"Hazel Grace" Trope

makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
edited May 2014 in John's Books
I'm a huge feminist and sociologist, which is why I spend endless amounts of time tearing apart literature for tropes and the awful patriarchy. And I tend to only do this with works I think are worth my time - ones I love! I do it with Doctor Who, Sherlock, Percy Jackson, The Hunger Games, HP, the classics, and of course: John Green's books. Don't get me wrong, I do think Hazel is a wonderful, strong character through and through, but there are some decidedly off parts. I didn't think so initially, but as I began to read and watch reviews, and do my own literary breakdown, I began to see some patterns.

Disclaimer: TFIOS is my favorite book. I'm not hating on it. In fact, I may be being too easy on it!

I have no idea how I missed this in my first two readings, but now it is really irritating me. Augustus continues to call Hazel "Hazel Grace", even after she repeatedly refers to herself as Hazel, and asks others to call her accordingly. It wouldn't bother me as much if she had confronted him about it, but she never even brings it up. After knowing him for about 20 minutes, she simply allows him to name her. This may seem like a small, nit-picky thing, but even little children know to name themselves. Lots of kids decide that they are no long "Richard", but "Rick", or whatever. She loses so much agency when she allows a guy, specifically her love interest, to ignore her preferences.

I'm not saying John is sexist, or anything crazy. I'm simply saying that this is a glaring loss of agency for such a wonderful character, and it should be addressed. Maybe there was a reason why John decided to do that. I don't know.

Side note: did anyone else realize that TFIOS fails the Bechdal Test?? I mean think about it.. Outside of her mom and Kaitlyn (who is a plot device and not a character), Hazel has no real friends. Even Isaac and Hazel's relationship is completely centered around Gus and his...well, you know.

Just some food for thought...
by makeitagoodone
“Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
- Tim Burton

Comments

  • manateesrockmanateesrock Posts: 10
    From a feminist perspective, I agree that this is a loss of agency, but to a certain extent, misnaming someone is also a friendly thing to do. Nicknames form and sometimes people don't like their nicknames, and just because this is a male-female relationship, I'm not sure it's fair to blame the discrepency on gender. I don't have the book in front of me, but Hazel never seems affected by Gus' misnaming her. She herself even says she likes when people have two names, and being Hazel Grace means she has two names.

    I don't quite understand your second point. The Bechdel Test doesn't require women to have friends, just that they speak to one another about something other than a man. Again, book's not in front of me, but I would venture to guess that even if Kaitlyn and Hazel only speak about Gus, Hazel and her mom have to at some point speak about cancer or whatever. As for Hazel not having any friends, I think that can be explained by her "I'm a grenade" speech. She's been distancing herself from people for a long time so when she dies, as few people as possible are affected.
  • clausitclausit EnglandPosts: 7,809 ✭✭✭✭
    edited May 2014
    Firstly, failing the Bechdel test is not actually significant. The point of that test isn't that every movie/book should pass it, but rather that it's absurd how many don't. And it passes the Bechdel test anyway because Hazel talks to her mom about her cancer and I think to Van Houtens secretary as well.

    Secondly, while it is a lack of agency, I think that is a reflection of Hazel's character. For most of the novel, especially the beggining, she imagines Augustus as this perfect boy and falls utterly head over heels for him. So it makes sense that she wouldn't mind what he calls her. People do lose agency when they fall in love with people because rationality is superceded by emotion and you just go along with what they want because love. Hazel is constantly letting Gus get away with stuff and not calling him out when she should, because she can't actually see him as he is, just as what she's imagined him to be, at least until near the end of the novel.

    Also there's the fact that, given how preocupied the book is about names in general, I highly doubt John would have put a detail like that in by accident. Especially considering how important Augustus' name is.
    by clausit
    You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted but mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin. Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?
  • makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
    From a feminist perspective, I agree that this is a loss of agency, but to a certain extent, misnaming someone is also a friendly thing to do. Nicknames form and sometimes people don't like their nicknames, and just because this is a male-female relationship, I'm not sure it's fair to blame the discrepency on gender. I don't have the book in front of me, but Hazel never seems affected by Gus' misnaming her. She herself even says she likes when people have two names, and being Hazel Grace means she has two names.

