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What is the Opposite of "Clean"? Part II

You've probably heard that Laurie Halse Anderson's groundbreaking, life-saving book SPEAK is under attack again by a man who claims the content is pornographic because apparently all sex, even if its rape, is.

And you've probably read lots of blog entries defending Laurie's book and all books that deal with rape and other realities Mr. Wesley Scroggins would like us to pretend don't exist.

These entries have all been incredibly moving. But the one that is pressing most against my heart is Saundra Mitchell's post in which she heartbreakenly explains:

"And as I walked home, I cried- not because this man had just raped me. I cried because I was embarrassed, because I knew better than to talk to strangers, because it was my fault he did this dirty thing to me. I wasn’t going to tell my mother."

Can you imagine how a seven-year old girl came to the conclusion that what happened to her was dirty?

Ask Mr. Wesley Scroggins.

Ask the book banners.

Instead of thinking what happened to her was an act of horrific violence, her thought was that it was dirty. And she wasn't going to tell her parents it happened.

Three years ago, I wrote a post here called, What is the Opposite of Clean?" There was a great discussion in the comments.

I wonder if it's time to have it again.

I know the people who make "CLEAN BOOKS" lists are well intentioned. This is not an attack or accusation. It's a plea for all of us to think about the potential power of our words.

Couldn't we think of a better, more accurate term to describe books that don't contain sex or swears? Because I am very worried that the message, whether intended or not, is that any book that does not fall in this category contains something dirty. So it must be bad. It must be wrong.

And I wonder how that makes the 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% of girls in grades 9-12 who have been sexually assaulted* and see these classifications in her school or public library feel about the secret she's keeping right now.

The opposite of clean is dirty.

When we hold books up because they are "clean" we're implying that there must be something wrong with or bad about the other books. And what does that tell these girls? There must be something wrong with or bad about you.

Words are powerful. Mr. Scroggins shows us that. Laurie Halse Anderson shows us that. And Saundra Mitchell shows us that.

Why can't we just call these books "sex-free" or "swear-free"?

Why can't we just be honest?

Thanks for listening.


Monday Morning Warm-Up: Speak

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( 50 comments — Leave a comment )
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Sep. 20th, 2010 12:32 pm (UTC)
And therein lies the real question...Why can't we just be honest about the tough subjects? Great post this morning
Sep. 20th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
I think the answer is FEAR. But of what?

Thanks for your comment. :-)
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
I hate those lists. I'm a girl who found Christ at 18. After a drunken sexual assault. After an emotionally abused childhood. After the death of a parent and the trauma of abandonment.

Those lists are saying, we don't want to know. We don't want to see. You (and your experience) are not valuable; in fact, you are to be feared. It's like the toddler sitting in the middle of the room with his eyes closed: if I can't see you, you're not there. Where is the love of God in that?

Life is not "clean" even for Christians. And the Bible says this will be the case.

I admire an effort to be a good parent, to monitor your own children's exposure, to discuss the real world with them. That is not the same thing as pulling a curtain over that world. We will always be in the world, but we don't have to be of it. Don't curse, don't do those things that you find abhorrent. But other people will and you cannot escape that, nor should you. These are the people we are called to love, these are the pieces of a broken world we are to be the light for. Don't shy away because it's messy and uncomfortable. Jesus died on a cross for your sin, and you can't bear to be a little uncomfortable?

Jessica Tudor
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for giving such a thoughtful reply. It means a lot.
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post, Jo. You're absolutely right. Words are so powerful, and categorizing some books as clean which clearly means others are dirty, creates unavoidable and dangerous associations in readers's minds.
There is so much to learn and experience in books. And books which deal with sensitive subjects are such a wonderful way of teaching children about the terrible things that exist in the world. A non-judgmental, safe, non-lecturing, non-patronizing way which allows the reader to come to their own conclusions and take in as much or as little information as they desire. Books can prepare children for life, they can also let a child know that she/he is not alone, and that others (even if they are only fictional characters) have had the same experience.
I think that sometimes a book can serve to open up communication for a child who is harboring a terrible secret.
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:26 pm (UTC)
Yes, yes, and yes. Thanks!
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)
There is nothing wrong or bad about me, and SPEAK saved my life.

Thank you so much for posting this, Jo.
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - stephwooten - Sep. 21st, 2010 10:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
Rape is not an act of sex. It is an act of violence. Sex is consensual. When we call rape or assault sex, we imply consent, which places blame on the victim.

Sep. 20th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:21 pm (UTC)
My twitter feed is still full of #SpeakLoudly tweets and retweets, many of which contain links to great blog posts like these. It's amazing that there's so much support for Speak. I told some of my friends about the controversy yesterday, and they want to read the book now. Reading and spreading the word are the best weapons we have. Nobody has the right to silence Melinda now that she has finally learned to speak. I will be passing my copy around.

Woot for speaking loudly!
Sep. 20th, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing!!!!
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
I hope we are all very LOUD.


P.S. It's Saundra Mitchell (you have Sandra). :-)
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:28 pm (UTC)
Ack! I knew that. Fixed! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
Sep. 20th, 2010 01:27 pm (UTC)
Well said.
Sep. 20th, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC)
Thanks :)
Sep. 20th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)
This is a great reminder to watch our words -- and although I use the terminology of 'sweet' books for those which are sex, violence, and swearing free, it still makes me wonder if I should just use a plainer terminology. Thank you for thought-provoking posts!
Sep. 20th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks for commenting. :-)
Sep. 20th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
Fantastic post, Jo. Thank you for the reminder that terminology really, really matters.
Sep. 20th, 2010 04:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks Jessica!
Sep. 20th, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post, Jo. This is a good example of using a blog to shine light. And I'm glad to see the Deliciously Clean blog changed its name to Homespun Light and I wonder if your earlier discussion influenced that.

This is such an upsetting discussion and we can use all the light we can get, even the hard, cold light that reveals that for some, a description of rape is a turn-on. I feel sick typing that but I think the freer we are to discuss all this, the more people have access to books like SPEAK, the fewer little girls will want to hold it all inside, like Saundra's heartbreaking example.
Sep. 20th, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)
I did not realize they changed their name. This makes me SO happy!!!
Sep. 20th, 2010 07:04 pm (UTC)

Jo, you are such an amazing speaker on behalf of banned books. And on behalf of the kids who read them . . . and need the message within them.

My heart goes out to Saundra Mitchel . . .
Sep. 20th, 2010 11:00 pm (UTC)
Thanks Tam.

So sad to miss you this weekend. But hopefully we'll catch up soon.

Sep. 20th, 2010 07:35 pm (UTC)
This bothers me, a lot.

My sister never recommended me very many books, and let me borrow even less. The few times she did, though, were amazing. I was in sixth grade when my sister entered my room and gave me Speak, telling me that I should read it. Because of the rarity of this request, I started right away...and didn't finish until late, even though it was a school night. Usually I'm very good about saying, "Ok, that's enough, bed time," so the fact that I didn't that time really said something.

Speak quickly became one of my favorite books. While there were certain aspects that I couldn't personally relate to (while I've known people who've been raped, I never have been), I could relate to feeling like a complete outcast. I could relate to having this secret so horrible that you kept your mouth shut, partly because you were afraid of the consequences of telling people, partly because you didn't want to admit it even to yourself. And how keeping that secret started eating you up inside. Speak became my comfort book, one that I was reading constantly.

I had been abused as a child for many years. I didn't even admit it to myself until I was fifteen, I didn't admit it to other people until I was sixteen, I didn't actually actively DO something about ending it until I was seventeen, and it wasn't until recently that I was even able to say it like this.

Speak changed my life.

(somehow I feel like I went horribly off topic. I'm sorry, if that's the case)
Sep. 20th, 2010 11:01 pm (UTC)
I'm so sorry you were abused. HUGS. SPEAK has saved so many lives. We can hardly imagine, I bet, just how many. I'm glad it helped you, too.
Sep. 20th, 2010 10:26 pm (UTC)
I've been trying to write a post about this for my own blog, but every time I start typing, I get so angry that my mind shuts down.

I'm a survivor and a Christian, and it makes my blood boil when I see people using Christ as a weapon this way. Maybe if I'd had a book like Speak when I was younger, I would have healed a lot faster.

I wonder if Mr. Scroggins has even read his Bible. Does he realize Dinah is raped in it? Does he know there's incest? Homosexuality? If he considers Speak soft pornography (I feel like throwing up even typing that), what must he think of the Song of Solomon, which is at times quite erotic? By his standards, children should be kept from reading the Bible, too...

Sep. 20th, 2010 11:02 pm (UTC)
HUGS. I'm so sorry. Great points about the Bible. Thank you for sharing. HUGS again.
Sep. 21st, 2010 12:03 am (UTC)
Pardon me for rambling
I also think of this with "nice" vs. "naughty" and "good girls" vs. "bad girls."

