean (both nominees).


! 3 aligning with a specific gender) as relevant, natural and indicative of personality, behaviors, abilities and characteristics of boys / girls. The term sexist' characterizes cultural and economic structures which create and enforce the elaborate and rigid patterns of sex marking and sex announcing which divide the species, along lines of sex, into dominators and subordinates. Individual acts and practice s are sexist which reinforce and support those structures, either as culture or as shapes taken on by the enculturated animals. (Frye 38) As Judith Butler asserts, sex is "always already gender" ( Gender Trouble 7). And for these girl protagonists, the body is not something that can be overcome: it is persistently read and informs girls place as objectified ("the sex") 2 "As a result, gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive / cultural means by which sexed nature' or a nat ural sex' is produced and established as prediscursive,' prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts" (Butler 7). In these YA novels, g irls are alienated and o thered from themselves, by their own self objectification and that of others. The gender / sex d ominance/subordination structure Frye speaks of is clearly in plac e and well in these very recent works: the "female sex category is a liabil ity (Frye 31). These six texts make binary assertions and constructions repeatedly in thei r focus on characters entering and then negotiating young adulthood as it exists for !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 2 Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex believes we can move beyond this body: "I have already p ointed out how much easier the transformation of puberty would be if she looked beyond it, like the boys, toward a free adult future: menstruation horrifies her only because it is an abrupt descent into femininity" (726). But how free can the future feel w hen femininity is rooted in the body as these novels portray ? How can she be "like the boys" with her assigned female body ? Menstruation appears horrifying in What My Mother Doesn't Know because it is a bodily signal to others of femaleness.


! 4 modern 13 14 year olds. The novels indicate that this specific time of age transitioning, which corresponds with puberty and physiological sexual maturation, is when young adults must become aware of their gender and sex differences; now is the time in their lives that (hetero)sexuality emerges, as these texts show only heterosexuality as viable and desirable, and then only when coupled with heterosexual romantic feelings. The texts enforce and teach the internalization and naturalization of the conception of the opposite sex / gender In many of these books, at this age boys and girls can no longer interact as people, but only as their designated and constructed gender and se x dictate in relation to heterosexual dynamics. My thesis examines the texts specifically for their constructions of femininity, masculinity, and heterosexuality as naturally occurring binaries that rule young adults' styles and manners of relation. These novels seek to replicate young adults' current lived experience; they are "problem novels," often highlighting intersections of body image issues, substance abuse, sexual harassment or inappropriate attentions. But what does it mean for the young adult rea der to receive along with the treatment of specific struggles training in gender essentialism and problematic understandings of heterosexual power dynamics ? For me it was also important to note small moments when a text depicts these constructions as per haps inevitable, but also consciously recognizes the flawed social reality of dichotomized individuals (particularly in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things ). As I worked with the texts, I considered the following questions: Is the text liberator y in any way ? Does it assert socially constructed binaries (and which) ? Is the text critical of dominant culture while participating in it (that is, is it self conscious or does it open the possibility for


! 5 readerly self consciousness) ? Is the presented nar rative of young adulthood prescriptive, or does it aim to be descriptive of young adults' lived reality ? Does it perpetuate or encourage sex and gender antagonisms ? Does it narrow readers' possibilities of relation ? It it open to multiple or non normative readings ? In Chapter One I consider the ways in which these texts represent femininity as experienced via the female body and heterosexual, as something that girls are trained in by both older women and by male attention. Here I focus on the ways that the se texts engage problems of objectification, sexual harassment (often under another name), and body image in particular. In Chapter Two I turn to representations of masculinity both as oppositional by nature to femininity in support of a binary sex/gender system, but also to the way that homophobia or at least homophobic joking consolidates male relations in the absence of girls. My final chapter analyzes the way that hetero romance is celebrated as the solution to a wide range of problems and points towar d how readers seeking some kind of affirmation of non heterosexual or non conventional gender/sex desires might respond or be excluded. Overall, while there are moments that are open to alternative readings and serious efforts to grapple with the problems facing the target age group, my study suggests that there is room for a much broader range of YA literature to address the needs of questioning and self identified gay, lesbian, queer, or alternatively gendered/sexed readers.


! 6 Chapter 1: Embodying Femininity in YAL Despite their recent publication within the last decade, Lush ; Criss Cross ; What My Mother Doesn't Know ; and The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things perpetuate gendered stereotypes of femininity while insisting on and asserting h eterosexuality, particularly ideals of beauty that promote heterosexual resolution to the problems of girls. In these novels, sexual maturation, around the ages of twelve to thirteen, marks the end of nonsexual interaction between boys and girls. It also m arks the insti l lment of feminine ideals and adult gender prescriptions, which essentialize and exaggerate what these novels represent as the newly sprung and rapidly growing abyss between girls and boys. The presumed alignment between female sex and femini ne gender requires the girl characters to participate in the heteronormative ideals of female physical attractiveness. Here, the girl characters arrive at objectifying and sexualizing their own female bodies. In "Pleasure, Pain, and the Power of Being Thi n: Female Sexuality in Young Adult Literature," Beth Younger analyzes her selected texts to "reveal that young female bodies are important sites of cultural contestation" (45). Younger's chosen works (none of which are included in this thesis), all display ed similar and disturbing appropriations of young girl's bodies as objects: In these Young Adult texts, the authors rarely describe male bodies, but female bodies are continually looked at in what becomes a powerful enactment of the male gaze. In many You ng Adult texts, readers are encouraged, even directed, to examine characters from the perspective of a judgmental voyeur. Characters (and readers)


! 7 internalize the gaze that reinforces female objectification, and these social constructions of young women's bodies become accepted norms (47) Character internalization of objectification is especially obvious as female characters police themselves and other girls for body (thus femininity) appropriateness. As Younger discovers as well, "Young Adult fiction enc ourages young women's self surveillance of their bodies" (47). This self surveillance is textually explicit in several of my examined novels, as female characters make a point of viewing their bodies "objectively" as if they were outside or male viewers. Sexual maturation brings physical changes, which signal to the girls' surrounding patriarchal culture a commencement of explicit sexualization. The girls' development of breasts are a common source of harassing attention, sexual and psychological, spewing from nearly everyone from the boys at school to their own grandmothers. Their appearance and bodily changes cannot be hidden despite use of baggy clothing, and the harassment is never deterred by any of the girls' actions. Iris Marion Young writes in "Br easted Experience," When a girl blossoms into adolescence and sallies forth, chest out boldly to the world, she experiences herself as being looked at in a different way than before. People, especially boys, notice her breasts or her lack of them; they m ay stare at her chest and remark on her. If her energy radiates from her chest, she too often finds the rays deflected by the gaze that positions her from outside, evaluating her


! 8 according to standards that she had no part in establishing and that remain o utside her control. (190) The female protagonists are left to struggle with and eventually accept their body's sexualization and unending sexual harassment as natural and unavoidable experiences for female bodies in their society. As Monique Wittig asserts "The category of sex is the product of heterosexual society that turns half of the population into sexual beings, for sex is a category which women cannot be outside of. Wherever they are, whatever they do (including working in the public sector), they a re seen (and made) sexually available to men, and they, breasts, buttocks, costume, must be visible" (7). As the female characters in the novels find themselves newly sexual objects, this leads to an uncomfortable navigation of their own possible desires, especially as their interaction with any male peer must be sexual due to their sex differences. This new and constant objectification and the asserted (and supposedly natural) antagonism between genders / sexes leads to confusion in these girls' development and understanding of sexual attraction and attention. The girls are now always caught in a struggle between protecting themselves from unwanted sexual advances and at the same time desperately succumbing to the pressures of normative physical attractivenes s to gain the necessary, desired attention from boys. The texts teach and reinforce the belief that this attention will fulfill them, as the female characters are often depicted as searching and pining for "something special." Heteroromance is projected as somehow able to create the happiness the girls are lacking in their lives: rarely is their unhappiness suggested to have been caused by the constructed sex/gender antagonisms and the pressures of gendered expectations.


! 9 Julia J. Motes' study, "Teaching Gi rls to be Girls: Young Adult Series Fiction," (1998), performs an analysis similar to that of this thesis (though again, on different texts). Motes focuses on the ways in which young adult texts instill gender roles and teach girls to be girls. Motes's met hod "began reading, treating the text as a world in itself, looking at how female characters were described and at what behaviors authors programmed them to enact" (40). She finds a pattern of gendered messages presented to readers, resulting specifically from how authors depict their female protagonists. Motes organizes these messages into "three categories concerning female identity: 1. Females' relationships to themselves, 2. Females' relationships to other females, and 3. Females' relationships to males (40). I will follow a similar vein in this chapter, focusing on female characters' relationships to themselves and to other females (relationships to males will be saved for the third chapter on heterosexuality). In this chapter, I selected the featured novels due to the presence and focus on female characters' relationship to themselves, their bodies and occupation in society, as well as their relationship to other females, both their contemporaries and older women. Like Motes, I found that "females' re lationships to themselveswere dominated by an obsession with appearance as well as a linkage of appearance to success with males and / or a position of prestige" (40). Thus, most of the interactions with other females in the novels are portrayed as moments of comparison, competition, or education in feminine values as the authors deliver "the message that beauty is the defining characteristic for females" (Motes 42). These female


! 10 protagonists all feel the pressure to assimilate and achieve normative displays of femininity. What is strikingly shared among all of the protagonists is their isolation, which is directly tied to their difficulties with negotiating various types of femininity. Their harassment from peers, and specifically males, continues without r eal solution because their problems are presented and handled as individual problems. Though all of the novels repeat these same systemic gender issues, their protagonists can never overcome the harassment and abuse they are subject to for being young wome n in their society because they must deal with it individually Other young women will not necessarily offer support, even if the harassment and objectification happens to them as well. There is no sense of female bonding in the majority of these novels, a nd if it does exist, it is only with one other female friend (who usually also receives poor treatment from other groups of girls marked as enemies). This isolation, coupled with the unending social harassment leads to a sense of "divide and conquer" among young women, their connections to other young women, and their bodies. 3 The format of a young adult novel, in which individual characters must be represented, especially with first person narration, is limited in its options of presenting a character's pr oblem as something other than individual. As authors target audiences for sympathetic or relational readings, young adult readers are presented with the possibility of relating to the protagonist and her problems: but these novels !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 3 Eliane Rubin stein Avila's analysis of professional literature also found that sexism, when addressed, is most often discussed in isolation from racism, classism, homophobia and so on. Sexism across the professional literature is addressed mostly uncritically as an in dividual rather than a structural phenomenon and thus ignores the institutions through which sexism is reproduced. Few reviewers of young adult fiction are critical of the larger institutional barriers young female protagonists race, and fewer still addres s the cumulative discrimination faced by female protagonists of colour, especially those who are poor, working class and/or queer" (371).


! 11 never offer solutions for issues that all young women in the novels face. The only novel to challenge this format, offering both solutions and a protagonist that addresses her issues as they exist on a larger scale is The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things 4 A certain amo unt of this isolation centers on shame, another defining feature of femininity as presented by my selected novels. Whether is it shame over body development / image or feminine hygiene products, this constant sense of humiliation is very specific to feminini ty and something that young women "always" experience as part of their femininity (at least as reflected by these novels). Even if the protagonists offer the reader a reflection of their reality and experiences of their body, there are no messages in the n ovels saying that femininity need not be shameful: only reification of shame. 5 There is something specific about the physical body as a source of harassment and psychological distress for the young women in the novels. As a result, there is often explicit regret for the loss of childhood, a time when the characters had a distinct lack of sexual embodiment. These novels depict that personhood exists only during specific ages, childhood and old age, when femininity is not placed, read or enacted by and on th e body in such a determined and necessarily sexual manner. As I analyze these novels, it is important to continue to question what these novels are trying to do, within the pages and within society: how do these images and messages function ? What solutions can be offered ? Are young women left with accepting their !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 4 This book is also the only that explicitly names feminism, and that promotes female solidarity over blood kin (see C hapters Two and Three). And what does it mean that this novel, the only to offer solutions that break from the normative model of femininity and female compliance, is the most often marked for banning or censorship ? 5 With the exception of The Earth, My Bu tt, and Other Big Round Things


! 12 problems as personal, despite knowing that many other girls experience the same ? Do these novels build readerly community or isolate readers further to experience their struggles as individualized and solitary, shared only by a character in a book? 6 Criss Cross The narrative perspective of Criss Cross shifts between Debbie and Hector, two young adults beginning to negotiate (hetero)sexuality and their assigned gender relations. In this way, the n ovel's gender perspective is broadened, as readers receive both male and female viewpoints of young adulthood from the moving focus on characters and their experiences. In this chapter, Debbie's perspective is the focal point of my analysis: I treat Hector 's experience in the second chapter, which focuses on masculinity. These analyses will be useful to compare as a way of understanding how Criss Cross constructs femininity, masculinity, and sexuality. Heterosexual romance is at the core of most of Debbie's thoughts and actions (this content is analyzed in the third chapter of this thesis). Romantic interaction, though the focal point of this novel, is not the only exchange between the genders: Debbie's male friends deride and name her as less competent beca use of her gender. Lenny, who is romantically interested in Debbie and has been giving her driving lessons in his Dad's truck, is also one to explicitly belittle Debbie's competence, as he explains to other boys why Debbie is unfit to participate in physic al exertion: "Because she's a girl. In case you hadn't noticed. She's too helpless and puny and !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 6 Gina DeBlase's case study of middle school girls' meaning making through literacy revealed that "gendered discourses of love, romance, and pregnancy have a stronger hold on the girls than do stories about liberty or human rights. What is unambiguous is the way in which stories of female role models who exhibit courage and self determination are overshadowed by culturally dominant stories" (633).


! 13 weak to push" (195). Weakness and inability is read onto her female body as its natural consequence, and the constructed gender from that body alone is enough t o determine of what she is capable. However, because Lenny has been privileging her with driving lessons, she does not defend herself from his judgment: "Debbie was thinking that she was not helpless or weak, but that she wanted to drive again, so she wasn 't going to say anything about it" (196). Lenny holds the dominant and more powerful position from which he can discriminate against Debbie, who is reluctant to defend herself because she will lose the benefits she gets from her compliance with him. Debbie is often depicted thinking of the romance she believes is lacking in her life, and Criss Cross does not offer many instances depicting Debbie interacting with other females (especially not in the way some of the other novels have focused on this interacti on, such as at school). The novel does portray Debbie's relationship to an elderly neighbor, Mrs. Bruning, whom Debbie begins to assist around her home for tasks too difficult for the woman alone. The ways in which Mrs. Bruning is described, and the though ts Debbie has about her, are telling of constructions of femininity, both in younger and older women. When readers first meet Mrs. Bruning, we are offered a physical description of the woman, seemingly from the perspective of Debbie (though the novel is wr itten in third person). Mrs. Bruning was "short and solid, bottle shaped. A bottle of vinegar, or Pepto Bismol, with legs. She was one of those elderly women whose cleavage starts about two inches below her collarbone and your main response to it is an int ellectual curiosity about how that can even physically work" (171). Mrs.


! 14 Bruning's age, and the natural physical changes that occur with aging negate her femininity. Women's breast s that are not perky or ideally shaped or "endowed" become an "intellectual curiosity" rather than the sign of feminine identity and male attraction that Debbie understands her own to be. One of the few things Debbie knows about Mrs. Bruning is that her long hair has never been cut: "At least that's what people said. It may or may have not been true, but her hair seemed as if it might be pretty long" (172). This is the foremost defining feature of Mrs. Bruning for Debbie, thus when Mrs. Bruning requests Debbie cut it off, the younger girl responds nervously and hesitantly. Mrs. Bru ning's hair "fell down over her bosom and her lap, to a little past her knees. She looked like a very old milkmaid" (188). Here, Mrs. Bruning's hair seems to be what marks her as still a feminine woman. The "old milkmaid" would be only old, and ungendered, without her physical marker of femininity, her hair. Mrs. Bruning is excited and urges Debbie to cut off her long braids with haste, while Debbie falters. She asks if she should save the cut hair, and Mrs. Bruning snorts at the idea. Debbie realizes that she "didn't know what you would save [the braids] for, but she thought that tossing them in the trash was going to feel sacrilegious" (188). Perhaps Debbie feels so adverse to the act because she will effectively be destroying the remaining marker of femin inity that she perceives in Mrs. Bruning; long hair is a sign of feminine womanly identity, and without it Mrs. Bruning's age and her unsexed shape seem to make her hard to recognize. Debbie is so afraid of this power that she holds the braided hair as if "she half expected them to rebel, to rise up like cobras or cast indignant spells from where they lay" (189).


