YA Normalizes Sexual Harassment

I’m currently reading Caraval by Stephanie Garber, and it’s a pretty interesting book, I’m really enjoying the world.  But there is one thing that keeps making me uncomfortable that I wanted to talk about, and that’s sexual harassment.

In Caraval our main character Scarlett is forced to work with bad boy Julian to find her sister in the magical Legend’s carnival-like game world. Just a quick note, I am only 144 pages in this book, but I’m assuming these two characters end up together romantically.

Julian falls into all the typical “bad boy” stereotypes, handsome, sexually confidant, constantly teasing Scarlett about sex.  Now I get that Julian probably doesn’t mean to harass Scarlett, but he is. According to the definition of sexual harassment: “harassment (typically of a woman) in a workplace, or other professional or social situation, involving the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks.

An example:

“You could have slept in the bed as well.” Julian toyed with the top button of his shirt.
Scarlett scowled. “You know that was never an option.

And another example:

“You really think I’d get in a bed with you? Are you mad?” A ridiculous question, because clearly he was. He continued to unbutton his shirt, and she was certain he did so only because he knew it made her uncomfortable. Or maybe he just liked showing off.

Now Julian’s remarks are usually pretty low key, he’s never vulgar, but he obviously doesn’t mind letting Scarlett know that he’d love a roll in the hay.  Scarlett however, has little interest in having sex with him at this time. Though she does find him attractive at times, his remarks have always made her uncomfortable. Which makes me uncomfortable.  And begs the question, why are we normalizing behavior like this? Julian is just one of many many YA (actually male characters in general have this problem but I’m just talking YA today) male characters who thinks it’s acceptable to harass a woman, despite her saying no!

I get it, it’s hard to draw a line between this and teasing. I’m not saying it’s terrible to joke about having sex with someone. But I am saying, Julian clearly sees she’s not okay with his jokes and teasing and suggestions, so obviously he should stop. Everyone person has boundaries, and if we’re going to be setting up a character to be the “good guy” then he should be willing to respect boundaries.  There’s really no excuse for having characters do this to each other.  There’s no excuse for this normalizing of harassment.   We as writers have a duty to those we’re writing for.  We have a duty to show healthy and non-healthy relationships for what they are.  But this “teasing” is really blurring the lines here and I don’t think it’s a good thing to do.

So, what are your thoughts on the matter? I know I picked on just Julian this time, but he was the only character I had quotes from.

 

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6 thoughts on “YA Normalizes Sexual Harassment”

  1. This trope really annoys me too. It perpetuates an attitude of “they’ll give in eventually if I keep pestering them”, and makes it seem as though any young person who isn’t sexually active is a prude who needs to “lighten up”, rather than someone who is able to make the informed choices they want.

  2. I haven’t read Caraval, but I do think that sexual harassment can often be romanticised in books! (I mean, I know it’s sort of YA but one that comes to mind is ACOTAR by Sarah J Maas. Being abusive is not romantic!!! Aah!!!)
    I’m not sure if this true but I think perhaps it’s more prevalent in fantasy, because for some reason people often feel the need to write fantasy books where there is lots of misogyny and violence against women…? Like, if you have the chance to create a new world, WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT. But, yeah, I don’t know. Interesting post!

    1. Yeah, I’m beginning to see it more and more in books and it’s very upsetting.
      Oh yeah, Sarah J Maas does it a lot her books, though I haven’t read ACOTAR yet.
      Interesting, yeah that’s a good thought. Thanks for commenting!

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