a selection of feminists?
The Selection series – The Selection, The Elite, The One
WARNING – SPOILERS AHEAD
This five part series is a set of really interesting books that not only give us a look into the love life of a bunch of people, also a look into the political side of Illéa and the difficulties surrounding public figures and dating – not to mention the whole thing is morally ambiguous and totally unequal and unfair in terms of gender. P.S. The Selection refers to the book while the Selection refers to the process of choosing a partner for royals.
I’ll do a quick recap – Set in Illea (America, but renamed after a war) which now has a caste system (one is royalty, four is business owners, eight is untouchables/homeless etc.) It follows the story of the Crown Prince Maxon, who has to choose a bride by picking 35 girls to come to the castle (the Selected) and whittling them down to the Elite (six girls) and then the One (self-explanatory).
To start off, the Selection is blatant objectification and devaluation of a bunch of girls, and there’s the inevitable conversation in which someone says that big groups of girls always means there’s snarky gossiping and tons of competition. which doesn’t make sense if you look at why they are competing at all. Cass gives us commentary on girls and their competitiveness without actually tackling the reasoning behind that, which is of course a society whose foundations rely on a lack of camaraderie between women and this idea that in terms of relationships in Illea, men come first.
Who is funding, perpetuating, and benefiting from the Selection? Maxon, who will gain a wife, and the king, who will solidify his dynasty. The queen is merely there for decoration and a ‘female role model’ for the Selected, she doesn’t have any solid plot or characterization. This book could have been a fantastic allegory for the way in which women compete and are punished for it, while in the fourth and fifth additions to the series when Cass depicts 35 boys fighting for one girl, no such derogatory depictions are made. We are supposed to hate Celeste because she’s our stereotypical heartless mean girl – placing girls who wear lipstick into a terribly unflattering light and only exacerbating stereotypes – when in fact Celeste and her desperation to climb the social ladder is a blinding example of what this patriarchal power imbalance between men and women has created in Cass’s world. That is, the idea that male acceptance and male pleasure has infinitely greater value than that of women. This idea that men and romance comes first, and female friendships threaten that, which endorses the mindset that females cannot have valuable or meaningful relationships with each other, and must tear each other down to become the one to get Maxon – get her! Tackle her! Don’t let that ***** steal your man! He’s all that gives you value, remember?
Now, I get that this book is supposed to be “dystopian” which generally means it makes a commentary on society today and the issues, and society today isn’t equal for all genders. Problem is, I wouldn’t class this book as dystopian. I would say it is more of a romance novel and the dystopian parts more of a background aspect to add “depth” to a romance and give Cass an excuse to portray women in such a derogatory way compared to their male counterparts – because the whole idea wouldn’t be acceptable in modern day society.
Now, some might say that because the relationship America has with her maids is so sweet and supportive, that’s a valuable and meaningful connection. Let me just bring to your attention that first of all, her maids aren’t competing for Maxon’s attentions, and secondly, if you look at the way she interacts with them, it just feels like Cass put that in there to make us feel more supportive towards her and give her character depth.
There are a couple of shining star moments in there for Cass though, America and May’s relationship is super sweet and supportive (though again, she’s not competing) and I love that about them, and Marlee has got to be the absolute sweetest character ever (though then again, stereotypes).
At the end of this pretty scathing feminist review (sorry), I’d just like to say that I did enjoy the book. You just have to read it and take it at face value, without questioning equality or social issues, or historical accuracy, or anything in depth. Some of the characters are lovable (I found myself strangely in love with America, even though when dissecting her character there were tons of questionable things.) I would also like to mention that I have no respect for an author who refuses to accept BOTH positive and negative feedback (I’m looking at you, Cass).
I’m going to leave you all with one of the most beautiful, most controversial or possibly even most feminist quotes – depending on how you look at it: