So here’s something I never expected from Bitch Magazine. Really. I’m sort of horrified and appalled and wondering if someone over there fell and hit their heads.
Bitch posted their 100 YA books for the Feminist Reader list, and of course, like any thing that is (a) a list (b) adorned with the word “feminist” and (c) on the internet, there was lots of discussion. And disagreement. And expressions of disappointment. Some didn’t like that certain books were left off, and some didn’t like the books that were selected, particularly those that were sexually violent or challenging to the reader’s emotional equilibrium. I can understand that – books are powerful things, but all the more reason to collect them in to one giant list to share with libraries and those looking for thoughtful reading material to share with young adult readers.
Then came this comment from post author Ashley McAllister:
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. Thanks to several commenters who pointed out the need to include these excellent books on our list. I’m excited to add a few more rad girls to our list and I can’t say how happy I am to know that there are WAY more than 100 young adult books out there that tackle sexism, racism, homophobia, etc… while presenting us with amazing young adult characters. Young adult lit has come a long way. We’re really excited to keep talking about feminist-friendly YA books on the blog.
So, sorry about those books that were scary or only able to be interpreted in one single way or somewhat triggering (and for fuck’s sake, “triggering?” Fucking adolescence itself is one big trigger of misery**!), and congrats to these also-ran authors who made the list because we caved to what a few people said.
**ETA: Let me clarify here, since some are questioning my position. I know what a trigger is – a seemingly unrelated experience that can immediately cause partial or full re-experience of a traumatic event for an individual. My ire here is at the idea that Bitch Magazine can identify all the triggers of all the potentially traumatic events of a person’s life and then protect that person by removing those books that contain those elements from their list. Removing a book because it is triggering is at the least disrespectful of anyone who has survived anything because it presumes to know better that the victim herself what is and isn’t going to affect her. Every other moment of rereading an adolescent experience could be a trigger. How do you stop them all? You can’t. And it is insulting and presumptuous to try to do so.
Oh, no. They didn’t. Seriously, I am so surprised at Bitch Magazine, I don’t quite know what to do with myself except shake my head with my jaw dropped open. It’s like the perfect storm of fandom wank, only more horrifying because FOR FUCK’S SAKE it’s Bitch Magazine. I thought they printed the original recipe for all clue-filled pastries and made other publications scared of their awesomesauce.
As you can imagine, that amendment to the list did not go over well, and oh, the unholy wtfery that has been unleashed in the comments. Leading the charge of WTF? is author Scott Westerfeld, who wrote,
Let’s get this straight: You put Tender Morsels on your list without having read it, then saw a handful of outraged comments appear. So you reread Tender Morsels, swiftly and with those comments uppermost in your mind, then decided they HAD to be right.
Did you talk to anyone in the non-outraged camp first? To those feminists who originally recommended it? Did you engage in a rigorous discussion at all? Or did you just cave?
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.
Bitch Media responded by saying that they “hope that even those of you who disagree with the decision to remove the books from the list understand that, as a feminist, reader-supported organization, if members of our audience contact us and tell us something that we’re recommending might be triggering for rape victims, we’re going to take that seriously. That being said, please feel free to voice your dissent here; we take that seriously also.”
So if there’s enough dissent, you’ll put the books back? Way to completely eradicate the value of the list in the first place, cave to those who shriek loudest, and bend with the remover to remove. Westerfeld is not the only author to express outrage and revulsion. Author Maureen Johnson also commented:
I was absolutely delighted to see my book, The Bermudez Triangle, on this list when it was published. I’m a fan of the magazine. But I have been incredibly disheartened to see your process for removing books. It mirrors EXACTLY the process by which book banners remove books from schools and libraries—namely, one person makes a comment, no one actually checks, book gets yanked.
You’ve removed Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. I think that’s a disgrace. You were right the first time, when you put it on.
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.
(As a side note, if you want to read a fantastic bit of “mansplaining” and condescending crapfiesta, there’s a comment like that in there, too. Please have flasks ready to drink with every other line.)
I honestly can’t process the whole thread, except with exclamations of “What?” “Wait, really?” “BITCH? NOooooooOOOooooOOo!” I mean, of all the publications online with Big Girl Pants and stone cold badassery on a daily basis, BITCH would pull this type of “Oh, noes, it hurt someone’s feelings, that scary scary literature?” I never thought I’d see the day when Bitch Media would be following the playbook of the Humble, Texas, Teen Lit Fest, which disinvited author Ellen Hopkins because of one librarian who didn’t like Hopkins’ books or their subject matter.
