On the Hypersexualization of Female Characters in Superhero Comics

I just finished up a really awesome uni course for my MLIS, and we were recently discussing portrayals of women in comics.

This is a touchy subject for sure, and as with anything I try to keep an open mind and consider the many shades of gray. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying erotic art and comics (I do!) but I’m talking about something different here outside of the context of erotica.

To be clear before I get into it, I don’t believe in the censorship of artistic work⁠— Neil Gaiman helped shape my perspective on this topic with his blog post Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech?, which I totally recommend reading if you haven’t yet. I’m not interested in participating in witch hunts of particular artists because they draw or write thoughtlessly sexy women⁠—I’m more interested in the big-picture phenomenon.

When it comes to hypersexualized portrayals of women in comics, the thing that irks me is the ubiquitous nature of it- it’s OK for characters to be sexy, but when the default has been that women and girls in Western comics are contorted and accentuated regardless of their personality or the context of the scene, it becomes a tiresome, dehumanizing trope.

dav

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of comics in general, including many that feature these sorts of female characters, and I will defend any author’s right to write or draw their characters however they see fit. It’s your story, knock yourself out. Artistic freedom doesn’t mean you can’t be criticized for your choices, though, so I too have the freedom as a comic consumer to call you out and roll my eyes if you unleash yet another barely covered bombshell babe whose story takes a backseat to her… well, backseat.

So why does a female character drinking coffee at home alone in her pyjamas sit in a spine-cracking posture with her butt extended,  lips pouting,  and shine highlighting the curves of her inexplicably exposed underboob? Why does a powerful heroine need to bend her body in such an anatomically impossible way that we can see both her bum AND her boobs on display when she’s mid-action?

Why is this the standard way that women are portrayed? Traditionally comics were considered a masculine space, and as such these depictions aimed to appeal to the male gaze⁠— yet, I wonder how much of that historic imbalance in demographic is because of the aforementioned ways women have been depicted in comics and other media (when they’re depicted at all)?

“My feeling was never that the industry was that vile, my feeling was that there just hadn’t been any feeling that females were interested, and so all the content skewed that way, to that imagined audience. Which becomes self-fulfilling.” (Simone, 2014).

Just go to any con nowadays and you will see that women love comics- they’re a valid format for us just as much as anyone else, albeit with a long history of objectifying us unnecessarily.

“A woman’s sexuality is one of her many facets that she is allowed to express, however she likes. The problem is that our media landscape shows, values, and celebrates women’s sex appeal more than any of their other qualities, opinions, or accomplishments… when you grow up as a girl surrounded by sexualized images of women, it changes the way you build your identity.” (Rees, 2019, p.45).

Comics have a history of hypersexualizing women that goes back many decades, and people have been discussing the phenomenon for just as long. One more recent(ish) project that has really provoked discussion about ridiculously hypersexualized poses of female characters is The Hawkeye Initiative, in which people redraw sexy female poses with Hawkeye. I gave it a quick shot below…

Illustration4

Drawing Hawkeye like this might seem like taking “an eye for an eye”, but his portrayal it doesn’t have the same weight- besides the fact that my awkward rendering isn’t nearly as stylistic and professionally done as the original, the sexualization of male characters is certainly not omnipresent like that of female characters, and men don’t have the troubled past of systematic and oppressive objectification tailing them. The result is a cheeky satire that points out the absurdity of how female characters are so often portrayed.

Some comic fans will point out that lots of superheroes have bulging muscles that are larger than life, aiming to equate this with sexualized femme characters, but ridiculously strong male characters are different than pointlessly sexualized female characters for a few reasons:

  • generally there is an arguably valid reason that the man might have huge muscles (for example, he’s a superhero); over-sized muscles are certainly an unrealistic ideal, but they usually don’t come with the baggage of being totally pointless- they’re a boon to the character and part of his superpower
  • these muscled male characters aren’t created for the female gaze- they’ve been included in traditionally male-focused comics and could perhaps be seen as a male wish fulfillment fantasy or an exaggerated style
  • even when male characters have huge muscles or accentuated features, they aren’t habitually highlighted to the same cumulative extremes that the female anatomy is often subject to: protruding, glistening, tugging at skimpy fabric, peeking through non-functional viewing holes, angled awkwardly to be shown off at every possible opportunity, etc…

dav

 

dav
Not sure if Mary Jane or a blowup doll…

Taking it to a further and more upsetting level, a female character’s assuredly ample physical assets are very often contrasted with an underdeveloped backstory, nonexistent character arc, or her being used as a throwaway plot element or means to the ends of a violent trope, as pointed out in Gail Simone’s “women in refrigerators” movement born in the late 90’s.

alex-kyle

“At the time, you know, female readership was low, female con attendance at comic cons was low, morale for female readers was low. And I kept seeing guys ask, “Why don’t women read comics?” And for me, it felt that there was a connection between that and the fact that if you loved female superheroes, you had this endless parade of stories where the women were killed or de-powered, and they were never the focus of the story.