! 15 But the power of femininity no longer has a hold on Mrs. Bruning: she "didn't want a style, or anything she would have to fuss with. She was done with fussing. She wanted it all short and out of the way" (189). Because of her age and presumably post menopausal status as well as her widowhood, the time in her life when she had to confront and conform to femininity standards is past and Mrs. Bruning is eager to not be hindered by them any longer. But this frightens Debbie as she continues to cut the woman's hair: "Even though she had only followed Mrs. Bruning's instructions, she felt queasy. She fe lt like a vandal. She had single handedly sheared awa y Mrs. B's dignity and left her half bald" (189). Debbie thinks the dignity of this woman lies in her hair, so much that she begins to think that "maybe they could still retrieve the braids [from the trash], shake off the coffee grounds, and wrap them arou nd Mrs. B's head" (190), as if grasping at dirty, chopped off hair would save anyone's dignity. Mrs. Bruning proves Debbie's fears wrong, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.: Free at last, free at last, Great God A'mighty, I'm free at last'" (190). Though th is instance of rejection of femininity is clearly displayed for readers, there seems to be a difference between who is allowed to do the rejection. Mrs. Bruning, because of her age, is allowed to smash her constraints; Debbie, based on her reaction to the act, still seems afraid and removed from such possibilities of disregarding gendered social norms. Rather than seeing Mrs. Bruning as a model for her own possible rejection of feminine conventions, Debbie shows herself still thoroughly in thrall to the fem ininity that others expect her to represent.


! 16 Lush The first person protagonist of Lush Samantha, is an eighth grade student struggling with her father's alcoholism and the social navigations of being a thirteen year old girl. The female characters, and s pecifically Samantha, are sexually policed by their male peers. These continual sexual comments by boys about Sam's body encourage her to police and objectify herself: "Sometimes, when I am in the bathroom at night, I lock the door. I stand in front of the mirror, lean in, and try to be objective. Someone other than me, looking at me" (9). After this, Samantha describes judging all of the physical aspects of her body for attractiveness. She dissects and dismembers her features, rating them to some standard indicated by the male sexual attention she receives. Samantha notes that it is her breasts that marked the change in sexual attention, resulting in her choice in "clothes: the baggier, the better" (10). Despite the seeming discomfort with her body and the sexual leering she receives from the boys, Samantha is oddly compelled by the harassment. "I know why the jock boys are staring at me, and I don't exactly mind. I even like it. Kind of. But it also freaks me out because, well, what next ? (11). She feels a rush at becoming, what she perceives to be physically attractive to her male peers who control and dictate the heteronormative beauty standards of her school's society. Samantha wants to like the physical attention, though it is always delivered as sexu al harassment. She is forced to conflate compliments with leering objectification, all the while fearing the possibility of too much attention and what it could lead to (the lessons girls are taught in our society's rape culture).


! 17 Samantha's breasts are c onstantly sexualized and objectified. She is alienated from her childhood friend Charlie because she believes he choreographed the theft, peepshow and burial of her 7 th grade bra. Sam holds a deep resentment against Charlie, even though all of her male pee rs seem to subject her to harassment for her body. As she walks down the hall, she receives "the usual comments, all boob related, mostly out of Greg Vaughn's mouth. There's a lot of laughter" (32). Sam cannot tell whether Charlie is involved in this hara ssment, but names him guilty anyway. When she moves to retaliate, however, she finds herself unequipped: "I mean to shoot him the bird. Or, at least, the hairy eyeball. But instead I find myself sticking out my tongue. Like a third grader. Which is horrify ing. I have no idea what made me do it, yet here I am" (32 33). Sam's response can only take form in a "childish" response to the "adult" sexualiziation to which she is being subjected in her moment of reaction she falls back on the kind of exchange she mi ght have had with Charlie in the past, making her feel as though she's come off as less powerful than her harassers again. It is this transition from childhood to young adulthood that catalyzes the attention to Samantha's physical body. The boys are not t he only ones sexualizing her body; Samantha's grandmother participates as well. Here the expectations of femininity are delivered from grandmother to granddaughter; female objectification is shown to be perpetuated by both men and women, even by women to w hom the developing woman ought to be able to look for support and guidance:


! 18 "Let me look at you," Nana says, stepping back. "My word!" Nana makes clicking noises with her tongue and shakes her head like she can't believe it. "The breast fairy made a visit ." Oh. My. God. If there were a hole in the floor right now, I would crawl in. Nana smiles. "It's a blessingWomen would give up their firstborn for ta tas like those." (36) Nana is reinforcing the idea that women's breasts should be desired to be a certai n size, and are something to be viewed as an asset, in a word, objectified. Young asserts: "In the total scheme of the objectification of women, breasts are the primary things (190) 7 After this conversation and critical gaze from her grandmother, Sam res umes her self objectifying in front of the mirror: "I am upstairs, locked in the bathroom. I am standing in front of the mirror with my pajama top yanked up, staring. Women would give up their firstborn for ta tas like those (38). The reader can hear the prescription of feminine ideals as they are drilled into Sam's mind. Immediately following this moment, Samantha expresses regret for the lost freedom of her nonsexualized childhood: "Oh, I am missing my kid self so much right now. Young and flat and cluel ess about everything from boys to the whiskey bottle behind the toilet" (38). 8 Young adulthood forces Sam to confront her immersion into !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 7 Young also notes, "Breasts are the symbol of feminine sexuality, so the "best breasts are like the phallus: high, hard, and pointy. What matters is the look of them, how they measure up before the normalizing gaze" (190 1). She must also confront her father's alcoholism. Her grandmother teaches her to remain silent about the iss ue, that family problems (her father's alcoholism) must kept repressed by the women of the family. When Nana pressures Samantha on this concern, Sam reassures that she has told no one, which Nana rewards with calling her a "good girl" (48). Sam wonders, "W ould I be a bad girl if I talked to my friends ?


! 19 womanhood, because everyone around her takes it as their right to comment on, assess, and ultimately to objectify her b ody. A scene in the lunchroom offers another glimpse at the harassment Samantha receives for her breasts: Just before the bell rings, Kyle Faulkner and Greg Vaughn get up and prance by our table, oranges under their shirts. "Who am I ? Kyle Faulkner asks cupping his chest. Greg Vaughn follows, one orange slightly higher than the other. "Who am I ? I shake my head almost imperceptibly. The fruit as boobs act is not new. But today, they're looking straight at me. So is every other boy in the cafeteria... ( 53) But Samantha's friends rush to her rescue, hissing and squinting while throwing food at Sam's offenders. When the lunch monitor threatens their behavior, they respond: "We're uncomfortable dining in this environmentIt's sexual harassment" (54). Howeve r, despite naming this as "sexual harassment there are no consequences for any involved parties, and the acknowledgement of sexual harassment does little to assuage the constant barrage of objectification and invasion that the girls must endure. Sexual h arassment accusations and consequences do not appear again in the novel after this brief instance, suggesting that this kind of response is ineffective and useless. Even after recognizing sexual harassment and naming it as such, the girls continue to let it happen and rule both their self perception and perception of other


! 20 girls. As Motes finds in her analysis, characters' conceptions of themselves "becom es a contest of self worth" the winner being the most physically attractive and unanimously considered that by their surrounding society (41) Not only are the female characters in Lush seen policing and speaking derogatorily about other girls' appearances, but they are complicit with a a rating list of all of the girls of the school that the boys publish and release. Samantha describes the list and the power given to it by her peers: The eighth grade boys have developed a rating system. They call it the Best of the Best. It is mostly body parts, but occasionally they throw in a non looks category All wee k a sheet of orange paper hangs in Danny Harmon's locker. Heavily guarded. But then, after the weekend, the list comes down and the girls are allowed to see it. On Monday morning, the gym locker room is chaos. Everyone crowds around the mirrors, checking o ut hair and smoothing lip gloss and pretending they don't know exactly what day it is. (62) The list is then read aloud to the crowding female peers, by the most popular and voted attractive eighth grade girl, Molly Katz, who proceeds to win nearly every c ategory. Molly is given social power for her physical attractiveness, and gains even more control and power over the other girls as she announces herself winner of being voted the best female by her male peers. However, there is a surprise in the ratings one week: Samantha wins "Best Boobs." After this "award," Sam is subjected to even more objectification of her chest, as it is now an "honor" that everyone, including Samantha, should appreciate.


! 21 But Sam feels mortified and uncomfortable, as she doesn't kn ow how to respond or protect herself from objectification. She repeats the mantra in her head, I will not fold my arms over my chest (64), trying to remain unaffected and stoic in the face of all of the unwanted attention, but her friends are more intere sted in congratulating her on her "achievement." Her friends take this ranking on the list to mean that she has "crossed over" (65), and can now get any boy she wants. Receiving a position on the objectification list means that Sam has reached and succeede d in some marker of femininity, one that suggests she will now excel in hetero romance. Lush is overtly concerned with the struggles of an adolescent girl living with parental alcoholism. At the back of the novel, readers are provided with a resource list for children with alcoholic parents or guardians. Samantha's early development of large breasts and constant sexual harassment is for the novel, simply another conflict she must manage; but there are no resources at the back of the book offered for sexual harassment or assault. The novel's focus on Samantha's breasts, the attitudes of both her male and female peers and even her grandmother to her bodily shape highlights the ways in which the protagonist's body is treated as an alienated and alienating thin g one that can be used as an asset in her struggle for social standing, and thus perpetuating or even modeling a particular way for girl readers to conceive of their bodies and their selves.


! 22 What My Mother Doesn't Know What My Mother Doesn't Know also re presents its protagonist self policing her body and rating her femininity against that of other females. The novel presents a first person narrator, Sophie, who criticizes her body in comparison to those of other girls whom she fears are more appropriately feminine, and thus desirable, than she. Sophie demonstrates explicitly the femininity comparison and competition that Motes speaks of: Watching Dylan with his old girlfriend Ivy makes me feel like some sort of Amazonian freak of nature, like I'm the World Trade Center of teenage girls. I bet whenever they went to the beach he used to pick her up and throw her in the water. I bet if he tried to pick me up his knees would buckle. Not that I'm fat. It's just that I'm tall and there is so darn much of me. I'm thinking Dylan should be with someone more like Ivy, someone petite and blonde and infinitely perky. I'm wondering what he's doing with huge old, mousy brown, terminally sluggy me. (37) Sophie is holding herself not only against Ivy, but what she perceives to be the ideal, heterosexual display of femininity. "Amazonian" is a bad thing, a sense of being / having too much body in comparison to idealized diminutive femininity. She finds none of her traits positive or desirable, and her self / other description ind icates the cultural prescriptions of ideal femininity she has received. As Motes argues for the characters she studied, "The crisis over her looks is not resolved by an acceptance of herself, but by the judgment of her as beautiful by


! 23 outsiders" (41). Sop hie is reassured only when Dylan speaks negatively of Ivy. The text reinforces that male decisions, preferences and pronouncements on feminine attractiveness are what assure a girl's appropriate and successful performance of femininity, that boys hold all of the power in girls' worth and conception of self (esteem). Sophie's education into femininity from her mother following sexual maturation (menstruation) was lacking, and leaves Sophie with a sense of foreignness from and embarrassment over biological a spects of her body. Her period, a sign of womanhood or transition into a young woman, causes Sophie shame and nervousness. She cannot name tampons ("you know whats"), and when she needs to buy feminine hygiene products, the drug store and its aisles are a nervous negotiation. Sex differences prevent Sophie from buying her needed tampons because the cashier of the drug store is a guy (49). Sophie ditches her tampons and escapes the store without objects necessary for her (and signaling her) "femininity" be cause purchasing such an item would be too uncomfortable from a male cashier (49 50). This is an instance of the shame attached to femininity, and more specifically the female body's functions. In a brief online relationship, Sophie marvels in physical ap pearance being removed from the equation of romance, the locus being distanced from a physical body: "There's something so neat about not even knowing what he looks like. Something even neater about not even caring" (84). However, t his online relationship


! 24 ends abruptly : as soon as "Chaz" becomes sexually explicit, Sophie becomes horrified, disgusted and afraid 9 Though this seems like a possible moment of self consciousness in the text about the constraints of expectations for a certain physical appearance or "lookism ," Sophie only continues to criticize herself and her love interests over whether or not they make appropriate physical displays and conform to traditional gender types. Interestingly, when she breaks up with her boyfriend Dylan and makes him cr y, she feels "way more powerful than [she] wanted to feel" (107). Is this because she assumes the traditionally masculine position of dominance in calling the relationship over, while Dylan expresses emotion (traditionally linked to femininity) that makes him seem submissive ? Despite the novel's loyalty to heteronormativity and gender prescriptions, Sophie is one of the few female characters I found in this literature who reacts and defends herself after she is physically harassed. The act is committed by a tenth grade boy as Sophie is waiting to be picked up by her mother: I never thought it would happen this way with the guy standing closest to me suddenly bursting out laughing and grabbing my breasts with his slimy paws, squeezing them for a split seco nd that seems to last forever. I never imagined myself just standing there with this huge lump in my throat, feeling so mad that steam would practically be blasting out of my ears. (143) However, Sophie does not remain standing silent and furious. She reta liates physically, punching and kicking the boys and making them flee the scene. This is a !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 9 Sophie wants the romance script, but not the sexually explicit aspects (see Chapter Three).


! 25 distinct display of autonomous self defense and embodied action against the constant harassment girls receive. Though Sophie feels the potential of nonresponse and s moldering anger, she surprises even herself with her physical action against her assault. In these two moments when she breaks up with Dylan and recognizes her ability to call an end to the relationship and in the scene where she physically fights back aga inst the boys who assaulted her Sophie breaks with the conventional expectation that girls should be physically contained, polite, and submissive in the face of male power. The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things First person narrator and protagoni st of The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things Virginia Shreves, offers the most self conscious commentary on constructions of femininity and the social reality of young female adults. Probably like the readers of the novel, Virginia is caught up in successfully achieving femininity in order to achieve hetero romance. But Virginia, though initially self loathing and constantly reifying feminine beauty ideals, insightfully points to the cultural enforcers of this ideal and by the end of the novel empha tically breaks gender norms and prescriptions and fights back against male enforcement of femininity. This novel still promotes heteronormativity, and asserts that hetero romance is what makes girls and women happy, but there is challenge to normative phys ical constructions of femininity. When the novel begins, readers are thrust into Virginia's mind: her self conceptions which are mostly degrading, because she has been ingrained with the


! 26 cultural belief that she is unattractive or "fat" for not meeting b ody weight ideals. Virginia repeatedly sacrifices her self, her body, and her own desires because of her perceived (and socially labeled) failure to meet femininity beauty norms. Virginia does not believe she can have a mutually satisfying heterosexual rel ationship because being overweight is inherently failing desirable displays of femininity. From Virginia's perspective: Fact of Life #1: Fat girls don't get much action (16). Virginia creates a "Fat Girl Code of Conduct" that dictates what "fat girls" mu st expect from their heterosexual relationships. This code also includes how fat girls must handle themselves in comparison to girls who achieve idealized feminine beauty: "3. Go further than skinny girls. Find ways to alert him to this, such as slutty com ments peppered into conversation. If you can't sell him on your body, you'd better overcompensate with sexual perks Bottom line: Let him get the milk without having to buy the cow" (16 7). Virginia believes that because of her weight, something she consid ers a "handicap" (24), her displays of femininity must be more sexual, her actions more promiscuous, in order to make up for not meeting beauty ideals. This gives even more power and dominance to boys and men in controlling and dictating what is appropriat ely attractive and feminine. It also makes Virginia potentially sexually vulnerable, because she perceives it as necessary to make herself more available s exually than conventional weight girls in order to get some male attention and affection. Virginia receives pressure about her weight from nearly everyone in her surrounding community: her mother, father, brother, and other girls at school enforce and prescribe beauty and femininity norms. Virginia's Dad is "the first to admit that


! 27 he likes women skinny (18) and her mother obsesses over her daughter's weight, forcing doctor's visits, only taking her shopping in the plus sized department and pressuring her into dieting. "Mom has a hard time talking about my body[she] wants me to be thin and perfect, lik e the rest of the Shrevesshe can barely say the word fat' around me" (35). Virginia's self esteem and self conception are negatively influenced and warped by her mother and father's derogation of non thin bodies. Her dad exemplifies the male gaze, regu lation and determination of female attractiveness: A woman in microscopic shorts and a bikini top parades around the baseball diamond. Dad whistles. "Now there's an attractive woman." Typical Dad. He's constantly praising thin women's bodies. It used to dr ive Ana•s crazy. Whenever Dad would compliment her figure, she would yell at him and spout feminist theory about how men shouldn't judge women by their body type. Even though I've heard the skinny women are more attractive spiel a million times in my life, it strikes a sore nerve tonight. (18) Virginia's older "feminist" sister Ana•s is represented as the source of a nascent and resistance consciousness, but even in her presence, Virginia isn't always moved to be sore about such judgment of femininity and f emale objectification. She is immersed in various sourced messages telling her she is unattractive because of her failings in idealized femininity, messages which she mostly accepts in the novel's first half.


