Your Feelings Are Valid: A Reminder to YA Writers to Listen, Not Preach

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A few weeks ago a Tumblr user, virjn (the username virjn is no longer in use) posted a few thoughts on best-selling, mega famous Young Adult author, John Green.

Her original post has been shared on Twitter, Tumblr, and countless other sites but in case you haven’t see it we’ll share it here as well.

“I bet John Green thinks people don’t like him because he’s a dork or a nerd or whatever, when in reality it’s because he’s a creep who panders to teenage girls so that he can amass some weird cult-like following. And it’s always girls who feel misunderstood, you know, and he goes out of his way to make them feel important and desirable. Which is fucking weird. Also he has a social media presence that is equivalent to that dad of a kid in your friend group who always volunteers to ‘supervise’ the pool parties and scoots his lawn chair close to all the girls.”

 

Virjn did not tag Green directly in this post, nor did they outright accuse him of anything.

But this short post in one corner of Tumblr grew legs. It was reblogged and reblogged and eventually another user, astro1995 (who also appears to have deleted their Tumblr), suggested they would continue to push the post until John Green “was forced to defend himself.” And then later, a third user tagged Green directly.

And a few weeks later  he did respond:

“You want me to defend myself against the implication that I sexually abuse children?

“Okay. I do not sexually abuse children.

“Throwing that kind of accusation around is sick and libelous and most importantly damages the discourse around the actual sexual abuse of children. When you use accusations of pedophilia as a way of insulting people whose work you don’t like, you trivialize abuse.”

Now since John Green is such a big name, with such a big media presence, the story was picked up by the mainstream media. And what followed was some mind blowing examples of irresponsible, click-bait, journalism. Headlines such as, “‘Fault In Our Stars’ Novelist John Green Hits Out At Paedophilia Allegations” started making the rounds. These kind of headlines deliberately implied that a teenager had accused Green of wrong-doing, rather than simply stating that he gave her the creeps. Why? Because the latter makes for a much more compelling news story.

But it was arguably not the journalism that escalated the situations. The situation escalated when other Young Adult authors decided to circle their wagons and come to John Green’s “defense.”

For those who are not familiar with the Young Adult community, it is a small one. Many of the best selling authors know each other and often, they’re friends. Big names like Maureen Johnson, Sarah Dessen, Chuck Wendig, and Maggie Stiefvater rushed to assure the internet that their friend John Green was not only not a pedophile, but also not creepy at all.

A few days ago, teen blogger, Camryn Garrett, wrote a thoughtful piece on the Huffington Post Teen Blog about why this response from YA authors was troubling. In this piece she points out that the people rushing to Green’s defense were also rushing to publicly shame a teenage girl for sharing her opinions, and noted that these best selling authors were failing to recognize their own privilege and position of power. She makes a lot of great points but this part in particular really stands out:

“Am I supposed to just tolerate all of the older men in my life who make me uncomfortable? The men who have more power than me because they’re older and more respected?”

The response of John Green’s peers to the Huffington Post piece  has been a truly upsetting and disappointing thing to witness over the course of the last few days. These authors, people who on any other day claim to speak for teens, communicated in the form of tweets, tumblr posts, open letters, and even comments in USA Today that they are unwilling to listen to the voices of their key demographic. Maggie Stiefvater expanded on her comments in USA today on her personal tumblr, offering the following insensitive advice to those who might find John Green creepy.

“To those folks who say that John Green makes them feel uncomfortable in any way: John Green is not in their house, or school, or real life. If he makes you feel uncomfortable; easy fix — watch something else, read something else, don’t go to his author events. I don’t like Woody Allen; I don’t watch Woody Allen movies; I don’t read Woody Allen interviews; I would not frequent a blog written by Woody Allen.”

This may be easier said than done for many teens. With the success of The Fault in our Stars, and the upcoming release of Paper Towns, John Green’s name and face are all over mainstream media. But more importantly, are we to understand that if someone makes others feel uncomfortable, or in the case of Woody Allen, is actually accused of sexual assault, the answer is to not talk about it?

It is an understandable compulsion to jump to the defense of your friends, especially after people (not the original poster but other Tumblr users) deliberately called out John Green to defend himself. However, when you are the adult and the people you are rushing to condemn are teenagers (and primarily female), you may need to take a step back, look at the power dynamic at play, and consider if your defense is actually needed.

Other authors, like Shannon Hale and Tessa Gratton, took a different approach. Instead of rushing to condemn the original poster, or whether Garret should have written her HuffPo piece, they tried to have more of a dialogue about the situation, regarding reader interaction and online engagement.

Someone called John Green creepy on the internet. It may have been aggressive, but that is not libel as so many of his defenders might have you believe. He is also not the first male celebrity to be called creepy, nor will he be the last.

There is actually some truth in Green’s response — if you accuse someone of molestation or sexual assault, simply because you don’t like their work, you are doing something damaging. You are making it more difficult for those with real stories to speak out. But that’s not what happened here. What happened here was that a number of young adult authors escalated a situation that didn’t need to be escalated. They decided that their position and their experiences were qualification enough to determine what other people’s comfort levels should be. They let down the community of people that they should be championing. And that is significantly more damaging than someone calling John Green creepy on Tumblr.