And I think of how, when we were in college and rape was such a prominent issue that we women felt like we had targets painted on our backs, the advice we always got was: Don't walk alone after dark. (Dark, in the winter, came at 4:30 pm.) Don't walk down certain streets. Hold your keys a certain way, carry yourself a certain way, etc. I know it was meant to make us feel like we had a little bit of control over the situation, but I always wondered: How come society just keeps telling women to restrict *our* mobility and alter *our* behavior?
In fairness, shortly afterward, date-rape education efforts focused on both sexes and drew very clear lines about expectations and what "consent" really means. Still, when a rape was rumored to have occurred, several people commented to me that the woman in question should not have been walking where she was walking when she was assaulted.
And I mention all this because I think it ties in to shame and guilt and the whole "dirty" feeling with which we're burdened.

On a separate track, I don't think books with characters who are voluntarily sexually active are "dirty" either. Coping with the physical development and emotional attraction is a big part of adolescence, and it can be explored spiritually, humorously, awkwardly, happily, reluctantly, or a hundred other ways--none of them necessarily dangerous, irresponsible, or "pornographic."
Or we can just try pretending that part of life doesn't exist, as many would prefer, but that doesn't mean it will go away.
Sep. 21st, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
Re: Pardon me for rambling
So many good points. Thanks for all the food for thought. Although, I think you made my blood pressure go up again. :-)
Sep. 21st, 2010 12:15 am (UTC)
Thanks for this post, Jo. I've worked with and had as students many abuse survivors and they need books to connect to that cover a wide range of experiences.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks Paul. I agree!
Sep. 21st, 2010 01:02 am (UTC)
"Why can't we be honest?" is the best question of all. We have to be honest. Because young readers know when we're not.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
So true.
Sep. 21st, 2010 02:22 am (UTC)
This is an excellent, excellent point and one I hadn't thought of before. You're 10000% right. Our words mean something, and we need to use them correctly.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Sep. 21st, 2010 04:01 am (UTC)
What's so enraging is that Scroggins and his ilk claim to be protecting girls like Saundra, yet it is their very attitude that heaps metric tons of shame on their heads. It makes me livid. One of the few tools we have in our arsenal to counteract this are books like SPEAK, which help girls begin to understand that they are NOT dirty, that none of this is their fault.

When I am Queen of the Universe, I plan to abolish shame altogether. It is the most hideous, useless emotion on the planet and almost always does more harm than good.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
It's incredibly frustrating. :(
Sep. 21st, 2010 09:11 am (UTC)
Hot Topic Tuesday: Speak Loudly Against Censorship
User thecontemps referenced to your post from Hot Topic Tuesday: Speak Loudly Against Censorship saying: [...] heard about what I'm calling the Wesley Scroggins Crazytrain Manifesto coming out of Republic, Missouri. Lots of readers, authors, librarians, and other book lovers (many from Missouri! Non-whackos repre sent!) have come forward to show support against the proposed ban of Speak, Twenty Boy Summer, and Slaughterhouse Five, and for that, thank you!

I've already shared my thoughts-slash-rants on the Twenty Boy Summer issue over here, but I also have a few words about Speak, and why free access to it is so important for teens. Check it out.

The Contemps Speak Loudly

Here are some additional thoughts from fellow Contemps on the Speak Loudly fight:Jo Knowles: What's the Opposite of "Clean"? Part II [...]
Sep. 21st, 2010 10:45 am (UTC)
Thanks for this post, Jo.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC)
Nice to see you, Linda! It's been too long! xoxo
Sep. 21st, 2010 02:41 pm (UTC)
Beautifully put, Jo. I wish we could find better words, or better yet a whole new way of looking at these things. I remember receiving a review from a library system about my own first book, and one of the categories on the form was "wholesome." And even though my book got a tick in that box, I felt yucky about what was being said (and not said) on that form.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC)
I know what you mean. Thanks for commenting. <3
Sep. 21st, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
excellent post.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading!
Sep. 21st, 2010 07:45 pm (UTC)
I'm late to the discussion, Jo, but want to thank you for writing so clearly and specifically to the issue.

Let's all stop dancing around our intentions.
Sep. 21st, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC)
Sep. 25th, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
[links] Elizabeth Moon, Wiscon, and Speak censorship
User carlamlee referenced to your post from [links] Elizabeth Moon, Wiscon, and Speak censorship saying: [...] who could be your sister, your niece, your daughter. : "What is the Opposite of "Clean"? Part II" [...]
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