Last week was Banned Books Week, and in its honor, I’m bringing up the case of Laurie Halse Anderson’s young-adult book Speak, in which the female protagonist is raped–which a Missouri college professor apparently believes amounts to “soft pornography.”
In an Op-Ed piece that ran in Springfield, Missouri’s News-Leader entitled “Filthy books demeaning to Republic education,” Scroggins writes of Speak:
Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time. As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.
Scroggins then drops a paragraph about the evils of Slaughterhouse Five, before moving on to Twenty Boy Summer, and returning to the territory of sex=bad, again with the not-so-subtle suggestion that it’s worse for girls:
This book glorifies drunken teen parties, where teen girls lose their clothes in games of strip beer pong. In this book, drunken teens also end up on the beach, where they use their condoms to have sex.
So, a fictional portrayal of teenagers using condoms is bad? But more importantly, as offensive as the suggestion that any book be banned for any reason is, this guy’s implication that, while sex itself is bad, the female characters–willing or not!–who have it are filthy is downright appalling. (And if you’re not appalled yet, consider this other item: Axe Body Wash is now running a delightful ad campaign, in which it promises its charmingly named “Snake Peel” will “Scrub Away the Skank.” Cuz, you know, random girls that hook up with you are skanks, but you’re just a good ol’ dude. And dudes will be dudes.) I haven’t read either of the books in question, but to me, they sound like they probably offer a pretty damn realistic look at the sex lives of teenagers. And, you know, might give real-world teenagers some food for thought, when it comes to their own sexual decisions? But I guess information is threatening to folks like Scroggins. As Ms. Magazine points out of the books that earn the most ire,
Perhaps they touch on–lower your voice–sex. Or sexism. Or racism. Or on progressive politics. Perhaps they’re anti-war!
(Check their banned book reading list for fun, and brace yourself. Among the obscenities: The Handmaid’s Tale, Brokeback Mountain, Beloved, The Bluest Eye, The Awakening, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, The Joy Luck Club, and pretty much everything ever written by Judy Blume.)
Am I the only one who’s found herself humming Footloose? I don’t know, but it seems to me that those who are afraid of new information or ideas contrary to their own are probably relatively insecure in their beliefs or in themselves: otherwise, why would they be so fearful?
But back to Anderson. In response to Scroggins’ screed, Anderson made an important point on her blog:
The fact that he sees rape as sexually exciting (pornographic) is disturbing, if not horrifying. It gets worse, if that’s possible, when he goes on to completely mischaracterize the book.
Horrifying, to say the least.
A Twitter movement has since sprung to Anderson’s defense, marked with the hashtag #speakloudly. Comments to her blog post are impassioned, and frankly, remind me of how I felt upon reading one of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of all time, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. (Yes, apparently there have been many campaigns aimed at protecting teenage girls from information about menstruation–and the angst might feel upon one’s first experience with it. God forbid we learn about our bodies–or discover we’re not alone in our angst.) Check this one, from a reader named Lindsay:
I literally just finished reading SPEAK for the first time a few days ago, AND IT CHANGED MY LIFE.
this book is one-of-a-kind and does not deserve to be banned. i even checked it out from my school library.
Melinda is in a way, just like me (except I’ve never been raped and i dont normally hang out in a closet and im not very good at drawing trees or anything) but just the fact of all the inside thoughts she has on the world around her, THOSE ARE THE SAME THOUGHTS RUNNING THROUGH MY HEAD!
Finding that you relate to people whom, on the surface, aren’t like you at all–I’m sorry, but isn’t that sort of the magic of reading? And, of life? What some call obscene, I call beautiful. And as for Scroggins, I just feel kind of sorry for him.