Bluescreen Early Access: Jaya!

As I created more characters and put together the group of friends at the core of this series, I knew that I needed all five girls to be different from each other, and in meaningful ways. Marisa is our prototypical hacker; Sahara is the fashion-focused queen bee; Fang is the obsessive gamer and Anja is the wild card. All of them are breaking some kind of stereotype, and that’s on purpose, but it left me with no girl characters who acted (if you’ll permit me the term) “girly.” So I created Jaya Tagore:

jaya page

A word like “girly” has a lot of baggage, and the entire concept comes under fire a lot these days. Part of the purpose of this book, in fact, is to show teen girls doing active, awesome things instead of just wearing pretty dresses and pining over boys. The issue over girly-ness comes to a head, in my mind, with LEGO. You probably remember the massive brouhaha that arose when LEGO came out with their Friends line a few years ago: “Why,” people asked, “can’t girls just play with the normal LEGO spaceships and pirates and whatnot? Why do they have to have their own line of play sets that build stupid pet shops and hair salons instead of awesome tanks and robots?” And They kind of have a point, or at least they would if LEGO were somehow restricting girls to ONLY play with the pet shops and hair salons. Demanding that either gender conform to some kind of clich├ęd pigeonhole would, indeed, be wrong.

But here’s the thing: that’s not what LEGO was doing. They weren’t restricting either gender from doing anything, they were just adding a new option to their range. My daughter looked at the Friends toys and said “Finally they’re making LEGOs for me!” Her preferences are the opposite of everyone who was complaining: she thinks tanks and robots are stupid, and pet shops are hair salons are awesome. She thinks cute little LEGO girls riding cute little LEGO horses are the greatest thing our civilization has ever produced. These “girly” LEGOs are every bit as creative and challenging and constructive as the other sets, and yet people were attacking them because of their theme. They were well-meaning people–let’s be clear about that–but without intending to do so they were attacking my daughter along with the LEGOs. They were saying that because she (eagerly) conforms to the “girly” stereotype, she was somehow being a girl incorrectly. And I don’t for one second believe that to be true.

The problem with cute LEGOs, or pretty dresses, or pining over boys, or anything else we consider “girly,” lies not with the choice but with the word “girly.” Loving pet shops and hair salons is every bit as valid as loving tanks and robots; we only fail when we limit those choices by demanding–or even assuming–that only one gender will like them, or is allowed to like them. And I, without meaning to, had fallen into the same trap, and in my effort to make my characters seem cool to one of my daughters I had completely excluded the likes and preferences of my other daughter. If I was really going to show the full spectrum of what a girl could be, I needed one who loved pretty dresses and cute puppies and fancy flowers and so on.

And that’s Jaya: she giggles, she gushes over boys, and she loves pretty things. She’s also an adult (21 years old, where most of the other girls are 17), a college graduate, and a tech support specialist for Johara, one of the largest telecom companies in the world. She lives in Mumbai, knows the other girls only through the Internet, and speaks about a dozen languages (Marisa sometimes jokes that Jaya speaks English better than she does). She also struggles with depression and other mood disorders, and has two implants designed to monitor her neural state and dispense medication as necessary. She’s mature and sophisticated and frilly and froofy and intelligent and “girly” all at once, and she’s awesome.

Now you’ve met all five Cherry Dogs! Next week, let’s take a moment to meet them all in their Overworld avatars….

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