It felt symbolic, it felt textural. It felt like they were saying, okay, no one cares about Supergirl, no one cares about Batgirl, and so their stories rarely became about survival, they became about some dude getting revenge on their behalf.” (Simone, 2014).

Again, drawing sexy female characters in and of itself isn’t a bad thing – a sexy woman is empowering when she’s owning it – but it’s the nonchalant routine of the industry expecting this uber-sexed up default paired with otherwise forgettable, tragic, or underdeveloped characterization that doesn’t sit well with me.

To conclude, I don’t think we should be trying to ban works or shame those who read them – let the creators create what they will, and let consumers enjoy what they want in peace- but I hope more creators and publishers are beginning to realize that mindless routine portrayals are alienating a potentially huge reader base who are rolling their eyes at yet another pointlessly and predictably titillating femme fatale.

Today, although hypersexualized female characters are still common, both indie and mainstream comics are being published with much more diverse characters and successfully appealing to more demographics, which is wonderful to see.

 

 

References

Claremont, C., & Buscema, J. (2005). Marvel comics presents: Wolverine. New York: Marvel Comics.
Gaiman, N. (2008). Why defend freedom of icky speech? Retrieved from http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2008/12/why-defend-freedom-of-icky-speech.html
The Hawkeye Initiative. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved from https://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/
Houser, J., Portela, F., Sauvage, M., & Dalhouse, A. (2016). Faith. New York, NY: Valiant Entertainment LLC.
Loeb, J., Kelly, J., Churchill, I., & Rapmund, N. (2016). Supergirl: The girl of steel. Burbank, CA: DC Comics.
Marz, R. (n.d.). Green Lantern #54 (1994).
Montclare, B., Hadley, A. R., Bustos, N., Height, R., Bonvillain, T., Lanham, T., & Kirk, L. (2017). Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. New York, NY: Marvel Worldwide.
Nelson, Kyra (2015) “Women in Refrigerators: The Objectification of Women in Comics,” AWE (A Woman’s Experience): Vol. 2 , Article 9.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/awe/vol2/iss2/9
Pak, G., Parker, J., Frank, G., Kirk, L., Pagulayan, C., & Sibal, J. (2008). World War Hulk the Incredible Hercules. New York: Marvel.
Rees, A., & Esmeraldo, M. (2019). Beyond beautiful: A practical guide to being happy, confident, and you in a looks-obsessed world/ Anuschka Rees ; illustrations by Marina Esmeraldo. New York: Ten Speed Press.
Simone, G. (2014, December 01). Gail Simone: The Comics Alliance Interview, Part One. Retrieved from https://comicsalliance.com/gail-simone-the-comics-alliance-interview-part-one-batgirl-birds-of-prey-and-women-in-refrigerators/
Thompson, R. (2016). Silk Volume 1. Panini UK.
Wilson, G. W., Alphona, A., & Herring, I. (2014). Ms. Marvel: No normal. New York, NY: Marvel Worldwide, a subsidiary of Marvel Entertainment, LLC.
Advertisements

Challenged in Canada: Tracking Attempts at Censorship

Banned Books week is next month, and right now I am working with my department on a presentation about censorship in Canada to share with our coworkers.

I made a collage of some of the titles that we currently have in our library which have been challenged in Canada in the past:

challengedbooksatwbrl

The diversity in even this small representation shows that challenges are submitted on titles from a wide range of subjects, authors, formats, and intended age ranges. Maybe you see some of your favorites up there? These are only a small portion of books that have been challenged in Canada in recent years.

I’m sure there are tons more challenges that aren’t ever submitted for record-keeping. It’s important that we keep records like this of materials that are challenged, because it serves as a real-life reminder and example of how everyone’s standards are different. If we start censoring information, each act of censorship may be perceived as a precedent, and since one person’s treasure is another person’s trash… I know it’s overused, but the term “slippery slope” definitely comes to mind.