    I don't quite understand your second point. The Bechdel Test doesn't require women to have friends, just that they speak to one another about something other than a man. Again, book's not in front of me, but I would venture to guess that even if Kaitlyn and Hazel only speak about Gus, Hazel and her mom have to at some point speak about cancer or whatever. As for Hazel not having any friends, I think that can be explained by her "I'm a grenade" speech. She's been distancing herself from people for a long time so when she dies, as few people as possible are affected.
    That is a good point about her saying that she likes people with two names (although she was referring to Augustus/Gus, but Hazel Grace may be applicable as well). I think it would've irritated me slightly, but I wouldn't have made a big deal about if Hazel hadn't specifically asked Gus's parents to call her "just Hazel". She doesn't seem to like the name Hazel Grace.

    Yes, I understand why she doesn't really have friends. I would've gone more into depth, I was just trying to throw something out there, and it wasn't really the point of the thread. Hazel could pass the Bechdal Test with her doctor (I forgot about her), but she doesn't with her mom. She always brings up Gus or Isaac or her dad in her conversation. Although, to be fair, her first conversation with her mom does, if you count that. So I could be wrong, maybe it does pass the Bechdal Test. But the point of the test is to show that women can have a life outside of men. And Hazel doesn't really have a life outside of cancer and Gus. I understand that there are circumstances surrounding that fact, so I don't count it as real sexism. It's simply a point.
    “Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
    - Tim Burton
  • makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
    edited May 2014
    clausit said:
    Firstly, failing the Bechdel test is not actually significant. The point of that test isn't that every movie/book should pass it, but rather that it's absurd how many don't. And it passes the Bechdel test anyway because Hazel talks to her mom about her cancer and I think to Van Houtens secretary as well.

    Secondly, while it is a lack of agency, I think that is a reflection of Hazel's character. For most of the novel, especially the beggining, she imagines Augustus as this perfect boy and falls utterly head over heels for him. So it makes sense that she wouldn't mind what he calls her. People do lose agency when they fall in love with people because rationality is superceded by emotion and you just go along with what they want because love. Hazel is constantly letting Gus get away with stuff and not calling him out when she should, because she can't actually see him as he is, just as what she's imagined him to be, at least until near the end of the novel.

    Also there's the fact that, given how preocupied the book is about names in general, I highly doubt John would have put a detail like that in by accident. Especially considering how important Augustus' name is.
    No, with her mom (except I believe with the first conversation, but it's not really a conversation, it's a remembered dialogue) she doesn't ever talk about anything other than Gus or her dad. I mean, she does briefly, but men always pop up in their conversation frequently. And yes, I understand the point of the Bechdal Test, and I allow that it isn't important in this book. It was simply an aside.

    I agree that love makes her lose agency. But I think that that is harmful when it isn't resolved or called out. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I never felt like Hazel regained that agency. I know that she saw Gus in compromising positions, and became a caregiver of sorts, but she never did seem to assert herself or regain that agency. And through the beginning of the book, there are little ways that Gus takes power from her. She asserts that she doesn't want him to kiss her, and he kisses her cheek anyway. (I understand it was playful, but it's simply a small example). Even after she reiterates that she can't have a romantic relationship with him, he tells her he loves her. He really has put her in the girlfriend-zone. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think that these actions in themselves are overtly wrong. A lot has to do with intention, and as the book is in Hazel's perspective, and he can do no wrong in her eyes, it's hard to know. They are simply food for thought. I think that analyzing characters' intentions is important, especially with those one is attached to. It can be easy to put them on a pedestal. I know I do that, especially with characters like the Doctor or Hazel (who I adore). But I don't think that's what John intended. I think he would want us to analyze Gus and Hazel's relationship, and determine whether or not it was completely healthy, as opposed to simply absorbing it and thinking having their agency taken from them is normal and healthy.
    by makeitagoodone
    “Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
    - Tim Burton
  • EverydayCaitEverydayCait Posts: 95 ✭✭
    I think that TFioS does pass the Bechdel test, but I personally believe that the test is next to useless for determining if a book/film/tv show has strong female characters. I saw an article once that I cannot find now that had dozens of movies that passed the test but still were horrible with regards to women.

    On another note:
    Not feminist, but problematic: I'm pretty sure that everyone is white.
  • makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
    I think that TFioS does pass the Bechdel test, but I personally believe that the test is next to useless for determining if a book/film/tv show has strong female characters. I saw an article once that I cannot find now that had dozens of movies that passed the test but still were horrible with regards to women.

