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From the Library: A Response and an Invitation

Another weekend, another post "From the Library." Well, not exactly. If you're reading this post now, you probably know that our decision to revise our list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader created an enormous controversy, and we feel there's more to be said. Criticism of our decision generated comments, outside blogs, and discussions that took issue with our standards for creating the list, our "cowardice" for its speedy revision, or our "unprofessionalism" for not honoring the requests of authors asking to be removed from the list. A lot of e-ink was spilled discussing the issue of "triggering," and Bitch Media was accused of promoting and exercising censorship.

We know lists are trouble and historically we've avoided them, not only because of the controversy they inevitably generate but because of the danger of a list being interpreted as canon. Nevertheless, when a high school teacher contacted our library asking for a list of YA recommendations, we took the request to heart and quickly became very excited about the project. We spoke to high school and junior high school teachers, writers, and readers, and solicited recommendations from staff, interns, and friends. We read and re-read many books and reviews. It was a lengthy process, but not a formal one. Because of our desire never to proclaim anything a "canon," we knew this collection would updated from time to time.

After posting the list last week, we received feedback from readers through the blog, our social media, and email, asking us to reconsider a few of our choices. As a feminist media organization, we took these concerns seriously, and took last weekend off to read. We checked Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce, and Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott out from our library (where, by the way, they will continue to be available for checking out) and discussed them while reading and after we'd finished. Our eventual decision was to remove all three from the list. While many of the books we recommended cover difficult and controversial topics, we decided to remove these particular books because of how they deal with issues of sexual assault especially. Our particular concerns were elaborated upon in the comments of the previous blog post, as was our (continued) belief that the removed books deserve to be read and certainly should not be banned or otherwise kept from any audience. On a list of just 100 books, though, the problems we had with these texts were enough that three close runners-up deserved to take their place on our roster.

Bitch Media is a small-staffed, independent organization that takes reader input very seriously. We have read every comment that has come in since our original post a week ago. We have been listening, and we will continue to do so. Hearing some of this criticism, particularly as it has grown more and more tangential (and detrimental) to the original topic of YA literature and putting books into the hands of young feminists, has affected Bitch deeply, on personal and organization-wide levels. We have also been touched by the outpouring of support we've received. More than anything, though, our old-fashioned, ink-lovin' hearts here at Bitch have been bolstered by such a passionate debate taking place over literature.

When we sat down this week to decide how to keep the vitality in this conversation going, we decided upon, and are now excited beyond belief about, an online YA book club for readers to participate in with us--an idea originally thrown out by commenter heatherwasahoodrat. So! We've selected ten books that we think a lot of you might want to discuss on the blog. Included in these selections are all three removed books, a few published in the list, and a couple that readers said they would liked to have seen. We'll be reading five of these for the online book club, and you, the reader, get to decide which five make the cut.

Make sure to cast your vote before Wednesday, February 9th, and we'll announce which books have been selected on Friday, February 11th.

Thank you, as always, for reading.

—Bitch Media

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Comments

23 comments have been made. Post a comment.

The "vitality in this

The "vitality in this conversation" died when you flushed your "credibility" down the "drain," oh queens of airquotes and backpedaling. I'll share my reading and my thoughts on a forum that values both instead of treating me like an idiot child in need of protection.

Don't let the door hit you

I'm excited about the online book club, that sounds like a great way to approach the whole thing. (and I hope it really sparks some GOOD discussion and discourse about YA literature instead of baseless sh*t-flinging like the last thread. I hope that's not too much to hope for.)

Bitch Please

You should have saved yourself the trouble of writing this post because now you just sound stupid, and have lost the minimal amount of credibility you had left. I have a very hard time believing that the books that were previously taken off the list were even read. Your reasoning behind your actions sound extremely uneducated and not backed up by fact. None of those titles deserved to be excluded (especially Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce) and you doing so made you look bad, but posting this made it much worse. Don't go thinking you are doing anyone a favor with this post or that you are making up for your previous mistakes. You just made the situation worse.

Bitch, please!