Access is vital. Even titles that contain extremely problematic information and views can serve as reminders of past atrocities, case studies for learning, and material for developing informed criticism. How can you knowledgeably criticize or condemn something if you don’t have access to the source material?

Freedomtoread.ca offers a book list keeping track of Canadian challenges, each of which “sought to limit public access to the works in schools, libraries, or bookstores.”

Freedom to Read week is organized by the Freedom of Expression Committee of the Book and Periodical Council, and is celebrated annually in February.

Freedom to Read

Here are the details of some recent challenges as recorded by the Freedom to Read website.

 

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Image result for the scorpion rules erin bow

2016-In January, a patron of a public library in Ontario challenged this novel for young adults.

Objections: “The book is age inappropriate… because it contains a bi-sexual sex scene not alluded to on the cover.” The complainant requested that all books with homosexual content be located “in a special area reserved for adults 18+” and put on a shelf marked with a rainbow. The complainant wanted the books labelled “so that children, as well as adults, do not happen upon [them] unwillingly.”

Result: The library decided that labeling LGBTQ content would be an example of expurging library resources and, therefore, would violate the Library Bill of Rights… The Scorpion Rules remained unlabelled in its usual location.

Battling Boy by Paul Pope

Image result for battling boy

2016- In May, a parent in a public library in Ontario challenged this graphic novel for children.

Objection: The parent disliked depictions of violence and the book’s “poor attitude toward women’.

Result: In June, the library resolved the challenge. The library moved this book from the children’s section to the teens’ graphic-novel section.

The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel, Volumes 1 & 2) by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

Related image

2015/16- In December 2015, a parent challenged this children’s picture book in a public library in Ontario.

Objection: the mother didn’t specify what action she wanted, but she used the complaint form to complain about the book’s illustrations. her 10-year old son was crying because of the illustrations.

Result: After evaluating The Graveyard Book by checking other libraries’ collections and book reviews, the library retained the books in its collection.

 

Adult Magazines

Image result for zinio magazines

2015- A patron in a public library in British Columbia challenged the collection of electronic magazines (from the Zinio distribution service) and paper magazines. The challenge affected a minimum of 17 titles: Cosmopolitan, Details, Esquire, Glamour, GQ, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, Redbook, Rolling Stone, SELF, Seventeen, Shape, Sports Illustrated, Teen Vogue, US Weekly, and Women’s Health.

Objections: Sexism, insensitivity, inaccuracy, depiction of bodies that are “negatively objectified”. The patron demanded that all subscriptions be cancelled.

Result: The library kept the magazines and the subscriptions. They were popular with other readers.

 

Young Adult LGBTQ Publications

prideheart

2016- In July, a female parent in the St. Albert Library in Alberta challenged all young-adult LGBTQ publications in a teen summer reading program

The library displayed pamphlets that listed the young-adult LGBTQ book titles in the summer reading program.

Objection: The parent was offended by the inclusion of queer lit as one of the book category choices in a turn of the library’s Teen Summer Reading Game.

“There is a difference between showing respect for all peoples and using the summer reading program as a place to further LGBTQ propaganda,” the woman wrote. “My son recognizes that there are people who choose to live this lifestyle; however, it is not a healthy lifestyle to promote to our youth, and it is contrary to God’s plan for human sexuality, love and marriage.”

Result: The Teen Librarian inferred that the patron wanted the queer lit category removed from the Teen Summer Reading Game book category choices and that she may have wanted the queer lit booklist removed from the brochure display in the teen area of the library.

After reading the parent’s comments, the Teen Librarian wrote a letter which was given directly to the patron when she brought her child back to play the reading game. The Teen Librarian informed her supervisors of the challenge and consulted with them on the content of the letter before it was delivered. The queer lit category remained a choice for one turn of the 2016 Teen Summer Reading Game, and the queer lit booklist remained on display with the other booklists in the teen area of the library.

*Note from Shauna: How awesome, informative, and professional is this letter!? Amazing.