    On another note:
    Not feminist, but problematic: I'm pretty sure that everyone is white.
    Yes, I agree. It is merely an incredibly loose guideline.

    That definitely is a problem. It's probably my white privilege showing that I didn't bring that up. Although I have heard headcanons that Isaac is Asian. But it is certainly not stated in the book, and that's actually one of the biggest problems with TFIOS that I can see.
    “Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
    - Tim Burton
  • clausitclausit EnglandPosts: 7,809 ✭✭✭✭
    OK, about the white thing, it's set in Indiana where 80% of the population is white. It's not that farfetched that a white girl from a white family living in the suburbs would only have white friends. Hell, I don't think anyone's race is even mentioned in the book, so you don't actually know what race most of the characters are.

    Back to the feminist thing though, I would say that my biggest problem with Hazel as a character (which is not neccessarily a problem with the book) is that she never calls Gus out, really. He does take away her agency repeatedly because he is terrified of loosing his own. His biggest fear is being left powerless, so he takes some of Hazel's and she doesn't stop him, and he probably doesn't even notice he's doing it. A lot of people really like Gus but I've always pittied him more than anything because he was so utterly unable to let things happen to him, to enjoy the moment. I think maybe that's why Hazel let's Gus get away with all that, because she realises on some level that his agency is more important to him than her's is to her. She's used to not having her way, due to the cancer, so having Gus do it isn't really a big deal. He can exert a modicum of power and not feel completly helpless.
    You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted but mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin. Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?
  • makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
    clausit said:
    OK, about the white thing, it's set in Indiana where 80% of the population is white. It's not that farfetched that a white girl from a white family living in the suburbs would only have white friends. Hell, I don't think anyone's race is even mentioned in the book, so you don't actually know what race most of the characters are.

    Back to the feminist thing though, I would say that my biggest problem with Hazel as a character (which is not neccessarily a problem with the book) is that she never calls Gus out, really. He does take away her agency repeatedly because he is terrified of loosing his own. His biggest fear is being left powerless, so he takes some of Hazel's and she doesn't stop him, and he probably doesn't even notice he's doing it. A lot of people really like Gus but I've always pittied him more than anything because he was so utterly unable to let things happen to him, to enjoy the moment. I think maybe that's why Hazel let's Gus get away with all that, because she realises on some level that his agency is more important to him than her's is to her. She's used to not having her way, due to the cancer, so having Gus do it isn't really a big deal. He can exert a modicum of power and not feel completly helpless.
    That's true, in that it's realistic for her to only have white friends. But I don't think that makes it excusable. It's a work of fiction, and it definitely wouldn't be unrealistic to have some people of color in it!! If Isaac was implied to actually be Asian, and I don't know, Kaitlyn was a person of color or something, I think it would spread a better message. I think it wouldn't be as bad if TFIOS wasn't made into a film. A lot of outsiders will go see TFIOS and come away with this different understand of who John Green is, and what his books are about. Because the book isn't really inclusive at all, to any minorities. It isn't ableist, which I really appreciate, considering it's a story about cancer. But it could be interpreted as intolerant. And that's sad, especially considering how lovely and tolerant John really is.

    That's a really interesting interpretation!! I've never thought about it exactly like that.. I definitely think that's a good analysis of Gus. I'm not sure if I agree about that being Hazel's intentions. It's never implicitly stated in the novel. And maybe that good, John is teaching us to dig deeper. But I also think it could be bad, because readers who don't read way into characters may walk away with the idea that Augustus is the perfect man, and that having their agency taken from them is romantic or sweet. I don't know, it's hard to say...
    “Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
    - Tim Burton
  • clausitclausit EnglandPosts: 7,809 ✭✭✭✭
    I would definitely agree that a lot of people come away thinking that Gus is perfect and dreamy and that's really problematic. But the problem with John's books (and the reason I like them so much) is that they deal a lot about the difference between how we see a person and who that person really is, and it's really easy to come away mistaking one for the other. Pretty much every main character in his books start out wrong about everything and completely misimagines the people around them. Which makes their growth more satisfying, but makes it really easy to misinterpret his work.
    You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted but mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin. Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?
  • makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
    clausit said:
    I would definitely agree that a lot of people come away thinking that Gus is perfect and dreamy and that's really problematic. But the problem with John's books (and the reason I like them so much) is that they deal a lot about the difference between how we see a person and who that person really is, and it's really easy to come away mistaking one for the other. Pretty much every main character in his books start out wrong about everything and completely misimagines the people around them. Which makes their growth more satisfying, but makes it really easy to misinterpret his work.
    I completely agree!! That is very true... That's one reason I love his work so much.. But it is concerning as a feminist, because I don't think it's a good image to portray to teen girls, especially now that it's becoming a movie. Maybe I'm worrying for nothing. Maybe I'm underestimating my own generation!! I guess we'll see how they deal with it in the film..
    “Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
    - Tim Burton
  • DragonManDragonMan Posts: 748 ✭✭
    Maybe I'm underestimating my own generation!!
    You're not. trust me, you're not.
  • AnimatedDavidAnimatedDavid Posts: 9
    Thank you all for this thoughtful discussion!
    ... I have nothing to add I'm sorry! Just thanks!
  • _PX__PX_ California, U.S.A.Posts: 3
    edited July 2014
    What surprised me was that in an interview, John Green says that he wanted a female for the main character because he wanted to break gender perceptions by showing that a woman could be a strong person.

