Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speaking Up About SPEAK

Last night, I was alerted to the usual book banning crowd rising up, as they do every September during Banned Books Week, to spew incorrect information about wonderful literature based on their own limited ideas of what is "good" and "appropriate" for your children and my children to read. I was alerted via a post on a bookseller's blog in which she quoted one of these banners completely misrepresenting one of the more important books for teens I've read in a long time--SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Laurie wrote about this situation today, and I'd like very much if you could read her blog because it will give you an idea of what's going on and why I'm writing this post. I agree with Laurie that anyone who considers rape a "pornographic sex act" has a really messed-up and disturbing view of sexuality. More importantly for me, why anyone would spend time banning books when news stories like this are still commonplace (That's a link to last week's ABC story about how 1 in 4 girls will be the victim of rape or attempted rape before they graduate college...and this is a rough estimate. Most in the field estimate the ratio to be closer to 1 in 3) is beyond me. Let me tell you, if I had time on my hands and wanted to restore morality to the world, I'd try to bring attention to this blatantly overlooked epidemic in our society. Rape. It's still happening. A lot. Not just to girls, either. And if one in four people in our community had swine flu or the measles or bed bugs the press would be FREAKING OUT.

So what about those young people who are survivors of rape? What about the young girls and boys who have already had this happen to them? How do they feel in this society where people judge them for what happened to this society where we can't talk openly about this invisible epidemic? I wrote an essay about SPEAK last year as my answer to this question. I'll share it below.

This essay first appeared at the blog Presenting Lenore during SPEAK's 10th anniversary.

A.S. King Speaks Up About Speak

I was thirty-eight when I first read SPEAK. From the minute I started, the book had me hooked and I read it in one sitting. I suppose part of the reason I was hooked was to see Melinda say or do something about what had happened to her. I remember hearing the statistics back when I was in high school. One out of four women and girls is raped or sexually assaulted. I remember mentally lining up the girls in my gym class. xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX. That’s a lot of girls walking around with a secret burning through their souls—a secret they never asked for or deserved. A secret with its own secrets.

One scene that really sticks out from SPEAK for me is the scene in the art room where IT arrives and starts talking to her. When he says, “Hello? Anyone home? Are you deaf?” it’s just such a moment of raw emotion as a reader. I want to reach into the book and pull him out and somehow show him that he’s done this to a person—to more than one person. I want to show him that he has ruined people.

Melinda asks, “Why am I so afraid?” and I am there with her, equally afraid and quiet.

Two chapters later, Melinda is home sick, watching daytime TV, in the chapter entitled Oprah, Sally Jesse, Jerry and Me. Halfway through that page, there is a single question. “Was I raped?”

Oprah and Sally Jesse answer the question for us. They tell Melinda that this was not her fault. They tell her that she needs to get these feelings and these thoughts of guilt and self-blame out. This had to be one of the best writing vehicles I’ve read in a long time. Because in real life, we don’t usually talk about uncomfortable things unless it’s sensationalized to the point of TV talk shows, and, in most cases, victims like Melinda are silent. xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX xxxX. There are so many.

What Laurie Halse Anderson did when she wrote and published SPEAK, is a favor to all of us—victims or not. She allowed us to talk about something that’s systematically ignored. She allowed us to inspect this secret our society keeps hidden, and by doing so, she freed a great many women and girls from a quiet hell, no matter how normal they acted in public. For so many women, SPEAK is a ticket.

If there is anything I've learned from working alongside survivors during my yearly local V-Day, it's that girls and women in our society are not encouraged to heal from this horror they have endured, generation after generation. What I've learned from SPEAK and from V-Day and Eve Ensler, who has dedicated her life to victims of rape, is that the only way to get from VICTIM to SURVIVOR is to start talking.

Is to....SPEAK.

Rock on, Laurie. You wrote a beautiful book that helps tens of thousands of people. My new book, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, explores exactly what a culture of censorship and forced ignorance can lead to and is a call to speak up about the things you see that are WRONG. This book banning man and his sick and perverted ideas about rape and his attempt to ban wonderful books is wrong.

Some exist to tear things down. Others exist to build things up. Let us continue to build.


Brittany Landgrebe said...

You said this better than I could have.

Every year I read The Giver by Lois Lowry. Today, I add Speak to that tradition.

April (BooksandWine) said...

Thank you for this.

I tried to write something sort of like this, but eloquence failed me and I wound up cussing and posting with anger. Granted, rape and rape culture is something to be angry about.

It just makes me so hopping mad that anyone could liken rape to pornography. It angers me that someone could callously sweep the experiences of survivors under the rug like that.

Thank you for posting this and SPEAKING LOUDLY.

A.S. King said...

Thanks, ladies.

I know a lot of survivors. I was concerned about rape and our tendency to hide it over 25 years ago and it bothered me then. The fact that it's only become worse has saddened me--putting it lightly. Which is why I choose to do what I can for V-Day and other organizations locally who help ACTUAL RAPE VICTIMS.

You have every right to be angry, April. We all should be angry.

As for the rape = porn angle.
I got letters like that too, about the rape scene in my first novel. How ANYONE could consider that "sex" or "porn" is beyond me. Rape is an act of violence that comes from a need for power. It really has nothing to do with sex.
It's a way to demoralize another human being and feel more powerful.

If that's what some people consider "sex" or "porn" then I am glad I do not understand them!

Barbara Caridad Ferrer said...

Rock on, girlfriend. Great post, great essay, and you're just great, overall.

Amy Kathleen Ryan said...

Awesome post. I think it's vitally important for writers to stand up to censorship. If we don't, more and more books will be banned, and kids looking for some solace for their very real problems won't find it. It makes me so sad what can happen in this country when a dummy grabs the microphone.

Pam Pho said...

Fantastic essay.

A.S. King said...

Thanks guys.
I have to say what really moved me yesterday was the open and real discussion that was had about rape and sexual abuse.
That is so rare!
And so wonderful to have--right there on Twitter.
I write many essays about the silent epidemic of rape, so this, for me, was a huge win, even though it's another book being challenged and another hurdle for books and free speech. I just LOVED that it was being DISCUSSED.

So so important.