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Feminist Shortcomings of Looking for Alaska

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Chelsea This will contain spoilers!

I was really bothered by John Green's treatment of his female characters in this book. If I had read it as a teenager, this kind of writing would have had a very negative impact on me. Miles is a pretty likable guy - bright, lonely, cute, trying to live life fully - a fairly appealing option to the average teenage girl. So it's only natural for young female readers to see Alaska's character have such a profound affect on Miles and internalize the message that physically beautiful and mentally unstable is the formula for catching such a guy. Do I think authors are responsible for everyone's interpretation of their work? No. Do I think Alaska is a poisonous example that will cause an outbreak of risk-seeking behavior in today's young women? No. Did I expect better from John Green? Absolutely.

And then there's poor Lara, who, in a startlingly unrealistic display of. . . something offers oral sex to her boyfriend of one day. I have never heard of such a thing, despite having had plenty of promiscuous friends as a teenager. That simply isn't how things go down, if you'll pardon the phrasing. But Lara is presented as this sweet, endearing, smart girl, and so I worry about the readers who want to be sweet, endearing, smart girls squirming through that scene and thinking "God, do I really have to do that someday?"

Anybody have a similar reaction?


message 2: by Katie (last edited Jul 30, 2014 03:32PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Katie Awesome discussion post!
I thought Alaska was kind of an extreme version of the "super cute manic pixie girl" that is so popular lately. She's beautiful. She's smart. She's funny. However the smart and funny is (although the author and protagonist might never admit it) less important than the beautiful part. It seems like Miles found Alaska interesting because yeah, she was hot. John Green might have done this on purpose to show how flighty teen boys can be.
Or he might just be a dude. :P

I really didn't like the treatment of Lara. I don't know how to elaborate more on it than that. She was the runner up girl. Cute, funny and smart but not as cute, funny and smart as Alaska. She wasn't that well fleshed out.


Marci Then again, remember that this is how Miles sees things. He could never seem to see Alaska for all she truly ones and look at the price he paid.

I agree this book could never be classified as feminist literature, but I think that's both okay and not the point. If this was written in third person, I would think differently, but it was written in a first person point of view.

Consequently, with regards to Laura, if you shift the focus on the narrator, how can you be sure that ever happened and that wasn't Miles trying to prove he could only ever belong with Alaska and that Lara and all other girls couldn't keep up. Of course, that opens an entirely new can of worms because that creates room to think everything in the book is a lie, which is taking it way to far, but it's just a book why not speculate so crazily. But the point is that it was Miles who disregards Lara as the runner up girl, as Katie puts it, in favor of who he thinks Alaska is.


Mochaspresso We weren't in Lara's head when that happens so I don't know how she feels about it or exactly what motivated her. If she wanted to do it because she is curious and wanted to explore her own sexuality, I think it's totally in keeping with some of my perceptions of feminism. (Freedom and choice). However, if she is only doing it because she thinks Miles won't like her if she doesn't, that is a problem. I didn't get that impression from the book, though.

While I don't necessarily like the idea of teen sex, I'm also not a complete prude and I am very realistic. I thought his portrayal of it was good for a couple of reasons....

1) It was initially awkward. Neither of them knew what to do.
2) Miles was much more of a gentleman about it than some of the guys the I remember from my teenaged days.
3) Lara wasn't slut-shamed about it. Neither was Alaska for that matter. I hate female slut-shaming and double standards in books.


message 5: by Chelsea (last edited Jul 31, 2014 07:11AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Chelsea Mochaspresso wrote: "We weren't in Lara's head when that happens so I don't know how she feels about it or exactly what motivated her. If she wanted to do it because she is curious and wanted to explore her own sexual..."

I agree with the notion that Lara taking charge of choosing sexual activity (or not) fits a feminist character, but I don't think there's any evidence that that's what happened. They're sitting there watching the Brady Bunch. They have nothing to talk about. There's no building sexual tension or even affectionate tension. So I don't think there's a good case for Lara simply taking control of her own sexual desires.

I do agree with your three positive comments about the scene, especially the lack of slut shaming. Then again, when "he didn't slut-shame" makes the top 3 reasons why an author's sex scene wasn't bad, that's not a particularly glowing recommendation.


Kath Chelsea wrote: "This will contain spoilers!

I was really bothered by John Green's treatment of his female characters in this book. If I had read it as a teenager, this kind of writing would have had a very negati..."

Yeah, that was sort of the reaction I had about Lara. She seemed sweet and innocent....