    My immediate reaction was, "What are you smoking?"  Hazel is the ARCHETYPAL female lead.  She is quiet, friendless (albeit of her own choice), always conscious of hurting or inconveniencing others, dependent on others (quite literally for her life), and clearly intelligent but self-deprecating.

    I am not at all saying that these are bad things, because everything about Hazel's character is reasonable and plays well into the story.  I'm just saying that it boggles my mind that John thought of her as somehow breaking established gender roles.

    Update: I also believe, from listening to John's own thoughts about his books, that he is either way too humble, or that he writes about much more complex ideas and people than he realizes.  For instance, Isaac and Monica's relationship was a perfect backdrop and counterpoint in every way to Hazel and Gus, and yet John never brings it up at all when talking about the book and indeed let it fall away from the movie without comment.
    by _PX_
  • clausitclausit EnglandPosts: 7,809 ✭✭✭✭
    edited July 2014
    He said he wanted hazel to be strong, not to reject all gender roles. I think that hazel falls within gender roles because that is realistic for a teenage girl. But when you compare how she deals with her illness compared to how Gus and Isaac deal with theirs it's pretty clear that she is the strongest of the three. shes the only one to deal with her own mortality in a mature way and while still coming across as a believable teenager.
    And yes, it does seem like John stumbles into good writing. I don't know if he actually thinks Gus is heroic or if he just says that, but it says a lot about John considering what Gus does and says in the book.
    by clausit
    You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted but mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin. Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?
  • Maxx_ToronMaxx_Toron Baltimore, MDPosts: 120 ✭✭
    edited July 2014
    I am not a feminist, and I am male, so I suppose one speaking from the point of view that this passage is written in should take what I say with a grain of salt. I do, however, believe in gender equality, so I am not attempting to be sexist by providint an antithesis to your thesis. Personally, I think you're trying to pick a fight in an empty room, as the saying goes. The fact that Augustus calls Hazel "Hazel Grace" is not sexist; it is a nickname like any other. Friends call each other nicknames all of the time, and oftentimes these nicknames are not determined by the receiver of the nickname, but by the attributor. I have had many nicknames in my life that I did not wish to be called, but I adjusted and came to like being called that name. In romantic relationships, there are a different breed of nicknames, ones that usually imply that the receiver of the nickname contains an exponentially high amount of sugar. In the case of TFiOS, one could make the argument that Augustus calling Hazel "Hazel Grace" is not sexist but is simply a pet name, as they are called. Now one could say that him calling her a pet name is sexist, but if I am correct, she calls him "sweetie" a few times towards the end of the book, meaning that it goes both ways. I believe in gender equality, so in my opinion, if both Hazel and Augustus can call each other pet names, then it is not sexist of them to do so, even if Hazel does not call Augustus one all the time. 

