Today, I'm honoured to have YA author Holly Bodger stopping by Once Upon a Bookcase to talk about her novel 5 to 1 and feminism.
Can you tell us what led you to write such a feminist dystopia, over a general dystopia?
I honestly didn’t set out to write a dystopian novel at all. I wanted to write about the effects of gender selection and felt I needed to set the book slightly in the future in order to exaggerate these effects. While some of the elements of my imagined future are found in the average dystopian novel (i.e., a controlling government, a walled society), I built my world this way because that was how I specifically envisioned the society would evolve and not because I was trying to satisfy any rules of the dystopian novel.
As for the feminist angle, I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb a feminist. It’s one of the first words I use to describe myself, so it colors everything I do. That, of course, is probably why I was drawn to the idea of writing a novel about gender selection in the first place.
Why did you choose to set 5 to 1 in India?
5 TO 1 was inspired by a journal article I read about the consequences of gender selection in China and other Asian countries (including India). I chose India because I’ve always been fascinated by the country and its customs. Having said that, one of the reasons I set the novel in a fictional country was because I also wanted to incorporate elements from China, such as the one-child policy and the walled society.
Koyanagar is a very matriarchal society, the opposite of how we're living now, but 5 to 1 shows that it's also very flawed and unfair world to live in; that equality is the only real option.
I could have set 5 TO 1 in the present day, however I felt like that had been done. Girls have .been mistreated for centuries, and while most people know this is a problem, that knowledge does not appear to be enough to instigate change.
At the surface level, I thought reversing the roles might show the problems of gender inequality in a different light since it is the boys who are at risk (and the world, in general, values its boys more than its girls; otherwise, we wouldn’t have this problem in the first place!) On a deeper level, I wanted to show that an imbalance of power is a problem for everyone. To me, this is the key message of feminism.
The dystopian society you have created feels like a very scary, very possible future, yet it's set only 39 years from now! Do you think gender inequality is something that is going to get worse very quickly, and if so, what do you think we can we do to stop it?
I’m pleased to see many countries taking this issue seriously. For example, the “Love Your Daughters” campaign in my novel is based on China’s “Care for Girls” campaign. China has also made changes to their one-child policy, allowing some families to have multiple children.
While changes such as these may help the situation, I’m concerned that they may not attack the root of the problem, which is the belief that boys are somehow better. As long as this belief exists in the hearts of both women and men on this planet, girls will continue to be mistreated.
What do you feel it means to be a feminist in 2015?
I don’t think the essence of feminism has changed. Its mandate has always been to achieve equality between the sexes, and that is as true now as it was a hundred years ago. Having said that, I think feminists’ challenges have changed significantly. In the early twentieth century, the suffragettes chained themselves to railings and even starved themselves in jail, all so they could get the vote. Only a few decades ago, women were still fighting to be accepted to certain colleges or to be eligible for certain jobs.
The teen girls of today’s Western society are unlikely to face these kinds of obstacles. Unfortunately, they will have to deal with many, less overt, patriarchal micro-repressions. Scholarships (especially for sports) are smaller for girls than for boys. When it comes to entering the job market, the average female still makes about three-quarters of the average male. In a way, these inequalities may be more difficult to battle because they are hidden behind closed doors.
How do you feel YA is doing at the moment when it comes to highlighting feminist issues? Are there any you would recommend?
I think YA novels are doing quite well at keeping things equal between the sexes. We have many leading female characters who display their strength physically (such as Katniss Everdeen or June Iparis [from Marie Lu's Legend Series]). What we seem to need more of are the girls who own their own destinies without taking on traditional male roles, and without having to step on other girls to do it.
I recommend Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series to every tween I know because I think it’s a perfect example of strong girls who can be who they want to be while still supporting each other. This support is especially important as I firmly believe that we will never convince men to respect our gender if we don’t respect it ourselves.
Thank you, Holly, for taking the time to answer my questions! Such a great discussion! Be sure to check out my rave review of 5 to 1, and then go read the book - it's amazing!