[Editorial Comment: In an earlier version of this piece we mentioned that  virjn had deleted her Twitter account. However, we were mistaken and have updated the article that it was actually a change in username/url] 

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13 Comments

  1. I think this post has a lot of truth but is let down by poor fact checking and (possibly deliberate) stripping of context. 1) Original tumblr post was made by a woman in her early 20s, not a teen 2) Green was not posting:
    ‘You want me to defend myself against the implication that I sexually abuse children?
    “Okay. I do not sexually abuse children.’
    about the original post, he was posting it about subsequent re notes on tumblr which activel said he ‘creeped on teen girls’
    3) it is beyond disingenuous to pretend there was no paedophile connotation in the original post. Consider you write for a living, it is disgraceful to pretend only a direct reference means something and that implication doesn’t exist. She implied he was a paedo, anyone with eyes can see that.

    JG should not have responded, there is no way for him to win no matter what he said as people like you would have picked him apart regardless. He should followed the old adage ‘When a dog howl’s at the Moon, the moon doesn’t howl back’ and ignored it all.

    It is a shame, as there should be somewhere between where a person can offer a critique which can be rebutted without both sides doubling down with awful defensiveness. But alas that isn’t possible.

    • Of course the original post had implications of paedophilia. No one is pretending it didn’t. But stating that someone seems creepy to you is not the same as outright accusing them of an actual act of sexual assault. The original author, no matter her age, has a right to express that opinion. People who turned it into an apparent accusation have questionable principles, and while I do feel that Green has a right to address the allegations, his knee jerk response only made things worse. If he (and the other authors who leapt to defend him) had taken the time to review the original post, the appropriate response would simply need to be “Nope. Not a pedophile. That’s not what the original comment says, even if it implies that. Not my intent to creep anyone out.”

      • I agree his reaction was poor, he should have ignored it but in the subsequent re notes on tumblr he was accused more brazenly.

        • “But this short post in one corner of Tumblr grew legs. It was reblogged and reblogged and eventually another user, astro1995 (who also appears to have deleted their Tumblr), suggested they would continue to push the post until John Green “was forced to defend himself.” And then later, a third user tagged Green directly.” Our writer did mention the additional notes.

  2. “Virjn did not tag Green directly in this post, nor did they outright accuse him of anything.”

    I don’t agree. “…he’s a creep who panders to teenage girls so that he can amass some weird cult-like following” is, in fact, an accusation. It’s a claim that Green is taking specific, calculated actions for a specific, unsavory goal.

    • Claire Napier on

      Let’s be generous and allow for a nuance in the definition of “outright accuse”. Someone said on their blog that a famous person reminds them of a pool creeper dad. They had an opinion in a public space. But they didn’t go after him; they just shared an offensive opinion, which other people subsequently used as a banner as they rode to attack the castle.

      John Green is always banging on about imagining people complexly. Lets do him the favour of extending that compassion to his naysayers, as well as himself.

      • I’m not sure I understand how I’m being ungenerous; perhaps you could explain? As to the rest of your reply, it seems to be in response to some other comment than the one I wrote.

        • Claire Napier on

          You’re nitpicking with an apparent aim of forcing responsibility onto virjn. That’ll do.

          • Oh, is that what I’m doing? I thought I was pointing out that the situation was a bit more complicated than the black and white way it was presented in the OP.

            I actually think the bulk of the responsibility belongs with the people who escalated the situation and brought John Green into it because they thought doing so would be funny (“lets get this enough notes so he has to address it and try to defend himself lmao”). But it’s not accurate to say that virjn made no accusations.

          • Claire Napier on

            Oh, did you? I thought what you thought what you thoughuouguoghoghgohgoughogujgho

            Don’t come in with a name like teeldear telling our writers they are wrong. It’s rude.

          • 1. It’s my Twitter handle. Though I can see how it might come off in a way I didn’t intend.
            2. It’s rude to say “This is an incorrect assertion.”?

    • Laura Harcourt on

      I understand your concern! However, the OP is included in this article largely for context. Our aim was to analyze or judge the initial confrontation, but was rather to explore the subsequent escalation of the issue due to backlash against the HuffPo piece and the actions of other YA writers taken in defense of Green. If the piece lacks that clarity, I apologize.

      • Hi Laura,

        Thanks, I appreciate that. I don’t see any reason for any of this to have hit an outlet like HuffPo, because in general I think “today, people got mad on the Internet” news stories are pointless. As for the other authors, well, what should happen? If the original poster had been reporting on an interaction they or someone they knew had with Green, then absolutely, his friends should have given them room to talk about that. If they’d said “I don’t like John Green because his internet presence makes me feel a certain way,” again, no need to engage, because people feel how they feel. And in fact, people say stuff like that all the time, and it doesn’t become a Thing.

        But virjn went beyond “this is how I feel” to make accusations (and imply even uglier ones) against someone they’d never even had contact with. And the response seems to be that their freedom to do so unchallenged is so important that people supporting their friend against those accusations are behaving unjustly. I don’t think that’s right at all. And that’s why I pointed out what I did — because I think it matters when assessing what happened next.

        (I wouldn’t have advised Green to answer at all, because people are terrible and it was bound to become a shitshow in eleventy different ways. But that’s another question.)