    Side Note; Having no friends is a side effect of dying, as the great Hazel Grace Lancaster would say. It's pretty hard to have multiple friends if you can't do anything, don't associate with any of them, and make no attempt to associate with any of them. Plus, Hazel doesn't want to hurt people with her death:

    “"I'm a grenade," I said again. "I just want to stay away from people and read books and think" ”

    by Maxx_Toron
  • clausitclausit EnglandPosts: 7,809 ✭✭✭✭
    It's not 'sexist' since it's just a name and names aren't generally inherentely anything. I think it's just indicative of Gus's need to assert himself and Hazel's feeling like she shouldn't. Him calling her that and her letting him is a reflection on their personalities. Now, whether their personalities are sexist is another issue (I don't think so, in context) but the name thing is more a statement on the broader themes on the book rather than an issue in and of itself.
    You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted but mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin. Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?
  • makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
    _PX_ said:
    What surprised me was that in an interview, John Green says that he wanted a female for the main character because he wanted to break gender perceptions by showing that a woman could be a strong person.
    I think you're thinking of Hazel in the wrong way. John wrote TFioS to be the anti-Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Gus is a MPDG, through and through. He's quirky, wild, cute, a little rebellious, and brings Hazel out of her shell. That's the role of a MPDG Movie Girlfriend. Hazel is a little moody, quiet, artistic, and intelligent. She's the typical main male character of a MPDG movie/book.

    He didn't bust gender roles in the way you're thinking. He simply flipped the typical literary gender roles.
    “Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
    - Tim Burton
  • makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
    @Maxx_Toron I'm not saying that him calling her Hazel Grace is sexist. I never even brought up sexism in that situation. I'm saying that periodically ignoring the someone's wishes is a sign of an emotionally abusive relationship. I think that's harmful, because it may make young girls think that their relationship is healthy and desirable, when it isn't. I don't think John wanted it to be. But I don't feel like it was clear enough.
    “Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
    - Tim Burton
  • clausitclausit EnglandPosts: 7,809 ✭✭✭✭
    I think that Gus (a lot like Margo and to a lesser extent Alaska) is a brutal takedown of the Manic Pixie Dream trope. John's books always have this thing of if you think someone is perfect you're in for a bad time because they are not, and this is really strong for Gus.Gus wants to be a MPDG, but its an act, because people like that don't exist.You can't just walk into someone's life and fix everything, but that's what he wants to do. Hazels 'strength' as opposed to Gus comes from her ability to confront the reality of her situation where Gus is constantly pretending. The problem is that a lot of people don't seem to get that and are as taken in by Gus' act as Hazel is.
    You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted but mostly they're darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin. Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win?
  • makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
    @clausit I couldn't have said it better :)
    “Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
    - Tim Burton
  • CatherineCatherine Posts: 275 ✭✭✭
    At least at the beginning of the book, Hazel comments that she really likes people with "two names" - and she's referring to how you could call Gus either that or Augustus - because you can choose what to call them, and she's always been just Hazel. Gus finds a way to give her a second name, which it seems to me was something she had wished for.
    The only people I remember her telling to call her Hazel are Augustus' parents. I read it as she wants to keep the other name between just Gus and herself, and also partially embarrassment on first meeting Gus' parents/being with him in his house. Everyone else in the book does indeed call her Hazel, but all of them knew her before she met Gus- when she was and always had been "just Hazel".
    It's not 100% spelled out from the text, but in my reading the nickname Hazel Grace was something she valued about their relationship rather than resented or felt pressured by, and I think the text supports this.
  • turtlemcnuggetsturtlemcnuggets Posts: 3,386 ✭✭✭
    When I read it I thought that the way Hazel said she was "just Hazel" was a way of her trying to downgrade herself, thinking she isn't that important. Augustus sees that and I think he was trying to show her that she isn't 'just Hazel'. From that perspective I don't think it was sexist at all. But maybe that is too simple of an interpretation.
  • Gara_the_engineerGara_the_engineer In a log house at the edge of the forestPosts: 596 ✭✭✭
    edited August 2014

    It's interesting to read about everyone's interpretations of the book, because it says a lot about the persons doing the interpretations as well. As a female marine engineer, I see a lot of the problems with gender roles. "The female seafarer's curse" has so many different ways of showing, from the very obvious situation with old male seafarers who don't think women should be at sea, to the troubles in finding friends that a) doesn't have as only reason to be nice to you in the hope of getting laid and b) still aren't afraid of getting friendly with you because then people would assume he wants to get laid. And so many things in between it'd make me depressed if I'd start thinking about it, and probably a lot of others I haven't even realized yet. After a few years in this kind of environment, I've become quite cynical and there's good reason for it too. But. That doesn't mean that everything that happens has something to do with gender roles or anything. If you make up a character, it has to have a couple of traits. Most human traits are considered either more feminine or more masculine, which means that a character will end up having masculine and/or feminine traits. If some or all of them are typical to the character's gender, it doesn't mean that the character or the book is "flawed" from a feminist point of view. I like: cooking, large engines (an engine you can't go inside is too small!), nature, horses, physics, electro engineering, the internet, crocheting, and so on. Do I like cooking, horses and crocheting because I'm a woman? Or because I'm me? Do I like engines, electro engineering and physics in spite of being a woman? Or because I'm me?

