Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Pull the Trigger

The story thus far: On January 28th, Bitch Magazine posted a list of "100 YA Novels for the Feminist Reader."  The list is affiliated with Bitch Magazine's lending library, and was posted by Ashley McAllister, who is listed on Bitch's staff page as library coordinator.  Predictably, commenters began suggesting additions to the list and, in smaller numbers, objecting to the books on it.  On January 29th, commenter Pandora objected to the inclusion of Jackson Pearce's Sisters Red, a retelling of Red Riding Hood in which two sisters hunt werewolves, citing objections raised against the book in a post made last July on the blog The Book Smugglers.  In that post, the bloggers highlighted a scene in which one of the sisters scornfully watches dressed-up girls waiting to enter a night club and muses that they are inviting attack.  Both reviewers felt that Sisters Red didn't do enough to complicate or counteract this victim-blaming perspective.  That same day, commenter scrumby protested the inclusion of Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels on the grounds that a scene at the end of the book, in which one of the heroines subconsciously uses her magical powers to conjure beings who rape the five men who raped her mother, endorses the use of rape as a means of vengeance.

McAllister's response to both complaints was to admit that she hadn't read the two books (on Sisters Red: "While I read most of the books on this list, there were a few that I just researched"; on Tender Morsels: "This book came as a recommendation to us from a few feminists, and while we knew that some of the content was difficult, we weren't tuned into what you've just brought up") and that she and other Bitch staffers would read (or reread, as the case may be) them over the weekend with the objections raised in mind.  Yesterday, February 1st, McAllister posted a comment titled "Revisions to the list," announcing the replacement of Sisters Red, Tender Morsels, and a third book, Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott, which is narrated by a girl who has been held as a captive sex slave for five years and is anticipating being murdered by her captor (no objection had been raised to Living Dead Girl in the comment thread until that point, but later comments from Bitch staffers indicate that they received comments on the list via e-mail).
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.
(Emphasis in the original.)

Outraged reactions began pouring in.  Authors Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Kirstyn McDermott, Maureen Johnson, Ellen Klages, Lili Wilkinson, E. Lockhart, Jeff VanderMeer, A.S. King, Penni Russon, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Alina Klein--possibly alerted by Margo Lanagan's tweet on the subject--chimed in with their disapproval, some of them asking for their books to be removed from the list.  The twitter hashtags #bitchplease and (when that turned out to have been taken) #speakloudly (an existing hashtag that protests censorship of media) played host to protests of Bitch's decision.  Blog posts from John Scalzi, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Colleen Mondor, and the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books publicized the issue.  At present there are nearly 200 comments on the original Bitch Magazine post, nearly all of them condemnatory, many equating the decision to replace the three books with censorship and book-banning.

My thoughts: In a nutshell?  I don't think that anyone involved in this debacle comes away looking too good.

I think the fact that Bitch's editors recommended books they hadn't read is inexcusable.  When McAllister responded to Pandora about Sisters Red, I took her meaning to be that the list was compiled by several editors, each of whom contributed titles they thought were appropriate, but that no single editor had read all 100 books--similar, in other words, to how The New York Times, Amazon, and Locus compile their recommended reading lists.  Her reply to scrumby about Tender Morsels, however, indicates that the process was more informal, and that books may have been selected based on recommendations by people not affiliated with Bitch, and perhaps in an entirely ad hoc manner.  Nowhere on the list itself or on the blog post publicizing it is this noted, and that's simply not acceptable.  The responsibilities of librarians is a subject that has come up several times in this discussion, and surely one of the most basic of these is not to recommend a book without very good evidence--ideally the evidence of one's own reading--that it is worth the recommendation.