It is also pretty absurd that

It is also pretty absurd that the books were not read prior to making a decision to place them on the list in the first place.

literacy

It is absurd that you did not read any of the five hundred times it was explained that the books were read by a few different people, and still saw fit to comment.

--
rljd

why do you have a "very hard

why do you have a "very hard time" believing that a few staff members read a few books in one weekend?

Good, but you're not there yet.

I appreciate the steps that you have taken to acknowledge the censorship situation, and I would love to participate in your book club. But, I cannot feel justified in my support, until the original list is restored. Heck, make it 103 YA novels, but do not keep the list at it's current state, or my cries will be without effect, and frustration and disappointment will remain.

original

The same people made the "original" list as the present list. Why is one pdf more perfect in your sight.

--
rljd

mixed feelings

There are things I really like about the book club idea as a follow-up. It gets rid of the "you haven't even read the book" problem, gives the excluded books some ink (maybe...if they're part of the five), and ideally could create a space for conversations that do justice to the complexity of these books, and the complexity of questions like "what is a feminist book?"

However, Bitch Media, I have qualms about your ability to conduct a conversation like that. I get the feeling, in this post and your other comments and posts, that you're talking past the people who are talking to you. The more you proclaim that you're all about listening to readers and commenters (in fact, from your perspective that's how this whole thing started), the less I feel that there's real, consistent listening going on.

On the one hand, you don't want to make anything like a canon. You want to be seen as participatory and responsive. On the other hand, you don't really address what people bring up-- you react or you try to glide past. I hope your YA book club is different from that, more than that, but I'll need to be convinced.

Agreed. Also, I don't WANT to

Agreed. Also, I don't WANT to participate in anything Bitch Media arranges or support them until they make the proper apologies to:
1) the removed authors
2) the unremoved authors who requested to be removed
3) the readers/supporters who expect good journalism and feminism and were denied
4) women everywhere, for saying we need to be protected from "triggering" influences (quick, bring the fainting couch, this book had a controversial scene!) and...
5) those with eating disorders, drug addictions, in abusive relationships, etc-- all the things that were dismissed when Bitch decided rape survivors needed to be protected, but other survivors didn't (books that explored those issues remained on the list), I assume because Bitch feels their problems weren't as important/serious.

It is comments like this one ...

That motivate me to support Bitchmedia more and more. Has anyone not forgotten that this project (magazine and website) are of a DIVERSITY of NUANCED opinions? The core of this is DISCUSSION and DEBATE in a space that is, to me, more humane than, say, FOX NEWS. I do feel sad that the mistakes Bitchmedia made with their reading list offended so many in terms of book content, and/or censorship. But I know this is a small, completely independent operation with limited means. These drives for subscribers (such as the one going on now) and donors are never a joke to them. I, and so many others, would be even more hurt if this project were to come to an end (which it almost did in 2008).

Bitchmedia has a mission that must be carried through, for the sake of the ongoing "culture wars" that the right wing and corporate climate reeked in sexism never sleeps over to carry out their missions of SILENCING diverse voices responding to them, such as this one. The right-wing and corporate climate insist that sexism matters. No, it does not (Personally, sexism and misogyny offend me. That's why I am here!) and Bitchmedia and others in the feminist mediasphere are working harder than ever to prove that sexism is clearly wrong and unacceptable in a civil society, which includes our culture.

I hope Bitchmedia reaches their goals of acquiring new subscribers (I have been one for a long time and will continue being one) and donors. These whip-smart feminist responses to our over-critical culture of sexist hot-air and soundbytes chirped by the behomoths that are FOX News and other right-wing and corporate media are more crucial than ever.

The people at Bitchmedia are HUMAN. Can we at least forgive them for their erring and encouraging their continuously working to correct their errors? Whatever happened to feminism also being an educational process? I learn something most every time I come here (often!) There is a first time for everything, and lessons will be learned. Give Bitch a chance!

I agree

I skipped a couple days of checking the site and stumbled upon this mess.