Dana Since we are seeing Alaska through Miles's eyes, he could be exaggerating Alaska's beauty. He may only see her as amazingly beautiful because of his crush on her.


Mochaspresso Chelsea wrote: "I agree with the notion that Lara taking charge of choosing sexual activity (or not) fits a feminist character, but I don't think there's any evidence that that's what happened. They're sitting there watching the Brady Bunch. They have nothing to talk about. There's no building sexual tension or even affectionate tension. So I don't think there's a good case for Lara simply taking control of her own sexual desires.

I do agree with your three positive comments about the scene, especially the lack of slut shaming. Then again, when "he didn't slut-shame" makes the top 3 reasons why an author's sex scene wasn't bad, that's not a particularly glowing recommendation.



I think the reason that there was no building of sexual tension or affectionate tension is because the story is from Miles POV and he seems a bit clueless about Lara and about Alaska, for that matter. He doesn't understand them at all. He also was extremely infatuated with Alaska, not Lara. Lara was just his runner up girlfriend by default. I would even go so far to say that he actually dodged a major bullet when Alaska (view spoiler). Had Alaska (view spoiler), I'm pretty sure things with Lara and Alaska would have ended very very badly for him.


Megan Mochaspresso wrote: "We weren't in Lara's head when that happens so I don't know how she feels about it or exactly what motivated her. If she wanted to do it because she is curious and wanted to explore her own sexual..."

I agree with this. We don't know Laura's "motive" behind giving head to Pudge. Just because her awakening didn't correspond society's waiting time of, 3mts, 1yr, marriage whatever doesn't mean she's going against feminism, she's in fact being a feminist by taking control of her own sexual experiences. She's the one who asked him, Pudge didn't ask her, force her, hint at it, she randomly brought it up. Reading, I never really saw Laura as this small innocent mouse. She participated in the pranks (fireworks as well as gym) with everyone else, she smoked, drank, lied to The Eagle etc.


Luís  Azevedo I'm not sure you... understand feminism...
You say this would affect you as a teenager, I assume, because you'd be compelled to emulate Alaska in order to get a guy like Miles? Is that the message?!
And even if it'd make you think that, do you believe all characters should be presented as role models? Idiots will choose the wrong role models all the time. Look at gangsta type fellas, who think Scarface is the bomb.
And about the oral sex part... What.. Why... I mean... It was such a funny and endearing scene. If you're at all a feminist you shouldn't think oral sex is at all demeaning. Plus, if you were searching for a lesson there, she blew him and that didn't help her keep her.
Moral of the story: handjobs only!


Luís  Azevedo Mochaspresso wrote: "We weren't in Lara's head when that happens so I don't know how she feels about it or exactly what motivated her. If she wanted to do it because she is curious and wanted to explore her own sexual..."
I think even if "she is only doing it because she thinks Miles won't like her if she doesn't" that wouldn't be detrimental to the book, unless John Green would condone it. It's not like she gave him oral sex and that made Miles love her and live happily ever after.


Mochaspresso Luis wrote: "I think even if "she is only doing it because she thinks Miles won't like her if she doesn't" that wouldn't be detrimental to the book, unless John Green would condone it. It's not like she gave him oral sex and that made Miles love her and live happily ever after.
"


That's very true.


Sarah This is a very interesting discussion. Lara is a very unfortunate character. I pitied her--hardly knowing English and already a slave to men! I'm sure John Green wouldn't condone this kind of treatment of women, but it still influences readers nonetheless.

The more I think of it, another aspect I didn't appreciate about this book was Alaska herself. I know her purpose wasn't to be a saint, but seriously? Why does Miles idolize her so? I know any teenage boy would worship a sex goddess like Alaska, but I would have thought higher of Miles. Or do you think Miles' infatuation with her is rooted in deeper psychological reasons (her past,etc.) ?


message 14: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma I read this as a teenager (still am) and I wasn't phased by any of the teenage girls in this book.


Chelsea I'm glad to see this is sparking a discussion. I want to speak up again to say that I've read a few more of John Green's books, and he sets up a perfect counter-example to Looking for Alaska in Paper Towns. Paper Towns still follows a nondescript, good-guy nerd-type through his infatuation with a wild sort of girl. The difference is that Margo from Paper Towns gets to be her own, fully realized character beyond just Quentin's perception of her. She gets a chance to be something other than wish and dream/nightmare fulfillment. Even better, Quentin explicitly goes through the process of REALIZING this about Margo, which I think is a priceless message for young people to hear. Alaska doesn't get to be anything beyond a phenomenon for Miles to react to.