! 28 After visiting the doctor and being pressured t o agree to a diet, her father explicitly degrades his daughter: "Think how much prettier you could be if you lost twenty or thirty pounds." I feel like I've been punched in the stomach. I've always known that Dad was absent on the day they handed out tact And I've always known that Dad is a fan of thin women. But he's never said it so bluntly that I'm not attractive the way I am. I can't speak. I can't look up. If I do, I'll burst into tears. (67) Virginia is told so many times that she does not succeed at femininity that she is forced to attempt conformation to norms. Feminist influence and consciousness of constructions are irrelevant to a young adult who needs to fit into society in order to survive the social pressures that repeatedly bash her existe nce. Virginia accepts the pressures to begin dieting. Virginia's "dieting," a near requirement for women to achieve idealized femininity, actually equates to simply starving herself. She suffers physical pain from depriving her body, but uses fantasies of idealized femininity to enforce her starvation: [R]ather than surrendering to my appetite, I'd close my eyes and play a Thin Virginia fantasy in my head. I'd visualize myself partying up at Columbia. See how sexy I look in a bra and thongs and hip hugger jeans! I even imagined Dad complimenting my body, like he used to


! 29 with Ana•s. Except I wouldn't get angry at him and launch into a feminist tirade the way my sister did. (69) Virginia desperately wants confirmation and acceptance for reaching desirable fem ininity, even looks forward to the day her own father objectifies her like the half naked women on television. He encourages her dieting, promising her a shopping spree as a reward for lost weight and inserting a full length mirror in her room so she can m onitor herself losing weight. Virginia's mother is no better in teaching her daughter healthy self esteem. She offers maternal affection and approval only when Virginia displays or shows attempts at meeting feminine beauty ideals. Virginia contemplates o rdering the lightest menu items at a restaurant to "score an approving maternal smile" (94). Any moment or act that signals dieting blatantly pleases Mrs. Shreves, such as when Virginia tears images of waifish models out of magazines, "ripping out the skin niest girls, the ones I'm most aiming to resemble. These models will be my Food Police. They'll be my thinspiration (72). Virginia posts them on the refrigerator door to encourage self policing. Don't do it they'll say. Not if you want to be thin like u s ." These actions offer a rare moment for Virginia: her mother tells her she is proud of her for being "like mother, like daughter" (74). This is the first time mother daughter kinship association has been made for Virginia, "and that in itself is worth on e hundred years of hunger" (74). Virginia must meet or attempt to meet feminine beauty ideals in order to be accepted, acknowledged, and loved by her parents. This is extremely damaging to Virginia's self conception, and her peers at school only further en force this gender prescription and weightism.


! 30 When at school, Virginia negotiates constantly comparing herself to the girls she sees as more successfully achieving femininity than she: "I hate calling attention to myself. A lot of it has to do with being heavy at a school where nearly every other girl weighs two pounds" (22). And this is not by some naturalness of femininity that the other girls possess the text makes explicit that anything to stay thin, dieting and eating disorders, is the first and for emost agenda of young female adults, especially at Virginia's elite private school. Virginia secretly observes "The Queen Bee Popular Girls of the tenth grade" in the bathroom one day as they very clearly construct femininity: I half listen to them discuss ing makeup, shopping, body, hair, body, shopping, makeup. Brinna brags about how little she ate yesterdayBriar boasts about spending two hours at the gymBrie, of course, tops them both. "I was at French Connection and I didn't even fit into their size tw o skirts." "Oh my god!" squeals Brinna. "I'm so jealous!" says Briar. (26 7) When the conversation suddenly turns to Virginia herself, the girls display how discordant with femininity her weight is: "After a moment Brie says, All I can say is, if I were t hat fat, I'd kill myself'" (28). Being an overweight girl is so undesirable, death is preferable. 10 These girls reinforce for Virginia that she fails at being feminine !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 10 Ironically Brie's eating disorder later makes her ill and unhealthy: "She looks awful pale and small, like a flutter of wind could blow her away" (224).


! 31 and attractive and thus has no purpose or social standing and might as well kill herself (however flippantly suggested). Motes argues that: These authors are sending painful messages to a very young female readership regarding their relationships to food and their bodies that not only threaten girls' emotional well being, but their lives. The se authors are almost preaching eating disorders. They are teaching girls to be painfully conscious of their weight and do what they can to control it. Their success as people depends on it. (44) Even though The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is overtly aimed to combat the excessive pressure on young women to worry about body weight in the end, the first half of the novel depicts in excessive detail the external and internal costs and consequences of Virginia's failure to meet an ideal body wei ght. The book is about the problem this thesis points to the experiences of girls socialized into thinness and meeting femininity beauty standards. Even though the book is heading towards this critique found in the second half, in the process it still ha s to detail the more normative pressures and in doing that, it also can press readers into that mindset. The constant barrage of body image degradation instills intense body hate and discomfort in Virginia. She avoids mirrors and her reflection habitually : "I use this sink as much as possible because the kitchen is the only other room in the apartment besides mine that doesn't have a mirror. I hate mirrors. That's why I limit my reflection gazing to twelve seconds in the morning" (15). Virginia's reflecti on is a signifier of her failed femininity. She covers her body with pillows because she


! 32 "always feel[s] safer that way, like [her] body is more concealed" (52). After starving herself for a week, Virginia decides to confront her naked body for the first t ime. When she finally sees herself, Virginia is disgusted and can only think of the people who have criticized her weight or named her unattractive and how much she agrees with these people. She immediately begins objectifying herself, dissecting her par ts and then violently reproaching them and herself: I direct my eyes to my stomach. This'll be the first to go. I grab a fold of my tummy and squeeze. It hurts, but a good pain, like I'm showing my body who's boss. I squeeze it once more, so hard that I su ck in my breath. Next, I zero in on my outer thighs. They're dimpled with cellulite, resembling cottage cheese. I pinch the flesh on my thighs between my fingers and thumb. I pinch and squeeze all over my butt cheeks, so hard that it leaves red marks. I'm choking back tears, but I keep telling myself that I deserve this. I got myself this way. I proceed to pinch every unsightly part of my body my inner thighs, my upper arms, my breasts, my hips. I'm pinching and cryingI keep grabbing at my skin, harder e very time. (78) Virginia's violent self disciplining here represents the enforcement of social constructions of beauty, her society's non negatable influence on her self perception and worth. She thinks herself deserving of pain because of her body and its lack of conformity with unhealthy beauty standards. Physical and psychological harm abound from Virginia's treatment by her surrounding community: self harm (pinching, burning, starving) and suicidal thoughts


! 33 are not foreign in this the book. Virginia fi nds strange comfort and sympathy upon discovering Queen Bee Brie's bulimia: "I actually feel sorry for her. I mean, we're on opposite ends of the weight spectrum, but I know what it's like to hate your body so much that you want to hurt it" (153 4). Motes asserts that YA books "create a breeding ground for bulimia. Female protagonists were either eating obsessively out of emotional disarray or obsessively dieting to shove their bodies into the tiny frame of perceived attractiveness" (43). While like Motes I find evidence here of just this kind of obsessive dieting or overeating, Mackler is attempting to have a somewhat different effect on her readers from the authors in Motes's study. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things is explicitly conscious of society's pressures on young female bodied adults, the prescriptions and constraints girls face to fit the ideal model of femininity. But do its readers recognize this, or are they caught up in meeting gender demands as much as Virginia ? Does the book work ? The book is clearly pointing to the problems of social construction and hegemonic enforcement of gender ideals, but how far does this cultural criticism go before it is read as reification and didacticism of norm enforcement ? Readers are given wider poss ibilities in expression and conception of self in the last quarter of the book, when Virginia begins to rebel against the social pressures and harassment over her appearance. She gets an eyebrow piercing without her parents' permission, an act in establish ing a chosen identity and altering appearance normativity: "I can't believe how much I love my eyebrow ring. It makes me look unique and interesting" (179). Perhaps this is because it goes against normative, Western conceptions of female beauty. Her mother certainly holds this opinion, calling the piercing "barbaric" and


! 34 "just unattractive" (186). However, Virginia no longer lets her mother's opinions control her own actions and thoughts. She no longer is ashamed of her body, and does not wish to hide it be hind baggy clothes. She dyes her hair purple, finds clothing that she herself considers empowering and flattering without concealing her body's form, and speaks back to her mother, brother, and father about their harassment and objectification: "I'd rather you don't talk about my body. It's just not yours to discuss" (237). This message is important for readers to receive, and this text is the only one I found to make such explicit wording against the objectification girls receive. It provides readers with knowledge and reassurance that physical and psychological harassment is unacceptable, that such invasive enforcement of body and gender norms is no one's right, and that girls should not accept sexual harassment as inevitable part of their assigned gender Does this message come too late in the game though ? How strongly do readers receive the impact of this lesson after it has been obscured by one hundred and fifty pages of derogation and self hate for female body image ? Conclusion While The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things tackles a real problem and does eventually show Virginia speaking up for herself and refusing to fit into conventions of feminine beauty that require low body weight, and the novel additionally shows the harmful effects of Brie's punitive dieting, it also depicts in painful detail the self hate and anxiety Virginia feels for most of the book about her


! 35 own body. Moreover, the book explicitly sets to one side "feminist" arguments or resistance as something that her older siste r does, but that Virginia doesn't fully want to imitate. In the end, Virginia's learning to live with her own body weight and claiming a playful and empowering relationship through a piercing and hair dye is just another individual solution to a personal p roblem. The personal is not political at least only minimally so in these novels when it comes to femininity. What these novels reiterate to their readers is Young's argument in Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment, Motility and Spatiality ": [W] oman lives her body as object as well as subject. The source of this is that patriarchal society defines woman as object, as a mere body, and that in sexist society women are in fact frequently regarded by others as objects and mere bodies. An essential part of the situation of being a woman is that of living the ever present possibility that one will be gazed upon as a mere body, as shape and flesh that presents itself as the potential object of another subject's intentions and manip ulations, rather than as a living manifestation of action and intention. The source of this objectified bodily existence is in the attitude of others regarding her, but the woman herself often actively takes up her body as a mere thing. She gazes at it in the mirror, worries about how it looks to others, prunes it, shapes it, molds and decorates it. This objectified bodily existence accounts for the self consciousness of the feminine relation to her body and resulting d istance she takes from her body. (155)


! 36 These YA novels with some exception for The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things never make sexism understood as a structural inequality that can be actively challenged instead of passively accepted and endured.


! 37 Chapter Two : Displaying M asculinity in YAL While femininity and its social consequences are isolated (and isolating), individual problems for girls in my selected YAL, masculinity is likewise imagined as limiting and limited. Masculinity is most often depicted in narrow expressi ons of heterosexual desire, hinging on lecherous intention and interaction with female characters. The prescriptions and depictions of masculinity can be as limiting for readers as those of femininity, though in the end male privilege / supremacy is still mo re powerful as the novels portray hegemonic masculinity worship (which is inspired by the expectations of heterosexuality). The societal patriarchal structure, which also constructs standards of heterosexual femininity, continues to dictate to female and m ale readers that women desire and expect specific displays of masculinity. In these novels, masculinity is understood as the polar opposite of femininity boys are math and science minded, rough, strong and unemotional, or at least undemonstrative. Mascul inity is as steeped in traditional sex typing as the femininity explored in my first chapter. In particular, masculinity is strongly tied to heterosexuality. In fact, heterosexual desire is the most cited, defining characteristic of masculinity in my sele cted works. To be male and masculine is to be heterosexually oriented toward girls and women as one's sexual focus. Often, the display of heterosexual attraction and interest is fueled largely by maintenance of masculinity norms in order to avoid gay slurs and accusations. In these novels, the "normal" actions of a young man in the context of a young woman are always sexual. This is given as natural for boys and men, still harking back to (false) biological differences that allow and perpetuate


! 38 sexual hara ssment, assault, and rape cultu re. Boys and men are most often depicted in the novels as predatory, harassing, antagonistic or oppositional toward girls, and always sexually desirous; yet, men are still the appointed subjects of female attention and romant ic desire. Readers are given very little room for other conceptions of masculinity; moreover, they are continually being told that young women should comply with this misogynistic and limiting scope of interpersonal relation. There is a recurrent theme t hroughout the majority of the novels of boys exploiting and using girls for sexual gain. Though harmful and degrading for the girls, there is little recourse against or public address of these issues. Instead these incidents set norms and reinforce how boy s should and do treat girls establishing a standard and expectation for maltreatment, abuse, and misogyny. This constant theme represents inter gender relations as limited to those of antagonism and / or sexual predation. These kinds of relations are compo unded because the girls are pressured into conforming to heterosexual standards of femininity that tell them to expect, endure, and eventually desire this sort of relationship to men when it is coded as romance. Although not all of the depictions of masc ulinity are so narrow in these books, they do privilege a very specific, heterosexual form of masculinity. The novels I focus on in this chapter offer some glimpses of non normative male characters that challenge physical social norms for boys and men, yet overall they still reify and idolize specific displays of traditional masculinity (especially in comparison to the unconventional masculinities). 11 A more in depth analysis in masculinities from !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 11 R.W. Connell notes in Masculinities The number of men rigorously practicing the hegemonic pattern [of masculinity] in its entirety may be quite small. Yet the majority of men gain from its


! 39 modern YAL would complement this thesis and offer a wider sco pe and perspective for investigating the constructions of gender and sexuality in YAL. This chapter samples so me constructions of masculinity and assists in analyzing the specific ways my selected novels present gender to their readers. The Absolutely Tru e Diary of a Part Time Indian This novel is the only of my selected works that is delivered by a male first person narrator. Junior is a Native American boy living on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington, who due to his academic success, is bused out of the reservation to go to a wealthier, white high school, Reardan. Here he faces racism on a much larger scale than in the generally (racially) safe space of the reservation, which intersects with challenges to his masculinity. From his birth, Junior has had numerous medical problems; he has a speech impediment in the form of a lisp, is not athletic, and wears thick glasses. Junior does not fit many masculinity norms, so the book emphasizes his assertions of heterosexuality and attraction to women's b odies. 12 This heterosexuality is necessary for Junior to assert, especially because his failure to display normative indicators of masculinity make him a target for harassment and homophobic slurs. Junior's claim to heterosexuality is especially important because of Junior's only friend, Rowdy's, stereotypically aggressive and masculine performance; their intimate homosocial bonding is always tempered by !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! hegemony, since t hey benefit from the patriarchal dividend, the advantage men in general gain from the overall subordination of wo men (79). 12 Junior proudly and positively informs readers of his healthy, active masturbation habits, inspired by images of naked women: Ever ybody does it. And everybody likes it" (26). He goes further in combating masturbation shame: "And if God hadn't wanted us to masturbate, then God wouldn't have given us thumbs" (26), although, it is unclear whether the us' in this sentence refers to peop le, or only men.


! 40 homophobic comments to reassure themselves and their society of their "normal" (straight) friendship. Wh en Junior is about to transfer schools, he breaks the news to Rowdy shakily: "I wanted to tell him that he was my best friend and I loved him like crazy, but boys didn't say such things to other boys, and nobody said such things to Rowdy" (49). When Junior makes it clear to Rowdy that he is really leaving, Rowdy becomes nonresponsive. Junior tries to reach out, but is met with hostility: "He coughed and turned away from me. I touched his shoulder. Why did I touch his shoulder ? I don't know. I was stupid. Ro wdy spun around and shoved me. Don't touch me, you retarded fag!' he yelled" (52). After another attempt for physical contact, Rowdy punches Junior to the ground, and the boy is left friendless and bleeding. Male to male affection is completely unacceptab le, and displays of strong friendship ties are not appropriate without being subject to scrutiny for homosexuality. Junior's experiences as the only racialized Other at his new school are unendingly challenging, especially because his peers on the Spokane Reservation antagonize and isolate him even further for his decision to go to a rich white high school because of his academic interests. When Junior tries to make friends with another unpopular student at his new high school, he is again met with the cha llenges of homosocial male bonding always asserting heterosexuality: "I want to be your friend," I said. "Excuse me ? he asked. "I want us to be friends," I said. Gordy stepped back.