In Tennessee, this magazine is one of the few periodicals I can get a hold of that actually seems relevant to me. Sometimes I feel like I don't have a voice at all, since my life falls so dramatically outside everyone's boundaries for my gender and sex. The day-to-day things I worry about are completely absent from the mainstream newspapers and rarely present in the alternatives. I am utterly grateful for Bitch. If this publication suffers because of an argument like this, I will be incredibly disappointed.

I'm working class and broke as hell, but I plan to buy two subscriptions (one for a friend) out of my next paycheck to show support for the magazine. They work hard, and I appreciate them.

Not at all.

4) women everywhere, for saying we need to be protected from "triggering" influences (quick, bring the fainting couch, this book had a controversial scene!) and...
5) those with eating disorders, drug addictions, in abusive relationships, etc-- all the things that were dismissed when Bitch decided rape survivors needed to be protected, but other survivors didn't (books that explored those issues remained on the list), I assume because Bitch feels their problems weren't as important/serious.

Nothing resembling any of that ever occurred. Your accusation of "decid[ing] rape survivors needed to be protected, but other survivors didn't" is especially absurd, considering that many books about sexual abuse stayed on the list (eg. Speak, Kambia Elaine, Sold). They explicitly made the distinction that they "decided to remove these particular books because of how they deal with issues of sexual assault especially."

As for needing to apologize to "women everywhere" (putting aside the bizarre melodrama of that statement for a minute) not only did Bitch never say women needed to be protected, the list is not specifically FOR women; it is for feminists. At no point did Bitch bring readers' sexes or genders into discussion, let alone imply that it might color their ability to cope with distressing content. What you are saying simply never happened.

Nice

I think this is a fantastic idea, and I look forward to discussing these books.

Thanks for doing what you do.

It seems to me that if you

It seems to me that if you know lists are controversial, that you go in with a willingness to stand by the list, which is hopefully selected with care. You say up front that there might be some controversial choices, and the diversity of the community makes it impossible to come up with a perfect list. and, unfortunately, the number of women who've been abused makes it a possibility that some books might be too painful for some readers. However, you value discourse and believe that every choice has merit for some. You then let the discussion happen, making it clear you're reading and there will be a response.

Choosing authors is an implied compliment and so it seems to be that the next step would have been to go to Margo Lanagan, Jackson Pearce, and Elizabeth Scott and had an impromptu round table, or series of interviews, where the issues are discussed. Wow, think about that all the interesting questions that could have been that would have elevated the conversation and respected everyone involved.

You could have discussed characters, motivations, personal beliefs, if the writers feel a responsibility to people who've been abused and, if so, how does it manifest in their writing choices?

Maybe this would satisfy the concerned and, maybe not, but I believe it would have left more people with respect for this whole thing rather than an indelible bad association for so many. No one could say you didn't respect women or diversity or, for that matter, authors.

There's an implication here that this was always destined to be a fiasco, and I simply don't buy that.

The horse is dead.

It seems to me that you are in a lose/lose situation, Bitch. I have read the lengthy comment discussion on the previous thread but I have resisted the urge to jump into the fray - mostly because it has already been discussed to death and at this point people are just repeating themselves to repeat themselves. The horse is dead. I will say that I am on the side of those who believe the list should have remained unaltered and all the reasons why it should have been.

While I can appreciate how disgusted some of you are with the way things were handled, it is asinine to drag that conversation into this post. This post is trying to move forward in a hopefully more productive way. If you've already written Bitch off because of the way they handled the situation, fine, you're entitled to your opinion and free to go your separate way. For the rest of us hoping to rebuild a relationship with Bitch it would be nice to not have to muddle through another 400+ comments repeating the same argument that has been reshaped hundreds of times in a previous post.

I mean no disrespect to anyone but, really, do you honestly believe you'll get the satisfaction you're being denied in the previous post by drudging it up here? It isn't going to happen. The decision stands. They're moving forward. You have to decide what side you're on now and move forward too.

Also, as a note to Bitch, but was this idea for a book club not offered up by someone in the comments on the previous post? I have not verified the time stamps so I could be incorrect but if this idea was inspired by one of the comments in the previous post it might be the more professional and thoughtful route to acknowledge that person, particularly since you have stated that you are listening.

Yes!

