1. Bitch released the list last week entitled "100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader". Lots of folks were impressed by titles on the list and by the fact that Bitch had thought to put a list together for feminist teen readers in the first place.
2. The list began to spread far and wide.
3. Bitch opened a discussion on the list wherein lots of folks chimed in with books they wish had been included (I have to agree with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - I adore that book) and said many complimentary things about the books that were listed.
4. Some folks however, were disturbed by a few of the titles.
5. There were specific complaints about SISTERS RED by Jackson Pearce and TENDER MORSELS by Margo Lanagan. There was also apparently an emailed complaint about LIVING DEAD GIRL Elizabeth Scott. (I didn't see any commented complaints about that one but might have missed it.)
6. First, SISTERS RED. The complaint was about the rape culture debate sparked by a Book Smugglers review of the book last year. If you're unfamiliar with the book, it is a retelling of the Red Riding Hood story with two sisters who live in a society where women are essentially hunted - it's about hunting the hunters. (There's also a lot more than that, but you get the picture. If you've ever seen "The Wish" episode of BUFFY then you have an idea of what is going on. But no vamps. Or vamp slayers.) Here's part of what the Book Smugglers didn't like:
The Dragonflies [pretty girls] laugh, sweet, and bubbly, and I groan in exasperation. They toss their hair, stretch their legs, sway their hips, bat their eyes at the club's bouncer, everything about them luring the Fenris. Inviting danger like some baby animal bleating its fool head off. Look at me, see how I dance, did you notice my hair, look again, desire me, I am perfect. Stupid, stupid Dragonflies. Here I am, saving your lives, bitten and scarred and wounded for you, and you don't even know it. I should let the Fenris have one of you.
The complaint was that the author was suggesting here some girls deserved rape because they asked for it (by the way they dressed/acted). The one protagonist, who has little sympathy for them, is reinforcing this idea with her unsympathetic thoughts. I did not chime in on the debate when it went up because it did not seem to focus on the book or the Red Riding Hood story much at all instead devolving into a discussion about rape in our society and a lot of author bashing. When Pearce commented (and boy was that a mistake), her comments were immediately parsed and analyzed. It was an unproductive discussion and to see it called up as a reason to remove the book from the Bitch list was troublesome to me.
7. Please note, Red Riding Hood has always been a story about female sexuality and allure. The older versions included Red stripping to fool the wolf and escape him (although she did not always get away) and it is believed that Charles Perrault (who made the first use of the color red with the cap or hood) was using the color as a symbol that the girl was a wanton woman - she lured the wolf. The moral was that girls must always be careful of men (wolves).
8. Essentially, if you're going to have a book where women and clothing and sexual attraction and men are a part of the story (even a very small part), then Red Riding Hood, or SISTERS RED, is the one to do it.
9. The author of the Bitch list responded that she had not read all the books on the list (including this one), yet from her research thought SISTERS RED was a good fit for it. But based on the complaint and Book Smugglers review the book was now being removed.
10. After a quick complaint about its removal, Bitch then replied that some people at the magazine had read the books on the list and it was not just a negative review that was causing them to remove SISTERS RED but (and this is the first time three books are mentioned as being removed): "The books we're reading and re-considering are very specifically the three or so that deal with rape. This is a triggering subject matter, and part of what we're weighing right now is whether the books are constructive enough to outweigh potential distress to readers who have survived sexual assaults."'
11. Complaints about the removal of SISTERS RED continued as did complaints about it being associated with rape culture.
12. Then a complaint appeared about TENDER MORSELS stating in part: "That book is absolute crap on every possible level and you should be ashamed for putting it on the same list as Speak."
13. Bitch responded they would be rereading the book as "We definitely don't want to be promoting a book that supports rape as vengeance."
14. On Tuesday, Bitch announced after rereading TENDER MORSELS, SISTERS RED and LIVING DEAD GIRL, all were being removed for the following reasons:
We've decided to remove these books from the list -- Sisters Red because of the victim-blaming scene that was discussed earlier in this post, Tender Morsels because of the way that the book validates (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance, and Living Dead Girl because of its triggering nature.
