Literature is reflective of the society it is written in. This holds true for Young Adult (YA) novels and other forms of dystopian fiction. Slate recently ran an article asking why dystopian movies avoid sexism and racism. The answer is simple: a lot of dystopian books that are turned into movies barely touch on racism or sexism, so the source material is lacking the narrative to be put into movies in the first place.
I think it’s easy for people to say “so what?” or to dismiss this concern by saying it’s not the goal of the author or the series to tackle these issues, but that just avoids the issue rather than excuses it. It’s important for us to be critical on the materials our society celebrates so we can better understand the society we live in and our society’s concerns. And, when we find that narrative doesn’t match our experiences, we can question why the mainstream wants to avoid these issues that we hold to be true.
That is to say, just because dystopian literature isn’t talking about sexism and racism doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Anyone who lives in a big city like Los Angeles can look outside and see the racial tensions happening outside of their windows. The rest of us can turn on the news and see report after report of Ferguson or New York or any other place where rights are being violated on the basis of color (and there are, unfortunately, many such cases).
Likewise, if you are a woman, love a woman, or even know a woman, you’ve probably been privy to stories of harassment (on the street, at work, or even at home), condescending remarks (often called mansplaining, or when a man explains something to you after assuming, not asking, that you don’t know about it even if you do), physically discomfort due to environment or remarks, or rape. Rape happens everywhere, but it’s becoming an epidemic on college campuses as of late.
Even if you know a woman that has not been subjected to any of the above (and what a rare woman that is), women’s constitutional rights and liberties are being chipped away at constantly. Not only has the right to choose been downgraded from a constitutional right to a liberty interest (meaning that a state can place restrictions upon the right as long as the state doesn’t deem it an obstruction to the right), but now even women who choose to have children are having their rights violated at work and, following a sad pattern, the courts are siding with the business in violation of the law rather than the women being violated.
These are just a few of the sexist and racist problems our society faces, yet we find nothing reflective of that in our dystopian movies or books. I’m not saying that every dystopian book needs to tackle sexism and racism, but it’d be nice if dystopian novels and young adult fiction would admit that we still have a society-wide problem in these two areas by including the fact that they are issues humanity is not just facing now, but would face in a dystopian future.