Yes! Thank you, Devin. The idea for a book club was inspired by a Bitch commenter. While I can't link to the specific comment (it's a bug in our system that happens when comments go over one page, sorry!), it is on the 2nd page of comments and was left by heatherwasahoodrat who said,

As someone who thinks that both sides have valid points, you know what I think would be an interesting solution to this? A Bitch YA book club. Have a point-counterpoint post for each of the books in question with a) one half written by someone who was triggered or offended by it (and not just someone who is assuming that others might be upset by it) and b) the other half written by the book's author, one of their author acquaintances, or a fan in defense of that book's feminist values. Give your commenters a couple weeks to read each book before the post goes up, and they can all weigh in too!

I've added this note in the original post! I also noticed some of the hyperlinks weren't working and I fixed those too.

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?

Awesome idea! I appreciate

Awesome idea! I appreciate Bitch Media's flexibility and willingness to learn, change, and grow, and I see this whole list business as a pretty good example of all that. Plus, BOOK CLUB! :D

"A word after a word after a word is power."
- Margaret Atwood

book club

I have my problems with the original list, the changes, etc., but kudos to Bitch for suggesting this book club, and especially kudos to them for putting the removed books on the list! I love Luna and The House You Pass on the Way (all of Jacqueline Woodson's books are great! I taught Miracle's Boys to sixth graders, and I've given so many of her novels to students and friends), but I didn't vote for those because I've read them already. I love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Golden Compass too, but didn't vote for those either because I've read them and I'm less interested in discussing them in this context--though I'd be fascinated at some point if Bitch had more to say about their selection process for the books they chose--why The Golden Compass? I love it, and Lyra is a strong female character, but what makes it one of their top 100 feminist must-reads?

Anyway, I look forward to reading the others, which I'm not familiar with (or at least haven't read), but I must say that by removing Tender Morsels, Sisters Red, and Living Dead Girl from their original list (for what appeared, from where I stand, to be not very thought-through reasons, if they felt strongly enough about those books in the first place to put them on the list), I'm most interested now in reading those three.

Looking forward to this.

As result of all this, I

As result of all this, I bought the removed books. I liked Sisters Red and found it to be a really empowering lemon bundt cake -- sorry, went into Buffy mode. I loved the relationship between the sisters, the fearlessness of Scarlett, and that the romance took a back seat to the love between the sisters. The controversial scene, to me, seemed to be about Scarlett's envy at what she'd lost -- innocence and the chance to live her life unarmed and unafraid.

About 26% into Tender Morsels and really like the style, the language. I can see why Liga's abuse might trigger some folks, but that's only because it's so evocative and well-written. We'll see, and by "we'll," I mean "I'll." how the rest goes, including the controversial aspect.

Is there going to be any

Is there going to be any attempt by the editorial staff to explain their rationale for publishing a list of books which had not been read? Because that to me speaks to an unprofessionalism far beyond not responding to requests and comments. There's also the matter of apologizing to the authors of the books removed - your language in the explanation for the yanking essentially endorsed every criticism that had been levelled against them. If you want to continue the discussion and address the concerns many many people have expressed, how about inviting the authors from the removed books to discuss the criticisms and their motives for writing? If you really want to continue the "listening" I can think of no better place to start.

Feminists In Name Only

Dear FINO,
You are not feminists, you are capitalists.

FINO? Oh, Like RINO

FINO? Oh, Like RINO (Republican In Name Only). Clever. RINO is arguably a term created by a very small and vocal sect of conservative republicans interested in defining more centralist republicans as traders. In doing so, they sway public opinion to their idea of what it means to be a "good" republican. It's a very effective tactic, albeit one that isn't very honest or respectful of other people's intelligence and desire to make informed decisions. It plays to people's basest selves, that part of us that gets scared, not the part of us that sees complexities. I haven't been following this whole YA List book flare up thing that closely, but is that part of what's going on here? An extremely vocal minority attempting to win...something (?) by defining feminism along their terms and being really negative and smearing others? Those who coined the term RINO are looking for political power. What's your motivation in coining the term FINO, anonymous friend?