That said, I don't see anything wrong with Bitch's decision to review the list upon receiving objections to it.  It's true that in the case of both Sisters Red and Tender Morsels only one objecting comment was received, and that in the latter case both the tone and style of the comment do not inspire confidence in the opinions it expresses (though how many objections were received via e-mail, and how many such e-mails objected to Living Dead Girl, is unknown).  But McAllister quite clearly states that the decision to remove the three books from the list wasn't taken purely on the basis of these comments, but that they merely sparked the reading that led Bitch's editors to make that decision.  That reading should have happened before the list was compiled, but that doesn't invalidate its results.  It's true, reading the three books in light of the complaints raised against them would probably have predisposed the Bitch editors to look for those problems in the book, but is that a bad thing?  And does it follow that the editors were incapable of concluding that the complaints raised against Sisters Red, Tender Morsels and Living Dead Girl were groundless?

Nor is the decision to remove books from a recommended reading list in any way comparable to censorship or book-banning.  I don't even know how to expand on this point, which should be entirely self-evident and not worth making, and yet more than twenty comments on the Bitch thread call the editors' actions censorship, and several others accuse them of book banning, despite the fact that Sisters Red, Tender Morsels, and Living Dead Girl's availability has not been affected one jot by their removal from the list.

I also think that the failure to acknowledge, on the part of nearly everyone linking to the discussion and many of the commenters on the Bitch post, that the three books in question were removed for three different reasons, is at best irresponsible, at worst dishonest.  John Scalzi writes that the removal happened after "someone complain[ed] in the comments to the list that Tender and a couple of other books are "triggering"."  Smart Bitches, Trashy Books quotes McAllister's explanation in full, but stresses the triggering complaint, then later characterizes Bitch's reaction as "Oh, noes, it hurt someone's feelings, that scary scary literature."  Colleen Mondor gives a play-by-play of the comment thread, but leaves out the actual substance of the complaint against Tender Morsels (she also quotes McAllister's comment in full, however), and her post is accompanied by a cover image of Tender Morsels but not the other two books.  Tansy Rayner Roberts's post similarly focuses only on Tender Morsels.  The #bitchplease and #speakloudly twitter streams are full of statements like ""Protecting readers" under any guise is still censorship," and "Your job is not to protect us from literature."  Anyone coming to the discussion from these sources could be forgiven for assuming that Tender Morsels had been removed from the list because it was triggering, or because its subject matter was difficult, rather than for its handling of that subject matter (the sole exception is Kirstyn McDermott, whose post is impressively comprehensive).  The comments on the Bitch post reflect this confusion.  Of the twenty-three comments that specifically object to Tender Morsels's removal, only five address, in even the vaguest terms, the specific complaint that it doesn't critique the use of rape as revenge, while eight comments claim that it was removed either for being triggering or for being disturbing.  There is much less discussion of either Sisters Red or Living Dead Girl, and hardly any of the latter's potentially triggering nature.

I don't think it's a coincidence that the triggering accusation became attached to Tender Morsels.  As opposed to victim-blaming or rape as revenge, issues positioned rather firmly within the consensus of Bitch's readership, trigger warnings--the idea that discussions of rape and sexual assault can trigger traumatic reactions in survivors, and that it is therefore incumbent on bloggers and writers to post warnings when such subjects are discussed, and to avoid directing their readers towards potentially triggering material--are a contentious topic, even in feminist circles.  To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about them.  And the more general complaint that a certain book's subject is too difficult for young readers is a beloved bugaboo of the YA community.  These are the weakest arguments in Bitch's arsenal (so weak that the latter was not, in fact, part of it), and they just happen to have become attached to the most popular of the three books selected for removal even though neither objection was actually raised against it (in fairness, the Bitch editors do themselves no favors by spotlighting the triggering issue over the other two complaints in later comments).  Meanwhile, the book that was actually removed for being triggering gets hardly any discussion.