15. Many complaints ensued.
16. And then several authors whose books are on the list (Scott Westerfield, Justine Larbalestier, Maureen Johnson, Ellen Klages, Diana Peterfreund) asked to have their books removed as they did not wish to have their work associated with it.
17, Many more complaints ensued about the removal of the three books - several of these complaints were quite detailed and nuanced and directly refuted Bitch's reasons for refusing the books.
18. Bitch responded: "I hope that even those of you who disagree with the decision to remove the books from the list understand that, as a feminist, reader-supported organization, if members of our audience contact us and tell us something that we're recommending might be triggering for rape victims, we're going to take that seriously."
19. And then author Maureen Johnson made a significant point:
I was absolutely delighted to see my book, The Bermudez Triangle, on this list when it was published. I'm a fan of the magazine. But I have been incredibly disheartened to see your process for removing books. It mirrors EXACTLY the process by which book banners remove books from schools and libraries--namely, one person makes a comment, no one actually checks, book gets yanked.
You've removed Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. I think that's a disgrace. You were right the first time, when you put it on.
Ladies, feminist media should be held to the highest standard. This kind of waffling and caving on comments is no good. Lots of people would have LOVED to use this list for educational purposes, but it's such a mess now that no one wants near it.
I request that either you get a grip or remove me from this list. If Margo is removed, I'd like to be removed with her. And please remember that young feminists are looking up to you. When they see you so easily intimidated, so easily swayed, so eager to make concessions . . . it sets exactly the wrong example.
20. To which I respond "HERE, HERE!"
21. Aussie author Lili Wilkinson then made a salient point:
Many - most - of the girls in your list behave in unpleasant or dangerous ways. Should you remove The Hunger Games or Tomorrow When the War Began because Katniss and Ellie are both killers? Ditch Forever because Katherine cheats on her boyfriend? Or deny Frankie Landau Banks or Lyra Silvertongue or Alanna because they lie? Liesel in The Book Thief steals. Tally in the Uglies series betrays her friends and becomes cold and cruel.
Does moral ambiguity make these books unfeminist? These characters bad role models? And do you really think that teenage readers are so shallow and naive that they can't make their own decisions and judgements after observing the behaviour of others?
Put Tender Morsels back on the list, or consider removing the word "feminist" - and replacing it with something else. "Safe", perhaps. "Uncomplicated?"
22. The obvious point here is that killing is okay on a feminist list but having a character suggest someone is foolishly luring dangerous male attention is not okay. Got that?
23. Then a troll showed up. We shall ignore the troll. (DO NOT FEED TROLLS!!!!)
24. Doret made a very significant point - and something I'm still trying to wrap my head around:
It makes no sense to remove anything but I am even more confused that Living Dead Girl is removed yet, Sold, a novel about [a] girl sold into prostitution stays.
I loved Sold but there are people who probably believe it's is too adult for YA and would love to have it removed from this list. I wonder if such a person left a comment would there be four books removed.
25. Quick update: sold into prostitution is feminist and okay, discussing rape in a realistic and somewhat disturbing way is not.
26. An argument was then made by a commenter that this was not censorship in any way but rather an error in judgment: "Personally, I prefer to save my righteous indignation for something that could have real impact on women."
27. Rape survivor and upcoming YA author (2012) Alina Klein had her own thoughts on books being "rape triggers":
Do you know what the biggest triggers are for me? Judgement--swift and without due consideration, rape survivors are well versed in that, I assure you. Conclusions--reached by people who have never been where a character in a book has been, or where each individual rape survivor has been, but who still see fit to decide what we are strong enough to read. What I can handle, enjoy, weep over, laugh about, is different than what other rape-survivors can. Like cutters, anorexics, and a plethora of other survivors. Singling out rape survivors to be "protected" from literature is not doing us any favors.
