The curious case of Andrew Smith, Twitter & sexism

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Author note: This post is to act as a summary for all that has happened until the moment of posting, and so I have refrained from adding my own commentary. While I have met Smith in passing once, I have not read his books, and so cannot judge his female characters for myself. While I have my own thoughts on Smith’s comments, I have refrained from adding them here so as not to muddle the train of events. Should Smith want to respond to this article, my inbox is always open.

On March 8th, Vice published an article by their writer Hugh Ryan entitled “The Failure of Male Societies: Author Andrew Smith Tackles Monsters and Sex.” In and of itself, this article wasn’t anything spectacular; it was a short interview with an award-winning YA novelist, not designed to cause a splash or launch an online campaign.

However, in Ryan’s opening to the article, he commented that “female characters are Smith’s real Achilles heel: he doesn’t have many of them and they tend toward the stereotypical.” He then asked Smith about the lack of female characters in his books. “I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all,” replied Smith. “I have a daughter now; she’s 17. When she was born, that was the first girl I ever had in my life. I consider myself completely ignorant to all things woman and female. I’m trying to be better though.”

Smith then went on to talk about how his newest novel The Alex Crow was about the failure of male societies.

And so the YA community took advantage of these comments to do what it does best, when its not reading – it began to talk about what it had read. Twitter exploded with commentary on Smith’s quote. Responses ranged from Sarah McCarry’s hilarious snark and thoughtful blog post, to actual earnest conversation about the internalized sexism in Smith’s remarks. Tessa Gratton wrote a blog post that would be cited, quoted and complained about – depending on the person talking – throughout the rest of the campaign.

Author’s note: I did not witness one threat to Smith or direct attack on Smith’s character while this was going on; nor have I yet to find somebody to supply me with evidence. Should you have a screenshot or link, I would love to see it. As a reminder, critique of somebody’s comments is not an attack on their character.

While nobody denied the institutional sexism in young adult literature or the world in general – an issue that has been discussed in a variety of other places, including the website Ravishly and Tor’s UK division – others came to Smith’s defense, proud that he was acknowledging a fault and hoping to see him do better.

As the conversation continued to unfold, the YA community began to divide. Some called for those critiquing Smith’s words to be nicer, using the hashtag #KeepYAKind – a spin on #KeepYAWeird, the name of the tour currently affiliated with Smith’s books. They called out those most open about their critiques of Smith’s words, said that they didn’t want to see an author being attacked and bullied, and that it wasn’t fair to Smith, who admitted that he was “trying to be better.”

During this, Smith set his Twitter account to a private status where only approved accounts could view his Tweets. He would reactivate his account on March 20th. keepyakind screencap 2

keepyakind screencap 1

In line with the #KeepYAKind campaign, a Twitter account using the username KeepYAKind popped up. They linked to an article in the Telegraph, which complained about a challenge to read non-white and non-male authors for an entire year, before launching vitriolic comments at those who didn’t support Smith or labeled themselves as feminists in general. After a few hours, the Twitter account shut down, thanking everybody for participating in their social media experiment. Those being told to keep quiet or more polite with the #KeepYAKind hashtag responded in kind with #KeepYAHonest in an attempt to remind people that discussion isn’t inherently unkind and that direct attacks on Smith had not been made.

On March 15th, Vice writer Jennifer Schaffer wrote a follow-up article entitled “Andrew Smith’s VICE Interview Pissed Off a Bunch of YA Authors.” Scahffer quoted Sarah McCarry’s satirical Tweets, talked to Tessa Gratton about her blog post, and discussed the issue with Gayle Forman, Carrie Mesrobian and Theodore Goeglein. Despite the title of the article, all responded that they were not pissed off, but that his comment was a symptomatic of a larger problem, one that they wish to discuss.

On March 21st, Smith participated in a panel at the NYC Teen Author Festival. Entitled “Issues of Representation in YA,” the panel was moderated by David Levithan and included multiple diverse authors, including I.W. Gregorio and Adam Silvera. Smith noted that he was surprised Grasshopper Jungle was considered “a bisexual book” and commented that he wrote things as they came to him, as if they flowed through him by some divine being. Smith also seemed genuinely surprised at how much work and effort the other authors put into including diversity into their texts.

That same day, Smith answered a Tweet from a fan about his new book The Alex Crow. “And there are some great GIRL CHARACTERS in this book,” he Tweeted, before adding the hashtags #SomePeopleAreFools and #IHaveWritten10NovelsAssholesGetALife.

Screencap courtesy of Kelly Jensen's Tumblr.

Screencap courtesy of Kelly Jensen’s Tumblr.

Author Kate Messner responded, and Smith apologized for his words and deleted the Tweet. He added, however, that while Messner’s point was a valid one, “I don’t believe words can be kind or unkind, they are vessels filled with the intent of the speaker.”​ Smith then blocked Messner.

Smith continued to deny that his Tweet had been aimed at the women critiquing him earlier in the month in a Twitter conversation with Clinton Kabler.

clinton kabler andrew smith screencap
As of the publication of this article, Smith has yet to publicly respond to the KeepYAKind movement, and outside of his Tweets, he has not publicly followed up on his comments from the original Vice article. He is currently on tour.

Others have written extensive responses to the issue, including Bibliodaze, Book Punks (including a separate round-up of responses to Smith), Stacked, The Book Smugglers and The Compulsive Reader.

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About Author

Nicole Brinkley

Nicole is the editor of YA Interrobang. She has short hair and loves dragons. The rest changes without notice. Follow her on Twitter at @nebrinkley or Tumblr at nebrinkley. Like her work? Leave her a tip.

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