Bitch magazine made a lot of mistakes in creating and presenting its list of 100 YA novels for the feminist reader, but when it chose to remove Sisters Red, Tender Morsels, and Living Dead Girl from the list it laid a very specific complaint against each novel.  Even if you take their narrative at face value, and many commenters have questioned its veracity, these complaints are all debatable--personally, I don't think that Tender Morsels validates rape as revenge, though I agree that it edges around Urdda's responsibility for her actions in ways that aren't entirely palatable.  But what's happening in the comment thread at Bitch, and in other places on the internet, isn't that debate.  It's a pile-on, driven by misinformation and perpetuating that same misinformation, recasting the issue as one of censorship and babying readers, and focusing on the most contentious issue raised in the discussion as if it represented the discussion as a whole.  Whether you're writing a recommended reading list, or a blog post, or a comment thread, it behoove us all to ground our opinions in solid experience and in even more solid facts.  I don't see that anyone, on either side of this issue, has done so.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd agree that removing a book from their recommended list doesn't approach censorship and I really wish we'd reserve that word for the real thing and come up for a new word for behavior like this.

I can't agree that the removal of the books was reasonable because I cannot accept that their review was valid. They rushed through what many consider to be a work of literature for young adults in a weekend. That is as dismaying as the blithe admission that the list had been compiled from ad hoc recommendations.

Your argument about triggers is interesting. I will have to give it some more thought.

Something very strange has happened with the comment box, so I will end here.

excelle

Anonymous said...

You may be right about the mis-use of terminology, you're missing a point about the website's response to the response, and the fact that they won't take off the list books by authors who have now requested they be taken off. Also, you're creating the same aura of generalization by lumping in all of the criticism into one or two tidy buckets.

Anyway, as always, it's good to have a dissenting view. You'll also note the number of people with experience with severe triggers aghast at the books being pulled.

JeffV

Jonathan Walker said...

I am inclined to agree with Abigail.

I don't agree with what the editors did. I can see how it would be irritating (nay, offensive) for the authors involved to have their books defined so reductively and negatively, BUT it's no more irritating or offensive than many Amazon reviews. And while a list on a commentary site is not the same as an individual review, its creation in this context is still explicitly a question of personal opinion (not public policy), and so removal from that list is not censorship. Bitch Magazine is not the government, or a library association, or a school board. They are responsible in a broad sense to the community of their readers, but I'm not sure that they've breached that responsibility in quite so egregious a manner as is being suggested.

I also think that all the 'Take me off your list now!' comments in reaction sound a little absurd. Imagine if it was 'I insist you remove your review of my book.' That is obviously an unreasonable request. You have no say over who reviews you, and who thinks your book is rubbish, and similarly you have no say over who recommends you, even if they do so for the 'wrong' reasons or in a context you disapprove of. I guess you could legitimately refuse to supply review copies to those whose actions you disapprove of, but you can't stop them buying their own.

(Perhaps this analogy is invalid. I'm willing to hear why, if so.)

Once a book is out there in the public domain, readers have all kinds of responses to it. We can certainly protest censorship, and we can argue for its merits in the face of negative commentary (in general: of course you should never argue directly with an individual reviewer), but we can't and shouldn't expect to be able to dictate individual responses to it, as opposed to political responses. And I think Bitch Magazine falls under the former rather than the latter category.

To sum up, it was a dumb decision to remove the books, but it's not censorship.

Jonathan Walker said...

Slight correction: I note that Bitch Magazine has an associated subscription library, therefore they are in fact a 'library association'. However, the books in question are all still available in their library.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

excelle:

I can't agree that the removal of the books was reasonable because I cannot accept that their review was valid. They rushed through what many consider to be a work of literature for young adults in a weekend.

This, to my mind, is yet another example of how this discussion has become dominated by misinformation. Some time after the removal was announced, a commenter on the Bitch thread argued that it was impossible to read ("and process") three YA novels in a single weekend, and by today people are reporting that the reading was rushed as if it were an established fact. The truth is, different people read at different rates and comprehend at different levels, and of course it's possible to give a through reading to 1000 pages of YA fiction in a single weekend - this isn't Ulysses.

More importantly, there's a huge difference between saying "Bitch say they did X but I think they did Y because..." and "Bitch did Y." The latter gives me the chance to judge your reasons for doubting Bitch's version (and as I've said, I don't find those reasons convincing).

That said, I now see that the original comment that raised this complaint has been deleted from the Bitch thread, which, once again, doesn't inspire confidence in their honesty.