! 41 "I assure you," he said. "I am not a homosexual." (94) Only a fter convincing Gordy he just wants to be "regular friends" is Junior able to forge a friendship with another outcast. In order to even have same sex friends, boys must constantly assert their "straight" sexuality; the declared rejection of homosexuality i s much like the expectation that masculinity stands in stark opposition to femininity. Isolated and friendless at home on the reservation, Junior attempts once more to reach out to Rowdy in friendship. He draws a cartoon for his former best friend, but Row dy isn't home when Junior tries to deliver it. Junior asks Rowdy's father to give him the picture and is instantly smeared for his artwork: "Rowdy's dad took the cartoon and stared at it for a while. Then he smirked. You're kind of gay, aren't you ? he as ked" (103). Junior recognizes these insults as wrong, and is conscious that he is "being courageous, and [] trying to fix [his] broken friendship"; he goes on to think, "if that was gay, then okay, I was the gayest dude in the world" (103). Junior himself informs readers that homosocial affection and bonding is norm al and healthy, that having loving feelings for another male is not negative. Although the novel is interested in male friendship, the text continues to reinforce that there are only certain acc eptable ways to show such a relationship, and that every action must be guarded from misinterpretation as "gay." Junior is never truly fazed by these gay accusations, but this seems rooted in his own confidence in his sexual attraction to women. His hetero sexuality reinforces and secures his sense of masculinity. He makes this explicit when he gets his first


! 42 girlfriend 13 : "Mostly I loved to look at her. I guess that's what boys do, right ? And men. We look at girls and women. We stare at them" (113). This rei fication of heterosexual masculinity, but more specifically this sanctioning the objectification of women through scopophilia as natural for straight men, is problematic for readers who may be seeking alternative versions of masculinity or themselves quest ioning. The novel reinforces that gay slurs can be beaten back or laughed at as long as boys are confident in their heterosexuality (not actually homosexual or bisexual), and that subjecting women and girls to the male gaze is something that men naturally do because they have eyes. By the end of the novel, gay slurs help reconcile Junior and Rowdy, and the offensive language becomes an ongoing joke between the two. Junior emails Rowdy after a rival basketball game between the two, where Junior's team were t he victors: "We'll kick your asses next year," Rowdy wrote back. "And you'll cry like the little faggot you are." "I might be a faggot," I wrote back, "but I'm the faggot who beat you." "Ha ha," Rowdy wrote. Now that might just sound like a series of homop hobic insults, but I think it was also a little bit friendly, and it was the first time that Rowdy had talked to me since I left the rez. I was a happy faggot! (197 8) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! #$ A popular girl uses Junior for his racial minority status to upset her father; Junior uses her to gain popularity via her existing status. This works, as with Penelope's approval, "all of the other girls in school decided that I was cute tooall of the other boys in school decided that I was a major stud" (110).


! 43 Though conscious of the homophobic status of the term "faggot," this normalization and p romotion of hate speech is troubling. While trying to negotiate male bonding's social reception and perception, that showing care for another boy does not need to trigger a "gay panic" response, the novel risks reifying this homophobic language as a kind o f boys among boys teasing that is somehow not damaging if you have a sense of humor. The novel suggests here that the only way of participating in male to male homosocial relationships is by constantly flinging gay slurs to defend one's masculinity or det ract from someone else's masculinity. While Junior calls himself a "happy faggot" briefly, when he is reunited with Rowdy in the last chapter they continue using derogatory homophobic slurs while asserting heterosexual dominance: "I love that tree," I s aid. "That's because you're a tree fag," Rowdy said. "I'm not a tree fag," I said. "Then how come you like to stick your dick inside knotholes ? "I stick my dick in the girl trees," I said. Rowdy laughed his ha ha, hee hee avalanche laugh. I love d to make him laugh. (225) This is nearly the last scene in the book, and the ending note of homophobia, acceptability of gay slurs, and assertion of masculinity via heterosexual dominance is reasserted for readers. While Junior offers a physically non no rmative masculinity, his heterosexuality saves him from being a "real" fag, and he is free to participate in


! 44 perpetuating derogatory speech with his hyper masculine best friend by making the absent gay boy the butt of their homophobic humor. While this nov el attempts to grapple with homosociality and masculinity inhibitions, it also ends by reinforcing and promoting hate speech as a (humorous) way to alleviate the social rules of male to male bonding and affection. Lush Lush offers the most negative por trait of masculinity, with every male in the novel (save one gay schoolmate with whom Sam forges a friendship with at the end of the novel 14 ) involved in sexual and psychological harassment, assault, and dominance over their female peers. Boys are either "y our enemies or they want to mash with you," (3) but these two options are nearly the same in their derogatory and invasive actions against girls. Sam's classmates, the eighth grade boys, are she says, "plain hopeless and occasionally evil" (8), and they co nstantly sexualize and harass Sam because of her body. This causes a conflation between harassment and compliment, as Sam is left desiring and enjoying the attention even though it is in the form of lewd and inappropriate sexual harassment that also makes her uncomfortable. Sam recognizes her conflicting desire and fear, and her relation to boys is negatively affected by it: "I know why the jock boys are staring at me, and I don't exactly mind. I even like it. Kind of. But it also freaks me out because, we ll, what next ? (11). She is not bothered that they are sexually attracted to her, she perhaps even enjoys being noticeable for her appearance, being a desirable object. Yet, the !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 14 When he comes out to Sam she responds, "What does a person even do with that information ? of knowing someone is gay.


! 45 actual sexual implications of "what's next," that it could go beyond just sta ring, makes Sam nervous. Every interaction with boys consists of so much sexual leering and harassment that Sam is left uncertain of what may be done to her, what she might do or allow another to do, or perhaps what one may do against her will. She can alm ost never escape offensive comments and sexual remarks at her expense: "Here is the problem with eighth grade boys: They don't need encouragement. They just keep on going, anyway" (18). Nothing can be done to deter any of the girls' harassment, even when i t is called out as sexual harassment; the culture of Sam's school only breeds and encourages such behavior. Here is a reminder of Junior's assertion: that boys love and cannot help but stare at girls and women it is natural and unavoidable. The boys' in terest isn't at all hard to read it is sexual and it seems to make all of the boys similar; this could be part of heterosexual male bonding. As discussed in Chapter One, the eighth grade boys are also responsible for compiling a list rating all of the ir female schoolmates on attractiveness, "mostly body parts" (62). The girls of the school allow this objectifying ritual to control them; they gather around the list when it is posted publicly and read it out loud, envying and congratulating those girls w ho make it onto the objectified list. Considering this practice as a performance of masculinity, we can see that the list not only turns the girls into body parts and objects, but also consolidates the males as a dominant group that possesses the power to judge. While the girls are complicit, the list is also a way of policing the boys into making the right judgments, having their desires reified and consolidated, and ensuring that they participate in this heterosexualizing ritual.


! 46 The difficulties of nav igating her own desire in a hostile social environment leads to a bad romantic development between Sam and a high school boy, Drew. The first time Drew sees Sam, he covers her eyes and pulls her close, saying "guess who?" (47). Up to this point, Sam has ne ver met him; she does not even go to school with him. Sam flees the scene when this happens, but later is struck by Drew's age and physical appearance; so much so that she fantasizes about him and develops an entirely imagined trust in him. Despite Drew's invasion of her personal space and crossing her boundaries before she even knows Drew's name, Sam accepts this as an acceptable way to approach her. This confirms a convention by which men are expected to act on their desires and women are treated as lawfu l prey. Drew's assertive and invasive actions are rewarded, confirming that this is a good, even natural masculine prerogative but also something girls expect boys to do. 15 The next time she runs into Drew in the library, they exchange a few brief words ab out books before Drew begins forcefully kissing her. Sam is stunned at first, but then because of Drew's social status as popular and desirable, allows the kissing to continue. "It is a kiss that says, I know exactly what I'm doing, so just follow my lead, girl (78), and Sam admits that she does, accepting the boy's assertion of a right to dominate and to initiate her sexually. Soon, Drew invites her to a party where he proceeds to make her very strong alcoholic drinks. Sam is quickly intoxicated, and Drew attempts to take advantage of her sexually. Despite Sam's telling him to stop, Drew continues his actions responding, "you'll like it," insistently pressuring her and !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 15 Connell notes, "Patriarchal definition of femininity (de pendence fearfulness) amount to a cultural disarmament that may be quite as effective as the physical kind (83).


! 47 forcefully removing her clothes. Surprisingly, it is Sam's age that saves her from being date raped: "Come on, SamDon't tell me you've never done this before." I shake my head. I have never done this before. A long, low whistle. "You've been missing out, kid." Hands on my underwear. "Just relax." You've been missing out, kid Hands on my u nderwear. Kid. "I'makid." "Hmm ? Hands pulling down. "I'm a kid." "What ? Hands stopping. "I'm thirteen." What ? Drew jumped up like I'd just touched him with a flaming hot poker. What ? He is pulling up his pants. Thirteen ? Jesus!" Now he is swearing. At me. He is calling me names I've never even heard before. And then, the worst thing happens. He leaves. (121 2) 16 Here we see a code of masculinity in force; on the one hand, Drew understands that girls must be made to consent and that alcohol can overcom e their ability to resist. A certain level of force is acceptable in his view of masculine privilege. On the other hand, he understands that below a certain age, he can be punished by law for sexual acts with a minor. It is not his respect for Sam or her w ishes, but his fear of the law (figured as bigger and more powerful or masculine) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! #% Sam's sympathetic reaction to Drew's attempts to date rape her will be addressed in Chapter Three.


! 48 that makes him stop before actually raping her. In a few more years she won't be able to use this particular threat or defense, and Sam will be even more vulnerable. After na rrowly avoiding assault in one room, Samantha is still too intoxicated to leave the party and is approached by three more boys who coercively take her into a bedroom and all taking turns kissing her against her will. The next day at school, Samantha is ost racized by everyone, her friends and other female students, for what happened to her at the party. Victim blaming rears its head, as Samantha is blamed and shamed as a slut for being coercively intoxicated and then sexually assaulted. None of the boys rece ive punishment or any repercussions for their actions, and Samantha is left by the book to deal with the consequences herself. The boys' actions are normalized and accepted as what is expected of males. Masculinity in Lush is constructed as always sexually dangerous and aggressive, something that girls and women bear responsibility for controlling and resisting. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things The most prominent construction of normative masculinity in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Ro und Things is found in Virginia's older brother, Byron. He is attractive and popular, a "sexy" rugby player at Columbia University who is attractive to college women and high school girls. There is still legend of his popularity at Virginia's high school, and Virginia idealizes and idolizes her brother's masculine perfection. Her parents reinforce this worship as their son fulfills normative expectations of a successful man.


! 49 However, this idealization ends halfway through the novel when Byron is accused a nd believed to be guilty of date rape. Virginia overhears Byron's plans to bring Annie Mills to a party themed "Virgins and Sluts," where the "theme is the more you bare, the less the fare.' The cover charge[is] a sliding scale depending on how much skin you reveal" (54). It isn't until a phone call from the Dean of Columbia that Virginia's household is informed that Byron has been suspended after being accused of raping Annie, his date to the party. Byron returns to live at home after being removed from campus, and Virginia is transformed from worshiping Byron to fearing and loathing her brother's presence. Virginia is negatively affected by her brother's crime, her idolization crashing down around her, as her disgust and anguish drive her to imagine and reconstruct the details of the date rape and how it might have occurred. Virginia looks back on other interactions with her brother through new eyes, following his suspension. With this crime, the novel allows for another type of reflection and consciousn ess for the constructs of gender, specifically masculinity. It brings to light certain privileges and consequences of fulfilling hegemonic masculinity, especially norms concerning heterosexual conquest. It certainly changes Virginia's conceptions significa ntly: "This is so confusing. For as long as I can remember, I've looked up to Byron more than anyone in the world. But now that Byron has done something this horrible to a girl, I don't know what to make of anything" (120 2 1). Virginia's questioning of her assumptions about her brother's character leads to her being able to question her own assumptions about how girls ought to interact with boys, even "fat" girls.


! 50 Virginia is not allowed to hear any of the details or conversations between Byron and her pa rents, but eavesdrops on late night conversations. She learns that Byron admits to having sex with Annie, and that he was intoxicated and couldn't remember anything the next morning. When his mom and dad console their son as though being drunk makes him in nocent, Virginia is filled with rage; she refuses to forgive and comfort her brother as quickly as her parents. Virginia's sense of solidarity with Annie Mills is the source of her own beginning resistance to male privilege and her own developing self empo werment. She fumes as her mother continues to call Annie "that girl," instead of using her name. Virginia can barely stand to see her brother, let alone speak to him: "To be honest, I don't know what to say to him. It'll be all right ? Not for Annie Mills. I'm sorry ? For Annie Mills, but not for you" (133). What incenses Virginia the most is that Byron is rewarded and coddled by her parents, with the first home cooked meals from her mother in five years and baseball games with her father, and the most infur iating, a trip to Paris for Byron alone. This pushes Virginia to directly deride Byron for his actions: "It's not like anyone will want to go out with you anymore I'm probably not the only person who thinks you're an asshole for date raping someone" (199) In response, Byron physically chases Virginia to her room, cursing her explicitly and insulting her for her weight. Virginia asserts Byron is no longer the image of desirable masculinity for other girls, and this threat to his masculinity and sexual prow ess enrages him. He's crossed a line between acceptably masculine predatory or assertive sexual demands and actual


! 51 crime, which separates him from the social benefits and privileges of normative masculinity. This incident inspires Virginia to visit Annie Mills, after admitting to herself that she "needed to see Annie, to con firm she's a real person," and to apologize on behalf of her family (201) She finds the girl's room and, after nearly being too scared to talk, delivers her message: "I just wanted to say I'm sorry for what my brother did to you. If it makes any difference, I think he's an asshole for wrecking your life like that" (202). Annie clarifies that Byron did not "wreck her life," and that framing the crime in that manner only gives Byron conti nued power over her life. She then informs Virginia that she would rather be empowered and have control over her life than remain a victim. This message is incredibly powerful for Virginia, and certainly contributes to her own actions of empowerment and co ntrol over her own life. The way the book frames Annie's response and Virginia's education in sexual politics highlights the limits on masculine power and the right of young women to refuse, to resist their own objectification, and also to understand sexua l assault as not life ruining. For Annie at least, her own rape experience does not ultimately define her and she argues for her own ability to name her experience but also to move past it without giving power to her rapist. Byron's storyline contributes to The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things s achievement in deconstructing hegemonic gender normativity and its privilege and promotion in society. Byron proves that seemingly "perfect" masculinity is flawed; athletic ability, popularity, good looks wealth, elite college attendance, and heterosexual dominance do not necessarily make girls happy or


! 52 fulfilled. This kind of masculinity does not necessarily make one immune to crime and wrongdoing. It is not always going to "get the girl," and coercivel y taking the girl will have legal consequences, no matter how socially recognized as desirable and handsome the perpetrator. 17 Criss Cross In the first chapter of this thesis, I examined femininity in Criss Cross by focusing on Debbie and her narrative. N ow, Hector's perspective will be the focus as I consider the ways in which masculinity is constructed, especially looking for multiple aspects and portrayals of masculinities and the ways in which they are received, reinforced or derided by the characters' surrounding society. Criss Cross may be particularly useful for the purposes of this study, as both a female and male protagonist 's point of view is offered to its readers. Hector's first appearance in the novel is centered on just that his physical ap pearance. Readers are beside Hector as he examines his features in a mirror, mulling over the "averageness of his face" (6). He immediately begins comparing his appearance to that of his older sister, Rowanne, whom he praises for her attractiveness, especi ally in relation to himself. He methodically goes through his physical features, comparing them side by side with Rowanne's, always rating hers above his. 18 There is a clear display of sibling idolization in this scene that hinges definitively on physical a ppearance and achieving socially sanctioned good looks. This glimpse into Hector's thoughts, which are consumed with his body !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 17 Yet, once again, we see that the law st eps in to protect poor weak girls 18 The only instance of cross gender looks comparison that I found in these novels.


