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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Bitch Magazine discussion from Pandora.

Several days ago my friend sent me the list to Bitch Magazine's list of 100 Young Adult books for the feminist YA reader. I thought it was a great list and got a lot of great recommendations from it. There were one or two which I found to be problematic, most notably the inclusion of Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce. I never reviewed the novel because The Book Smugglers did a much better job of doing so than I ever could have. They discussed the perpetuation of rape culture and victim blaming, most notably displayed in one scene where one of the sisters, a wolf hunter, comments on the scantily dressed, make up wearing young girls the wolves prey upon, asking if they'd dress the way they do if they knew wolves were going to attack them for it. Like Ana and Thea, I was disgusted by this part of the book and it ruined any further enjoyment the story may have given me because I couldn't get that image out of my head of someone shaking their finger at a young woman, telling her she should have known better than to wear that dress or dance like that or have a few drinks. It was rape culture of the highest order. I didn't think it was meant deliberately on Pearce's part but reality and intent are often so far away and the fact that it's become the norm in our society to have such attitudes says a lot about the way we perpetuate lazy stereotypes and myths. So I commented on Bitch as Pandora (I've been studying a lot of Greek tragedy lately for my course so I used that name, plus it's easier to pronounce than Ceilidh) expressing my concern and they took the book off the list. I didn't ask them to do that but they made the judgement call and they have the right to stick by it.

A few other books came off, notably Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, which I haven't read, and YA writers got pissed off. Maureen Johnson requested that her books be removed from the list too, citing some sort of YA author solidarity. Since I took particular offence to her calling the discussion on Bitch's website 'waffling' I thought I'd reply, first on Twitter and now here.

I don't think Sisters Red is feminist YA. I understand that such a definition is subjective but when a book perpetuates a norm of victim blaming and rape culture like that does then I can't possibly support it. I understand there's a massive difference between reality and intent and @ didn't mean it but then the story just reeks of lazy writing and easy conveniences - pretty girls should know better, wearing short skirts is bad, the victim is partially responsible when SHE NEVER IS! - and still perpetuates that rape culture that's permeated our society to the point where sometimes we miss it. @ didn't miss it & I applaud them for it. Besides that, the book also clearly favours the pretty passive sister who is easy to love over the damaged, scarred older sister who is more interesting but harder to write which I didn't think was fair. The way so many YA authors are reacting to this action is embarrassing. I know they're cliquey but that doesn't mean they can't question each other's work. I didn't ask for Bitch to remove Sisters Red from the list, they made that desicion. It wasn't bad journalism as some said. Obviously, if everyone at Bitch had read every book that would have been better but here we are. Frankly, throwing a hissy fit over this and calling Bitch and their commenters' discussions waffling won't solve anything. Why don't we fucking discuss the positive and problematic areas of YA and feminism together instead of throwing our toys out the pram? Bitch made a judgement call based on genuine concerns. They have a high standard to live up to and rightly so. They didn't tell people not to read the book and neither did I, they didn't call for it to be removed from bookshelves of from other websites, they didn't censor anything. They made a journalistic decision to remove something they saw as potentially problematic from their list. Simple as that. If YA authors think this is some form of waffling censorship then they're sorely mistaken.

Pandora's going to keep the box open on this and welcomes further discussion. The industry deserves at least that much.

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Sean Wills said...

I haven't read Sisters Red, but that Book Smugglers review would make me agree that it probably shouldn't have been on the list.

The removal of Tender Morsels surprises me, though, because it's a much, much more nuanced and realistic portrayal of rape than what you'd usually get in YA. The entire story is permeated with a sense of outrage over what happens to the main character (and to women in general) in a society that blames the victims of rape rather than the perpetrators. It's the exact opposite of something like Sisters Red.

Of course, it's entirely possible that I'm missing some aspect of the novel's interpretation. It's been almost entirely neglected by the YA blogosphere (go figure), so I'm afraid I haven't had much chance to discuss it with anyone.

(Oh, and the complaint that removing Sisters Red et al. from the list is 'akin to book banning' is completely absurd.)

Anonymous said...

You're right. This IS embarrassing, not for me personally, but as a lover of YA. It's disheartening to see authors behaving like this, like we can't have a conversation without just throwing our hands up and moving to separate corners of the lunch room.

I know YA authors are cliquey. But this is ridiculous. I'm watching authors react on blog posts and Twitter feeds, and I'm just shocked. Bitch Magazine has a right to publish what they see fit--and un-publish it, as the case may be. This is no more censorship than a TV advert sponsor pulling funds from an unpopular show.

R.R. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R.R. said...

Blagh, spelling errors.

Anyways, I saw the list and pretty much agreed with removing Sister's Red. Which is what Bitch magazine did. It was within their rights to do so, it is their list after all.