Jeff:

I'm with Andrew. I don't see that Bitch are under any obligation to remove the books of authors who have asked. It might be polite to do so, but it hardly seems like a violation on the level of recommending books they hadn't read, or misrepresenting their actions. You might disagree, of course, but from where I'm standing this hardly seems like a major component in the outrage being spewed at the magazine.

you're creating the same aura of generalization by lumping in all of the criticism into one or two tidy buckets

I've tried to give as accurate a picture of the discussion as I could, and to that end I've provided specific quotes and links. If you think that I've made mistakes of missed parts of the conversation - and this is entirely possible - please say so. But please be specific, because I'm not sure what you're referring to here.

Jonathan:

I'm not sure that the review analogy is entirely apt, but I still agree that Bitch is under no obligation to remove books whose authors have asked to be removed. The list endorses the authors, not the other way around.

Jonathan Walker said...

Actually, the review analogy really doesn't work, does it? Still, 'I inist that you stop recommending me!' is not a dignified position to take.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Correction: I was confused by Bitch's comment-threading system into thinking that comments were being deleted from the list thread when in fact early comments had been pushed into the next page by later ones. Here is the original claim that it is patently impossible to read 960 pages of YA fiction in a single weekend, which has since developed into its own meme.

Anonymous said...

Abigail, I am familiar with your online writing and if you said you had read Tender Morsels and two other YA books, and Ulysses for that matter, over the weekend and said that you had given them due consideration, I would believe you. I don't have that faith in the Bitch staff at this time. Especially as they have accepted an interpretation of Tender Morsels that I find difficult to support and have withdrawn their recommendation of the book on the understanding that their interpretation (scumby's I think) must be the only valid one.

My real concern is for the entirety of the list which is now revealed to have been slapped together without much thought. Have you looked at the list? I think they asked a batch of nearby people to list their five favorite books with female characters from when they were kids and then they collated the results for the top 100 vote getters. Is this a list for adult feminists to be nostalgic for or a list of book recommendations for the young feminist? It's not clear that Bitch put any thought into it and I certainly wish that they had. It could have been a very influential list and instead it's trivia.

As I said, I don't think it is censorship to remove books. Bitch is under no obligation to remove books at the requests of the authors, but I don't think the authors were mistaken to ask. As a rhetorical device to draw attention to a disappointing performance by Bitch, it seems reasonable.

Excelle

londonkds said...

I haven't read any of the three specific books but I'm wondering if this is influenced by the very bruising debates in the fanfic community last year about trigger warnings. I think that a list of works recommended for feminist readers should probably include warnings in the discussion of each work (a list like this that only consists of titles and authors is a waste of space IMO) but removing them from the list is a bad idea that would inflame the argument. Because a big part of the warnings debates I saw last year was people being frightened (wrongly IMO) that concern over triggers would move from asking for warnings to being used as moral blackmail to suggest that things like sexual violence shouldn't be written about at all, and removing "Living Dead Girl" from the list altogether and using "triggers" as a justification instead of adding a warning strikes me as erring in that direction.

londonkds said...

And now I see that it was just a bare list of titles and authors, and that, I think was asking for trouble anyway given that some people were always going to interpret it as "works that we 100% endorse as expressions of our kind of feminism".

Hal Duncan said...

I don't think it's a coincidence that the triggering accusation became attached to Tender Morsels.

Well, no. Scumby's initial post decrying the book is titled "Trigger warning because I can't let this pass." The charge is blurred from the get-go.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Excelle:

It is true that Bitch haven't behaved in an above-board manner, and this, to my mind, is a much more compelling reason to distrust their narrative than the argument that it's obviously impossible to read three YA books in a single weekend. But I think it's still important to note that this distrust is your interpretation of the situation (which you've done here, but which a lot of people reporting on the issue haven't) and not established fact.