I’m shaking my head like you would not believe. As you might imagine, I’m a fan of Bitch Magazine and have been a subscriber and supporter of their not-for-profit mission and ad-free publication. I don’t always agree with them, but I usually have their back on most anything. But, oh, holy wafflepants.
Bitch, please. Don’t do shit like this.
ETA: You know how books that make A List, A Really Important List, get stickers and insignia and stuff? I have some for Bitch Media. Here, you can has them.
Comments are Closed
I’m confused by the reasoning that it’s okay to remove a book because of its “triggering nature.” The same could be said for almost ANY book.
Like I said on Twitter, I think it’s time to marshal the BItchery and create a Top 100 YA over here.
It’s definitely shocking. My mind is still boggling. I also can’t understand ignoring supporters, writers, and librarians who clearly approved of the original list in favor of one commenter who doesn’t. It makes no sense.
And it shouldn’t have changed the opinion of the post writer either way but… if all it takes is one complaint to change a list, shouldn’t a lot of complaints change the list back?
Alas, the problem is, I am Hooooorrrrrriiiibbbbllllleeee at making lists. I can’t even make a grocery list without leaving off essential items. If I were making a list to pack for space travel, I’d forget to write “Oxygen – lots of it.” So making a list of YA books would just send me into a staggering mess of heartbreaking wtfery. That’s not stopping y’all from making your own, though.
“Failing to critique” ??!? Failing to critique? B.S. If your book stops to critique a character’s actions or explain how something was good or bad, you have failed as an author. And if you can’t see how rape as revenge is a bad thing, you have failed as a human and a book isn’t going to make it worse.
Same with victim blaming….it happens. Victims blame themselves, victims are blamed by other people, sometimes the bad guys win in the court of public opinion. It’s bad, yes, but it’s real. An author who leaves it out, leaves out part of the victim’s experience and one who stops to critique it fails as a writer. People should be able to pick up that maybe blaming the victim is a bad thing. If nothing else, seeing a character be blamed for something that wasn’t truly their fault may help other people either stop blaming victims or stop blaming themselves.
I’ll admit I only read the first part of this before giving up because, frankly, it just sounds to me like the whole lot of them got sucked into the OTT mentality of the LiveJournal Internet Social Justice crowd.
It’s a Brave Brave New World.
I gave up on feminists when the president threw a 24 year old under the bus to save his own ass.
AND NONE OF THEM SAID SHIT! They were too busy wanting to have his baby.
But the good news is, I didn’t know that book existed and it’s going on my To Read list well as the Uglies.
You outrage is appreciated!!!! Seriously!
Wouldn’t it make more sense to give a trigger warning for potentially triggering material and let people decide for themselves whether or not they want to deal with it? Isn’t that what trigger warnings are for?
Also, the library student part of me is still shaking my head over seeing these people act like the crazy fundies who want us to ban And Tango Makes Three or Uncle Bobby’s Wedding because they truly believe (in their own way) that it’ll harm kids to read them. For a person who may have true, serious issues with these books, they should be able to foresee it from the blurbs…not every book is for everyone. But just like Uncle Bobby’s Wedding and the like are fantastic for open-minded parents or people with gay family members, these books might be genuinely helpful to people who’ve had to go through these things (and comments over there suggest that they are).
Let the readers make up their own minds.
And to take that a step further, Diana, isn’t part of feminism allowing women to make decisions for themselves?
Warning labels on books?
Actually, I’m surprised they think the Blue Sword is more feminist than the Hero and the Crown, or Sunshine. But hey, if they’re not reading the books on their list, then I say it’s just as well that I’d never heard of them until today.
They shouldn’t have put the books on the list in the first place if they hadn’t researched them properly. So Bitch‘s bad there.
That said, the excerpt I read of Sisters Red was definitely anti-feminist, placing the responsibility of getting attacked on the victims and saying they deserved to be killed because they were pretty and shallow. That book did not belong on the list, it’s not a feminist model for teenagers. Remedying their mistake does not make Bitch wishy-washy, it’s basic decency.
And “triggering” is a concept that goes far, far beyond mere adolescence. It’s not something that can be said for every book. Rape is a crime that destroys people’s lives. It is not minor. I’m not saying a trigger should keep the book off the list, but saying that “anything can be triggering” minimizes and belittles the experience of rape survivors.
