BookTok is propagating pseudo-feminism
Book sales are rising after a long period of stagnation and a possible cause for this seems may be an influx of readers from TikTok's reading corner – BookTok. While this can seem like a cause for elation, there lies a problem in the type of books that are being popularised by BookTok. Under the guise of being feminist, these books, a large number of which are of the romance genre, are propagating pseudo-feminist ideas.
It is safe to say that BookTok single-handedly shot Colleen Hoover's books – particularly It Ends With Us – to success. On the surface, it seems to be a book about a woman regaining control over her own life after realising she is the victim of abuse. However, the underlying tone of the novel suggests an almost sympathetic approach to the perpetrator.
We see him being provided with a traumatic background to justify his actions and make readers sympathise with him. He is repeatedly shown as regretting his actions and beating himself up over it, further establishing the idea that his actions are done without intent even though there is a lot of evidence to suggest otherwise. There is even something of a redemption arc for him at the end.
Yes, bad people do bad things because they have issues of their own. But what Colleen Hoover does is romanticise his trauma to explain the actions of an abuser, something that the victim seems to resonate with.
Many BookTok romance books use trauma and bad childhoods in this way to make abusers appear more humane. These books strengthen an idea, particularly amongst young girls, that it is okay to be abused if the person has a reason for their abuse.
There also appears to be a repeating theme in BookTok's choice for fantasy books. Series like A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR) and The Folk of Air are presented as having strong female characters. However, BookTok's definition of what a strong woman is seems to be deeply reliant on her being physically strong. Any other form of strength is barely counted.
The heroines in these books can be vulnerable but they can never be weak. Failure to be tough is almost synonymous to being a failure. However, despite these heroines' abilities, their male love interests are likely to be superior. Even though the heroine is undeniably strong, there will come a situation where she will be the damsel in distress and the hero will save her. To call these portrayals as being feminist would be blatantly hypocritical.
Then there exists this trope of men who love hard and cannot bear their love interest being hurt. The male characters from the ACOTAR series suffer from this fault. For the sake of protecting the heroine, they try to control their lives, using love as an excuse. This promotes co-dependency and controlling behaviour, saying it is fine for women to have little agency as long as it is for their safety.
It is understandable that what someone likes to read is their own choice and content creators should not have moral responsibilities over what to recommend. However, the type of audience that is consuming BookTok content are young impressionable teenagers who, as a result, often end up idolising problematic characters, thus perpetuating false ideas of feminism.
Zaima is a struggling student, a failed guitarist and a poet in need of better poetic ideas. Send her your sympathies at [email protected]