barefootsong: stack of books with text "I read banned books" (banned books)
[personal profile] barefootsong
This week is Banned Books Week in the U.S., in which we celebrate our freedom to read what we want. Books are banned and challenged all the time—a challenge means someone wants a book to be removed from a library; a ban means a book has been removed. You can find many lists of banned and/or challenged books and their reasons via a simple Google search. This week, I wish to highlight a recent challenge to Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak because it's an important book, it ties in with the themes of yesterday's post, and it's Banned Books Week (though I like to live every week as if it's Banned Books Week; bans and challenges don't just happen one week out of the year). (Note: trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault, though there are no graphic descriptions.)



As I said, bans and challenges happen all the time, but what makes this one especially enraging is the fact that Wesley Scroggins, the man who originated this particular challenge, classifies Speak (and two other YA novels) as "soft pornography." As you may or may not know, Speak is a book about rape. Rape is the only sexual encounter described in the book and it is not described in graphic detail.

Pornography is defined by the Oxford Dictionaries as "printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate erotic rather than aesthetic or emotional feelings" (link).

Rape is not pornography. Rape is not sexy. If you think it is, you have serious problems. Rape is violence.

This book is fictional, but sexual assault is a very real problem. One in three women around the world will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. (link) If you think you don't know someone who's affected by that statistic, you're wrong. One in three. You may not know that she's been sexually assaulted, but she knows. For every assault that is reported, there are countless that go unreported because she doesn't feel safe or she thinks it's her fault or many other reasons in a world that too often treats victims like perpetrators.

Speak is about dealing with the aftermath of rape. It's about finding your voice after it's been taken from you. Unfortunately, not every woman who is a victim of sexual assault finds her voice. That's why we need books like Speak: to help those of us lucky enough to be two-out-of-three understand and to let the one-in-threes know that they are not alone. (See, in particular a user comment highlighted on Shannon Hale's blog here.) This book, as Anderson herself has pointed out, is used in many different settings to promote understanding of one of the most pervasive and horrific crimes in the world.

Read. SPEAK. Listen. It's not a happy topic, but spreading awareness and speaking up about difficult things is the only way to stop the violence.


Further Reading:
(Note: trigger warning applies to links as well, and although the pages I've looked at do not contain graphic descriptions, I cannot guarantee comments and linked content on these pages; if you're up to it, though, read the comments in which many people speak up about their own experiences with sexual assault)

Scroggins: Filthy books demeaning to Republic education, the original opinion piece by Wesley Scroggins in which he describes Speak and two other YA novels as "soft pornography" (Springfield [MO] News-Leader).

Anderson: Description of 'Speak' story may mislead Republic's citizens, Anderson's response (Springfield [MO] News-Leader).

This guy thinks SPEAK is pornography and The Power Of Speaking Loudly by Laurie Halse Anderson (on her blog).

Why We Should Read "Soft Pornography" by Isabel Kaplan (Huffington Post).

Speak Loudly and Reason #3576 of why books matter by Shannon Hale (on her blog).

Speak is not Pornography by sassymonkey (at BlogHer).

The #SpeakLoudly movement on Twitter.

Hell Hath No Fury Like the Book Community Scorned, a running list of blog posts defending Speak (Reclusive Bibliophile).

Facts & Figures on Violence Against Women (United Nations Development Fund for Women).

Embracing Banned Books by Karma_Chameleon (TeenInk) on why reading books that challenge your beliefs is important.

Banned Books Week website, run by the American Library Association.


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The random musings of a librarian with a passion for reading (duh), a vast curiosity about the world, and a penchant for noticing things most people don't (like the way sunlight falls through the leaves on a tree).

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