Saturday, July 11, 2015

Why the Condemnation of John Green Bothers Me

This was the article that blew Huffington Post's readability for me. I’m not necessarily a well-informed person when it comes to which newspapers are legitimate which are satire and which are in-between, but I guess because I’d heard of it, I thought it was a reputable paper. After reading this, however, I started to question who the authors were and realized the mediocrity they often hire.

In the case of “John Green, YA and Rape Culture” by Camryn Garrett, we can cut them some slack because it was written by a clearly labeled “teen writer.” And I’m not going to go into the reasons I found the article so ineffective and improperly edited because it’s actually independent of what bothers me about the subject.

John Green is the young adult author of The Fault in Our Stars, a love story—recently made into a movie—about a young couple who are diagnosed with terminal illnesses. I haven’t read it, and I have no interested in reading it. But he has recently shot to fame and with that, of course, came a lot of negativity.

In one case, a random teenager wrote online:

“I bet John Green thinks people don't like him because he's a dork or a nerd or whatever, when in reality it's because he's a creep who panders to teenage girls so that he can amass some weird cult-like following. And it's always girls who feel misunderstood, you know, and he goes out of his way to make them feel important and desirable. Which is fucking weird. Also he has a social media presence that is equivalent to that dad of a kid in your friend group who always volunteers to 'supervise' the pool parties and scoots his lawn chair close to all the girls.”

She is entitled to her opinion, and the truth is that in many cases being “creeped out” is not founded in evidence or logic, but a feeling. I’ve never been made uncomfortable by a man in a way that I could clearly articulate why, or prove he had inappropriate thoughts about me. Not until after he acted in some manner that made it obvious, in which case, the damage was already done. (Though I need to point out that this has rarely happened, and in situations of low magnitude, like being asked out by an older, married man, for instance. Not exactly the stuff of trauma, but still something I sensed long before I knew.)

So, while those opinions are valid, and honestly it’s the internet and she has the right to say it, her feelings bother me on a whole other level. This idea is something ingrained in our society that I really wish wouldn’t be true: Men’s only use for women is sex.

The teen’s opinion is founded on the idea that he only “panders to teenage girls” because he wants them sexually. He goes after girls who “feel misunderstood… and he goes out of his way to make them feel important.” Because he’s a man, it means he can’t empathize with them. He can’t just enjoy writing for women, he has to have a secret agenda.

As a writer myself, the idea that he’s being inappropriate by writing about misunderstood teens and using social media to connect with fans is ridiculous. That’s just what you do as a writer. You write about misunderstood and different people because that’s what people want to read about. You use social media to remind people that you exist and let them know what you’re doing.

And yes, men can be extraordinarily creepy on it, but it’s not like he’s a forty-year-old married man writing about a twenty-year-old girl he finds beautiful and was scared to talk to. (True story.) I looked at his social media page to make sure I wasn’t missing important facts about the content, but I cannot see a place, and would require a quote, that involves inappropriate commentary, not just the fact that most of his followers are in his readers’ age group.

The idea that a man can’t relate to or want to write for women unless he’s sexually depraved promotes separation of the sexes. It says, “No men allowed unless you want me to accuse you of being a creepy pervert. Do not try to talk to me, identify with me, or entertain me, because I know you’re only doing it to get into my pants.”

Men don’t like to hang out with women socially already. I know you’re sitting there calling bullshit—and I personally know many heterosexual exceptions. But when I talk to men, most of them admit to me they rather have male friends. I’ve even had people actually say, “I only listen to women talking because I want to sleep with them. Or, I’m already sleeping with them, and I know I’m obligated to. Oh… not you though.”

It’s a common statement for guys to say, “I can’t write for a women because I’m not one!” Oh, but that international spy who endures years of torture and gets his leg cut off is pretty much you on a daily basis.

I’m not trying to suggest that all men are perverts who secretly have no interest in females other than their genitalia. I do have more respect for them than that, and it’s kind of my point: we’re not allowing those who do to participate with their chosen friends/fan bases. Our society needs to stop promoting that attitude—that it’s weird for men to hang out with women—so that men who do empathize and have the capacity to relate to women can do so without judgment. We need to stop saying it’s weird for men to understand women. It’s weird for men to have “female” interests. Because as long as that’s true, we will always see female interests as being a lesser, more frivolous niche, female characters being only made for female readers, and that men and women can’t be friends.

Sure, John Green might have choose to write young adult books featuring female protagonists for the mere purpose of getting hordes of young girls to throw their panties at him. But considering the likeliness of that happening—prior to his fame, he had no idea how much fame he would have, or how fans would react to him—I imagine he would have done better to pick another field, like doctor or rock star.