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.


  1. SO WONDERFUL, this post is.

    *claps loudly*

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  3. Awesome post. You make a lot of great points, and it's really cool to see so many people speaking out!

  4. *CLAPS!* I hate that some nitwit would think the way Scroggins thinks, but I love the fact that so many people are willing to ban together in less than 10 hours to make sure the world knows that this is not okay.

  5. Great post! I completely agree. How could anyone consider rape to be soft porn? What about forcing a woman to have sex strikes him as pornographic?

    My post on the subject:

  6. My stomach has been upset all day about this. It's beyond belief that SPEAK should be called porn. It looks like we have a lot more speaking out to do. Thank you for an excellent post.

  7. I am actually sick about this right now. This is my own school district this guy is talking about. It's funny, the other day I had a post about the Sherman Alexie book that was banned near us. I can't believe how viral this has got in the online community and it is awesome. It is scary too, since my town is at the center. I hope I can write to the superintendent and do what I can to help.

  8. I'm only partway through NIGHTSHADE, but one of the things I'm most intrigued by is the way Calla owns her sexuality. There's so much to think about there - how being empowered sexually requires knowledge - and how sad it is that some people don't want girls to have that knowledge because they're afraid of what they might do with it.

    This space won't hold all my thoughts, so I'll just say BRAVA.

  9. Thanks so much for the shout outs, guys! It's been fantastic seeing the writers and readers speak loudly in response to Laurie's post :)

  10. yes, the idea that anyone would find rape pornographic is just gag inducing. Speaks much to his state of mind.

    I am so lucky that I was in a school district where our sophomore English teacher actually had a whole section devoted to banned books.

  11. You just said everything that I feel about that situation and the reasons behind it. I couldn't agree more.

    I hope the backlash that his words are stirring up in this community of YA readers/authors/bloggers gets enough attention that he and others who share his attitude toward rape (and probably toward women) might be forced to dust off their brains and use them to figure out a thing or two. Shutting people's eyes isn't the answer. Opening them is.