    It's dangerous to let the stereotypes go unnoticed, but it's also dangerous to think that every little typical thing is because of the stereotypes. I did that during my first years at sea, and I can tell you this: it's not the whole truth. So when you find a few grains of stereotypes but nothing more, it's probably simply because it isn't more to it.

    My own interpretation of the book is that both Augustus and Hazel are partly stuck in the stereotypes but also partly freeing themselves from them. I mean, why should always the guy be the gentleman, the one buying flowers and holding doors? (Well, since she's sick, he should be the one holding doors, but you know what I mean.) But also: as others have already noticed, she's the strong one without being stuck in the typical "I want to fight gender roles so I make the girl as butch as possible because being manly is the only kind of strength". To flip gender roles isn't to free yourself from them. To let people be the way they are and not bully them into anything, whether it's the stereotypes or the anti-stereotypes, that's how it should be.

    My answers to some of the specific points in the discussion:
    Hazel, as all of John's protagonists, doesn't easily make friends. Her spending most of her social time with Augustus isn't really surprising, since she's in love. And Augustus doesn't spend much more time with any other than her either, it's just a few occasions with Isaac. Because he's in love.
    Augustus calls Hazel "Hazel Grace", a perfectly fine name, and ignoring the two occasions she says "just Hazel" (when he's not the one calling her Hazel Grace). The Colonel calls Miles "Pudge", a name that I find really disrespectful, which Miles doesn't protest to but it's not a name that it's okay to give someone unless you're sure it's really okay. Which one is most condescending? Does that have to do with gender roles?
    I hadn't heard about the Bechdal test before, but I wonder how accurate it is? The most important thing in life is, after all, relations. All kinds, platonic as well as romantic. And we like to talk about what matters to us. I, as a female seafarer, have almost exclusively male friends. My friends, those men, are really important to me. Would that make me "pass the test" less easily than a woman with only female friends?
    Yes, Hazel is self-deprecating and quiet. As is Q and Miles (don't remember about Colin, long time since I read Katherines). Does that make TFiOS different from his other books, just because Hazel is a woman? Why interpreting their traits differently because of their genders?

    And on the white/coloured discussion: does a book all of a sudden become better from a racism point of view if some of the characters have another skin colour? That's definitely an over-simplification of the problem. The problem isn't that a book only has white main characters, but that the proportions between white and coloured irl-persons are different from the white and coloured fictional persons. John writes about environments he knows well, and it'd be weird if he'd always put one or a few coloured persons there just to have a coloured person. You know, people are a lot more than their looks. Coloured persons too. I read an interesting text once about prejudices: a person had been asked to meet a friend's friend at the airport. "It'll be easy to find her, she'll wear a big green hat." But at the airport, he looked and looked but didn't see anybody with a green hat in the group of newly arrived. After most had left, he looked more closely at the few remaining persons. And, shocked of his own blindness, realized that the black woman wore a big green hat. He hadn't seen her hat because her skin colour was more apparent to him than her clothes. This story makes me think: we always have to define when a person is coloured, white is default. But what if every person whose looks haven't been described are, in fact, coloured?

    I know I'm protecting the book, and it may or may not deserve it in all of the aspects. But from working in a heavily gendered environment where stereotypes are really strong, I have found that one can't assume that everything is because of prejudices even though so many other things are. That'd just be one more prejudice...

    by Gara_the_engineer
    The meaning of life is to give life a meaning
  • makeitagoodonemakeitagoodone 221B Baker St., Camelot, Narnia, GallifreyPosts: 123 ✭✭
    edited October 2014


    And on the white/coloured discussion: does a book all of a sudden become better from a racism point of view if some of the characters have another skin colour? That's definitely an over-simplification of the problem. The problem isn't that a book only has white main characters, but that the proportions between white and coloured irl-persons are different from the white and coloured fictional persons. John writes about environments he knows well, and it'd be weird if he'd always put one or a few coloured persons there just to have a coloured person. You know, people are a lot more than their looks. Coloured persons too. I read an interesting text once about prejudices: a person had been asked to meet a friend's friend at the airport. "It'll be easy to find her, she'll wear a big green hat." But at the airport, he looked and looked but didn't see anybody with a green hat in the group of newly arrived. After most had left, he looked more closely at the few remaining persons. And, shocked of his own blindness, realized that the black woman wore a big green hat. He hadn't seen her hat because her skin colour was more apparent to him than her clothes. This story makes me think: we always have to define when a person is coloured, white is default. But what if every person whose looks haven't been described are, in fact, coloured?

