Dead Girls: In Fiction As in Life?

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:00
Location: Hörsaal 23 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Fiona NELSON, University of Calgary, Canada
An emerging sub-genre of Young Adult (YA) literature, which I refer to as the “dead girl genre”, is characterized by recently deceased female narrators/central characters who not only often embark on exciting new adventures once dead, but sometimes also find that it is only once dead that they are listened to and have their experiences taken seriously. Most strikingly, these books are, for the most part, romances.  According to these books, once one is dead (although sometimes it is good enough to be dying), one can find true love and can have sex without consequences.  There is no parallel “dead boy” genre; boys do not need to be dead or dying in order to freely pursue sexual relationships. My concern is with these books as artifacts of a culture that allows little to no sexual agency/subjectivity for (living) teenaged girls and young women. Young women’s sexuality is closely monitored, policed and condemned. We frequently hear of cases of young women being harassed and bullied for their (real or imagined) sexual activity (even when it was nonconsensual), sometimes to the point of suicide. I will consider the questions of how it is that “dead” has come to be promoted as a viable sexual subject position for young women, how these books might actually nurture a culture of bullying and suicide, and how this literature both reflects and contributes to profound inequalities between young men and women. Do these fictions expand young women’s imaginative subjectivities or do they merely reflect and reinforce cultural constraints on both young women and young men?