In writing the recap on the Bitch Magazine YA feminist literature list situation, I couldn’t help but think about how librarians are by default put into defensive positions about materials in their collections. Each added item has a potential for igniting some sort of objection; even if that chance is miniscule, someone can find something objectionable in it (and if they go hunting for it and have some creativity, they will find it). Often times, this sheds the light on the profession that librarians are smut peddlers, pornographers, politically and/or emotionally insensitive, and otherwise defenders of society’s deviance.
It is the price that is paid for a near absolutist stance. Only the most morally deplorable items (such as child pornography) gain no refuge. But when literature covers incest, suicide, bullying, homosexuality, cutting, eating disorders, racism, blasphemy, and rape, the profession defends the choices of inclusion of unpopular, controversial, and/or otherwise socially abhorrent topics. It is never a matter as to judging whether the topic is acceptable or not; it is a matter of allowing individuals to make their own decisions whether to read it or not. Generally, like the comments to the original YA list post revealed to me, there is a divided opinion. A divided opinion is not a rationale for exclusion, but an impetus for insuring that it remains. As Ricky Gervais said recently after the row over his jokes at the Golden Globes,
“I’m not sorry for anything I said… Nobody has the right not to be offended. And don’t forget: Just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re in the right.”
Such is the model and cornerstone for free speech guarantees in countries like the United States.
In noting that the three books that were removed from the Bitch list all involved the topic of rape, I remembered the George Carlin bit, “Rape can be Funny” (very NSFW, as if you needed a warning). Some will find it funny, some will find it offensive, but it has a kernel of truth to it: just because the topic is uncomfortable to others should not preclude any discussion of it. One cannot have ask rape victims to speak out against their abusers and about their ordeals as a means of educating people on the topic while simultaneously demanding that any other discussion outside of this scope cease. It is when we as a society stop talking about a subject for fear of offense that the issue will continue to linger on in the shadowlands of conversation, present yet unresolved.