Not having grown up in the US, I don't have a good grounding in American YA books, so a lot of the list was unfamiliar to me. Nevertheless, I saw quite a few of the usual suspects, and wondered if this meant that the list was hastily cobbled together (of course, this was after I'd read McAllister's comments about not having read all the books on the list).

londonkds:

There's an issue here that the process of removing Living Dead Girl was the least transparent of the three. This makes it an even greater shame that this has been the least discussed of the books that were replaced. Having read the plot description on Amazon, I'm not surprised that the book would be described as triggering, and warrant removal even if other difficult books stayed on the list - it is told from the point of view of a captive sex slave who knows that she is going to be killed for getting too old, and has been tasked with finding and grooming her replacement - and I think that a specific conversation about it could have been useful. On the other hand, given how much blanket dismissal there's been of trigger warnings and the whole concept of triggering in the Bitch comment thread, perhaps it isn't the correct venue for that conversation.

Hal:

Scrumby's title is a trigger warning for the contents of their comment. This is confusing, but that confusion is easily cleared up if you read their comment and those around it carefully - which anyone linking to or publicizing the discussion should have done.

Athena Andreadis said...

I say this as someone who is a vocal lifelong feminist and has come through two rape attempts (unsuccessful because I put up a fight). The terms censorship and triggering are used so broadly and sloppily in the Bitch Magazine entry and associated comments that they are effectively drained of meaning. Triggering is a very specific physiological response; many of the commmenters use it as a synonym of "it displeases me/offends my sensibilities."

The Bitch staff members can of course change their collective minds about what they recommend. But they should not have published the list without having read the books on it or without starting with the explicit caveat that it was a list they compiled from their own liked books plus listening to friends.

At the same time, the removal of titles for fear of causing offense is similar to the tactics around novels that young Victorian women were allowed to read, which were either bowdlerized versions or had pages excised by vigilant guardians. Fairytales and myths are full of rather graphic violence. This is not to say hooray for that, but rather that girls and women are not wilting violets and can decide for themselves if something exceeds their endurance.

Peter L. said...

I more or less agree with londonkds -- the problem here is that Bitch decided to run a fairly useless list of 100 authors and titles. 2-3 sentences for each would have been plenty of space to include trigger warnings, notices of "great book, but it's treatment of X is problematic," a sense of the genre, and so on. Plus, it would have saved us another round of ill-informed internet outrage and the list would have been made up of books that the editors or their friends could say a few things about, which would have made it, you know, useful.

The Evil Hat said...

I wouldn't agree that removing books from the list is censorship. It is, after all, a recommendation list without any obligation whatsoever to a specific book. Removing a book's no more censorship than never putting it on in the first place.

Furthermore, refusing to take author-requested books down is perfectly fine, if perhaps a tad impolite. After all, if authors had ironclad control over the press that they got, I think that the review business would be taking a bit of a hit.

All that being said, the fact that they've admitted to not having read every book on the list invalidates the whole thing. It's a recommendation list made up of books recommended by people who haven't read them; it's ludicrous. One would think that this is precisely why people do read books that they're about to recommend to the world at large - in order to make sure that they, you know, actually wanted to recommend them. Changing your mind afterwards may not be quite OPPRESSIVE, but it does underscore how fickle the criteria for the list was.

Nathaniel Katz

Athena Andreadis said...

"Removing a book's no more censorship than never putting it on in the first place."

Not quite. Never putting it on is relatively neutral, especially in a catch-all list like this. Removing it, with explanations attached for doing so, sends a very explicit message.

The Evil Hat said...

I'm not denying that it sends a message, I'm just questioning whether it's censorship.

Nathaniel Katz

Anonymous said...

When Excelle referred to commenter scrumby as "scumby," I assumed it was a typo, but Hal Duncan has now done the same thing. If these were honest mistakes, no problem, but otherwise I think that's a particularly puerile response to someone you disagree with.

Anonymous said...

I said I would have to give some thought about your argument that "I also think that the failure to acknowledge . . . that the three books in question were removed for three different reasons, is at best irresponsible, at worst dishonest."

I've thought. I don't see that confusion about what reasons were attached to which book is as significant as you claim. I believe that the most significant points were that Bitch made a list without reading all the books on it and that when confronted about some of the books they caved after what I would call an indefensibly hasty review. Those were the points widely disseminated across the internet and justly so.