! 53 consciousness, is relieving and somewhat equalizing after the common depiction in these novels of a near exclusive female preoccup ation with body image and representation of boys mostly from an external feminine perspective. 19 However, this depiction of body image concern seems to funnel into Hector's overarching concern with achieving physical desirability, specifically heterosexual ly defined masculine attractiveness. This could be oppressive for physically non normative readers, and also leaves little room for readers who are questioning or not heterosexual. His goal soon becomes clear, achieving certain markers of masculinity that will attract women's attention, thus presenting himself as object to be desired much as we have seen girl characters do in other works. While Rowanne serves as a mentor for Hector, promoting gender equality and a consciousness to combat chauvinism, men and women are still marked by the text as distinctly different creatures. Hector marvels at his female peers' transformation "from caterpillars to butterflies" (25), while hoping every moment to receive "insight into the female mind" (22). He notes which form s of masculinity are privileged and desired by his female schoolmates and it is that of the stereotypical male athlete. Hector is depicted as continually watching the handsome football player get the "pretty girl" as he is left wondering "if there was a ki nd of girl who didn't fall in love with football players" (73). Hector is a character who does not fit the social ideal of masculinity but his preoccupation with and the text's depiction of the "lucky" football players still serve to privilege traditional displays of masculinity. He wants access to that form of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 19 This scene is reminiscent of many scenes in The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things Lush and What My Mother Doesn't Know in whi ch female protagonists compare themselves physically to their siblings and peers, always rating themselves lower.


! 54 masculinity, or he wants feminine attention that is comparable without having to become a football player himself. When Hector confronts one of his female friends about the desirability of a stere otypical jock, he is met with a challenge to his own desire of certain girls: "What is so great about being big and strong and stupid ? [said Hector.] "And handsome," added Patty. "Big, strong, stupid, and handsome." "What is so great about that ? aske d Hector. "Gee, I don't know," said Patty. Just a little sarcastically. "I guess it wouldn't be anything like being pretty and twinkly and looking good in a halter top. Or having a nice tan hey, there's a reason to like someone." Hector saw what she was getting at, but he didn't think it applied. (247) While this scene offers a nice retort from a female character that points out and mocks male objectification of girls for "looking good in a halter top" or "having a nice tan," it gives power to stereotypi cal masculinity traits: being big, strong, and handsome. The text, while representing Hector as not fitting the idealized "normative" male ideal still has issues in its depictions of masculinity. An idealized masculinity that is normatively big, strong, a nd most subjectively "handsome" is still desired by both male and female characters as a sure way to be happy; the novel repeatedly renders successful, "true" masculinity as always necessarily heterosexual.


! 55 Debbie's perspective also offers insight into th e novel's construction of masculinity, as she notices a change specifically revealing of gender expectations. Her male friends that she has known since childhood begin changing from playmates into potential romantic partners. She notices a change one day w hen seats are given up and offered to her and another female friend: "This seemed unusual to Debbie. Then she realized that they were being chivalrous. Like gentlemen. Like men. A new part of them was emerging before her eyes, like leg buds bumping out on tadpoles" (39). Even this metaphor evokes the physical sex differences of men and women, and highlights what (sexual maturation) motivation may be driving the boys' actions toward the girls. The transition from boys to men here is marked by "chivalry" with an oblique hint at male penises increasing in size. A difference between boys and girls is most blatantly constructed between Debbie and Lenny, the childhood friend who teaches her to drive and becomes marked as a potentially romantic partner. Chapter Se ven is devoted to describing Lenny as a stereotypically smart boy interested in mechanics, math, and encyclopedias. Lenny is a "mechanical whiz," capable of understanding the workings of anything on his own, without the help of formal education. Directly following this character description, Chapter Eight is subtitled "Debbie Has a Mechanical Moment, Too" (65), although as readers find out, her prowess with a wrench is nothing as impressive, notable or smart as Lenny's abilities in the mechanical departmen t. Here masculinity is strongly associated with mechanical ability (Debbie's is clearly secondary, cute rather than authoritative) and with mathematical skills and empirical knowledge to contrast with emotional knowledge coded as feminine.


! 56 Later on, Chapte r Twenty two is written entirely as a dual narrative of Lenny reading Popular Mechanics while Debbie reads Wuthering Heights 20 Traditional sex typing for boys and girls is exemplified and reinforced, as Lenny moves on to actively repairing something while Debbie daydreams about romance in by gone eras. Lenny is muscles, outdoors and sweat, while Debbie considers elegant ways of speaking and romantic clothing. Debbie ends her stream of thought by considering her modern rights that contrast with Victorian li mitations: "the freedom of wearing cut offs all summer. Of riding a bike" (204). However, this brief endnote does little to assuage the large amount of the chapter that reinforces traditional gender roles, even if in a slightly comic overstated way. These messages reinforce behaviors and interests appropriate for a normal, desirable and heterosexual display of masculinity. While Criss Cross does some work to offer its readers multiple and varying perspectives, it gets trapped within tradition, reifying and repeating stereotypical forms and displays of masculinity. What My Mother Doesn't Know What My Mother Doesn't Know provides first person narrator Sophie's opinion, perception, and expectation of various forms and displays of masculinity. The majority of this novel's constructions focus on normative masculine appearance what physical qualities and characteristics achieve desirable masculinity specifically in relation to heterosexual romance. The foremost concentration of the novel is on Sophie's (heter o)romance her navigation of various boyfriends and her !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 20 The chapter is divided into two simultaneously running (side by side) columns for each character's narrative.


! 57 own desire. Despite Sophie's continual privileging of normative physical displays of masculinity, the novel eventually offers readers non conformity as Sophie gradually discovers that traditional mas culine physical appearances are not what matter most or what make people happy in the end. The novel begins with Sophie's obsession with her perfectly desirable boyfriend Dylan; the first quarter of the novel is devoted to this infatuation. It is a fleeti ng teen romance though, as Sophie finds her feelings for Dylan fading the more time she spends with him and the appeal of his physical attractiveness wears off. As her attraction to him fades, Sophie reasserts traditional masculinity in order to explain an d justify her loss of interest with what was once her idyllic dreamboat: "I notice our reflections in the window of Starbucks and I get this weird feeling that something isn't quite right. Only I can't put my finger on it. Then it hits me: what's wrong is that it looks like I'm taller than Dylan" (93). As they end one of their dates, Sophie again reinforces the "proper" proportions of men to women: "He's playing with my fingers, whispering something about what a great time he had tonight. And all I can thi nk about is that his hands look smaller than mine, like the hands of a little boy" (94). At issue here is the expectation that men should and will be taller, stronger, larger than women, and that an appropriate match will make the girl feel diminutive, del icate, both protected and a little bit threatened. Sophie's vision of their reflection shows her that they may be seen as laughable by others because she is taller and more adult looking than her boyfriend. Sophie soon breaks up with Dylan due to her dissa tisfaction, but her attention quickly becomes consumed with an unlikely target an unattractive, unpopular classmate named Murphy.


! 58 Sophie catches herself daydreaming about Murphy earlier in the book, when she is still dating Dylan. The fantasy seems buil t upon Sophie's desire to feel needed by someone who is not normally given attention. She slips into the daydream during art class as she watches Murphy: He is homely, so downright ugly that none of the girls even think about him. He's too lowly, too piti ful to even bother making fun of. So something must be very wrong with me, because I want to kiss him. When no one was looking, I'd walk up to him and say, "Hey, Murph. Would it be okay if I kissed you ? And he'd look hurt because he'd think I was joking a nd he'd turn away to hide his face, but I'dsay, "Come on. I meant it. I really want to." And he'd look dumbstruck, and all the gray would fade out of his eyes and this light would come into themAnd he'd wrap his skinniness around me and his arms would be shaking, and suddenly I'd feel all this love, all this need pouring into me (15 17) Murphy does not meet any standards of masculinity, though he would fulfill Sophie's desire to feel needed, nurturing, and able to gift a male with great pleasure. By choo sing the lowliest subject, she can elevate herself her fantasy practically places herself on a pedestal from which to be worshipped by her lucky though still unattractive suitor. She becomes the more powerful party by choosing a boy with lower social sta tus, thus increasing her importance for him. This seems to be a different perspective from the more common narrative of young adult romance, in which the more attractive and popular boy is desired to raise social standing. Does this dynamic point to a self esteem issue in Sophie, in which she desires to feel


! 59 needed and hold certain power in a relationship ? Or is this a completely conventional fantasy, a self sacrificing act that could suggest conventional femininity ? Later on after actually spending time with Murphy, Sophie points again to the power and pleasure she derives from interacting with the boy, despite his lack of normative physical attractiveness: So maybe my old fantasy about kissing Murphy did flit across my mind once or twice today. But it wa sn't like a physical attraction kind of thing. It was more like an I feel sorry for him kind of thing. Because probably no one has ever kissed him before. And maybe no one ever will kiss him his whole life long. Unless I do. And it would be sort of neat to be the very first girl that a guy ever kissed. (189) This presents an interesting twist to a "virginity appeal" that is normally associated with girls and women. While Sophie defends her desire by pointing out all of the power she has to gain in the relat ionship with Murphy, her assertions may also be attempts to rationalize being attracted to an untraditional masculinity and physical appearance. Moreover, she imagines herself as the "experienced" one, turning the tables we saw earlier in Lush where Dylan initiated Sam into sexual activity. The "excuses" Sophie provides complicate notions of how young women commonly conceive self worth and desirability. Sophie continues to deride Murphy's appearance, reminding herself over and over of reasons why she shou ld not be romantically interested in this poor representation of masculinity. As her mother questions her relationship to Murphy,


! 60 Sophie quickly denies the possibility of being more than friends with an unattractive boy: "Are you sure he's just a friend ? [Mom] says, folding her arms across her chest. "One hundred percent sure," I say. "If you saw him, you'd believe me." "What's that supposed to mean ? "It means he's not exactly cute." (198) Murphy's physical appearance gives him an immediate excuse from be ing potentially of romantic interest to Sophie, someone from whom she might need protection. Sophie informs her mother of this as if it is the most natural and obvious answer; all she will have to do is look at Murphy to see he is not truly a romantic inte rest, not even a possibility, to her daughter. When her mother meets Murphy, Sophie has "never seen her be so friendly to a boy before": She doesn't even object when I bring him up to my room []. But I guess she figures there's no way I'd be tempted to fo ol around with Murphy. Too bad none of my boyfriends were homely. I could have gotten away with a lot (200) This encourages and contributes to the distinction that failure in achieving attractive, masculine norms immediately disqualifies a boy from being successful in heterosexual romance. It also suggests that girls need protection from handsome or conventionally masculine boys, but not from those who fail masculinity. One sign then of successful masculinity is perceived sexual threat to girls; unmanly bo ys are by definition unthreatening and asexual.


! 61 Finally, at nearly the end of the book, Sophie begins challenging the social pressures and norms that dictate she should not be attracted to someone socially deemed unattractive. She wars internally over the fact for a brief number of pages: "He's not exactly boyfriend material. Is he ? I could never be attracted to someone like him. Could I ? That wouldn't make any sense. Would it ? (207). But finally, the dam breaks and Sophie realizes her compatibility with Murphy despite social pressures informing her opinion of attractive displays of masculinity. Interestingly, before making her grand public display of romantic attachment / investment toward Murphy, she changes the name she calls him, opting for Robin (Murphy 's family nickname). With this change of moniker, Sophie seems to divorce the unattractive, social outcast known as "Murphy" from her new love interest "Robin." In the end, What My Mother Doesn't Know does promote non normativity, at least for boys, and ch allenges social pressures and expectations of physical conformity and desire. Though the novel does fit with the idea throughout that masculinity is predatory, it seems to resist the idea that femininity is only something to be taken, as the passive partne r. Girls, like Sophie, can take the initiative, and boys might be attractive in ways other than conventional looks or predatory activity. Conclusion How do these novels construct masculinity ? My selected works attempt to address social issues that may be relatable for their young adult reader audience, their didacticism masked as "real" (or realistic) experiences of characters in the novel. While they may be sincere attempts at representation of problems faced by at least


! 62 some youth, readers looking for a larger range of masculinity constructs will only continued to be offered the most normative and heterosexual expressions. While What My Mother Doesn't Know addresses physical masculine appearance ideals and deconstructs privileging attractiveness, Criss Cross while grappling with the same issue, only manages to reify that stereotypical masculine traits big, strong, handsome will indeed be the surest markers of successful heterosexuality. And this is what all of the novels examined reinforce and promot e most overtly: the most successful and true way of measuring desirable masculinity is based upon heterosexual romantic success including male initiation of girls and male activity to draw girls into sexual encounter. In order to be a "real" boy, and even tually a young man, sexual desire must be directed in the right direction only at girls and women. And yet, that is exactly what is most dangerous about masculinity; as Lush displays, aggressive sexuality and predation will naturally be part of masculini ty, or at least it should be expected (and possibly even desired). Readers are left with an overall message that there are certain tenets of masculinity that will prove more "successful," but the most inherent characteristic of masculinity is always compul sory heterosexuality. Predatory actions towards girls and homophobic slurs between male friends are necessary to defend against any suspicion of a failure of heterosexual orientation.


! 63 Chapter Three : Compulsory Heterosexuality, Hetero Romance, and Other R eadings/Readers in YA Literature As we have seen up to this point in the thesis, the selected YA novels construct masculinity and femininity in homogeneous (stereotypical and traditional) fashion, with occasional moments of non normative (physical) repre sentations for boys and girls; however, regardless of a few alternatives in what are acceptable displays of gender for young women and men, each novel's construction of masculinities and femininities insists upon its characters' display of heterosexuality. The books assert both compulsory heterosexuality and compulsory binary gendering heterogendering and assert them as interdependent. Heterosexual desire is the last chance of saving a girl's femininity or a boy's masculinity if they do not fit normati ve displays or ideals of such. These novels deliver the message that it is okay not to fit gender appearance ideals or even norms, as long as your heterosexuality is asserted and clearly evident. 21 In fact, these works are anxious to assure readers that non normativity need not and will not hinder success at a heterosexual relationship. Where they fail is in questioning the compulsion towards heterosexuality and heterosexual pairing in the first place. Heterosexuality is the defining feature of all the prota gonists in the literature I examined, male or female; it is almost their only shared value as this YAL reifies gender difference and antagonism. Yet, because of the age range for these novels, there is no explicit adult genital sexual content on the part o f the protagonists, or even !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! &# However, displaying heterose xual interest can also get girls into trouble, the association being that girls who are interested in sexuality at all are then also potentially available for sex. This is another disparity between the genders, placing girls in a double bind.


! 64 the suggestion that the characters are genitally heterosexually active. Hetero romance is both desired and fulfilling for the female characters at least, as handholding or kissing appears to provide plenty of physical gratificat ion. These novels glorify romance and downplay or villainize sex in one way or another but they also tend to treat other forms of physical contact as "not sex," and this narrow definition of "sex" is itself normalizing and limits what are considered "sexua l experiences." Hetero romance is constructed as the heart of every character's desires, ambitions or difficulties. If there is worry, if there is lack of fulfillment it is probably due to anxieties stemming from not having a hetero boyfriend or girlfri end. After sexual maturation in the world of these books, this is the obvious and only path to follow; romantic heterosexuality is what is expected, and the characters make it their priority. It is almost always the driving plot point, as these young adult s can think of little else but finding happiness via a heterosexual relationship. The overarching example that these novels provide for their readers is meant to be positive readers' romantic fears and worries should be quelled as the books attempt to prove first, that every one can achieve a heterosexual relationship, and second, that this is the natural progression of any boy or girl's life. In effect, heterosexual romance will normalize the characters' lives, and this is what these "problem novels" se ek to assuage in their readers the fears of not having an achievable path to normal. 22 This chapter examines all of the selected novels Criss Cross ; The Earth, My !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 22 Adrienne Ri ch, sp eaking of marriage, asserts reasons for women entering the institution: "in order to do what was expected of women because coming out of abnormal' childhoods they wanted to feel normal,' and because heterosexual romance has been represented as the great female adventure, duty, and fulfillment" (654). These YA novels perpetuate this vision of hetero romance.