    I really, really want to stress something. The whole "colorblind" excuse is just a copout. Whether or not you personally think people of color are important to add, they exist. Not only is it sexist, but an entirely white cast is unrealistic and poor writing.

    Let me put it like this, would you enjoy watching a TV series that did not have a single female character? Wouldn't it make you uncomfortable? You would feel excluded and a little offended. Women make up 51% of the population, and yet the male writer who made the show didn't feel like you are important enough to even have one minor female character.

    It's exactly the same concept, but worse in some ways. It's not like TFIOS has a bunch of races, but doesn't include one race. That wouldn't be a big deal. But TFIOS has an ENTIRELY white cast! There are more people of color in the world than there are white people. There is absolutely no excuse to not include people of color.

    You say that John "writes about environments he knows" so it would be "unrealistic" for him to include a person of color?? Are you really saying that you think John isn't friends with any people of color? Let's be honest here, if that's true, than he is definitely racist.

     ... 
    by makeitagoodone
    “Maybe it’s just in America, but it seems that if you’re passionate about something, it freaks people out. You’re considered bizarre or eccentric. To me, it just means you know who you are.”
    - Tim Burton
  • Gara_the_engineerGara_the_engineer In a log house at the edge of the forestPosts: 596 ✭✭✭
    What I tried to say but perhaps didn't get through is that there is no need for an author to actively think of including coloured people in every single book he writes. If one of the books happen to be just white people, I don't think that automatically is a problem. TFiOS includes three important individuals and their parents (who we can assume have the same colour as their kids...) so I don't find it strange that they happen to be white. Of course, some or all of them could have been coloured too, but needn't be. Have you read his other books? Radar is black and Hassan is Muslim (although I don't remember if the book ever mentions his colour or anything). Those are the ones I remember. When I think of it, if it's only them and I haven't forgotten anyone, it's not the best mix. So maybe you have a point there.

    I don't know how mixed or segregated neighbourhoods are in the US (although I think I know), but at least in Sweden it's quite common that some areas are much "whiter" and other are much more "coloured". And if you want to make friends with people, you don't think of colour (unless you're racist) but rather whom of the people you know happen to be interesting and enjoy the same things as you do. These persons are the ones you'll try to get friends with. If you live in a very segregated area, you'll encounter lots of people of one colour and few of another, and therefore it's quite probable that your group of friends will be just one or a few colours, not well mixed.

    makeitagoodone said:
    There are more people of color in the world than there are white people. There is absolutely no excuse to not include people of color.
    True. But when talking about the place where Hazel lives, I'd guess that there are more white people. If a book is written about some place in the world where there are more coloured people, then it needs to have more coloured people, of course. But that's not the case with TFiOS. They live in a segregated world, as do you and I and everyone else. Yes, it's good to let books show a world that's just a little bit more inclusive (colour, gender, sexual orientation, whatever) because that makes us see a world that we want and perhaps would strive to get, but we can't require every author to fight for every kind of justice and inclusion with every book he writes. I agree with your wish that it should have had some coloured people, but I don't see that we could argue that it's a big problem in this specific case.

    Does my rambling make sense? I hope it does. I'm simply trying to talk about statistics without using the word statistics. I'm not saying that the segregation is okay or anything, I'm just saying that if you're writing a book about a realistic upper-middle class area, then you get a quite (but not entirely) white area. A group of three friends in that area are quite probable to be white, all the three of them.

    What do you mean by saying it sounds like I think everyone is colourblind? I hope I didn't say anything like that... I know people notice what colour others have, and I know it affects how we act. We have to try to be aware of our behaviour.

