I clicked « send » and, just then, somehow, after two whole fridging years working on the said send manuscript, it hit me.
Did I just sent to a publisher a kid’s novel guilty of the Smurfette Principle?
Disclaimer: I mean no offense to anyone, nor do I mean to condemn anybody’s stories or ideas. You are free to be the writer, or better yet, the human being you want to be. I simply want to share what I’ve learned from my mistakes, things I think are useful to be aware of. I’m sharing writing tips here, no judgemental life lessons of any kind.
Unless for very specific reasons, I never outline my stories. I start with a character, a general plot idea, and off I go to this new world, meeting these new people. I love writing.
In the said novel I send off to publishers recently, the main character, plagued by phobias, finds herself trying to make her utterly impossible dream come true.
I re-wrote it four times. It changed a lot. Still, it was not until I send it to the first publishers on my list (no literary agent in my very small francophone corner of North America!) that I realized what I might have done.
I wasn’t sure. Ends the research about the Smurfette Principle and how to tackle it! a
A twenty years old Principle
The Smurfette Principle has been around for twenty years now. It was first introduced by Katha Pollitt in an article published in the New York Times in 1991.
Personally, it is late in my short five years career as a bookshop girl that I was introduced to the Smurfette Principle. My friend and colleague, a lover of kid’s and YA literature, also happened to be an eager feminist, way before it got back in style.
After her lunch break, one of this day shaping up to be exactly like the day before, she burst into an outraged plea against the fact that most books were still contaminated by the Smurfette Principle, in YA novels especially.
It is quite simple. Based on the Smurfs universe, where there’s only one female among a hundred male, the Smurfette Principle highlights the fact that only one female character is present among many males in a given story, whether a novel or a Hollywood movie.
(Hollywood movies and some tv series are particularly plagued by this Principle. The same can be said for the representation of First Nations, African American, Latin American, LGBTQ+, people living with a handicap, so on and so forth. But I will stay away from that burning and so fundamental topic for now.)
Smurfettes and Smurfs of the world, be Aware !
How to tackle down the Smurfette principle? Well, it is not rocket science:
by being more aware !
If we take the time to take a look back at what we are writing, like I should have done with this kid’s novel of mine, and always bear in mind that all readers are different.
As a woman writer, you would think I would have thought of that. But no! I default to the mainstream cast of characters we see everywhere.
Once the Smurfette Principale highjacked my mind, I couldn’t do anything else but go through my characters.
My hero is a girl of Asian origins. Her sidekick is male. They get help from males. The bad guy is male. She pretty much stands alone, aside from 4 chapters where she is saved by a girl… and a guy.
Sadly, my story screams Smurfette Principle.
Now, I will follow my own exemple.
Once I am thru with the current story I’m writing, I am determined to do some serious twicking on the manuscript, whether I get a positive answer from the publishers or not.
It does mean going over the whole for the fifth time. But I’ll be dang before I end up being with my pen name on a loaded Smurfette Principle book.
Talents Hauts et le sexisme en littérature de jeunesse