Sunday Speculation: Uncomfortable Literature

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.

2 thoughts on “Sunday Speculation: Uncomfortable Literature

  1. It completely depends on the context and how the topic is being used. I don’t particularly like when people use the argument, “Everything can be joked about” when they really mean, “I’m a white, het man. Don’t tell me what to do.”

    There is a difference between discussing an issue and someone using their privilege to make a joke at someone’s expense. One helps to get awareness for the issue while the other supports the culture that allows the issue to not be taken seriously. When one person says their offended by the latter, people automatically assume they mean to squash the former.

  2. I thought that they were removed because they couldn’t be considered feminist literature, as the one in particular uses rape as a method of vengeance and another engages in constant victim blaming?

    You can have feminist books that discuss rape, but not all books involving it are automatically feminist.

    I don’t understand the crying that a book was pulled from a list of recommendations under a certain topic (they were going by reader recommendations, Bitch magazine editors did not actually read any of these books) when those books were proven to… not belong under that topic. It’s not censorship if the book’s just pulled off a list of that subject, the book is still there for anyone who wants to read it, but they won’t go into it without warnings that hey, this deals with stuff that people have PTSD about and they may not be expecting when it comes to YA and feminist literature.

    It’s not the discussion of rape that’s hurtful, it’s the fact that it would come up in such viscerally triggering ways to people not expecting it that is.

    I think that if you want to discuss something that is an outright painful topic to others you first need to be willing to listen when they say “I don’t want to discuss that” as you’re not the one it’s hurting.

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