! 65 Butt and Other Big Round Things ; What My Mother Doesn't Know ; Lush ; The Absolutely True Dia ry of a Part Time Indian ; and Olive's Ocean to parse out their constructions of compulsory heterosexuality. My concern is the lack of any problem fiction that fit my selective criteria that offered a positive non heterosexual possibility. Adrienne Rich sp eaks directly to some of the problems I find in this YAL in her classic essay, "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" (1980). Rich first points to the social construction of the male sex drive as it interacts with (hetero) gendering: "The adole scent male sex drive, which, as both young women and men are taught, once triggered cannot take responsibility for itself or take no for an answer, becomes [] the norm for adult male sexual behavior: a condition of arrested sexual development. Women learn to accept as natural the inevitability of this drive' because we receive it as dogma" (646). This makes masculinity and male status the locus of sexual power constructing masculinity as something that it is girls' responsibility to control, serve, and av oid arousing something we see in several of the works I examine. This construction also corroborates the girl characters' problem of male sexual harassment: their harassment is socially excused, allowed and even encouraged. Moreover, it is usually present ed as the problem of an individual girl, and hers to solve on her own, thereby showing her learned ability to manage male sexual interest for males. Rich continues, "the enforcement of heterosexuality for women [is] a means of assuring male right of physi cal, economical, and emotional access" (647). In the selected YAL, it is largely the girls' concerns with being socially recognized or accepted that makes them continually submit to, endure, and sometimes even seek


! 66 sexual harassment and enjoy objectificati on from the boys. Here male harassment and assertion of sexual dominance over girls is often problematically understood as part of the necessary pathway to hetero romance. Criss Cross Criss Cross sticks to this hetero formula, as Debbie and Hector are bo th consumed by the desire to enter a heterosexual relationship. Debbie is perpetually pondering hetero romantic fate (soul mates, etc.), while Hector harps on and on about how to get the girl ( as do the hetero successful football stars). Not only are their only options hetero romantic sexuality, but even their versions of what counts as hetero romance and heterosexuality are strongly gendered, with Hector seeing himself in competition with other (more masculine) males, and Debbie stereotypically invested in literary versions of "romance" in the form of courtship fiction. Debbie begins the novel by wishing "something different would happen. Something good" (2), and this "something good" is hetero romance. As she reads a science fiction novel, she fantasizes about an alternate reality where everyone is assigned a mate telepathically. This appeals because of the difficulty Debbie has negotiating gender relations, a difficulty that showcases the instilled gender differences and "otherness" Debbie feels towards boys. She is so unlike herself around boys that she cannot even speak to them: She could be in the middle of a normal conversation with a boy and the instant she thought of him that way as a boy the black hole sucked all her words away. Except for a fe w stupid ones. (31)


! 67 This inability to communicate with another gender is prevalently problematic for Debbie. When she thinks of a boy as a boy she cannot speak. This special recognition of her addressed boy as boy indicates the sexual implications that ar e understood to always exist when a boy and girl communicate or interact. Communication that is not marked by expected heterosexual dynamics has become impossible. Romantic fate is a common pondering point for Debbie, as her desire for a heterosexual re lationship consumes her conception of happiness and fulfillment. This is a common source of reflection, and Debbie and her friend Patty participate in it mutually: P: Do you think things are meant to be D: What do you mean P: You know, how people say, "It was meant to be," or, "It wasn't meant to be." Or, "they were meant for each other." D: You mean like (singing) "they say for every boy and girl, there's just one love in this whole world" P: Yeah, like that. D: I don't know. In one way, it makes you think, "Oh, I don't have to worry, it's all taken care of, it will all work out." (85 6) It is this worry, this fear of not "working out," of not finding the "one love" that will complete her existence, that drives Debbie's constant reflection. She feels l acking somehow, and she locates the source in her nonexistent hetero romance. Thus, Debbie hungrily searches for romantic attachment; at one point in the novel, she contemplates romance scenarios with all of her male friends, hoping that


! 68 she will discover in this way the special feeling and idea she has conceptualized for romance and reveal her true romantic partner: "The thought came to her that maybe Phil was the childhood friend she was destined to fall in love with. As soon as she thought it, she saw hi m differently. She saw the handsomeness in his features, the interestingness of his personality" (206). Even though this fantasy "romance, which had blossomed entirely inside her own head, faded" (207) within five minutes, Debbie's thoughts rely on and pre sent to readers a very specific (hetero) romantic narrative. She seems to have a clear formulaic script with parts written for her romance; all that's needed are the requisite boy and girl to assume their roles. As the school year ends, Debbie's crush, D an Persik, fails to show interest and she approaches the summer with the gloom outlook of her vacation being "a place and time that promised many pleasures. But it didn't look like romance was going to be one of them" (182). After being even further depres sed by the familiar scenes of home repeating themselves, Debbie feels so unenthused for the romantic possibilities of the summer, she has to step outside: "Maybe a change of scenery would help. Maybe a miracle would help. Maybe nothing would help" (183). H owever, something does help romance with a boy. Peter, the grandson of neighbor Mrs. Bruning, appears during the summer to visit and help his grandmother around the house. After spending a pleasant day together, Peter takes Debbie's hand and her mind is sent spiraling into bliss: "Debbie's theory at the moment was that everything was perfect. This day was perfect. The bus was perfect and the world outside was perfect. She had a place in the perfect world, a perfect place, and she was in it" (268). It's n ot entirely clear that Peter is really s o special, but his position vis ˆ vis Debbie is


! 69 that of a summer romantic lead. Readers witness Debbie's longing satiated, her fruitless searching for happiness finally fulfilled. Here, the romance script's roles hav e been filled; handholding has been accomplished, and for Debbie it appears a peak of romantic physical gratification. But just as quickly as her relief comes flooding in, it goes pouring out when Peter must return home with his parents to California. But even this loss is not entirely negative, as now she "had an invisible cloud of new feelings that went around with her" (269). The experience and memory of brief romance is what gives Debbie confidence in believing in a "place" in the world a place only given substance by romantic attachment. Her experience with Peter causes Debbie to further consider the conception of soul mates: "Debbie wondered if it was true that there was only one person in the world for every person, and if she had already met him, and she either had to find a way to be around him again someday or always be alone. Romance wise" (278). But she reassures herself with her own theory, that "there were at least five or six people scattered around the globe who you could bump into and, wh am, it would be the right thing" (278). All of this theorizing is generated by her fear of not having "true" romance eventually and falling for a somehow false romance: "So that if she thought she might have found one of them, she shouldn't just give up. S hould she?" (279). The weight the novel places on an extremely brief romance as giving shape and informing Debbie's outlook, while an attempt at relating to readers, only serves to reinforce the idea that every girl should be looking for a boy, and it is a normal and acceptable to have this concern consume you.


! 70 Even the positive effect of receiving Peter's letters wears off eventually, and readers are led down a familiar path as Debbie beings evaluating her physical features as some sort of measure for me rit: All evening she felt ordinary. She sat on the couch in the basement feeling ordinary. She went upstairs to take a shower, and when she had undressed, she looked in the mirror. Ordinary, ordinary, less than ordinary. She had taken her glasses off, so s he was squinting a little. It made her look mildly fierce. Her hair, usually pulled back, fell to her shoulders in an unbrushed mass, curling and frizzing in the humid air. She frowned at her squinting, frizzing, ordinary reflection. Why did she think some thing good could happen to her (287) Just as readers receive the message of self deprecation that most of these novels deliver as their protagonists look in the mirror, Criss Cross breaks from the mold: But then something did [happen]. Something good and m ysterious. It's hard to explain why, but she started to laugh. She laughed at her fierce naked self, frowning into the mirror. And she liked the girl who was laughing. (288) Debbie discovers and reveals a surprising well of self esteem and body positivity. The negatives disappear and become positives, and readers are given a much healthier message than self disgust or the kind of self harm seen in The Earth, My Butt when Virginia punishes herself with painful pinches and bruises in a parallel mirror scene Debbie's mirror scene seems to direct attention away from romantic loss and longing, and towards a more positive outlook of self respect and love without any requirement for the visual admiration of a boy. Yet the desire for romance still weighs heavily on Debbie, and at the end of


! 71 the novel, it is Rowanne, Hector's sister, who is able to offer an ear, advice and example for Debbie. The two meet at a neighborhood gathering, and it is not long before Debbie begins sharing her concerns: This probably sounds stupid, I know I'm still young and there's a lot of time for things to happen, but sometimes I think there is something about me that's wrong, that I'm not the kind of person anyone can fall in love with, and that I'll just always be alone. But I think if I knew someone was going to fall in love with me when I'm fifty three or something, I think I could wait. Maybe. If I knew it would at least happen. (318) Rowanne reassures her that those feelings are common in most people, but instead of offering her rom antic advice, Rowanne provides a story of her own workplace. Rowanne works with fifteen other women as record transcribers, and socially has nothing in common with her co workers: They talk about their boyfriends all the time, and they talk about them as if they've been married for twenty years. I'm sort of a freak there because I don't have a boyfriend and I'm going to college. I think they feel sorry for me for both reasons. And because I have short fingernails. (321) One of these co workers compulsivel y lies about fake boyfriends and fiancŽs. Rowanne uses this coworker as an example of the problematic socialization to be consumed by a need for hetero romance or to show others that one is capable of hetero romance. She tells Debbie,


! 72 I think it's sad and pathetic that Becky feels like it's so important to have a boyfriend that she makes one up. I can see how she would feel that [] it's those women, those girls (they're really some kind of a cross between girls and women) who do it to her, though not on pu rpose. I mean, I think it's all they know about. (324) Rowanne does not shame Debbie or her co worker, but rather insightfully points out flaws in social expectations for girls and women, specifically the pressure to always be engaged in heterosexual roman ce. "It's all they know about," because of their gender, class or both. The novel ends shortly after this, with the possibility of a romantic liaison between Debbie and Hector, but with no explicit or typical ending of displayed romance between the two. R eaders, though following Debbie's and Hector's obsessions with achieving heterosexual romance and attractiveness, find here a more positive message to the story. Rowanne serves as an older role model and the voice of a somewhat feminist consciousness in de constructing stereotypes and norms placed upon young men and women. As in The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things this alternative voice doesn't come until the very end of the novel, and readers follow the protagonists' strong hetero desire for so me time. Rowanne's commentary can be read for its knowledge of social construction and compulsory heterosexuality, but for readers who may relate to the main characters, this message may come too late or it may be nullified by the fact that Hector and De bbie end up getting their heterosexual romance in the end from one another.


! 73 The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things only considers heteronormative standards and expectations of appearance and desire, though by the end of the novel Virginia does work to break some of these appearance norms. However, throughout the novel she still is extremely concerned with being heterosexually successful being sexually attractive to boys and men. Her "Fat Girl Code o f Conduct," discussed in Chapter One, is actually a heterosexual code of conduct in order to ensure sexual attention from boys and men. Virginia's code of conduct is catalyzed by a joke heard on a radio show: Question: What do a fat girl and a moped have in common Answer: They're both fun to ride, as long as your friends don't see you (15). In short, for men any sex with a girl is good so long as you don't have to maintain a public image of heterosexual romance. Virginia's response, developing her "code o f conduct," suggests the power and control of social norms and pressures. The offensive joke is so impactful on Virginia's conception of sexual relations that she creates a list which dictates that in order to gain the interest of a boy, she should make he r body available for sexual use without demanding romance or respect in order to entice him to give her some attention over more desirable, "skinny" girls. Her "bottom line: let him get the milk without having to buy the cow" (17). Virginia is instructed by her heteronormative society that there are certain body types that fulfill heterosexual desire, and in order to be considered at all as a potential partner, she must flaunt and offer her sexuality more than other girls. Otherwise, social messages and pe ers convince her, she will outright never be able to


! 74 achieve what is desired by boys. These notions lead her anxiously to underestimate the relationship she has with Froggy, a boy she has arranged kissing sessions with in private due to her "Fat Girl Code of Con duct ; she firmly believes in upholding the code in order to continue kissing him and assumes that he is like her, happy to keep their sessions private and to pretend to have little or no connection in public venues. After her mother directly critic izes her weight within Froggy's hearing distance, Virginia is so ashamed that she decides to stop speaking to and seeing the boy altogether. Virginia's brother's accusation of date rape pushes her even further away from involvement with Froggy, as she begi ns to think of male heterosexual interest as abusive. Meanwhile, throughout their relationship and the book, Froggy is nonjudgmental and earnest in his interest in Virginia; yet this genuine interest in her herself is obscured for Virginia because of the f ears cultivated and repeatedly delivered to her via society 's hetero normative beauty standards. The novel ends with a grand break from Virginia's code of conduct, as Froggy asks to and then does kiss her in public, in front of many of their schoolmates. While this novel's effort to break hetero normative beauty standards is empowering and positive for readers, Virginia's story is concerned with developing a successful and consensual heterosexual relationship despite her non ideal weight and body type. Thi s is the ultimate goal, the real passage to happiness, from meaningless or unemotional heterosexual sex (make out sessions with Froggy, the fat girl code of conduct, date rape) to hetero romance which normalizes the book's characters. The book however, doe sn't consider that Virginia might develop interests other than boys, that her reaction to her brother's actions might reveal something important about the


! 75 dynamic of heterosexual compulsion, or that sex might be found in a range that evades exploitative he terosexuality but goes beyond romantically condoned sexuality foreplay. Lush Lush offers readers a hetero normative and male dominated vision of interpersonal relation, a social environment in which boys or men insult and / or take advantage of girls in lie u of respectful romantic interaction, and publicly label girls attractive or not. Sex/gender differences and hetero romance is established on the third page of the novel: "People make a big deal about junior high, but the only thing I've noticed is you can 't be friends with boys anymore. You get two choices: Either they are your enemies or they are trying to mash with you. There is no middle ground" (3). While the book does a good job of showing the negative impact of a world in which all the power belongs to boys or young men, and girls or women are the objects of attention they both want and fear, it also presents antagonism and the gender binary as foundational to life, romance, and sexual being. The rest of the novel clearly displays the antagonism betwe en boys and girls, which creates conflictual pressure to participate in heterosexual dating in order to gain social visibility and happiness. The female characters, especially Samantha, are sexually harassed and policed by their male peers; the girls allow this because of the hetero normative and masculinist dominant expectation that the boys' opinions are the ones that matter most. Sam tells us that "Pretty much all anyone talks about is boys" (17), and the


! 76 girls' future plans (and daydreams) all involve m arriage. After Sam makes the eighth grade boys' ranking list, she has "crossed over" into the realm of heterosexual dating material. Being objectified by nearly the entire student body has given Sam a place of social privilege and power one which she is unable to imagine giving up or rejecting. In short, she has become complicitous with the very version of compulsory heterosexuality that is also constraining her, shaming her, and yet also making her important and valuable in her social world. Sam is so c aught up in this game (being encouraged, shoved by her friends and nearly her entire social surrounding) that harassing and inappropriate actions from boys are normalized and even desired. Her relationship with Drew exemplifies this dilemma. Shortly before Drew attempts to date rape Sam, she is marveling over the social power her heterosexual relationship has given her: "We move across the kitchen as a unit. DrewandSam. SamandDrew. His hand is on the small of my back, steering. Suddenly, I am no longer invi sible" (119). The constructions of compulsory heterosexuality assert, reify, and perpetuate imbalanced gender relations. Boys are dominant, powerful and in charge, while girls have been conditioned to "enjoy" objectification and harassment. The girls are d amsels in waiting; they are there to get boys' attention, to be judged by males. Sam experiences herself as visible, coming into social existence only in conjunction with an older, powerful male. Female submission is important in order to gain desired soci al ranking and visibility. Lush ends thoroughly reinforcing male dominance and heterosexuality, via terrible means. The novel normalizes and excuses Sam's near date rape: "So," Tracey says, "what are you going to do about that Drew guy"


! 77 I shrug. "Are you like, ever going to talk to him again" "I don't know," I say. Because I don't. Funny how you can be so embarrassed about something, and mad, and still when you think about that person you get the old tingle in your belly. (168) Drew is not villianized he re; there are no real consequences for his actions of inebriating and then nearly raping an underage girl, and readers are left at the end of the novel with Sam's revelation that she still has romantic interest in him. She is embarrassed by the incident to the point that she seems place blame on herself and not her attacker. Her social surroundings encourage this, as her friends and all other students (especially female students) ostracize, shame, and blame her after she is taken advantage of at the party. Sam is the one who is branded "slut," and even the idea that Sam won't speak to him ever again is hedged by her noncommittal reaction. Drew's actions don't seem to be considered by Sam a crime, and she entertains the possibility of interacting with him in the future (romantically is implied). Lush concludes with the normalization of rape culture and the promotion of heterosexuality as necessary and desirable, at any cost to girls involved. Olive's Ocean Olive's Ocean depicts twelve year old Martha's annua l visit to her grandmother's home in Providence, Rhode Island. Martha has an older brother (by a year), a baby sister, and a pair of heteronormative parents who struggle with breaking traditional gender roles. Martha holds her mother to an idealized model of maternity,


! 78 blaming her for not taming family disputes in which her father loses his temper and the baby won't stop crying: "She hated her mother for not fixing everything. Wasn't a mother supposed to fix everything? Make everything perfect?" (40). The n ovel also depicts Martha's father's unhappiness at filling the family's domestic caretaker role while his wife works as a nationally syndicated radio talk show producer and host. Leaving his job when baby Lucy was born, he has been providing child care and domestic work for the past two and a half years. Shortly into the novel, his frustrations with occupying this role boil over and he announces his plans to return to his career as a lawyer. "The decision meant that Lucy would need more childcare, but that had nothing to do with Martha. That was her parents' concern" (48). Nuclear family normativity and the desire for hetero romance are at the heart of Martha's preoccupations while at her grandmother, Godbee's, home. Martha's brother Vince is friendly with a family of five boys, the Mannings, all roughly around the same pubescent age range. "Martha's opinion of the Mannings had changed over the years. She had liked them, ignored them, tolerated them, disliked them, hated them, and now found herself intereste d in seeing them, particularly Tate, who was thirteen, closest to her in age. She wondered what he looked like this year, how he had changed since last August" (34). When Martha finally gets an opportunity to interact with the brothers, it is eldest brot her Jimmy (14 years old) who gives her particular attention. An amateur filmmaker, Jimmy invites Martha to view sections of a new film he is working on, and eventually claims he needs her help during his filming. Martha is caught up in the romantic attenti on she's thinks she's receiving and fails to notice the ways in which


! 79 Jimmy uses flattery to aid his movie's production: "Tomorrow I'm filming at the Benton place again,' said Jimmy, breaking the silence. I'm starting the love section, and you're helping me. I need you.' Then he took her hand and held it. A current of excitement, and one of self consciousness, ran through Martha. There was a strange sensation in her belly, too" (106). The remaining passages depict Martha's thrill at finally having a boy h old her hand. This is reminiscent of the handholding eroticism and fulfillment experienced by Debbie in Criss Cross The couple walk down the beach holding hands and Martha is afforded the experience and attention of being publicly seen in a hetero romant ic light: They came upon a group of adults circling a bonfire. There was one child among the adults a little girl []. The girl made eye contact with Martha and smiled shyly. Martha smiled back, feeling very grown up. [Jimmy] started swinging his arm, dr awing Martha's into the rhythm. As they passed the group, Martha heard one of the men say, "Ah, embryonic love." The man chuckled and nodded at Martha and Jimmy. Another man laughed softly. Martha wasn't completely certain what the comment meant, but she k new the man was being condescending, in the very way adults so often are. (107) Though Martha perceives the comment as condescending, her act of public heterosexual display is also positively reinforced and acknowledged by adults and children. Martha feels the social weight and esteem of successfully performing heterosexuality. After this momentous handholding, Martha cannot stop thinking about Jimmy.


! 80 "Martha was exhausted, and yet she had a difficult time falling asleep. Over and over she saw the movie of herself walking hand in hand with Jimmy Manning on the beach, a continuous loop playing in her head. Believing it was impossible" (111). The handholding experience is romantically gratifying enough to fantasize on loop, the romantic script actualized into a movie. With this new element of maturity in her life, Martha begins to fear any childish habits she still holds onto. She must appear desirable and suitable for Jimmy Manning. Martha goes over a few activities she considers childish and thus eligible f or elimination from her regular activities. One of these "childish games" is particularly revealing of the institution of compulsory heterosexuality instilled within Martha: Perhaps most childish, she enjoyed arranging her many small containers of lip glos s, by color, on her bed, or organizing them into families. She'd pair the right colors and fragrances to form perfect unions. Then there'd be births. This was Martha's favorite part of the game deciding who was born to whom. Then the children would marry and it would all begin again until it looked as if Martha were diagramming an elaborate military maneuver on her bedspread. She'd taught the game to Lucy, legitimizing it, making it a nice, kind thing for a big sister to do with her baby sister. But she vowed then and there on the beach with Jimmy Manning to give it up. She'd never do it again. She was too old for that now. Definitely. (120) This scene is disturbing in its reification and perpetuation of the nuclear family and heteronormativity, espe cially as it is instilled in the young and then taught by them to the even younger. Not only is Martha playing a version of marriage and reproduction


! 81 as a kind of mapping or mating exercise, but she's using the tools of conventional femininity lip gloss an d perfume condensing performing femininity with marriage, reproduction, and a particularly disturbing kind of planned mating program. Like many of the other novels in this thesis, properly achieving heterosexuality is the main concern for female (and male ) protagonists. In fact, hetero romance is represented as having fantastic abilities to promote happiness. When Jimmy holds her hand yet again, "Martha knew the day would be the best of her life. She even mouthed the words, silently: This is the best day o f my life (122), all because Jimmy Manning has thrown her the slightest attention and physical contact. On the declared day of filming, Jimmy brings Martha to an abandoned barn to shoot footage. After setting up his camera, and then positioning Martha wh ere he wants her in the shot, Jimmy gets down to business and kisses Martha: It the kiss was over in an instant, and yet Martha sensed she had skipped a few minutes of her life. Jimmy drew away from her and made a thumbs up sign. Then he pumped a fist. "I got it!" he said. Martha's eyes grew smaller as she tried to figure out what was happening. "I've got it on film," said Jimmy, grinning, "and I won the bet." His words and the look on his face caused a sudden, peculiar shift in Martha's feelings. "What she whispered. "Our kiss," he said. "I've got it on film..." Martha tried to stay calm. "Well the bet was nothing, really," he said. "Just a joke. I bet Vince and my brothers that I could get you to kiss me on video before they came


! 82 back from sailing." H e shrugged and reached out toward her. "And it'll be great for the love section of my film. That's why I did it. For the film." Martha moved aside. "You are a she said, stopping because no word she knew was bad enough. [129 130] What is just a joke bet ween the boys crushes Martha. She flees from the scene, stopping when she is overwhelmed emotionally: "Her entire life had come down to this awful moment, dwindled to nothing but this. Her life was a measly mess that could be contained in a closed fist. Bu t her sadness could not be contained, and so she cried and cried" (130). This is a defining moment for Martha; it is her first interaction with hetero romance, and her place as a pawn in boys' bets destroys her sense of self and confidence as a person. Mar tha is used, gullible in her earnestness for attention from a boy. The only way to salvage her feelings after this exploitation is to eras e the experience from existence: She decided she would never tell anybody what had happened [] about five seconds l ater, she felt a sudden loss of oxygen and felt stupid to her very core. The tape existed. And since there had been a bet, the tape would be shown to Vince and Jimmy's brothers as proof. And who knew who else Jimmy would show his film to when he finished i t. (131) This betrayal is far from the romantic fantasy Martha had begun to construct for her relationship with Jimmy; what she had imagined as a psychologically deep and coupled experience is instead something for group consumption and visual pleasure


! 83 am ong men. Rather than true hetero romance, this incident is really one of bonding between the boys, one in which she is merely an object to be used and whose use is for their pleasure. "What had promised to be the best day of her life had become the worst" (132). Martha is exploited explicitly for her occupation of the female role; what she initially experiences as her own sexuality is turned into something else. This positioning, this vulnerability because of her place as a young woman, leaves Martha feeli ng disconnected from herself and her society: Martha's stomach lurched. She became intensely aware of her separateness to the whole world. This wasn't exactly the right way to put it, because if she were truly separate from the whole world, she wouldn't ca re about the videotape; it would have no effect. She was mixed up that's what she was. Miserably so. (132) Martha develops a sense of Otherness because of her gender. Her subjection to boys preying on her sexually, the possibility of her exploitation bei ng made public leaves her fearing the shame and exposure of her weakness, na•vetŽ, and vulnerability. Specifically, the video shows her as only the victim of a boy's con, as "tricked." She feels isolation in her emotional toying by Jimmy and almost blames herself. She wishes the tape would have no control over her feelings, yet she fears the real social implications and stigma of being (sexually) used on film. Martha makes a resolution for strength and stoicism, lest her anxiety and sadness become visible to others, especially her family. Maybe, thought Martha, just maybe, the kiss will never be mentioned and the tape never shown [] she knew the likelihood of this was next


! 84 to impossible. She had seen the delight on Jimmy's face. So, because it was the be st thing she could think to do, Martha would pretend the kiss and the tape were meaningless. And if that didn't work, she would try to block this episode out of her life, let it become a blind spot []. (133) Martha makes these promises to herself, but th ey do little to control her fear and concern about the exposure of the kiss. Her brother's maleness and his friendship with the Mannings privileges him with viewing access to the video. Vince's seeing the tape gives him a knowledge about her that makes Mar tha nervous and unable to forget. Martha notes her brother's male privilege: "The easy going way he carried himself led Martha to believe that her brother's life was uncomplicated" (135). In comparison, Martha's new complications tied to being female in a heterosexual equation lead her to panic. Like Samantha in Lush Martha expects the repercussions of her assault will cause her harm and cast her as guilty while Jimmy will escape any negative repercussions and may even rise in his standing among the other boys. When Vince reveals that he has seen the recording of Martha and Jimmy, Martha begins to "hate" Vince, fearing the incrimination and embarrassment Vince can now hold over her. Martha cannot let go of being cruelly used by Jimmy, and her determination to forget the incident does not succeed. At dinner later, "the grip of unhappiness over the kiss would be too strong for her to enjoy the meal" (139). Martha is consumed with the painful incident: "While she toyed with her food, her mind grew alert, picki ng up every particle of thought and magnifying it, letting it expand and become huge and always ending with Jimmy Manning and shame" (139).


! 85 Her father notes her quietness and intrudes in the most unfortunate phrasing: Silenced by the charms of Jimmy Man ning ? '" (139). It is here that Vince shows his loyalty, an allegiance not usually afforded to his sister. Before Martha's tears begin to fall, Vince loudly calls Jimmy manning "a prick," thoroughly distracting his parents with his bold language at the dinn er table. This is a brief moment in the book that promotes cross gender trust and support. Vince's alliance with his sister overrides his usual alliance with other boys here Jimmy Manning. Later, Tate Manning is waiting at Godbee's home to apologize to Mar tha for what his brother had done. Tate says he's sorry and that he "didn't know what to do" about his brother's bet; this suggestion of premeditation and prior knowledge of a plan to use Martha for her gender makes her feel uncomfortable and anxious all o ver again: The words implied to Martha that Jimmy had been using her all along, that maybe he had never liked her at all, and his saying "I need you" right before he had taken her hand as they walked on the beach was a lie. Still, part of her wanted to bel ieve it: "I need you." She had, for once, however briefly, felt needed for something other than baby sitting or loading the dishwasher or helping her father fix dinner. (142) In other words, for once Martha felt desired for a different aspect of her prescr ibed femininity: no longer appealing for only familial domesticity, her sexuality was now something valuable or desired. Heterosexual romance is a new aspect of her constructed femininity, but her first attempts at it fail in this humiliating incident. Bu t with the reintroduction of Tate, Martha soon begins to let the incident go:


! 86 "Martha found herself caring less and less about Jimmy and thinking more and more about Tate. She wondered if the video would ever be erased from her memory, wondered if she'd ev er ask Vince what the video was actually like, what she looked like in it" (177). Martha's feelings about the video change themselves to be about her appearance, though maybe she wonders if you can see her authenticity in feeling versus Jimmy's selfish con quest for bragging rights. Her shame is reduced because she begins to imagine herself as an object to be looked at, and imagining the viewer as Tate highlights her developing conception of hetero romantic looking. Martha is less humiliated when she begins to take herself as an object of the camera eye something to be looked at, perhaps desired. As Martha's vacation ends and she is leaving for home, Tate frantically catches her before she leaves, saying he "knew what to do this time" (197). His solution is s tealing the videotape. Martha thus finds herself in possession of the tape; her problems are gone as she has the physical evidence, the aspect of the kiss that most disturbed her. Tate also admits to having been the one that "really" liked Martha. "And at that very minute, what was inside her head and heart made her feel as though there was no one else in the whole world she would rather be" (200). The happy ending to Olive's Ocean is that Martha is saved by a new heterosexual romantic interest. Her real a dmirer (as opposed to her exploitative filmmaker) saves her honor and wins her heart by retrieving the evidence of exploitation and returning it to Martha's hands. Martha's world is first damaged by what only appears to be heterosexual romance; it is then absolutely saved by a different and authentic heterosexual relationship. She is no longer disassociated and


! 87 isolated from her world and society; in fact, they embrace her now. Thus readers are left with an overall message that in order to escape the isolat ing aspects of femininity abuse, harassment, objectification, discrimination, degradation young women must succeed at hetero romance: this is their saving grace from enduring abuse and opposition from boys. Successfully embrace male desires and affecti ons, and you will be protected by them since you cannot protect yourself. The message from this novel and most of the others with a female protagonist is that girls need to be suspicious and careful of boys, particularly older boys, who may be looking to take advantage of them or even have deeper and more threatening sexual designs on them. Girls are interchangeable for boys, and so it is girls' responsibility to be certain of a boy's romantic interest and good designs before she becomes sexually or romant ically involved with him (as we saw in Lush and Olive's Ocean ). However, hetero romance also has the capacity to fulfill the heroine, to protect her from other less honorable intentions, and to assure her social status (as we saw in Olive's Ocean and The E arth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things to a lesser degree). Readers who may be seeking another option will be disappointed. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian Junior's failings at normative displays of masculinity (his health and physica l appearance) are tempered throughout the novel by the strong assertion of his heterosexuality. Though many gay slurs are hurled in his direction, Junior is secure in his heterosexuality and unfazed by such taunting. His heterosexuality is the preserver of his masculinity. However, after transferring to the white high school, Reardan,


! 88 Junior's race initially marks him as ineligible, unworthy, and invisible in the eyes of the white female students. Junior develops a crush on the most popular (and beautiful in Junior's opinion) girl at Reardan, Penelope. When he first arrives at the school, Penelope treats him with disdain, seemingly inspired by his racial difference. Having had a class with Penelope, Junior tries to initiate conversation with her later onl y to be shamed: "She looked at me and sniffed. SHE SNIFFED! LIKE I SMELLED BAD OR SOMETHING! Do I know you?' she said" (73). Even this marginalization doesn't deter Junior however, and after gaining some sympathy from Penelope after being mugged, he hopes to advance his relationship. How do I make a beautiful white girl fall in love with me?'" (81), Junior asks Rowdy one night. Rowdy's response: change everything about who you are. But surprisingly, Junior's race and class eventually become useful in romance. One day, Junior discovers Penelope vomiting in the bathroom and recognizes that she is sick with bulimia, not the flu. Throughout this exchange in the bathroom, Junior idealizes Penelope's appearance despite knowing of her eating disorder. Junior confronts Penelope about her problem: "What are you looking at" she asks me. "I'm looking at an anorexic," I say. A really HOT anorexic, I want to add, but don't. "I'm not anorexic," she says. "I'm bulimic." She says it with her nose and chin in the air. S he gets all arrogant. And then I remember there are a bunch of anorexics who are PROUD to be skinny and starved freaks.