Here is the body of the letter:

“Thank you for expressing your concerns about the inclusion of the Queer Lit category in the St. Albert Public Library’s Teen Summer Reading Game. As stated in the Guidelines for the 2016 Teen Summer Reading Game on the player dossier:

‘There are multiple categories listed for each turn of the game. Choose just one of those categories to select your reading material from.’In other words, players are not required to read from any one book category to advance to the next turn of the game.
“For the Mission Nighthawk turn of the game, three categories are provided for
players to choose a book from: In Real Life (realistic fiction), Romance, or Queer Lit. Players can select a book that fits into any of these three categories. Librarians
recognize that not all books are suited to all readers. Library patrons have a choice in what they read.
“As the Teen Librarian, I am responsible for creating a reading program for teen
participants that encourages them to read over the summer, for selecting books for the Young Adult collections, and for making booklists to help teen patrons discover books of interest to them. The St. Albert Public Library serves all members of the community, regardless of age, race, faith, education level, income, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnic background, or language spoken. We serve LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning) youth, and the Library is a safe public space for them to visit.
“Many of these young people, as part of an invisible minority, have learned to be
secretive about their sexual identity or gender identity for fear of rejection from their peers or their own families. They experience isolation and are often victims of bullying. For these youth, a realization that there are library materials available to them which address LGBTQ identities and issues can help them to become more resilient and to feel that they have a place in society.
“Including the Queer Lit category in the Teen Summer Reading Game is a way to
raise awareness of the existence of LGBTQ materials in the Young Adult Collection, and it communicates to our patrons that the library is a welcoming place for all people. Having LGBTQ material available in the Young Adult collections and on book displays alongside other materials, not hidden away, helps to create an atmosphere of acceptance.
“If you would like further information on the importance of LGBTQ Collections
in public libraries, I can direct you to some journal articles on the topic. Please feel free to contact me if you have further questions.”
After receiving the letter, the mother did not contact the Teen Librarian or take
any further action regarding her challenge. Her son did complete the Teen Summer Reading Game and received a book prize. The family continues to regularly participate in programs at the St. Albert Library.

 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Image result for the perks of being a wallflower book

2014- In Camloops, B.C., Dean Audet demanded the removal of this coming-of-age novel from his son’s high school and other schools in the Kamloops/Thompson school district.

Objection: Audet described the novel as “pornographic, offensive and vulgar”.

Result: Audet’s son was given a different book to study. A committee of teachers, a parent and librarians reviewed the novel and approved it for continued use. Audet considered taking legal action to remove the novel from schools.

 

Donovan’s Big Day by Leslea Newman

Image result for donovans big day

2014- In August, a patron of a public library in Alberta objected to this children’s picture book.

Objection: The patron disliked the theme of same-sex marriage.

Result: On the same day, the library resolved the dispute and kept the book in the collection.

 

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett

Image result for battle bunny

2014- in May a parent complained about this children’s picture book in a library in Quebec.

Objections: The parent disliked the depictions of violence and didn’t think the book was funny. Her 10-year-old child was “traumatised” by the bunny’s “exceedingly violent” actions, she said. Many parents would share her opinion, she added, and she asked the library to remove the book from its collection.

Result: Librarians evaluated the book. They agreed that it was a work of humour and satire. They thought Battle Bunny could appeal to reluctant readers. The librarians also noted that professional book reviews were positive and that four previous borrowers of the book had made no complaints. Battle Bunny remained in the library’s collection.

 

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety by Daniel Smith

Image result for monkey mind daniel smith audiobook

2014- In November, a patron of a public library in Alberta said this audiobook needed a warning label on the cover.

Objection: This book has dark, adult content.

Result: The library kept the book in the collection.

 

Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss

Image result for hop on pop

Toronto

Objection: Violence. In this children’s book, children hop on their father. The complainant argued that children are being “encouraged to use wanton violence against their fathers.”

Result: The library kept the book in its collection. In an e-mailed message to the complaining parent, the library explained that its collection aims to reflect the reading needs of diverse individuals and communities (cultural, ethnic, or religious). The library relied on parents to involve themselves in their children’s use of the library and their children’s reading choices.

 

The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore

Image result for the walking dead graphic novel

2013- In Strathmore, Alta, a parent complained about the inclusion of this graphic novel in the library at Crowther Memorial Junior High School.

Objection: The parent objected to “extreme violence and swearing” in the text.

Result: A committee reviewed The Walking Dead and deemed it inappropriate for use in a junior high school. The book was withdrawn from the collection.

