Sunday, September 19, 2010
Next week, September 25 - October 2, 2010, is Banned Books Week. Book censorship is an issue about which I have strong opinions. You can find a guest post on this subject I did for Page Turners Blog (they're doing an entire month of features devoted to BBW) and today I have another Banned Books topic to bring to your attention.
One of the most talented and courageous writers I know is Laurie Halse Anderson. Not only does she write amazing historical literature (Chains, Forge) but she also addresses critical topics for young adults and particularly for young adult women.
This morning Laurie's blog alerted readers to an attempted to ban her book, Speak, from class reading lists in a Missouri school. The person attempting to have her book pulled described speak as 'soft porn.'
Okay. I'm taking a deep breath here so my head doesn't explode.
Speak is the story of a girl who has been traumatized by rape. She stops talking as a result of the attack and mutilates her own body because she is suffering.
And this is pornography?
As with book banning I have very strong opinions about sexuality in young adult literature. You can read my posts about sexual double standards and sex in YA for more on that. Even with those opinions in mind, describing a novel about rape and recovery from sexual assault as 'soft porn' is precisely a reflection of what happens when sexuality is closeted and not treated as a part of the human experience. It also reinforces the idea that women's bodies exist only as sexual objects and that violence against women can be viewed as sexual edification for male consumption.
It's troubling enough that a book like Speak, which offers a safe space for victims of sexual violence to process their experience, is being derided. But the protests themselves against the book are just as disturbing. Sadly, we still live in a society that blames victims of sexual assault and too often treats rape as a 'normal' risk for women in society.
In last week's Mad Men episode, a young man said to Joan Holloway, "you walk around here waiting to be raped." Joan is overtly sexual and stunningly beautiful. She's also powerful, but the man's attitude was that she existed only as a sexual object. And she suffers for it. In an earlier episode she was raped by her fiance. While it's difficult to witness, I applaud Mad Men for portraying this issue so starkly. While women gain political and social autonomy, gain economic independence, sexual violence remains as a shadow threat. When all other channels of repression have been closed, women's bodies continue to be portrayed as 'rapable.'
These episodes introduced early ideas about sexual harassment in the workplace and sexual violence at large. That was the 1960s. We obviously still have a long way to go. Banning literature that speaks to these issues with insight and compassion is not going to get us there.