“What are you reading?” someone asks you.
“Ugh, that’s so basic.”
Has this ever happened to you? Has someone ever hated on something you liked just because you liked it? Teenage girls — and I mean those who identify as female/fem. presenting specifically — have been fighting against (and participating in!) this dialogue for as long as they have liked things.
Even if you aren’t in this category, I’m sure you’ve seen and heard people call something that teenage girls like “basic”, “stupid”, or “trash.” And this something can range from Uggs, to fanfiction, to the color pink, to K-Pop and boy band culture, Taylor Swift, and basically anything anyone has ever liked. If a teenage girl likes it, then it’s fair game to belittle or mock. Even I avoided Twilight in its heyday. I internalized that liking it was wrong because 1) every other girl liked it (it was “basic”) and 2) I thought there was better writing out there — but looking back in my 20s now, that’s a weak excuse. I devoured other vampire YA fiction like the Vampire Academy series and Cirque Du Freak, but never the mainstream Twilight.
From my research, the recent surge of hating started with Twilight, but this critical backlash has existed for longer. Did you know The Beatles’ primary fans were teenage girls when they started making music? They only became a “real band” once they slipped into the mainstream. Not only is this hate sexist and patronizing, it also perpetuates pick me culture (“I’m not like other girls”) and damages self-esteem.
Are people justified in mocking girls for their teenage obsessions? Well, first let’s answer why an obsession might happen. Teenagers feel strongly about things they like because the emotional center of their brains — the prefrontal cortex — hasn’t finished developing yet. It’s why crushes and other interests can feel so intense to them. But labeling teenage girl’s reactions to Harry Styles or chunky white sneakers as hysteric, basic, crazy, and obsessive is sexist. So no, people are not justified in their hate. You may have noticed I’ve been using “people” as the haters in this article. This is intentional, because all genders participate in it and have their own work to do by uprooting misogyny from their ecosystem.
Something else teenage girls like that people hate on is the YA Romance genre. YA Romance is doubly hated on because it is read by and written primarily by women. Ah yes, the publishing industry has this too. Something that makes me want to scream is the sexism in the publishing industry. Gratefully, I haven’t encountered this myself yet, but I am braced for when it happens. This article will be a great response to when my books are shit on — and a reminder that what I write is valid. I hope it is for you too.
The Romance genre isn’t taken seriously because of its writers and readers, which is counterintuitive when you realize that the most successful and lucrative genre is Romance (look it up!).
But what really bothers me is something I did to myself. I’m currently taking a creative nonfiction class, and while it is as pretentious as it sounds, I’m learning a lot and enjoy workshopping with other writers. During the first class session (it was on Zoom -_-), my professor expressed interest in what I was writing, and I meekly responded “YA Contemporary.” Of course, what I really meant was YA Romance, so why didn’t I say it? The prefix “YA” was already dragging me down, to throw in Romance beside it would have been literary suicide. I felt a prickle of shame. Shame at myself for shielding my writing, kicking myself for not owning the fact that I write Romance, and anger that I felt like I had to hide it. I was afraid my classmates wouldn’t take me seriously as a writer, and I hate that. I want to say in the future I’ll be more honest about what I write and be proud of it, but will I?
There didn’t seem to be any change in my classmates’ attitudes towards me after I said I wrote YA, so maybe there is a shift away from judging YA authors. I certainly hope so.
I have no end to this article, only frustration and determination. Let’s stop shitting on the things girls like and write. And if you happen to be in this category or relate to it, I hope you keep on loving the things you love louder than I could.
is a writer based in North Carolina. She attends writing classes of all kinds at UNC Chapel Hill and has a particular fondness for sharp imagery. In her free time, she drafts her own novels.