I am in shock … I have read Bitch magazine since I was 16. And never did I think something like this would happen … it’s insane …. thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Wait. This is a FEMINIST magazine. It was informed that some of the books on its list of recommendations HANDLED RAPE BADLY in a way that would be retraumatizing (that’s what triggering means!) to rape survivors and promote blaming of rape victims. So it took them off.
I would expect nothing less!
Isn’t Smart Bitches, Trashy Books the blog that acknowledges that one of the frequent problems in Old School romances is that they eroticize rape?
I’m confused. And disappointed. I really expected better of you, Sarah.
I’m really tired of being told what it means to be a rape survivor.
When I read Susan Palwick’s Flying In Place it was upsetting, yes. When I saw Hook (the Disney film) I cried hysterically for hours. Your trigger may not be my trigger and censoring media under the guise that the fragile womanhood can’t handle it.
Well. That’s not my feminism.
They’re not censoring the book. They are choosing not to recommend it because they don’t agree with its values. Very different.
A trigger warning is also different from censoring. It’s a heads-up so that you can decide for yourself if you want to read it. It allows the reader to make an informed, educated decision for their own selves. It does not make decisions for anyone else, as has been suggested in this thread.
I’m amazed by the to-do over “Tender Morsels”. Okay, maybe I’m not. After all, I had just whined during #yalitchat and later to Margo Lanagan herself about the book. However, I’m surprised that it was pulled off the list for the sodomy part. I didn’t think it was that big a deal considering what happened to the main character, Liga, prior. Sure, Urdda’s magic manifested in the felt men who sodomized the men who had gang-raped her mother, but it’s not like Urdda did it on purpose. Plus, this is Liga’s story and as it is presented like a fairytale, who cares what happened to the men afterward. This is not their story. Yes, sodomizing men to avenge Liga is bad, but Urdda can’t go all UF on their asses and castrate them, okay?
I agree that anything can be triggering and trying to anticipate what will set a random sample of the population off is futile.
Watching the movie “Camp” had my sobbing at my therapist about my perv of a high school drama teacher (I was shocked to discover how happy I was to find he had died of colon cancer 2 years ago, I hadn’t realized how much hate I still carried 15 years on), but no one would think to warn about a feel-good indie film about a camp for musical teens.
Real life is rarely fair and good books and films reflect that.
Yes, you read an excerpt, taken out of context. Because only half of the book is from Scarlett’s point of view. The OTHER half of the book is from Rosie’s point of view- Scarlett’s sister- who is, in fact, one of the “butterfly” girls mentioned in that excerpt.
And guess what? Throughout the book, Scarlett learns that no girls in particular deserve to be targeted, that it’s all right if SHE chooses to spend her life as a hunter… but that Rosie’s choice not to hunt, and to not be ashamed of her femininity, is EQUALLY VALID.
So yes, shame on Bitch for NOT reading the book, and shame on them for extrapolating a single problematic moment that is eventually part of Scarlett’s awakening into “this book is all about rape culture, yay, rapey rapey.”
For those of you who haven’t read TENDER MORSELS, please be advised that all the rape, gang rape, and sodomy are presented very circumspectly. Nothing is spelled out; no violent acts are described. For younger readers, it is implied that something horrible had happened but the violent acts are cut away at the last moment so no one will be looking up words like “sodomy” and “gang-rape”. There are many good things about this book. I was just seriously bummed because Liga didn’t get a HEA.
I have to say that I fully agree with Bitch magazine’s decision (per Susan and SylviaSybil’s posts). Heavy-handed critique may be out of place in a work of fiction, but critique of some kind has to come into play when dealing with a “rape as revenge” scenario, or with outright victim-blaming if the author wants to call the book a work of feminist fiction. The fact of the matter is, we live fully within rape culture, and so no, no one gets a free pass to use rape as a plot point and then NOT dissect it under the guise of “humanity understands that rape is bad”. Clearly not, or we wouldn’t be asking rape victims what clothing they wore to try to vindicate rapists. And self-blame may be a part of a victimised person’s experience, but unless we plan on locking all potential victims in impenetratable cells for their own protection, it is not conducive to paint victim-blaming as an acceptable component of feminist lit.
Frankly, ditto the eroticization of rape/violence (ie “triggering” language). Sadly, that IS a part of adolescent experience in modern western culture. That does not give it a free pass in “feminist” fiction either.