And then Smart Bitches Trashy Books posts this:

And now I just want to ram my head up against the wall repeatedly.

Feminists are at each other's throat over a fucking list. People decrying censorship that isn't censorship and fucking "THIS ISN'T MYYYY FEMINISM" everywhere.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the removal of Sister's Red; though I haven't read the book, the reasons you gave for it being non-feministic seem logical enough. The YA clique thing is rather bizarre. I know that people make friends and such working in the industry together, but criticism is such an important part of anything literary that I can't understand the aversion of it that modern authors seem to have. Critical discussion and debate are so thought-provoking and useful to both critics and the writer that it's silly to expect everyone to like something or shut up.

When my WIP is done and published, I'm sure that there will be people who dislike it, and that's fine. Everyone as an individual has individual tastes. But if I saw some criticism that was really noteworthy I would certainly take it into consideration and try to improve as a writer. Why is that concept tabboo in the market nowadays? It seems that most books aren't even edited properly anymore because we can't be "mean" to writers or something.

To get a bit back on topic, I'm of mixed thoughts about Tender Morsels. I've only read parts of it on Amazon and such, and I personally wouldn't read it just because I find it to be disturbing. I read a lot in general and know enough about the topic that I don't feel that I *need* to read the book to gain further understanding. On the other hand, I'm sure there are people who might gain from reading it. It's just not my taste, and furthermore I'm really surprised it's considered to be YA.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm very disappointed that you're the one who wrote the comment that precipitated this. I understand that you weren't asking them to remove the books and that it wasn't your intent, but it seems like you think they made a good decision, and they really didn't.

One person finds a book problematic, so take it off the list? No, it's not literally "censorship," but it does encourage every other person with an agenda (some considerably less thoughtful than yours) to complain loudly until books they don't like get removed from other lists. I can well understand why other authors are upset.

Also, does a character expressing a troubling viewpoint necessarily mean that is the author's viewpoint or that the book endorses it?

(I'd sign in with my LJ account but blogspot isn't taking my OpenID credentials for some reason.)

Anonymous said...

From what I've read about it, I agree with the authors pulling out. I think that posting that list without explanation to why the books were picked, without explaining what they're defining as a feminist book, and without reading all of the selections (?!) makes it fairly useless, and then quickly swapping out books without a thorough discussion makes it an embarrassment. I can see why Sisters Red would be removed, but it should have been discussed and debated, and frankly, if they hadn't read the book, it never should have made the list. I think that the real problematic one was Tender Morsals, however, and one removed for being "triggering" when plenty of other books on the list dealt with triggering material and something that's triggering doesn't mean it's not feminist. Basically, it was handled badly and YA authors were embarrassed to be on the list.

KMont said...

If someone feels a book might not belong somewhere like this list (not speaking about in libraries, etc.), why shouldn't they speak up? Can't that be construed as an opener for discussion or some dialogue? Why not debate this issue instead of looking to blame folks. I don't personally know if I'd vote for Sisters Red to be or not be anywhere when talking about things like this list, haven't read it, but taking it off that list isn't going to make it unavailable anywhere. I'm trying to see all sides here, but this is all a little mind boggling because it's just a list. And from what I can gather today, it's not even that important of one. Just one site's way of rec'ing some books - unless I'm mistaken about that, I could be. I've asked on Twitter, too, if this list has some kind of power, but so far no one seems to think it does.

I don't understand why blame is being placed on someone like the author of this post. The people at Bitch Media alone made their decisions. It ALL rests on them.

Anonymous said...

I'm with KMont on this one. It seems like a really unimportant issue that is getting blown up a whole bunch. There's no reason for anyone to get outraged just because they didn't make a list, or got taken off of it after further review. It's just a list. There are other lists.

What gets me is the accusation that this decision was made without any thought put into it. I'm sure those who made the list actually put a good deal of thought into which books should and shouldn't make the list, and when others added in their two cents they listened to their feedback and made adjustments as necessary. I get the feeling that no matter how many people scream "Why isn't Hush, Hush on the list!?" they will not cave in. This isn't a sign that they will crumple at the first sign of opposition. It is a sign that they are flexible and willing to listen to feedback.

I just think that people are making a mountain out of a molehill here.

Mismikado said...