28. And then someone said they agreed with the removal of all three books as LIVING DEAD GIRL was "straight up torture porn", TENDER MORSELS is boring and SISTERS RED "...was questioned because of the way the author negatively portrays the sister who has been raped, while favoring the more feminine sister. I haven't read the book, but that sounds like a valid concern to me. "
29. Then things got really ugly and the web administrator stepped in. (Good call.)
30. A commenter then reiterated - AGAIN - that there was no rape in SISTERS RED.
31. And then the author of the list chimed in with some final thoughts:
Regardless of how frustrating this might be for some people, we took these books off the list because readers left comments and sent us emails explaining why these books were particularly triggering or victim-blaming, and when we took time to read/re-read the books we found some of the same problems as they did. This decision was not one that was made out of intimidation, but one that was made thoughtfully after having many conversations amongst staff and interns as well as with readers who contacted us.
Additionally, retracting a recommendation is not the same as pulling books off library shelves. We did not remove these books from our shelves... Yes, our library does hold all three of these books and will continue to do so.
We also did not say that these books were anti-feminist. Conversely, we didn't call the books that we put on this list feminist, but instead recommended them to feminist readers. We do not feel that these books don't deserve to be read. We actually enjoyed many things about these books and some of us might find ourselves recommending them in other instances.
Lastly, we are not going to be putting these books back on the list.
32. And someone then pointed out that the total page count on the three books was 960 pages which:
"...a 'couple' of you Hoover'd through them in three days. ('Scrumby' complained on 1/29; you caved on 2/1; subtract some time for "conversations" and, nope, make that 960 pages in two days. Yowza! Somebody got gold stars at Evelyn Wood.)
And given the timing, do you really expect anyone to believe you separated yourself from scrumby's complaints? That you read the books with a truly open mind, cleared of any bias? I know I couldn't have done so.
Is what you did censorship? No. It's editorialization. That's fair, and really, I wish people would learn the difference.
Is it cowardly? Oh, yeah."
33. And then a conversation ensued as to whether or not when an avowed feminist publication recommends titles they are considered, by default, feminist books or merely books for feminist readers (which is apparently not the same thing) (according to Bitch).
34. I'll be honest, I don't know what the hell that is all supposed to mean. How can books for "the feminist reader" not be considered feminist books? Is this some sort of adjective placement thing?
35. So what does all this mean? Well, for one, that what started out as a great list is now tainted in a lot of different ways. It went from being smart and inventive and unique to a symbol of weakness and confusion. Readers now wonder just how much research went into the list (since apparently the author of it didn't even read all the books) (and seriously - if you haven't read a book then what are you thinking by recommending it?) and further, what the whole point was. Either it's a YA feminist list for feminist readers or not. Either it's about the many different ways in which women can be strong or its not. Either it's about how complicated women's issues are in this world or it's not.
Either you stand for something or you fall, right?
36. Rape is a reality in the lives of woman. Threat of rape is a reality. Variations on just what rape means (as is clear from the current House bill) is a reality. Societies around the world do judge what women wear and how that attracts unwanted male attention (some societies force women to cover themselves head to toe because of it). And this is something women everywhere talk about. Red Riding Hood (and all that it means) is actually more relevant now than ever before in some respects - but only if you acknowledge what the story was originally about, and how complex are its messages.
37. But is this entire thing about rape culture or rape triggers or censorship or feminism or a magazine being utterly, and colossally, and very publicly, stupid?
38. I know what I think. But then again I've always thought Margo Lanagan was brilliant. You go read the whole post and decide for yourself. Or better yet - read SISTERS RED, TENDER MORSELS and LIVING DEAD GIRL. They are not for the faint of heart but I think you'll be okay - you're a strong woman, aren't you?
39. I thought so.
The Smart Bitches response is a must read.
Bookalicio.us wrote a helpful open letter to Bitch Media (which name drops Colleen Lindsay!)
Liz Burns with a librarian's perspective - note that Liz was a member of the Printz Committee that awarded TENDER MORSELS an honor.
Also Gwenda salutes the YA community response, Riot Grrrrls, indeed.
Margo Lanagan responds: "Fiction is a means to make parts of the world visible in all its complexity and ambiguity, not cover up its nasty bits and hope they'll go away. Fiction (particularly fantasy fiction) provides a safe place where uncertainties can be considered and explored."
[This is the British cover for TENDER MORSELS - it rocks, don't you think?]