! 89 "Hey, Penelope," I say. "Don't give up." [] Penelope starts crying, talking about how lonely she is, and how everybody thinks her life is perfect because she's pretty and smart and popular, but that she's scared all the time, but nobody will let her be scared because she's pretty and smart and popular. You notice that she mentioned her beauty, intelligence, and popularity twice in one se ntence? The girl has an ego. But that's sexy, too. How is it that a bulimic girl with vomit on her breath can suddenly be so sexy? Love and lust can make you go crazy. (106 108) Here Junior at once belittles eating disorders and psychological coping mechan isms while being attracted continuously to the image of Penelope, one that is particularly vulnerable and unwell at this moment. He doesn't expect to be attracted to a "bulimic girl," but he is, and this attraction may be concerning he keeps using "sexy" and "hot" to describe Penelope, even with vomit on her breath, perhaps reifying her bulimia and the need she feels to fit femininity ideals. But this scene also complicates the normative heterogendered dynamic. Junior seems to have some kind of ability to empathize with someone in trouble that others lack in his world. It is possible that Penelope picks him because he doesn't judge her for her disorder, is sympathetic even at a bad, unattractive moment for her, and because he's not a conventional male. Th is exchange could signal that Junior is not predatory, but supportive. After this divulgence, Penelope and Junior become the "hot item at Reardan," a development that's not quite romantic, but close enough for Junior. He worries that Penelope only choose s him because he is "the worst possible choice for her. She was probably dating me ONLY because I was an Indian boy" (110), an inflammatory and


! 90 defiant choice in face of her racist father. Junior acknowledges that they were barely dating, handholding once in a while and no more than two kisses, but he doesn't mind being used as a "smudge" on Penelope's perfect, popular record. If Penelope finds Junior's non judgmental sympathy refreshing and encouraging, the reader is limited to Junior's perspective and can only read this through the text's overt content. Junior admits he is using her too to improve his own social standing, and it works: After all, I suddenly became popular. Because Penelope had publicly declared that I was cute enough to ALMOST date, all of the other girls in school decided that I was cute, too. Because I got to hold hands with Penelope, and kiss her good bye when she jumped on the school bus to go home, all of the other boys in school decided that I was a major stud. (110) With this succes s of at least the appearance of heterosexual romance, Junior is able to rise above his initial social standing based on his race, class, and appearance. The suggestion of hetero romance with the most popular girl reshapes Junior's image entirely. Rejecting Rowdy's advice to change everything about himself, showing sympathy to Penelope in a difficult moment, and recognizing the complex reasons for their budding relationship from Penelope's desire to defy her father and Junior's desire to be accepted at his n ew school, the novel poses the value of hetero romance for boys as well as girls. Junior continues to idealize Penelope, and this idealization seems tied to her whiteness, as much as her choice in him is based on his Indianness. Junior loves Penelope's lo oks most of all: "Mostly I loved to look at her. I guess that's what boys do, right? And men. We look at girls and women. We stare at them. Was it wrong to


! 91 stare so much? Was it romantic at all I don't know. But I couldn't help myself" (113). Particularly at this point of the novel, the naturalness of men's sexual objectification of women is asserted for the reader. The woman here stands as something to be looked at (just as Martha saw herself in Olive's Ocean ), and to be manly is to be the one doing the lo oking. Despite Junior's mild worry that staring might not be "romantic" (perhaps it is overtly sexual?), he focuses on his pleasure in looking, adding a racial component: Have you ever watched a beautiful woman play volleyball? Yesterday, during a game, P enelope was serving the ball and I watched her like she was a work of art. She was wearing a white shirt and white shorts, and I could see the outlines of her white bra and white panties. Her skin was pale white. Milky white. Cloud white. So she was all wh ite on white on white, like the most perfect kind of vanilla dessert cake you've ever seen. I wanted to be her chocolate topping. (114) Junior racializes the differences between Penelope and himself, extending sexual objectification in Penelope's direction by imagining her as an edible object. In addition to the absolute opposition between girls/women and boys/men (one of gender), Junior contributes one of racialized skin tone, eroticizing it through his imagery of a cake and its contrasting topping. On the one hand, this is a surprisingly sexualized image combining oral satisfaction and top bottom imagery; on the other it highlights a kind of racialized nervousness in Junior, using humor to point out and disarm their racial mismatch. Readers find themselves occupying the position of voyeur right alongside Junior, and for female readers this may be an uncomfortable


! 92 insight into the sorts of sexual harassment they face daily. But the novel is self conscious of Junior's racializing. Junior asks Rowdy and Gordy how he can get a white girl to love himself, an Indian boy. Both friends point to the flawed racial relation: "Hey, Asshole,' Rowdy wrote back. I'm sick of Indian guys who treat white women like bowling trophies. Get a life'" (115). Gordy's response com es after doing some online research: "Well this article said that over two hundred Mexican girls have disappeared in the last three years in that same part of the country. And nobody says much about that. And that's racist. The guy who wrote the article s ays people care more about beautiful white girls than they do about everybody else on the planet. White girls are privileged. They're damsels in distress." "So what does that mean" I asked. "I think it means you're just a racist asshole like everybody else ." (116) Here the novel opens the question of the ideal of womanhood as endowed with whiteness (and class privilege). Gordy's response highlights the glorification of white girls and the neglect of brown girls. Rowdy's response curiously highlights the obj ectification of white girls by Indian boys, accusing Junior of being like "other" Indian men who treat white girls like trophies to be collected and shown off. While the novel does well in addressing racial inequality, something missing from the other nov els in my selected readings, it does perpetuate the objectification of women. While pointing out racial (white) privileges, it reasserts femininity, especially white femininity as "damsels in distress," needing masculine rescue. The narrator, and the novel itself in its tight focus on Junior's internal monologue and sensitivities,


! 93 seems to overlook male privilege that operates even within racially marginalized groups. It shows that even the more socially and economically powerful part of the heterosexual eq uation, Penelope, is trapped within structural inequalities of gender. And it shows that Junior can overcome the limitations imposed by racial and economic prejudice by succeeding in heterosexual romance with a white girl, whom he is free to objectify. Wh at My Mother Doesn't Know Readers are immersed immediately in first person narrator Sophie's thoughts, as What My Mother Doesn't Know is written in a poetic, journalesque form. On the first page of the novel, Sophie's main concerns are made apparent: her thoughts center largely on her trials in hetero romance. The next page is devoted to Sophie describing her "Sixth Sense": "Sometimes I just know things. Like when Lou asked me to go on that walkon the last day of eighth grade. I knew he was going to say h e wanted to break up with me. And I knew my heart would shatter when he did. I just know things. I feel them coming. Like a couple of weeks ago when I went to the Labor Day party at Zak's. Something perfect was going to happen. I just knew it. That was the night I met Dylan" (2). The novel successfully informs the readers of Sophie's preoccupation with heterosexual romance, and makes it the driving force of the novel. Sophie meets Dylan initially by having to sit in his lap for a car ride: I was the last one to get in the car and it turned out all the other laps were taken, so I had to sit on Rachel's sister's friend's brother's lap. It


! 94 was Dylan's lap[] I'd never seen him before. And he had such smoldery dark eyes that I felt like I'd been zapped smack into the middle of some R rated movieand this guy and I were going to start making out, right then and there, without ever having said one word to each other. (3 4) In the over crowded car, Sophie's positionality as female delegates her to the lap of some distantly known boy, "Rachel's sister's friend's brother." But she enjoys her opportunity, and by the time they part ways, "our eyes connected, this miracle smile lit up his face and I practically had a religious experience" (5). This euphoria overwhelms Sophie, after having spent a brief time sitting in the boy's lap. The novel then moves on to sugary description of Sophie's bursting love for Dylan. Upward of eighty pages are devoted to doting, all consuming Dylan thoughts, descriptions and expressions o f "perfect" love. She muses over how Dylan's chosen nickname for her is her favorite: "Sapphire. I like whispering it to myself. His name for me. Sapphire It's like the secret password to my heart" (1). Later on, she notes that not thinking of Dylan for f orty eight minutes is her new record. This narration romantic obsession gives primacy to heterosexual romance and desire. It depicts an unhealthy amount of attention devoted to romance and romantic partnering as normal and natural for a female protagonist. At one point, the couple has a brief fight over Dylan's new haircut, a style of which Sophie disapproves, but after a long forty eight hours alone, they make up: "And then he kisses me and his I'm sorry kisses are so sweet that for a second I find myself thinking it was almost worth having the fight" (65). Sophie's ideas about romantic love are nauseatingly idealized, but normalizing


! 95 fighting as a prelude to better physical intimacy is unequivocally problematic. Soon though, Sophie realizes her apparent l ove for Dylan is fueled by physical attraction. When this attraction loses its novelty and she is not otherwise satisfied by the relationship, Sophie quickly refocuses her attention. After she breaks up with Dylan, gets spooked by an online relationship th at turns explicit, Sophie moves on to a new romantic obsession. She dances with a masked man at her school's costume party, and from then on can only speak of her obsession with finding the anonymous masked man (even explicitly naming herself as obsessed). Eventually, Sophie discovers her masked partner is one of her school's most unpopular and unattractive students, Murphy, a boy for whom she has already entertained romantic fantasies despite the social dangers of being attracted to an outcast. When Sophi e acknowledges her interest in Murphy and allows him to ask her out, she claims it feels "righter than anything has" (206). Sophie has apparently successfully negotiated a move from obsessive romantic fixation based on physical attraction to proper hetero romantic attraction based presumably on something more than physical attraction and social approbation. By first showcasing the fleetingness of juvenile notions of "love," the novel has a message to deliver: When I first met Dylan I wanted to kiss him all the time. But the more I got to really know him, the less I felt like kissing him. And it was the same way with Lou before that. But with [Murphy] it's the other way around. The more I get to really know him, the more I want to kiss him. Maybe that's just how it is when your mind and your body and


! 96 your heart and your soul are in total agreement with each other. Maybe that's how it is when it's real love. (235) What this novel depicts is a girl's struggle for "real love," which she finds in an unlikely, unc onventionally masculine partner. The reasons for romantic partnership, in the end, are positive ones: valued and meaningful emotional and intellectual attractions and commonalities with someone. However, the overdetermined emphasis on finding "real" love ( as distinct from mere physical attraction or worse, social status) is still problematic. Sophie's unending and obsessive search for hetero romance is represented as her only focus and desire. She is a flat character, with only one goal: find the singular, perfect romantic partner with which to give meaning to her own existence. Conclusion Among the novels studied for this thesis, none offer any representation of solutions to the desire for affection, romantic attachment, and relationship that fall outsid e of heterosexual and hetero romantic parameters. Readers who may themselves be questioning or otherwise not firmly aligned with hetero romantic requirements may still find ways of reading these works or moments in which alternative ways of relating to oth ers are possible. Junior's relationship to Rowdy, although explicitly rejecting the possibility of a romantic or sexual interest, is still one invested with emotional significance as seen in Chapter Two Martha's learning to see herself as an object of de sire through the imagined eyes of another, while part of the convention of objectifying women, is also potentially fetishistic. So of course is


! 97 Sam's learning to appreciate the way that her breasts make her an object of social value, though in an almost en tirely negative way. Virginia's solution is the most interesting; in focusing on her self and her own desires by dy e ing her hair blue and getting her eyebrow pierced and giving up her extreme dieting, she becomes more confident and is finally able to recog nize Froggy's real romantic as well as sexual interest in her. The message here is to focus on one's own pleasures and enjoyments, and let others express interest as they will. Readers of course can read and identify with characters across gender, sexual ity, racial and ethnic identity. But what is the young gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender reader to do with these novels and their strong assertions that hetero romance (though perhaps not so much hetero sex itself) is fulfilling, pleasurable, empoweri ng, and necessary for one's well being? In seeking to solve particular teen problems by making them visible and named (alcoholism as well as early breast development in Lush expectations for female body maintenance and weight in The Earth male harassment and sexual demands in Criss Cross race and masculinity but also eating disorders and female body image in The Absolutely True Diary ), they overlook the damage that may be perpetuated on adolescents developing non normative or non heterosexual senses of s elf and desire.

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! 98 Conclusion This thesis has examined the modes of appropriate gender performativity and sexuality YA novels present to their readers, the messages delivered to young adults as to how they should and can act and interact as gendered bodies. The question remains, how do real gendered bodies read the text ? Can young adults subvert the normative in their readings ? I have read these novels from a feminist standpoint, attuned especially to constructions of femininity and femaleness in the texts. Though I have the consciousness of an undergraduate gender studies education, I believe this sort of critical reading for gender and sexuality can be performed by everyone, including the young adults these books target. While not all of my selected books need to be cherished, they need not be burned or banned either. 23 If readers could approach texts with goals of critical reading, at least to the extent of willingly considering how texts relate to themselves, what parts of text they identify with, then th ese YA novels could prove a useful tool for awareness of and examining the gendered social constructs surrounding us from youth to adulthood. While of course not every reader wants or is able to participate in critical analysis of teen fiction, its impact and internalization, the ways in which the text becomes meaningful for readers is something we need to learn and teach as valuable, necessary thoughts to have about encountered texts. I have attempted to speculate about the ways different readers could re late to and read these texts is there hope for the young girl r eceiving lessons of hopeless individuality in regards to sexual harassment ? Are boys left feeling unnatural if their !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 23 It is necessary though to consider why some of these books have faced banning challenges ( The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things ) and why others have received Newbery Award nominations (a reward for "excellence" in YAL). (see Kidd "Prizing Children's Literature")

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! 99 desire is not always sexual ? Are non heterosexual youth offered nothing if they only have access to texts such as these, which present only heterosexual romance ? Readers could identify with many characters that are gendered or sexed differently from themselves, in some way aligning their experiences and making meaning via charac ters socially recognized as "unlike" themselves. However, these novels do a nasty job of rooting femininity and the experiences of girls very directly in a "biological coercively assigned female at birth, body. While boys' experiences with their bodies ( penises, erections) appear in a few of the novels, it is in no way as substantial or the center of their experiences; for the girls in this YAL, their body is the main source of almost all of their difficulties: sexual attention, harassment, assault, roman ce, menstruation, weight, dieting. Their statuses as girls, the transition from childhood to womanhood, all of their notions of femininity are tied to their female body. So much so that the biological and the cultural become destiny for young girls in thes e novels. I find these novels, which for the majority seem to have a female target audience in mind, do something specifically detrimental and damaging with their images and constructions of femininity. While masculinity can often be constructed via disp lay or performance of heterosexual desire in these books (so that performances of masculinity could be enacted by a range of people and bodies), femininity is always an assigned female body. For trans readers or anyone not normatively identified with their sex and gender, these texts make it difficult to read against their normative prescriptions, and alienating in their firm construction of femininity as the female sexed body.

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! 100 Bibliography Alexie, Sherman, and Ellen Forney. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian New York: Little, Brown, 2007. Print. Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex New York: Vintage Books, 1989. Print. Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity New York: Routledge, 1990. Print. Connell, R.W. M asculinities Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Print. DeBlase, Gina. "Acknowledging Agency While Accommodating Romance: Girls Negotiating Meaning in Literacy Transactions." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 46.8 (May 2003): 624 635. El ectronic. Fairchild, Emily, et al. "Gender in Twentieth Century Children's Books: Patterns of Disparity in Titles and Central Characters." Gender & Society 25.2 (April 2011): 197 226. Electronic. Friend, Natasha. Lush New York: Scholastic Press, 2006. Pr int. Frye, Marilyn. The Politics of Reality: Essays in Feminist Theory Berkeley, CA: Crossing Press, 1983. Print. Henkes, Kevin. Olive's Ocean New York: Greenwillow Books, 2003. Print. Johnson, Naomi R. "Consuming Desires: Consumption, Romance, and Sexu ality in Best Selling Teen Romance Novels." Women's Studies in Communication 33 (2010): 54 73. Electronic. Kidd, Kenneth B. "Prizing Children's Literature: The Case of Newbery Gold." Children's Literature 35 (2007): 166 190. Electronic. Lesnik Oberstein, Karin and Stephen Thomson. "What is Queer Theory Doing with

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! 101 the Child ? Parallax 8.1 (2002): 35 46. Electronic. Mackler, Carolyn. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2003. Print. Motes, Julia. "Teaching Girl s to be Girls: Young Adult Series Fiction." The New Advocate 11 (1998): 39 53. Electronic. Perkins, Lynne R. Criss Cross New York: Greenwillow Books, 2005. Print. Rich, Adrienne. "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence." Signs 5.4 (Summer 1980 ): 631 660. Electronic. Rubinstein Avila, Eliane. "Examining Representations of Young Adult Female Protagonists through Critical Race Feminism." Changing English 14.3 (December 2007): 363 374. Electronic. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Liter ature and Male Homosocial Desire New York: Columbia University Press, 1985. Sones, Sonya. What My Mother Doesn't Know New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2001. Print. Wittig, Monique. The Straight Mind and Other Essays Boston, MA: Beac on Press, 1992. Print Young, Iris M arion Throwing Like a Girl and Other Essays in Feminist Philosophy and Social Theory Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990. Print. Young, Josephine Peyton. "Boy Talk: Critical Literacy and Masculinities." Readin g Research Quarterly 35.3 (2000): 312 337. Electronic. Younger, Beth. "Pleasure, Pain, and the Power of Being Thin: Female Sexuality in

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! 102 Young Adult Literature." NWSA Journal 15.2 (Summer 2003): 45 56. Electronic.