Mochaspresso I haven't read Paper Towns yet, but I think Chelsea's interesting comment and insight just helped me pick my next read. Thanks!


Alaska Young Chelsea wrote: "This will contain spoilers!

I was really bothered by John Green's treatment of his female characters in this book. If I had read it as a teenager, this kind of writing would have had a very negati..."


NO i dont think girls will try to BE Alaska no one wants to be seen as "damaged" Yes there are girls who ACT like Alaska because thats them thats their personallity. Lara is sweet and smart but teen girls would give a blowjob because they can just because your smart and sweet doesnt meant that you cant do anything sexualy


Alaska Young Alicia wrote: "I've read Looking for Alaska many, many times and I have never seen Lara as anything but a very strong, brave, and confident young woman. She drank, smoked, and participated in pranks, took control..."

she drank and smoked?


Alaska Young Alicia wrote: "^ sorry, meant she was present when the others participated in those acts. That was very badly worded."

its okay


Shannon I don't know why you'd expect better from John Green.


Alice Holden I read it when I was about 14, I wasn't phased by it at all. When I got older I started seeing people question John on his tumblr about the implications of Miles' worshipping of Alaska, he says that it shows how this romanticism can be damaging for the person romanticising and the person being romanticised. The consequences being Alaska's death. However I didn't pick up on that really. But I DO vaguely remember a conversation between Pudge and the Colonel after Alaska's death. It made me feel a bit guilty actually, Miles worded Alaska in such away that I thought was all fine and then the Colonel told Pudge something vaguely along the lines of "that's not okay, she's a person and she has some personal problems that you are not considering/don't know about, quit it!" I think Pudge feels a little guilty because he kind of seemed like bit of an outsider to me in the group and him being an outsider is made all clear when the Colonel tells him he doesn't understand Alaska.

However the worship of Alaska seems to stick with the readers regardless of her death or the Colonel telling Pudge off. I have witnessed this worship amongst people in my own friendship group.

If it is a feminist message it doesn't really stick out and if it weren't for the author explaining himself (possibly covering his tracks) I don't think I would have picked up on the message. Maybe read Looking for Alaska for a class novel and have an english teacher pick it apart with you so the message is REALLY clear.


dbemg Did anyone else think that Green's one dimensional portrayal of Lara was also a little racist? It was like, having an accent and being from Poland or whatever was her whole thing, and she didn't really develop any character beyond that and being the runner up girl to Alaska?

Lara rarely gets to speak but when she does it is ALWAYS about her 'cute' accent.. When they play best day/worst day BOTH of hers are about the day she came to America.. Green is really fond of throwing in the token ethnics but at least the male ones get fleshed out slightly..


Yovanka Gonzalez Chelsea wrote: "This will contain spoilers!

I was really bothered by John Green's treatment of his female characters in this book. If I had read it as a teenager, this kind of writing would have had a very negati..."


Chelsea wrote: "This will contain spoilers!

I was really bothered by John Green's treatment of his female characters in this book. If I had read it as a teenager, this kind of writing would have had a very negati..."


I would have to agree yet disagree with you. I do understand how this might influence young people into thinking this is a good way to act. In the other hand the point of the was not about Pudge going after her for sexual desires but, about a girl who was mentally unstable due to past struggles in her life. It was not a love story, it was more on how broken a person can be yet be seen as fine to other people. The whole point of the book was to show how influenced this girl became. So if people are getting ideas of her in that manner, that's due to their misjudgment of it. In my opinion that is, I do also agree with your statement though.


infinity9 I'm a teenage girl and I really liked that Alaska was portrayed as a feminist. Also, she wasn't afraid to argue with boys over it and she was quick to correct them if they made a sexist comment. I didn't think she was an extremely like able character, and I'm not sure why.
I didn't really like Lara's character, or at least the execution of it. She seemed very one-sided and like she was just tossed the side by Pudge.


message 25: by zoe (new) - rated it 5 stars

zoe Dana wrote: "Since we are seeing Alaska through Miles's eyes, he could be exaggerating Alaska's beauty. He may only see her as amazingly beautiful because of his crush on her."

Yea, thats soo true! Good point!


message 26: by Cait (new)

Cait Luis wrote: "I'm not sure you... understand feminism...
You say this would affect you as a teenager, I assume, because you'd be compelled to emulate Alaska in order to get a guy like Miles? Is that the message?..."


i’m not entirely sure you understand feminism. there is absolutely nothing liberating about giving a boy a blow job. she gains nothing from the experience. i’m not trying to demonize it or anything, but nothing about the book is feminist in any way, shape, or form, and that’s what i gave a problem with.


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