I too expected better of you, Sarah.
Hold up. Back up a second. First, Bitch listed books that they hadn’t read, then went back and amended their list after they read them.
Second, that is one interpretation of the books in question, not The Only And Eternally Right interpretation of those books. Just because an internet commenter says so does not make it absolutely true. Dear God, what trouble we’d be in, in that case.
Third, my issue is that Bitch then amended their list based on their own absence of information (whoa) and the comments of a few people (whoa again) which then influenced their reading (whoa three). As a feminist magazine, wouldn’t their effort be focused on encouraging readers, particularly young feminist readers, to think for themselves and make informed decisions – neither of which Bitch did in this case? That’s my beef (no pun intended).
As for “triggering,” rape is not the only circumstance that is triggering, and “unfortunately” seems too weak a word right there. And because of the (again, unfortunate) diversity of sexual assault experiences, in fact, anything can be triggering. Trauma of many sorts can be recreated by smells, sounds, etc. My point is that protecting someone from making decisions for themselves is never acceptable, and removing a book from a recommended list because it might upset someone on a visceral level is certainly not something I expected from Bitch Media. Particularly because this is a list for YA feminist readers.
As for old skool romance and the presence of rape, I’m more than glad that rape and forced seduction are not longer an expected and perennial part of the romances I read. That said, I also recognize and have stated that those books were written during a period of extreme sexual ambiguity and ambivalence for women readers, and the rape narrative at that time may have served a different purpose and created a different reaction. In other words, if the reader at that time was not always able to relate to a heroine who experienced sexual activity because she CHOSE that sexual activity, and therefore had that activity thrust upon her, that perspective informed the narratives that were written. I very much like heroines with sexual agency, because I enjoy sexual agency of my own. I also empathize with the position of readers 30+ years ago for whom that same sexual agency appeared impossible and indecent – and therefore I understand, though I don’t enjoy reading, the sexuality present in those romances. I’m beyond relieved that rape is not a standard element of romance fiction, but I also comprehend and acknowledge its presence, and the importance of its presence, in the genre’s history.
“That said, the excerpt I read of Sisters Red was definitely anti-feminist, placing the responsibility of getting attacked on the victims and saying they deserved to be killed because they were pretty and shallow.”
By all means, let’s judge the moral tenor of books based on EXCERPTS.
The excerpt I read had a second character, Silas, saying the same thing. That’s more than just an opinion.
I have not read any of the removed books, but when a work of art is “triggering,” that is, it causes the audience to experience extreme emotions, often calling up painful memories, it is usually because the work of art was extraordinarily successful in its portrayal of a traumatic experience. And we have a name for that phenomenon: catharsis.
? It says in Bitch’s press release that after they received complaints, they went back, read and reread the offending books and decided they didn’t want to recommend them. They based their decision on more than an excerpt.
I’m agreeing with them based on the excerpt I read, but they have read the entire thing and that is what they are basing their decision on.
It’s the same scene from the same characters’ POV. Scarlett has a personal arc, and so does Silas. But by all means, judge an entire book and what it accomplishes based on ONE paragraph.
Does it matter to the Bitchery that the “rape for vengeance” was perpetrated on MEN who GANG-RAPED her mother?
No, they recommended it, then withdrew the recommendation. That is not the same as choosing not to recommend it. When a book is removed from the library under the same protecting the mythical victims stance, it is not the same as the library having chosen not to buy the book.
I don’t understand where all this passion is coming from. Saying they should have done their homework better in the first place is a valid criticism. Saying they’re not allowed to correct their mistakes (or what they perceive to be their mistakes) is at the very least presumptuous.
As I said to Ron Hogan above, Bitch read and reread the book. My admittedly limited experience agrees with their analysis.
Still not censorship. And they still have the right to correct themselves and/or change their minds based on new (to them) information.
Matter in the sense that it is somehow justifiable? If that’s the meaning, I hope that the fact that it’s revenge doesn’t matter. If they’re culling books that they feel promote rape culture, then it would fall under that definition.
First, the threat of rape as the real punishment for a crime (as opposed to prison) is such a well-worn track of ugly in our culture that it becomes exhaustingly horribly to contemplate. It’s not just a threat, it’s something that happens to hundreds (probably thousands) of human beings every day around the world. It’s an abuse and an abrogation of human rights, it perpetuates the idea that punishment leads to correction, the trope feeds homophobia, and it also leads to the second point…
Second, the idea that it is ever justifiable to use sexual conduct as a weapon is part of rape culture and is another thing that allows people to justify rape of women, especially revenge or corrective rape.
