My friend, SS, emailed me last week about a brouhaha going down over at Bitch Magazine’s website. She sent me a nice, succinct link.
Basically, Bitch published a list of the top 100 feminist young author books. I loved this idea so much that I put it up on my facebook page.
But then shit hit the fan. People complained that some of the books were triggering and so the list was altered. The author of the list explains (emphasis in the original):
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.
We’ve replaced these books with Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley and Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden.
Then authors from the list, angry at Bitch for removing the books mentioned, responded in the comments saying they, too, wanted their books removed. First up, Scott Westerfield:
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.
PS I haven’t read the other two redacted books, but “triggering,” really? Don’t you think Uglies might be triggering for a cutter? Or a victim of bad plastic surgery? (Or an ugly kid? Or a pretty one?)
Then Justine Larbalestier and Maureen Johnson (via Scott Westerfield):
Okay, Justine (Larbalestier) just got back from gym, and she wants her Magic or Madness series off the list too. She would have posted this request herself, but has RSI at the moment and therefore finds internet slap-fights triggering and debilitating. (Not kidding about this.)
She says to add she’s a huge fan of BitchMedia and is HUGELY disappointed, and yells “Margo Lanagan is a GREAT feminist writer!”
Also, Maureen Johnson has requested removal of her books on her twitter feed. But she pretty much only tweets these days, so don’t expect a comment here.
Then Maureen Johnson responded herself:
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.
Then Ellen Kages:
For me, part of being a feminist is challenging the status quo, talking about things that “nice girls don’t talk about.”
Censorship is cowardly, and not a feminist act.
Either reinstate Tender Morsels, or remove my book from your list as well.
If you’re willing to make snap judgments and promote closed thinking, then I am no longer proud to be a part of your politics.
So, Bitch responded to the response and said this:
After posting the list last week, we received feedback from readers through the blog, our social media, and email, asking us to reconsider a few of our choices. As a feminist media organization, we took these concerns seriously, and took last weekend off to read. […]
While many of the books we recommended cover difficult and controversial topics, we decided to remove these particular books because of how they deal with issues of sexual assault especially. Our particular concerns were elaborated upon in the comments of the previous blog post, as was our (continued) belief that the removed books deserve to be read and certainly should not be banned or otherwise kept from any audience. On a list of just 100 books, though, the problems we had with these texts were enough that three close runners-up deserved to take their place on our roster. […]
Hearing some of this criticism, particularly as it has grown more and more tangential (and detrimental) to the original topic of YA literature and putting books into the hands of young feminists, has affected Bitch deeply, on personal and organization-wide levels. We have also been touched by the outpouring of support we’ve received. More than anything, though, our old-fashioned, ink-lovin’ hearts here at Bitch have been bolstered by such a passionate debate taking place over literature.
I have to admit that I haven’t read the books in play. I don’t know what they say or how they say it. What I don’t understand is why the list needed to be altered by removing the triggering books. Why did Bitch not simply put trigger warnings next to the books in question? I don’t understand still why a triggering book is not worthy of being on this list. I imagine (though don’t know) that the books triggered in ways that the authors intended. I agree with Bitch that even with the best intentions, sometimes art fails to trigger in a way that is productive or meaningful. But clearly there are plenty of people who felt that these works were important and worthy of being on the list.
Of course, Bitch has the right to alter a list. It isn’t like there are ONLY 100 good feminist YA books (thank goodness). But I don’t like this message that because a YA book takes on a difficult, even triggering, event that it must be excluded from a list created by a group of people who are supposed to be addressing the things in this world that are difficult, even triggering, for women. The debate could have been about how or why we label things with a “trigger warning”, rather than whether something that is triggering is good enough to be on such a list. That seems, for me, to be a more productive discussion that allows for a greater expanse of stories and points of view, that does not lead to feminist voices being shut down on a feminist blog, nor would it ignore the concerns and issues that readers of the blogs have.
What do you all think about this? Ultimately, did Bitch do the right thing by changing the list? On some level, I appreciate that they were clear about why they altered the list and continued to allow space for debate about it. Is a trigger warning enough?