Response to Illinois Family Institute: Don’t Drag us into a Cesspool of Ignorance

Laurie Higgins of the Illinois Family Institute recently posted an indignant tirade because of this statement from the American Library Association:

Interested in bringing Drag Queen Storytime to your library? ALSC Committee Members received tips for optimizing success from library pioneers who have already done it.  We also had the chance to meet a Drag Queen who talked about the value of offering this program, including fostering empathy, tolerance, creativity, imagination and fun.

Their article goes on in an increasingly hysteric harangue, all the while accusing librarians and “so-called-progressives” of being the REAL hysterical ones as if they are letting us in on a secret conspiracy.

Here I will try my best to respond to some of the pearl clutching (quoted below).

This feckless ALA statement raises questions: Should we foster in children empathy for those who choose to engage in transvestism?

Yes. Foster empathy in children, period.

 Should we tolerate adults who expose children to transvestism?

Yes. Why wouldn’t you want to teach your child tolerance of people who are different? Drag Queen Storytime programs usually feature funny books, colourful expression, maybe some glitter and a song or two- nothing dangerous or indecent.

 Should we encourage children to view men who masquerade as women as “fun”?

Nobody is forcing anything on you. If you don’t like the Drag Queen storytime, it’s easy. Don’t go! Everybody wins. Those who do think it’s fun get to enjoy an empathy building, creative, imaginative, fun program. Those who don’t want to don’t have to. There.😊 It’s a lot like how rather than requesting a book be removed or moved so your child doesn’t see it, you can steer your child away from it and leave it accessible for others. It really IS that easy!

Every year, the ALA sponsors the laughably named “Banned Books Week” (this year, Sept. 23-29, 2018) during which self-righteous, dissembling librarians foment “book-banning” paranoia.

I fail to see how Banned Books Week is in any way paranoid (I like my books accessible, thanks very much)- I’d like to suggest that you brush up on what the word “paranoia” means. Your entire article about drag queen storytime REEKS of paranoia, so maybe start your research there?

The ALA pursues its hysteria-fomenting goal chiefly by ridiculing parents who, for example, don’t want their five-year-olds seeing books about children or anthropomorphized animals being raised by parents in homoerotic relationships.

When the ALA steps in to defend a book or program that has been challenged, they aren’t directing shame or ridicule at anyone- they are reacting to an action of censorship.

You, the parent, are in charge of what your kid reads. Removing or moving a title because of its contents may take that privilege away from other parents.

Libraries use Collection Development Policies (CDP’s) to determine which books they will purchase with their limited budgets. CDP’s maintain that librarians should purchase only books that have been positively reviewed by two “professionally recognized” review journals. Guess what folks, the “professionally recognized” review journals are dominated by ideological “progressives.” Publishing companies too are dominated by ideological “progressives,” so getting books published that espouse conservative ideas (particularly on the topics of homosexuality and gender dysphoria) is nigh unto impossible.

The vast majority of books published continue to focus on cisgendered, heterosexual characters and heteronormative points of view. Take a look in your public library-I bet there is no shortage of Christian fiction, conservative non-fiction, religious self-help, heteronormative relationship advice books, “traditional” family picture books, etc.

…when it comes to resources that espouse conservative views on homosexuality and gender dysphoria. Are the anti-book-banning soldiers fighting to fill the gaping lacuna in their picture books and Young Adult (YA) literature collections on these topics?

We don’t have to. Like I mentioned, the shelves are already full of conservative content. 

Books featuring inclusive and diverse content aren’t attempting an assault on conservative views; furthermore, freedom of gender identity and sexual expression are recognized by the United Nations as an important part of being free and equal in dignity and rights. 

Here are some children’s book ideas that librarians could request to fill gaps in their collections…

This entire hypothetical list provided is built on ridiculously biased ideas of what non-hetero non-cisgendered people are like- there is an ill-informed assumption that queer people are more promiscuous, prone to instability, confused, neglectful, and otherwise problematic than heterosexual, cisgendered people.

To publish something like that would be to nourish harmful notions that have no basis in reality. While conservative publications can be found in any bookstore or library, I doubt that the majority of people who consider themselves conservative would support publishing something so ignorant- it would be a hard sell.

However, if you are so passionate about these theoretical books, why don’t YOU write them and see how it goes?

The article ends with this inspiring little nugget:

The ALA is plunging deep into the “drag” cesspool, pulling children down with them.

