Last night, I gave up on yet another recommended dystopian YA novel. It begins, as many of them do, with the female mc doing something thoughtless that could be putting her community of survivors in danger. She is sixteen, she has a protective big brother and the novel is written in the first person. So far, not so very original. The heroine was a child at the time of the catastrophe so has received no education, has known no other human beings apart from the shining lights of her community, and according to her over-bearing brother, isn’t much use for anything. Again, pretty standard. I stopped reading after the episode in which the leaders of the scattered bands of survivors, all Clint Eastwood clones, have a confab and decide to give an extremely important mission to—guess who?—the daft girl nobody takes seriously.
I happen not to like the Clint Eastwood types. I don’t find them admirable and I certainly wouldn’t want to be stuck in a dystopian bunker with one. What I dislike most of all about this particular trope is that it seems so improbable. Not that the Clint Eastwoods of this world would use their sophisticated arsenals and limited ideas to take over. I think that is only too probable. What doesn’t convince me is that the gun-slinging, unwashed, macho leaders of a militaristic, patriarchal community would listen to a sixteen-year-old girl and give her the important, dangerous jobs to do. It doesn’t make sense. No doubt it panders to the self-image of millions of fifteen-year-old girls, but it doesn’t make for credible plot, and I can’t imagine many fifteen-year-old boys getting much fun out of it either.
Credibility is what’s lacking in so much of this type of fiction. How can you have people living like the backwoodsmen, huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ when the apocalypse has roasted all the vegetation to a crisp and most of the animals have died off? When the only other female characters are the weeping and wailing women in the background who the men have to protect and keep corralled in the kitchen, how come it’s a girl who calls all the shots? That kind of scenario I would swallow if her father happens to be king, but in this instance, her father is the community drunk.
As in all post-apocalyptic dramas, nothing is left of our society. There is no school, no education, no farming, no crops, no creation of anything. Yet ten years down the line the survivors are still somehow living on supermarket style produce, wearing factory produced clothes and shoes and have enough munitions to start a war. How? I’m getting tired of reading the same incredible story, put together like a Playmobile Surivors of the Apocalypse kit, with interchangeable hairdos, costumes and accessories.
The female lead is getting irksome too. I’d like to think the world of the near future would have achieved greater equality than we have today, but often the societies portrayed in these novels are no more progressive than the conservative, misogynist societies we are familiar with. If a female is doing the leading, the author has to explain how, not dump a kid in the leading role with a supporting cast of Rambo, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, Captain Kirk and the Incredible Hulk and expect us to believe that they would do anything except laugh at her, squash her, or sexually abuse her.
I know the heroine of The Green Woman is sixteen. I know she is expected to give the world a big shake up. But she doesn’t want the job and doubts she is capable of doing it. In the end, she is incapable of influencing those who don’t want to hear her message, and even in her own camp, many who follow what she stands for are only waiting for the right moment to jump on ‘the girl’ and push her out of the picture. That’s life, unfortunately. Women, and even more so girls, have a hard time making their voices heard, and it isn’t by simply writing them into the starring role that an author can make that starring role convincing. Let’s have some realistic heroines coping with realistic problems, like sexist condescension, physical aggression and the simple fact that men with big guns and conservative ideas don’t generally take girls very seriously.