Bitch Media Feminist Reading List #Fail

6 years ago

The first rule of a must-read list is that you must be prepared to stand by and defend the items on your list when you put it out on the World Wide Web. This is not Fight Club, we're allowed to talk about things and yes even disagree with them. Unfortunately I think Bitch Media missed rule number one when they created, and then edited, their list of "100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader".

We’ve put together a whopping 100 of our favorite young adult novels, featuring kick-ass teens and inspiring feminist themes. These stories will empower teenage and adult readers alike.

First I have to say that overall I think their list is good. It has some of my personal favorites on there, like E.L. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and the graphic novel The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg. It's not the same list that I would have made. For example I'd never put The Island of the Blue Dolphins on that list, not because I don't think it's a good feminist read but because I simply hate it. (I know, I know, it's much beloved by many of you. I still hate it.)

Is it a perfect list? No, I don't think such a beast exists. There is always going to be someone who doesn't like a book that you selected or who thinks that you missed a book that should have been on there. It's just how it goes, which is why you need to be able to stand by and, if needed, defend your choices. And that's exactly what Bitch Media didn't do.

Colleen has a timeline of events on her blog Chasing Ray but here's what happened in a nutshell. There were books on the list that people didn't like/appreciate/didn't think should be on the list, and they expressed their opinions in the comments and via email. Jackson Pierce's Sisters Red, a retelling of Red Riding Hood, received complaints because it ignited a rape culture debate after Book Smugglers reviewed the book last year. The conversation on Book Smugglers is really good. I haven't read Sisters Red, but I plan to and after I do I plan to go back and re-read that conversation.

There were also objections raised against Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels. Again, I haven't read the book though I have read many reviews of the book. I know that it deals with dark themes and I know that many people loved it. In this case the objections were raised in regards to rape being used as vengeance.

The third book that received objections was Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott. Once again, I haven't read this book and unlike the other books mentioned, I don't plan to read it. It's about a girl who is kidnapped and spends five years being abused by her captor. I've been told it's a powerful story but it's not one that I particularly care to read. The objections to this one? It's been described as "torture porn."

I can't defend any of these books because I haven't read them. I know that all three books deal with tough subject matter. I know that all three books have themes or scenes that can be triggering. The question is really about whether or not these are good books but whether they belong be on this list, a conversation you assume happened behind the scenes at Bitch Media since they did appear on the list. After receiving the complaints, the Bitch Media editing staff took the weekend to reread (or in some cases, read) the novels and when they finished they decided to pull the books from their list.

I was surprised, even momentarily speechless. When I regained my voice all I wanted to do was quote Smart Bitch Sarah, "Bitch please. No really, please."

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?” awesomesauce.

I felt, well, let down by Bitch Media. I want to be very clear when I say this -- this is not censorship. They are not banning these books. This isn't an anti-censorship thing. They are removing a recommendation, and yes, it does bother me. I'm disappointed. They had a great opportunity to stand up and say, "Yes, there are things in these books that we may not like. There are things in these books that maybe disturbing to some readers. But there are also great things in these books, which is why we choose them, and those great things are [insert great things here]." They didn't do that. This is what they said (emphasis original):

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.

The more I read it the more I'm bothered by their statement. "In certain circumstances" they will recommend the books to me. Do I need to pass a test? Fill out a questionnaire? Show them my Big Girl Panties? Do I need a note from a psychiatrist stating that I can mentally handle the content in these novels? Or perhaps I need a note from my mommy?

When I look at their list I see at least one book that has the potential to do me far more damage than any of the three they removed. Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls, a story about a two girls with eating disorders, was one of the hardest books I've ever read. It was also one of the best books I read in 2009. It had the potential to plunge me back into the my old disordered eating patterns. I didn't need someone to pat my head and tell me it could trigger me. Hell, I don't even need a book to trigger me. All I need is a low bank account balance before I start eyeing my pantry and trying to figuring out how long I can last on the food in there and wondering how many meals a day I should cut back on. I don't need someone to stroke my hair and say, "Well, it's a good book, but we will only recommend it to you if you can prove to us that you are going to be okay." (Note: I'm fine. Both me and my bank account are healthy these days.)

If we were to remove every book from their list that had the potential to trigger someone it would be a very, very short list. Yes, even The Island of the Blue Dolphins could hit the chopping block. Abandonment issues anyone?

As I said before, this isn't a censorship issue. What it is a lack of confidence in their own choices and an unwillingness to defend those choices. I'm sorry, but I expected more from Bitch Media. I'll happily send some reading recommendations and a new pair of Big Girl Panties.

What do you think of Bitch Media's list? What do you think of their decision to remove the titles from their list?

Contributing Editor Karen Ballum also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

Photo Credit: Knopf | Original to BlogHer.

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