So, yeah, I hope it doesn’t matter at all.
I’m a little confused why they don’t just add a little symbol to the books on the list that are trigger-y (like a ‘warning: rape/violence’ thing). Problem solved?
Ditto, @meoskop. Ditto tenfold.
I understand and respect victim fragility, both physical and psychological. But the tendency we have, as a society, of treating issues like rape and abuse with figurative kid gloves makes my heart hurt. I know not everyone can be “strong” (and don’t get me wrong—all survivors are strong); still, books like Tender Morsels, Living Dead Girl, and Sisters Red provide stepping stones toward strength and awareness by being blunt, discussing the “hard stuff.”
If a media outlet like Bitch Media won’t talk about rape—which is essentially what they’ve done by removing these three books from their wide-reaching YA list—who will?
Note: I have zero familiarity with Bitch Magazine or the books being discussed, so I’m just commenting on the story as presented here.
Didn’t a lot of people criticize Twilight for exactly the same kind of thing—portraying disturbing and unhealthy behavior without in-story commentary or discussion on how disturbing and unhealthy it was? I sure did.
I’m not making any judgement on Bitch putting this book on the list or subsequently removing it. I’m just saying, I think that was a valid criticism about Twilight; so, in and of itself (remember, I haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on whether it applies in this case), I don’t think that would be a ridiculous reason not to recommend a book as feminist.
No, I don’t want books to preach to me. I also don’t want them to assume I’m stupid and can’t figure things out for myself, or make my own judgements. But I very much prefer some in-story discussion or conflict when a character does something morally/ethically questionable—say, a character might be considered totally justified in killing someone (self-defense, to protect another person, etc.) but still questions her actions and what they say about her. It makes the story richer because it acknowledges moral grey areas—that people aren’t wholly good or wholly evil, etc. And when that doesn’t happen, when anything the heroes do seems to get a pass as justified, I always feel like something really compelling has been missed out on.
Of course Bitch magazine is allowed to retract items on its own list. And of course Smart Bitches (and, obviously, some authors on the list) can point out that this is the same kind of reasoning that is (other) cases of book-censorship. It would be one thing to not have put the books on in the first place, but to remove them is to practically brand them as anti-feminist. It sends an inarguably insulting message to those authors, too.
That said…I am glad to see The Blue Sword on the list. Or I would be, if the list had more integrity.
They’re not saying rape can’t be discussed. There’s at least one other book on the list I’ve read (even the title is a spoiler, but it’s book #4 if you’re interested) that is entirely about rape and its aftermath. Bitch said in their opinion one of the books validates rape. That’s very different.
And oh my god, if I’m reading this right, Tender Morsels has rape as something the heroes do? But it’s “okay” because the people they’re raping had raped someone else, so they deserved it? Please tell me I’m misinterpreting that, because holy shit that is not heroic.
Okay, so I don’t agree with many of the books on the list – Like Frankie Landu Banks – and there are many others I’ve not read yet, so I’m not going to comment on that.
But I do know that when you are putting together a list of whatever and you’re making it public, you have to stand behind it. It’s YOU that gives it credibility, and you have to stand behind it and it has to make sense to your identity as whatever-you-are who is writing the list – be that a critic, a blogger or whatever.
The only thing that has happened is that Bitch Magazine has lost it’s credibility, because it’s obvious they didn’t think their original list through. And that they don’t respect said list since they are willing to put and take out whatever whomever tells them to.
Amazing what people choose to read from the comments.
@SylviaSybil & everyone else:
Urdda badgers her mother Liga into revealing the identity of her (Urdda’s) father. Her father was one of the boys who raped Liga when Liga was about 16. That night, Urdda’s magic manifested while she was sleeping and the five men she cut out earlier in felt grew to life-size. These felt men then sodomized the five men who gang-raped Liga all those years ago. Urdda did not intentionally grew the felt men into life-size nor did she consciously make them sodomize the men. After it was revealed what happened to the men (again, this was done very circumspectly), Urdda was sent to Miss Dance to learn magic and how to control her magic. The men were not mentioned much again.
As much a good guy as Davit is, there is no hero in TENDER MORSELS, just heroines.
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