This whole issue has raised so many thoughts and emotions for me and I really have no way of expressing all of them. I have to say, I strongly agree with Colleen Mondor's rundown of the events that took place {}.
And basically all I can say is that I always took pride in being an independent strong minded woman. I'm related to Gloria Anzaldua for goodness sake... her first book "Borderlands" was dedicated to my grandmother who was one or the most amazing women I ever met. Yet, I do not want to be associated with the word "feminism". For me all these comments on Bitch serve proof that men are right when they say women are contradictory and illogical.
How can we on one hand ream today's media for over-sexualizing women, for turning us into sex symbols used only for male pleasure (Feminist Frequency has post many videos to this regard) while being upset that a book discusses that girls may dress in a way that attracts predators? Yes the characters of Sister Red may have voiced opinions that sounded like some girls deserve to be raped for how they dress/act. That is not true! No one deserves to be raped! But we are being so ignorant as women if we honestly do not think how we present ourselves will affect how men will look at us. We can in fact turn ourselves into sex symbols!
When I see 10 yo girls wearing heavy make-up, mini skirts, and tank tops at the mall with their friends without adult supervision, I cringe! Because these girls are the perfect targets for bad men. No it's not their fault but they should be educated in taking precautions. If you don't want random strangers having sexual thoughts about you when they see you, don't dress/behave in a sexual manner. Men will have these thoughts either way, why give them the extra ammo? It's like handing a loaded gun to a known serial killer and then saying, "I don't know why he picked me as his next victim."
Don't mistake what I am saying: In a perfect world, women should be able to dress/act/do whatever they want without fear of attack or rape. Unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world. It's not degrading to women to say we should use some common sense and avoid dangerous situations. It's called being smart.

Anonymous said...

So some of you haven't even read the book sisters red, but are already condemning it? Really? A crappy review at book smugglers is all it takes for you to write the book off? Truly idiotic!

BTW, the people who have read the book should really get their heads out of their asses. Sure, Scarlett is bitter, angry, and flawed. That's what makes her such a great character! She is not your typical interchangeable, insipid, perfect female heroine. She has flaws just like all of you! If you guys hadn't been so heavily engrossed in your self-righteousness you might have picked up on the fact that even though Scarlett is pretty hard on these girls, somewhere she also envies them. Her view of these girls just stems from her anger that she can never ever be like them.

Anonymous said...

MisMikado I agree with a lot of what you've said. I think the problem is, however, that we place all the burden on the women to shape their behaviour so that they don't get raped, rather then on the men who rape them (or wolves who kill them, however you want to phrase that metaphor). That is what is especially problematic in rape culture and Sisters Red.

Mismikado said...

Anonymous I completely agree that not enough punishment is placed on rapists and therefore men do not see how wrong it is. As harsh as this sounds I feel any person who has committed an act of rape or pedophilia should have the words "sex offender" tattooed on their forehead. That way everyone is warned and others are dissuaded from being like that.
Unfortunately human rights laws prevent that and while known sex offenders have to be registered they estimate 4 out of 5 sex offenders are not. Those numbers are staggering. And if you pull up the local registered sex offender ratio for your area you may be shocked. These men are all around us. That's why we as women, we do have the burden to protect ourselves.
No matter what anyone wants to believe, when under attack very few women are strong enough to get away. Therefore we need to take precautions to avoid being attacked. That is all I am trying to say.

Anonymous said...

(different anon) Mismikado:

Mismikado said...

Thanks for the link Anon and that article made some great points. I don't want people to think I am trying to place any blame on victims. I had to go to the police in college because a classmate sexually harassed me. I never once blamed myself and I identified his behavior as pre-rapist and prevented something worse from happening. That is the point I am trying to make. And that blog post admitted that "You can identify rapists, is the good news, and it’s exactly who you thought it was..." So once you suspect that "Nigel" is a potential rapist why would you let your guard down around him or entice him by dressing provocatively in his presence? Actions speak just as loud as words, you don't have to just say no to mean no. You can say no simply by how you behave around him.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I am surprised and disappointed to find out that it was you, Pandora, who started the whole bruhaha on "Bitch." I haven't read "Sisters Red," so I can't contribute to the discussion how anti-feminist it is or isn't. But the fact that it only took yours and Smugglers' complaint for them to completely discard the books is quite telling. I have read the other 2 books they banned and there was nothing anti-feminist about them.

As for YA "cliquishness," bashing the authors as well as other readers for defending genuinely good books is unfair.

But it's not really about books here IMO. We all, it appears, have different views on what is feminist and what is not. It's about your view about what happened on Bitch's site. I've respected your opinions, but honestly, your inability to see that what happened on Bitch was wrong and dismiss it as some YA authors' whinefest, is what is very disappointing.

Dark Spellmaster said...

I've been reading a lot of things about this, not only this blog but the author's blog on Tender Morsels and what's really confusing to me is this, why is it that the writers and readers are crying fowl over this list when there are other lists that can be far more damaging to them.

I have yet to read any of these books, I will look them up though to see them. I have read smuggler's peice and I have read some librarian's concerns on Tender so I'm as prepared as I can be at the moment to weigh in on this.

1. The scene with Scarlett, is it really perpetuating rape culture? Short answer is yes, long answer is, it's complicated. I can see why some say it's not perpetuating it since they point out that it's only the thoughts of one girl who's watching the group; but...and it's big but, and I'm not sure if the author noticed this in their writing, the line notes that the girls do not know about the wolves.