Exactly what the reasons were are not as important to me as that the staffers at Bitch accepted someone else's interpretations instead of thinking for themselves.

I don't think subsequent discussion focused on triggering because it is more controversial. If you haven't read the books in question, how can you argue about whether they promote rape culture or rape as revenge? You can't really. But *anyone* can talk about whether a potential for triggering should be cause to dis-recommend a book.

I am sorry that we can't EVER talk about this sort of thing without someone jumping in to cry censorship and we can't talk about triggering without someone saying something dismissive. But that seems par for the internets and not at all the responsibility of the people who were trying to draw attention to the irresponsible, unprofessional, behavior at Bitch.

Excelle

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:01 am,

It was a typo. And Hal Duncan probably just followed my lead, so doubly my fault. Is it just the "scum" part that made it seem deliberate or does "scumby" mean something so horrible that you thought I might be using it on purpose? Forgive me, but I am not going to google to find out.

Jonathan Walker said...

There is a good post with Margo Lanagan's thoughts on her blog. She gets her point across well, and with admirable temperance:
http://amongamidwhile.blogspot.com/2011/02/cold-uncertain-feetbitch-media-and.html

Anonymous said...

It's not censorship in a direct sense, obviously. And yet it has that effect, telling readers (by singling these books out publicly), "These books are not suitable for you." The argument that they simply don't fit this particular list is laughable, given that the precise nature of the list was left vague and casual from the start.

You do a disservice to all the people who commented in support of TENDER MORSELS, assuming somehow that because we don't directly address the notion of "revenge rape" we aren't responding appropriately. Such an accusation, to anyone who has read the book, is just quite simply idiotic. Depicting a reprehensible action does not mean condoning it, and I'm not sure how any serious reader could think otherwise.

What appalls me more than anything, and what you perhaps should take another look at, is that the original poster who has sparked all this nonsense (the poster accusing TENDER MORSELS) says, essentially, that this book is utter rubbish, badly written and without any redeeming virtue.

No serious critic of literature, whether or not they like TENDER MORSELS or approve of its moral position, would make this statement. That alone should have led Bitch to take these comments with a *bucket* of salt, and yet, far from that, they adopted this person's chief criticism. If they are to open their list up to debate and consultation, they should turn to higher and more respected authorities than that poster.

Better still, they should have made their own judgment and stood by it.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Excelle:

the most significant points were that Bitch made a list without reading all the books on it and that when confronted about some of the books they caved after what I would call an indefensibly hasty review. Those were the points widely disseminated across the internet and justly so.

The internet is a big place and this discussion has ranged far and wide, but this isn't an accurate description of the means by which I arrived at this discussion, or the other links I note in this post. Most of them cite either triggering or the book's difficult subject matter as the reason that Tender Morsels was removed from the list.

Exactly what the reasons were are not as important to me as that the staffers at Bitch accepted someone else's interpretations instead of thinking for themselves.

Once again, that is your interpretation of events. It's a valid interpretation, but to present it as fact - or to arrive in the comment thread via someone who has presented it as fact - doesn't contribute to an honest, productive discussion, but to the pile-on the comment thread eventually became.

If you haven't read the books in question, how can you argue about whether they promote rape culture or rape as revenge? You can't really. But *anyone* can talk about whether a potential for triggering should be cause to dis-recommend a book.

That may be true in general, but in this comment thread, as I noted in my post, the overwhelming majority of condemnatory comments were from people who had read Tender Morsels and were specifically commenting in order to complain about its removal. As I also noted, there were more comments from people who had obviously read the book arguing that it is not triggering than there were those discussing whether it promotes rape as revenge.

Anon.:

I'm afraid I don't follow either of your arguments. Even if I were to accept that removing a book from a recommended reading list is the same as telling readers that it is not for them - and I find that argument unpersuasive - that still wouldn't make what Bitch did censorship, or anything similar to it. That two actions might be on the same spectrum doesn't make them interchangeable, and doesn't mean that it is correct to call one by the other's name. A light shower is similar to a rainstorm, but I'd be a pretty poor meteorologist if I used the latter word to describe the former.

