Intersectionality Saturdays: Why, oh why must high school students be deprived of life-changing literature?
January 30, 2010 § Leave a comment
Here’s why (although the reasoning is truly flawed):
Only two days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, only two days after President Obama spoke of Auschwitz before the SOTU, the South strikes again. With what? This time, a Virginia school system has banned the latest version of The Diary of Anne Frank – a young girl’s account of Nazi Germany up to her death – from being taught. And their reasoning just really tops this all of: homosexuality and sexually explicit content.
The diary documents the daily life of a Jewish girl in Amsterdam during World War II. Frank started writing on her 13th birthday, shortly before her family went into hiding in an annex of an office building. The version of the diary in question includes passages previously excluded from the widely read original edition, first published in Dutch in 1947. That book was arranged by her father, the only survivor in her immediate family. Some of the extra passages detail her emerging sexual desires; others include unflattering descriptions of her mother and other people living together.
Anne Frank was a young girl with a tragic life, a life that she documented. I do not know if Anne Frank intended to write for a worldwide audience. I do not know if she even wanted her writing shared. I also do not know if Anne Frank thought that she, along with 11 million others, would die before their time. At least the life of Anne Frank lived on through her written words.
Emerging sexual desires are actually normal for a teenage girl to experience. This was perhaps the one normalcy Anne Frank experienced during her time in hiding. And treating them as inappropriate furthers a taboo on discussing sex, especially in the schools, where students are beginning to have sex or have unanswered questions concerning it. As for “homosexual content,” how dare a school ban a book on that premise? How dare a school make sure that the only books students read are heteronormative? How dare a school do such a thing when there are bound to be homosexual students around who are wondering why a book which only hints at sexuality would be regarded as taboo? This is blatant homophobia and license for it to continue within a legislated school system.
This young girl has changed the hearts and thoughts of millions who have read her, many of whom have been assigned her diary as school assignments. The Diary of Anne Frank is tragic and accessible and it is not meant to be cut short because her life was cut short enough.
This is cross-posted from from the rib?.
January 3, 2010 § 1 Comment
I spent most of the holiday vacation zipping through Smilla’s Sense of Snow, a Danish thriller by Peter Hoeg. It was published over 15 years ago but its themes of political corruption, ethnic tension, and the dangers of scientific exploration still feel relevant. The novel follows Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen, daughter of a deceased Greenlandic hunter and a power-hungry Danish physician, as she uncovers the mystery behind the death of a Greenlandic child in her building in Copenhagen.
Most mystery novels revolve around men. If a woman is present in the book, she is usually a sidekick, often characterized as exotic and sensual. By the end of the novel, when the murder is solved, they have sex. (Think every one of Dan Brown’s bestsellers.) These women are certainly appealing — male readers are supposed to like them because they’re fuckable and just smart enough (not too smart to be threatening or emasculating); female readers envy them because of their breezy confidence and obvious sex appeal. But these women are insubstantial. By the end of the novel the author assures us that they are mere sex objects.
Smilla, on the other hand, is a fascinating protagonist; on the book’s back cover, People describes her as a “spellbinding central female.” She is complex. She has a sexual relationship with a neighbor, but it does not overpower or overwhelm her. She effectively resists the cold-seductress/willing-sex-object dichotomy, confidently navigating the murky waters between dependence, self-sufficiency, passion, and control.
In the midst of her new relationship, she consciously strives to maintain her own identity, setting aside time to spend alone in her apartment. She’s also damn strong, braving violence and swimming naked through the freezing Copenhagen harbor.
Author Hoeg also takes on issues related to the Danish colonialization of Greenland, exemplified in Smilla’s ambiguous relationship with her father and memories of assimilating to Danish culture after being forced to leave Greenland as a child.
I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries, but I highly recommend Smilla’s Sense of Snow for its intricate plot, brave political implications, and of course, beautifully crafted protagonist.
September 5, 2009 § 2 Comments
I came across this passage in my sociology reading, and think that it sums up PERFECTLY why no one should be afraid to call themselves feminists. It also provides a great justification (not that I need one) for contributing to this blog.
I am a feminist through and through, but sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough to show it. As a new college student (I swear to god I will stop telling you all this in like, a month) I am definitely going to get more involved in some social action groups, but if that fails for some reason, I will always have this quote:
Sociological mindfulness also reminds us that we can change a small part of the social word single-handedly. If we treat others with more respect and compassion, if we refuse to participate in re-creating inequalities even in little ways, if we raise questions about official representations of reality, if we refuse to work in destructive industries, then we are making change. We do not have to join a group or organize a protest to make these kinds of changes. We can make them on our own, by deciding to live differently.
Perhaps our modest efforts will reverberate with others and inspire them to live differently. Or perhaps no one will notice, or they will notice but think we are strange. And so you might think, “If no one is going to notice that I am a superior moral being, then what is the point? Why bother to be different and risk ridicule?” That is one way to look at it. Being sociologically mindful, however, suggests a different thought: “I cannot be sure that anything I do will change things for the bettter, yet I can be sure that if I do not at least try, then I will fail to do what I think is right and will be contributing to keeping things the same. Therefore I will opt to do what is right, whether much or little comes of it.”
In the end, sociological mindfulness must be about more than studying how the social world works. It must also do more than inspire curiosity, care, and hope — although these we cannot do without. If it is to be worth practicing, sociological mindfulness must help us change ourselves and our ways of doing things together so that we can live more peacefully and productively with others, without exploitation, disrespect, and inequality. Sociological mindfulness is a way to see where we are and what needs to be done. It is a path to heartful membership in a conversation that ought to have no end.
– Michael Schwalbe, Finding Out How the Social World Works
Um… does anyone else think that is SO beautiful? I obviously do, enough to take the time to type the whole damn thing!
May 11, 2009 § Leave a comment
Jessica Valenti, an incredible author on dissecting gender binaries and current day feminism, is doing a reading at Bluestockings, (172 Allen st), this Sunday. This will be a great night, I hope to see some of you there!
Sunday, May 17th @ 7PM – Free
Reading: Jessica Valenti “The Purity Myth”
American culture is plagued with concerns about the sexual purity of young women. Please join Jessica Valenti in a reading and discussion of her new book “The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women,” in which she brings the full powers of her wit and intelligence to a critique of the problematic cultural appraisal of girls and women based on their sexual worth. Valenti is also the author of “Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters” and “He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut…and 49 Other Double Standards Every Woman Should Know.”
Bluestockings is my favorite place in New York. Here is their mission statement, taken from their website:
Bluestockings is a radical bookstore, fair trade cafe, and activist center in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Through words, art, food, activism, education, and community, we strive to create a space that welcomes and empowers all people. We actively support movements that challenge hierarchy and all systems of oppression, including but not limited to patriarchy, heterosexism, the gender binary, white supremacy and classism, within society as well as our own movements. We seek to make our space and resources available to such movements for meetings, events, and research. Additionally, we offer educational programming that promotes centered, strategic, and visionary thinking, towards the realization of a society that is infinitely creative, truly democratic, equitable, ecological, and free.