    I know you used it as a parable, but I want to answer this one as if it was a point in itself too: yeah, I watch that TV show every day at work. It's called "working at sea". It's a place that exists, with all of its problems. Since I don't see myself, except for in the mirror, I don't see any women at all. Does that make my life sexist? I hope not... You don't change this reality by writing books or TV shows with good gender representation. I'd find every book about a 50/50 gendered ship crew to be very unrealistic. It may or may not be good, but it will be unrealistic. I would want to have more women at sea, and I try to encourage every girl interested in technology to thinking of getting a career in that area, and also see if I can encourage uninterested girls to get interested. I mostly fail, but not always. After all, it's their choice, not mine. When I had a female engineer cadet a year ago, it was the first time I've ever worked with a woman in the engine room. (Oh the weird and relieving feeling when you don't have to be very discrete when adjusting your bra when it has moved, but instead just have to make sure to leave no oil spots on your shirt!) How many upper-middle class neighbourhoods in the US are there with good colour representation? I hope there are lots, but I'd guess it's not...
    makeitagoodone said:
    You say that John "writes about environments he knows" so it would be "unrealistic" for him to include a person of color?? Are you really saying that you think John isn't friends with any people of color? Let's be honest here, if that's true, than he is definitely racist.

    I thought the definition of racist was someone who have derogatory opinions about people of a certain colour or race, not whether the people you happen to meet and have a chance of making friends with happen to be all the same colour or not. And neither did I say that he didn't know coloured people, because I have no way of knowing what friends he has. What I meant (but apparently didn't get through) was simply that I assumed, which may or may not be correct, that he have grown up in areas similar to the ones he writes about, with few coloured people. Again, not all of his books are all white, but TFiOS happen to be.

    To be very clear: not having coloured friends does not automatically equal racist. If you live in an area where few coloured persons live, why would every non-racist find just those few coloured persons to be nicer and more interesting than the white persons? Some will, some won't. It works the other way too: if you live in an area were there are very few white persons, you'll be quite probable to have only coloured friends. It's easy to subconsciously choose friends among your own colour, but if you think that everyone with only same-coloured friends is racist, then almost everyone in a segregated area must be racist. That'd be very sad.
    The meaning of life is to give life a meaning
  • dandaman0345dandaman0345 Posts: 3
    I think I'm a bit late, but I've taken a few sociology courses recently (very eye-opening), and I kind of agree. It sucks, because all of John's books are pretty important to me. They defined mine and my friend's adolescence. Even had a recently deceased friend hold a page of Paper Towns up to a Greyhound bus window before running away (for the hundredth time). It's heartbreaking to think that something so intimate to my life retains semblances of patriarchy. But it does. That's just the honest truth.

    That's because, like all things that come out of this culture (and most cultures), it cannot help but display some degree androcentricity. I'm trying to write a book, and I'm sure it will show up there too. We can't have artists censor themselves too critically or it will interfere with their creative process. I know you aren't suggesting this, you seem to smart for that, but I know you're wishing it. I am too. But it won't work. 

    It's sad and it's bad, but it's not a problem. Problems have feasible solutions. Predicaments don't. This is a predicament and I don't think it will be solved for a very long time. 
  • I really enjoyed reading this. I am bad at picking opinions so I'm still just floating in the middle. But John's books are still my favorites, regardless of any underlying sexism or racism. This whole discussion has really encouraged me to comb through books and films though.
  • turdl38turdl38 Posts: 976 ✭✭✭
    I think John's point was partly to demonstrate how silly people, especially teenagers, can be when they develop crushes.  Like...there was a boy who my sister adored when she was about 17 who called her a shortened version of her name that literally nobody else in her life has ever called her and she was so stricken with this young man that it was totally fine...he could call her whatever he wanted because he was him paying attention to her.  It's made very clear very early that Hazel thinks Augustus is "hot."  Perhaps it's the same concept, if that makes any sense at all.
    Difficult does not mean impossible.  Very little is impossible if you want it badly enough.
  • turdl38turdl38 Posts: 976 ✭✭✭
    Also, to the racist point, I didn't have any coloured friends until university, or maybe very late high school.  BUT this is only because the only "minority" in my town was Basque people, but they all kind of congregated in the downtown area and I wasn't downtown as a kid ever, so literally all my friends were white and it was even unusual to meet somebody who wasn't the same religion as I was other than my cousins on my dad's side.  All this just because of where I happened to be raised.  It was a very homogenous part of town.  
    Difficult does not mean impossible.  Very little is impossible if you want it badly enough.
Sign In or Register to comment.