This scene is taking place outside a club, and club culture has it where you should were what is seen as expensive and what can make yourself look good. Now what's puzzling to me is the fact that if Scarlett is watching outside this club as a writer shouldn't the author have noted that it's normally part of club culture to were outfits that are more revealing to ooze looks and expense? So by claiming this isn't it being a bit illogical? You're saying that the girls should dress more conservitively, but at the same time you're placing them in an enviroment where the rules state you should be showing off what you have. Isn't that a bit counter productive for the scene in the first place.

2. Tender morsels, from what I understand of the story this world isn't taking place in our time does this mean the sense of what is seen as judgement is shifted and changed? I can understand the dislike of the book, I can see how it's trigger material too, but I wonder if people are looking at the book with the sensiblities of modern crime and punishment vs what would be punishment in that place and time.

It reminds me of a book I read about a young woman taken in by native americans and the rape that happened to her. The punishment of the person that commited the crime to me seemed like less of a punishment then just a slap on the wrist. But then I tried to read it from the time period that it was taking place in, and it seemed more harsh then to me.

Do I think the authors made the right choice saying to take their books off the list? No and yes. Yes becuase it is their choice and if they really felt that the list was a bad thing and felt that offended and that strongly against it then it is their right. But I do not think that it was a good move on their part. It just seemed a bit hostile, and I can understand solidarity -after all YA does tend to get looked down on in a lot of cases by Adult writers -however, in running off they didn't seem willing to look over what the complaints were and why. Just seemed...wrong to me as a writer.

Cory said...

Personally, I'm glad Scott, Justine etc asked for their books to be taken off the list. Please, tell me how the Uglies, Liar, etc are feminist? They're good books, but is this really what woman have come down to?

Hey, any book with a girl is automatically feminist. I don't even think that list should exist. It's laughable when Sisters Red gets more outrage than Living Dead Girl. That is a really disturbing, yet well written book that has nothing to do with empowering girls.

Can't a book just be a book anymore without having to be feminist?

This is the same problem I have with chick-lit. Why do books with women in them have to have a special genre? Same with multi-cultural fiction.

Can't that list have just been for people who wanted good books with girl heroines?

It's sad when people get so worked up about nothing. I love the sparkle project btw. Blaming the victim has to be one of the most disgusting things I've come across in YA lit.

Anonymous said...

Someone posted a link on GR last year and I took upon myself to come here and read about it today. Having been a victim of sexual assault, I don't take kindly to anything in regards about it. But being I have been, I can say that I'm highly aware of what is consider rape and what isn't in literature.

Men in particular who are raised by father who deem women as "sluts", "bitches", "whores", "gold diggers", etc... are only corrupting the next generation into more rap culture. This sets up for psychological issues and women who get abused easily. I wish they offered a more positive view on women in health classes and such for high school students, but they don't. And if they did then maybe it could stop the vicious cycle a little.

I also think as women, we have a right to wear what we want no matter what, but if you go out alone and wear something provocative without anyone for a buddy system, that woman is setting herself up for a number of situations that can go wrong, including rape, mental abuse from men and women who are closed minded, and much problematic situations as well.

There are times and places when being sexy is good in the way we dress and there are times when one should think twice before leaving the house. I also believe young girls under the age of 13 shouldn't dress as adults. I think it sends the wrong message for them and gives them a complex about their body image, which celebs like Hanna Montana and such don't help either. They should feel okay with what they wear, but if they are wearing something that is too low cut or too tight or with little fabric, then yes that can attract unwanted attention from peers in their own grade level, including boys who are starting to want sex at that age. But also it's the mothers in the home who need to pay more attention and become aware of what's going on. It's also a cry for help when a young girl does that and i always feel so horrible when I see it because if that mother would just for once sit down and talk to her, maybe things would change and the daughter would feel more loved and not need the attention from other sources.

Anyway... in regards to literature, books like "Speak" I find to be a good book for girls to read. It promotes awareness in regards about how rape is and not what the media projects. I knew my attacker and trusted the person. Something as simple as that happens.

And most times, I don't think authors realize that the readers are reading this in depth to what they wrote and think it would be perceived this way too. However, what one person thinks is one thing doesn't mean another person does. This can mean you see "rape", while another reader sees "passion" or something else. This just means everyone comes from different lifestyles and grew up different; some more shelter than others. I should know, I have friends that grew up sheltered and others who grew up with getting kicked in the ass from their family beating on them violently from being drunk. So I've seen both sides.

As for myself, unless the characters promote murdering innocent people for no reason or something way out there, the book should be read by whomever feels like it at the end of the day. If not, then what kind of message are we sending to society at large? Banning a book won't stop people from reading.

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