Sunday, 16 May 2010

Love Triangles: Are we gender biased?

Most of us get sucked into the love triangle. Teams now proliferate YA as we all pick our sides and the rest attempt to remain ambivalent. Whether Teams Jacob or Edward (Twilight), Teams Seth or Keenan (Wicked Lovely), Teams Jace or Simon (The Mortal Instruments) or Teams Peeta or Gale (The Hunger Games), we all have own preferences for who the girl should be with.

What becomes startlingly clear is that we like the triangles where there is a single girl. Not two. We prefer seeing a girl fought over by two guys, not a guy fought over by two girls. I would debate the need to fight over another human beings (or alien/supernatural being) affections in the first place but I get sucked in like everyone else. After mulling this gender inequality over, I began to realise that there are a couple of reasons we are drawn to the two guys over one girl scenario more.

I don’t know about some of you but I didn’t have one guy that was really into me during high school, let alone two. It’s a situation foreign to me so it is nice to read a story and experience what it might be like to be sought after that much. It’s contemporary fantasy if you really think about it.

The prime example of this is Bella. The girl doesn’t have a lot going on except that she has a vampire and a werewolf both wanting her limpid self. Take all that away and she’s a klutz with no people skills, no personality and no drive.

When there are two guys fighting over a girl, we get to experience that through the eyes of the protagonist. We are injected into the story and the struggle thus we find ourselves the one being fought over. It played into our need to be liked, possibly loved, enough that a guy would put himself on the line to declare himself. It is a rush because it brings a sense of worth and importance to the reader.

Yet when there are two girls, our perspective is through one of the girls, not the guy in the middle. In this situation we empathise with one more than the other. Usually the other is shallow, mean or promiscuous and is created to act as a foil for the protagonist. It is always clear that she isn’t the one for the guy (in our protagonist’s eyes anyway) and so there is less emotional investment in the choice and more in the other girl’s mean machinations. It’s less about the feelings and more about the shenanigans.

There is an example to this when it is two sisters fighting over a guy. This immediately rankles me, it’s a predicament that reflects poorly on the sisters in the end. I similarly dislike it when two brothers fight over a girl - I think the person in the middle should stop messing with families (with an exception to The Vampire Diaries.)

Girls have to choose between the guy next door and the bad boy but her choices are usually more than the cliché. When it comes to a guy choosing between the protagonist and the other girl, only one of the choices is well fleshed out and the other is a cardboard, slightly evil cut out. Even if the other girl is the protagonist’s best friend, the author tends to make the BF do really nasty things to make the protagonist more empathetic. The wrong choice’s role is to spotlight how right the protagonist is.

As much as we might like a sensitive guy, we like to know that our guy is capable of stepping up to the plate. Seeing two guys butt heads screams testosterone and makes our hearts race. Jealousy usually plays a huge part in the aggression that comes out and with the declaration of true feelings. There’s nothing like a threat to make a dude clear on his feelings for a YA anyway.

Seeing two girls fight over a guy is less dignified. This isn’t fair but if Jerry Springer showed us anything, it’s that two woman fighting is nasty and a bit of a spectacle. It’s never pleasant and never makes either player look good. There is a general perception that fighting over a guy is lowering one’s self yet we have no problem if it goes the other way. It’s desperate if a girl fights, noble and kind hot when a guy does. This isn’t fair.

You might be thinking that this isn’t true but how often do you see the word team followed by a chick’s name? For me, the last time was in People with Team Aniston or Team Jolie...not even a YA circumstance. Yet we see tee shirts for YA literature and television everywhere. Our loyalties are to the guy heavy triangle.

I don’t want this to become a gender issue. The reason we are so vocal on Teams in YA triangles is for one reason. We want the protagonist to choose the right guy...for her. Sometimes we get confused and like the right guy...for us. But regardless of your team leanings, remember discussion about any literature is always a good thing. But should you find yourself naming your child after your team focus, forgetting he’s fictional or practising signing your signature with his’s time to get a life!

Team Gale defence here.


Pam Pho said...

Great insight! I hadn't really thought about this a lot. And you are uber awesome for finding a way to say Jerry Springer on a blog post!

Teams Keenan, Jace, Gale!

Janelle Alexander said...

Well now I want to write a girl heavy (that sounds funny...) triangle from a guy's perspective... (which was actually already going to happen in my next WIP!!) :o)

And Pam - I like you! There aren't many Team Gale people out there!!! Team Jace is a given... ;o) But I must say that I'm Team Seth (although, I have only read the first one so far...)

Anonymous said...

Completely agree with you. But when I think of a guy having two girls fight over him, it seems sleazy because he's leading them on. Whereas two guys fighting over a girl has a different dimension because there's this view that guys put it all out there and won't give up without a fight. I guess I'm sexist.

Lauren said...

I'm actually pretty over the love triangle. If there's more to a story I can deal with a love triangle being a part of it, but it's definitely not something I look for in a book. However, I really agree with what you've said about perspective. Relating to a character who has two guys fighting over her is a win/win situation. No matter what else is going on for the character, romantically she can't lose.

Great post - it's given me food for thought about how readers might respond to mixed gender triangles in GLBT titles.

Emily Cross said...

Great post!

like you said, important to remember the target audience - women/girls!

Anonymous said...

Great post! I dislike the triangle situation and the duplicity that girls display in this specific scenario.
I hate the idea of two guys fighting over a girl (or the other way around), the girl should know better and I would expect guys to respect her choice.
Team Gale, Seth, Simon (yeah I always prefer the guy who has history with the girl).

Maria said...

I agree with Lauren. I am not too fond of love triangles, but it seems like many authors these days are. Anyway, great post, it really got me thinking :)

April (BooksandWine) said...

I'd like to see a GBLT love triangle, as the majority of love triangles are from heteronormative perspectives.

Alex Bennett from Electrifying Reviews said...

That is so true! Great post.

Meredith said...

I have to admit that I tend to fall for the love triangle and always have a vehement opinion about what guy the girl ought to get with. But you're right: when it's two girls fighting for a guy, one of the girls tends to be a cardboard cutout, clearly not right for the guy. I think girls love the idea of two guys fighting over them or falling so hard for a guy that you don't care that he has a girlfriend/your best friend likes him, too. It's a very easy way to create conflict in a novel, and I always like it better when it's not the main focus.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post and you've made some amazing points! I too am always attracted to stories where there is a love triangle although I find I'm equally intrigued when it's a guy and two girls or a girl and two guys.

Anonymous said...

I like the triangles. They add some spice to the story. I tend to go for the underdog.

Team Puck!

Unknown said...

I personally would have no interest hearing about two girls fighting over a guy over two guys fighting over a girl. Girls get down and dirty and do uncalled for things... guys are just boneheads lol.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I dislike 2-guys-1-girl triangles as I much as I do 2-girls-1-guy ones, despite the former tending to be much better characterized. I will inevitably end up sympathizing with one of the guys in the former (and am apt to throw the book across the room if he "loses"). Love triangles are something I read in spite of, not because of.

Robby said...

What a brilliant post!

Daisy Whitney said...

Insightful post. Totally agree on all counts. It's so rare when a girl-girl-boy triangle is truly nuanced..

Ebony McKenna. said...

Great article Adele.
I especially loved your analysis of Bella without the two boys - a klutz with no people skills etc!

Half way through reading this I realised I very nearly did the love triangle with Ondine - except it's not quite 'two guys dig me, which one should I choose?' It's 'the guy I love turned back into a ferret, so maybe this other guy is the one I'm meant to fall for?'

melissa @ 1lbr said...

Excellent points! I hadn't thought in depth about why (though, since some stats show more girls reading than guys, I figured that's why it's more two guys fighting over one girl). I did a list about triangles a while back and really struggled to find two girls fighting over one guy, but there were a few!

BookChic said...

April- Interesting you should mention a GLBT love triangle since as I was reading this, I was like "What would it be like for two guys fighting over a guy?" and now kinda want to add it to my story (that I have not started yet, lol). Would that be still be hot, despite all three being the same gender?

Anyway, even as a boy (yes, I'm gay, but still a boy!), I kinda like love triangles because they're interesting and also for some of the reasons you stated above, especially the just-want-to-be-loved reason. I can barely get one boy to fall for me (at any time, HS or now), let alone two, so it's fun to read about.

Great, insightful post!

Laina said...

I wondered this exact same thing!!!

See, I even tweeted about it.


How weird!!

Laina said...

Also, because I got overexcited and distracted and had to read this twice to come up with a more well-thought out comment, there are a few examples of a GLBT love triangle I can think of. One is Ely and Naomi's No-Kiss List, and the other isn't a book, but in the tv show, there actually is am instance of a boy-boy-girl triangle with one of the boys being the love interest of the other boy and the girl.

Wow, those were probably the most run-on sentence, ever.

Great post, by the way. :)

Ms. Yingling said...

Very good post! It irritates me when young women today feel forced to change their names when they get married. We fought that battle over 25 years ago. If a man "makes" you take his name, he's not the one!