Graceling: A Call to Action

I’m late to the party. I know I’ve been hearing vague whispers that “Graceling” by Kristen Cashore rocks…and I don’t know why it’s taken me over a year to pick the book up. But now that I have, I’m going to have to add my voice to the mix. (FYI: This blog will include some “Graceling” spoilers. You’ve been warned.)

“Graceling” truly rocks both as literature and a forward thinking example of sexual politics. Yep. I’m going there. Here’s why.

As I am presently assaulted on a daily basis by reminders that “Eclipse” is being released on DVD in time for the holidays, I consider Bella Swan and what she…and her love triangle mean to me as a woman. It’s not pretty. Lets examine Stephanie Meyer’s romantic creation: Uncoordinated, blend-into-the-wall Bella is stuck in a relationship that’s all talk. Literally. Sex with her vampire boyfriend or werewolf hopeful is so dangerous it could kill Bella and so she doesn’t get…any. Instead, she talks about her feelings. And the vampire and werewolf boys talk about their feelings. Throw in a teasing kiss, a chaste cuddle and wait for a freaking wedding ring at age 19. Once married, the consummation of Bella and Edward’s love ends with a freakishly short pregnancy, a mutant blood-drinking spawn, and death of mortal Bella.

So, according to Meyer: Love=Talk=Marriage=Sex=Death (and children)

Hmmmmm. And the bulk of American women have bought into this nightmare of fantasy love…why?

Now, let’s take a look at Katsa, the female heroine of “Graceling.” She’s fierce, lethal, brilliant and gorgeous. Her love story takes place with a man who admires her abilities, and isn’t afraid of the fact that she’s better than him. He also takes her on her own terms which are…wait for it…No marriage. No children. No promises to follow one another throughout the seven kingdoms. Katsa’s lover is no pushover. He’s a warrior in his own right but doesn’t fear recognizing Katsa’s superior fighting and hunting skills. He says, “… you’re better than I am, Katsa. And it doesn’t humiliate me…It humbles me. But it doesn’t humiliate me.”

Katsa’s conditions for their relationship, no marriage and no children, do not mean no sex. Quite the contrary–Katsa and Po demonstrate a healthy, mature, and respect-filled physical relationship. Together they take responsibility for birth control and the emotional demands that sex requires.

Cashore’s equation: Love=Respect=Pleasure

Hmmmm…which to choose?

Let’s buy into a new romantic ideal, friends. Bella and Edward represent the guilt-laden ideals of a past where women are not equal and sex is dangerous. I’m sorry, I thought it was 2010.  The time has come to stop punishing women for feeling desire and seeking pleasure. Furthermore, the time has most definitely come for women themselves to cease accepting and celebrating misogynistic portrayals of femininity. It’s ironic that the most forward-thinking representation of modern romance (since the 1970‘s classic “Forever” by Judy Blume) takes place in a fantasy novel!

Let’s demand strong, healthy relationships for our heroines. Better yet, let’s start writing them!

Shannon Marshall, Assistant Editor

Shannon is YARN’s co-editor.

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3 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Great post, Shannon. I’m not a Twilight-hater, but I think the fanatic obsession around the love-triangle is both ill-deserved and harmful. Thanks for being bold enough to boil it down to its distinctly un-empowering essence.

    I’d like to add that expecting boys to behave like Edward or Jacob is also asking for trouble. How many teenage boys, after all, are up for long talks about their feelings between “chaste cuddles”? (Love that description, by the way.) While it wouldn’t hurt some boys to adopt a bit of Edward’s chivalry, I think it is unfair for girls to expect the kind of relationship Bella and Edward portray–and downright dangerous to put effort into duplicating or creating it.

    Much better, wouldn’t you say, to take Katsa’s approach of focusing instead on using one’s strengths and talents to better the world? And if a boy like Po comes along who loves and respects the well-rounded, independent woman you are…? Well, all the better.

    Thanks for posting, Shannon. Great discussion.

  2. Natalie says:

    Good job! I am not a twilight hater, in fact I read the books and liked them but I do know there are better books out there. So…good job!

  3. Darrell Smith says:

    I have read and enjoyed all the twilight books and seen the movies. I have always been concerned about the Bella character’s flat affectation and lack of self confidence. You really put the problem into perspective as well as provided a warning on the unrealistic view of intersexual relationships.

    Have a great holiday, Shannon.

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