Oh, the kids book corner of the Internet exploded again. See, Bitch Magazine published a list called “100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader.” And some books were removed after people complained about the presentation of rape in them–including Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels because the authors of the list (who had never actually read it before) decided the book “validates (by failing to critique or discuss) characters who use rape as an act of vengeance…” And then some other authors asked that their books be taken down, and, well, there you go. Colleen at Chasing Ray tells the whole story–and it’s really worth a read.
I’d be curious to know what you think of the list. Despite authors removing their books, it still stands at 100, and given that the original list included many books that no one making it bothered to read, one can only imagine the last minute scrambling–Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret! That’s got a chick in it, right?
Of course it’s not easy to determine what makes a book–or anything else–feminist or not. The introduction to the list cites “kick-ass teens” and “inspiring feminist themes,” that will, naturally, “empower” the reader. I’m not sure what an inspiring feminist theme is, really–though I suggest to the authors of the list that having the courage to stand behind your words might be one–but surely that’s not the only thing that can make a book feminist, and to equate feminism only with empowerment and inspiring themes Lifetime-izes the whole project. I don’t think Laurie Halse Anderson’s sophisticated, devastating Wintergirls, for instance, qualifies under any of these criteria–it’s a facile reading that calls it “empowering”– yet I would say its aesthetic is wholly feminist.
To make a list and then remove books because a couple commenters complained is to say, essentially, that a feminist reader is not capable of critiquing for him or herself. But its antithetical to the very nature of feminism to only allow works that tell the reader what to think. It seems more pertinent to take these themes–whether inspiring or not–reveal them for their complexity, and ask the reader to think about them. The act of presenting something dark and terrible demands that readers critique it for themselves, and in fact empowers them to do so–just as they should do with the world around them. Or maybe Lanagan should have had those characters die in a car accident at the end so we know what they did was bad.
The entire reason for this post, though, is to highlight this quote from Margo Lanagan on the whole kerfuffle, which says a great deal, not just about feminism, but about the work of fiction:
Fiction is a means to make parts of the world visible in all its complexity and ambiguity, not cover up its nasty bits and hope they’ll go away. Fiction (particularly fantasy fiction) provides a safe place where uncertainties can be considered and explored.
There we go. Feminism: it doesn’t cover up the nasty bits.