Parents at Laurel Nokomis Middle School in Sarasota, Florida became outraged when they learned their children were reading the child pornography book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Speak is about a 13-year old being raped. –Dr. Richard Swier
I made a vow to myself when I started this blog that no matter what the temptation might be, I will not stray from the purpose this blog was original set up for. I have personal blogs to discuss politics, movies, and education outside of the reading spectrum, and as such I wanted to keep Bray and Books strictly about fostering the love of reading through interviews, book reviews, and video blogs all centered around books. It’s a relatively simple task for somebody such as myself, as I am very passionate about my reading (and hope to one day invoke a passion for reading in my students once I have students). Unfortunately, that resilience has been tested today, and I’ve allowed myself a pass into the world of politics on this blog because, in this case, the world of literacy and politics have clashed horrifically.
For those of you who haven’t read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (and if you haven’t, I highly recommend you do so as soon as possible), it is the story about a teenage girl named Melinda Sordino who is raped at a party just before she begins high school. The party ends with her ostracized in school and from her friends, with nobody knowing the inner turmoil she is experiencing as a result of her assault because she hasn’t told anybody it happened. She recedes inside of herself and refuses to speak all together. Throughout the book, she begins to realize the importance of her voice, and why she needs to speak up about her ordeal.
I won’t go into the importance of why this book is important for students to have at their disposal, especially when there are girls Melinda’s age who have experienced this type of abuse themselves. My sister blog Amanda (Amanda’s Nose in a Book) does an excellent job of doing this in a manner that leaves little more to be said on that subject. I suggest you check out her post about it, which I’ve linked to at the bottom of this article. She goes in-depth into the benefits of having this book in the curriculum for students.
Instead, I want to go into how labeling this book Child Pornography is detrimental to society as a whole, and perpetuates rape culture.
As I said before, Speak is about a rape. Plain and simple. The act is in no way glorified, or sexualized. The focus is on the devastating after effects of this heinous crime and what the victim goes through when she has to see her attacker every day at school. To label it pornography detracts from the crime committed and acts as though this is obscenity not for the fact that it’s violence against a woman, but because it dares to talk about sex. I want to make it very clear that I don’t believe that rape in itself is not obscene, but that labeling it pornography completely limits its obscenity to the same level as Playboy and Cinemax where the women are willing participants.
I know that there’s a chance here that people are going to come at me with the argument that it’s just semantics. Maybe it is. Maybe I’m nitpicking word choice because I’m angry that a fantastic book is being attacked and degraded and tossed to the banned books pile because some people are uncomfortable with the idea that teenagers aren’t stupid and know that this kind of stuff exists. Or maybe I’m reading this article in the wake of three girls being held prisoner by a man for over a decade, and a group of boys in Steubenville, Ohio raping a girl because she was “asking for it” by being drunk at a party. A teenage girl who, coincidentally, is young enough to have gone to school with Melinda Sordino if Melinda wasn’t fictional.
And that, my friends, is exactly why books like Speak are important. Somewhere along the lines rape culture evolved to the point that our teenagers are unsure of the boundaries anymore, and consent is a myth to entitle youth trolling parties. There are girls like Melinda out there who went to parties with their friends to celebrate their youth, the summer, school being out, somebody’s birthday, you-name-it, and became the next number to add to the growing statistic that we shake our heads sadly at and mutter “if only she had become a nun and locked herself away in her room instead of putting herself out there with her classmates.” Melinda is raped at a party with her friends in a situation that could easily be transposed into any high school in America, and her story brings this to light because it’s realistic, it happens, and it’s unapologetic for bringing this truth. Instead of focusing on this and trying to tackle the horrors that is rape culture, Richard Swier labels it pornography as if it’s that simple.
People like Swier and his supporters act upon these books the way they are because they want to shield their children from the horrors of adulthood, because they don’t believe that teenagers are ready for this content and they want to protect them. The problem is that by silencing books like Speak, they’re accomplishing the opposite. If you continuously hide what rape is, teenagers–and the world–becomes convinced that rape is only the media-played caricature of a stranger stalking his victim and violently forcing himself upon her. Then teenage boys don’t realize that taking advantage of the girl at the party who’s intoxicated is considered sexual assault, and the girls don’t realize that just because you knew him, doesn’t mean it wasn’t rape.
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak gives hope to many teens and adults- Amanda’s Nose Stuck in a Book Really? Again? SPEAK labelled pornography- Laurie Halse Anderson Poll: Florida Middle School students reading child pornography- Dr. Richard Swier