The rest of your comment appears to be confusing me with someone who has argued that Tender Morsels condones rape as revenge. My point was that most of the people leaping into the fray to defend the novel did so by attacking arguments that had never been made against it (and on the way used some extremely insensitive, and in some cases misogynistic, language to dismiss the phenomenon of triggering). This was the case when I posted last week, following which I admit that I haven't been back to check. Have things changed?

Anonymous said...

It is perfectly within a publication's rights to withdraw its support for certain products. None of the books on that list would have been recommended to the public in the first place if Bitch had chosen not to publish the material in question, so the accusations of censorship that have been flying around lately look grossly misplaced. Bitch isn't stopping anyone from talking about these books, nor is it restricting public access to them; it's merely taking them off its own list. How is this a violation? These books are not entitled to Bitch's endorsement.

One may, of course, accuse the editors of Bitch of cowardice, populism or pandering to political correctness/hypersensitive readers/whatever condescending term comes to mind, but I don't think I would be able to take a self-proclaimed feminist seriously if he or she failed to display the modicum of compassion and common sense required to condemn victim-blaming and punitive rape. I don't think that books which fail to convey a moral lesson--or worse, imply that there's no moral lesson to be taught--while directly addressing these issues should be recommended to children and teenagers. Notice how I'm not saying they shouldn't exist--but they certainly wouldn't be on my list, so Bitch's decision to remove them from theirs doesn't aggrieve me.

Like Abigail, I don't think Bitch should have compiled its list without giving careful consideration to every entry, and that's the only real problem I see here.

Anonymous said...

Abigail: On a further think and the comment above about asking books to be removed as a rhetorical device bringing attention to dissatisfaction with the list, I think you're right that Bitch is under no obligation to remove a book when asked.

The larger issue of morality in fiction is troubling. An author should not have to editorialize about the events in a story or novel to let the reader know he or she disapproves of an act or speech depicted. That often leads to simplistic and didactic prose.

JeffV

Anonymous said...

Making the reader *think* about the moral implications of certain acts is good enough. Depicting violence in a way that doesn't question it--depicting *anything* without questioning it--is as bad as preaching to the reader.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:22

But who gets to say which is which? I would argue the person making the list (who I hope has read the book) gets to say what goes on the list and the rest of us get to offer our opinion that their opinion is so stupid that we are disappointed in them for their interpretation.

Abigail, I believe that I have offered cogent reasons for why I have no respect for Bitch's behavior in this matter and you keep dismissing them as merely my interpretation. You're right, I can't actually read minds. But I don't think I am going out any limbs here with my interpretation and you haven't offered me any reasonable counter-interpretations, you just keep waving mine away.

You misunderstood my most recent comment. I didn't meant that lots of people haven't mis-ascribed the triggering argument to the book Tender Morsels. What I meant was that I see that as typical internet drift and nothing whatsoever to do with a deliberate campaign of dishonesty and misinformation.

As to the "pile-on." When someone says something stupid on the internet, I don't usually believe that they need 400 people to say, "you are wrong," over and over again. When it is an online journal I think differently. The more people in Bitch's target audience who show up to say, "I think this is wrong," the better.

And if they think Bitch is wrong, I hope those people won't reward the magazine with page views for their book club.

The Overgrown Hobbit said...

I skipped the comment thread: odds of generating any light vs. heat seemed poor, but did scan the list.

Having a recommended reading list of "feminist books for young feminists" is a fine thing for an organization like Bitch to do. I wish, as you'd pointed out, that they'd read every book first (even if it meant parcelling them out to staffers and delaying the list), and that they'd written "for young feminists" instead of "young adults" aka teenagers. Several of the books on the list were children's books, not YA.

I did note, and appreciate that they included feminist manga: a CLAMP selection (though why Rayearth of all titles?) and a graphic novel (Plain Janes). Though that's a story for another day (In the U.S. guys seem to dominate graphic novels, girls dominate manga and anime...)

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