Friday, February 4, 2011

Bitch, Please!

This week, something very interesting happened.  Bitch Media released their list of top 100 YA books for Feminist Readers, but after a switch-up of three books on the list, controversy ensued.  Three books were taken off the list and replaced with alternative titles after concerns were brought forward about "triggering" themes (i.e. rape) in the texts.  There have been incredibly explosive responses on both sides of the argument, and the rest of this post will be dedicated to listing and discussing some of these responses.  The first of these comes from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books:
Bitch posted their 100 YA books for the Feminist Reader list, and of course, like any thing that is (a) a list (b) adorned with the word “feminist” and (c) on the internet, there was lots of discussion. And disagreement. And expressions of disappointment. Some didn’t like that certain books were left off, and some didn’t like the books that were selected, particularly those that were sexually violent or challenging to the reader’s emotional equilibrium. I can understand that - books are powerful things, but all the more reason to collect them in to one giant list to share with libraries and those looking for thoughtful reading material to share with young adult readers.
Later, a response came from the creators of the list at Bitch Media.  Ashley McAllister, one of the authors, wrote this in regards to the three removed novels:
A couple of us at the office read and re-read Sisters Red, Tender Morsels and Living Dead Girl this weekend. 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. We still feel that these books have merit and would not hesitate to recommend them in certain instances, but we don’t feel comfortable keeping them on this particular list.
The two main reactions to this statement are as follows: The books should have been left alone and the content should be left to the discretion of the reader; The nature of rape in the books is questionable at best and should be thoughtfully examined in terms of its use within the text.

From the first camp, Scott Westerfeld commented on the situation:

 Let’s get this straight: You put Tender Morsels on your list without having read it, then saw a handful of outraged comments appear. So you rereadTender Morsels, swiftly and with those comments uppermost in your mind, then decided they HAD to be right.
Did you talk to anyone in the non-outraged camp first? To those feminists who originally recommended it? Did you engage in a rigorous discussion at all? Or did you just cave?
Two requests:
1) Please remove my book Uglies from the list. It’s an embarrassment to be on it.
2) Perhaps change your name to something more appropriate, like EasilyIntimidatedMedia. After all, the theme of Tender Morsels is that one must eventually leave a magical, fabricated safe haven for (sometimes brutal) reality. The theme of this blog would appear to be the exact opposite.
A member of the Child_Lit listserv (who shall remain nameless since I didn't ask permission to reveal any identities from emails) that I subscribe to agreed with Mr. Westerfeld:
Good to see Scott Westerfeld drawing attention the the lack of logic in the decision (and for demanding that 'Uglies' be removed) - and I particularly like his suggested renaming of themselves, from 'Bitch' to 'EasilyIntimidatedMedia'.
'Triggering' seems a very loose 'post hoc' term to bandy about. Makes people trigger happy, clearly.
Another member of the listserv (who shall also remain nameless, had a different response to the situation:
Heavy-handed critique may be out of place in a work of fiction, but critique of some kind has to come into play when dealing with a “rape as revenge” scenario, or with outright victim-blaming if the author wants to call the book a work of feminist fiction. The fact of the matter is, we live fully within rape culture, and so no, no one gets a free pass to use rape as a plot point and then NOT dissect it under the guise of “humanity understands that rape is bad”. Clearly not, or we wouldn’t be asking rape victims what clothing they wore to try to vindicate rapists. And self-blame may be a part of a victimised [sic] person’s experience, but unless we plan on locking all potential victims in impenetratable [sic] cells for their own protection, it is not conducive to paint victim-blaming as an acceptable component of feminist lit.
I have not read any of the three novels being discussed, so I must refrain from adding too much of my own opinion.  I am partly in the middle so far, however, agreeing that 'rape as revenge' is a particularly disturbing notion and one that should be very, very critically considered before inclusion in a YA text.  But at the same time, removing a text from a list of feminist topics just because it contains a 'trigger' of some sort, is perhaps jumping the gun.  Many books contain topics that are triggers to some parts of the population, which is why those people don't read those books, or if they do, they do so from a critical perspective.

What do you think of the situation?  It is very complex and important to look at both sides of the scenario.  And while I do think Bitch Media made a poor move by taking the books off the list, I also think there is much to consider about the books in question before jumping to quick judgments, especially since Bitch Media has a history of strong and controversial opinions.

Thanks for listening.

No comments:

Post a Comment