It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck
and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.
(Luke 17:2)

Cesspool. Hung around the neck. Really beautiful hatred-inspiring message you ended with there. :/

Yet another open letter to Joel Tucker…

I am shocked and very upset at the news that Joel Tucker, director of Washington County Libraries, has not only stood by his initial decision to censor Hurricane library staff from making LGBTQ+ displays or wearing LGBTQ+ pins, but is now also banning LGBTQ+ displays in ALL Washington County Libraries.

He claims he wants to keep the libraries welcoming and be a neutral ground, but it seems he doesn’t understand what either of those concepts mean.

When he first censored Hurricane staff, I wrote an open letter, which I never got a reply to.

In response to the saddening progression of events, here is my second open letter (as submitted through the Washington County Library System website’s contact page):

Mr Tucker,

As I have received no reply to my initial email or open letter, I write to you once again regarding your censorship of LGBTQ+ materials in Washington County Libraries.

I am an educator,LGBTQ+ ally, and MLIS candidate. When I wrote to you a few weeks ago I thought it likely that, once you fully understood the implications of your decision regarding the Hurricane library system, and listened to valid concerns from LGBTQ+ advocates, librarians, and other communities, you’d reconsider your harmful decision. Unfortunately I see that is not the case, and that you are effectively banning ALL Washington County Libraries from displaying LGBTQ+ materials.

This is a very sad day for your libraries and communities. You say you want to “remain neutral” and “don’t want to advocate for one position over another” but there are no positions involved here- just human lives. Your decision is not neutral in the slightest- it is an act that shames, isolates, and aims to erase LGBTQ+ people’s voices and rights by pretending they don’t exist.

LGBTQ+ people exist. Displays featuring LGBTQ+ content do not show any sort of position or stance- they only show real people who exist in the real world and are not going away.

When questioned you said that you do allow displays such as Black History Month because they are “not controversial”- some day LGBTQ+ displays won’t be controversial either. Do you want to be on the wrong side of history, censoring your community from access to important resources to appease the homophobic?

If LGBTQ+ content is controversial in your communities, that shows that there are people who would benefit greatly from accessing those materials- both in the LGBTQ+ community and otherwise. Banning LGBTQ+ displays severely reduces the amount of patrons who will come into contact with those materials, and so is a form of censorship.

Are complaints of controversy more important to attend to than the lives of LGBTQ+ people? Those who don’t want to see those books can walk away, put down the book. Those who need the book may never have the chance to access it because that display never went up.

Suicide rates are disproportionately high for LGBTQ+ people because of knee-jerk decisions like this one you are making- you are making these people feel like they are not fit to be out in society.

I am seriously disheartened with your current decisions and urge you to reconsider. Libraries are not a place for censorship. Hiding your materials in the stacks to avoid controversy should be the complete opposite of your mandate.
Your current vision of a “welcoming” library is not one I ever wish to visit- I hope you will think hard about the implications of your recent decisions and reconsider them.

Thanks again for your time,
-Shauna

Note: I am once again posting this as an open letter on my blog, hidengoshauna.wordpress.com

An Open Letter to Joel Tucker

( I have also emailed this letter to Mr. Tucker through the Washington County Library System )

Hello Mr. Tucker,

I am a library worker and future librarian, and I am writing to ask you to please reconsider your censorship of LGBTQ+ displays and buttons in Washington County libraries.

I understand that Southern Utah is a place where LGBTQ+ materials cause controversy.
However, that is all the MORE reason why it is important to have these materials visibly available.

Having displays on a theme or topic facilitates learning and discussion. Having a display on something doesn’t mean you “promote” that sort of book- but even if it did, the only thing you’d be “promoting” in this case is the acceptance, inclusion, respect, and understanding of LGBTQ people and communities. It shouldn’t be a “point of view” that LGBTQ people should be respected and treated as people rather than as controversial topics that should be hidden away in the stacks away from public view.

The mission statement for Washington County Libraries explicitly states that censorship is not tolerated and that you provide open, non-judgmental access to materials, but asking staff to take down a display is a form of censorship as it is a conscious act that will reduce the number of patrons who come into contact with those materials.

I respectfully ask that you please reflect on your policies and procedures and consider reaching out to LGBTQ+ groups for information and support in building a more welcoming and inclusive library system.

Response to “What’s in the children’s section of YOUR library?”

The Library Think Tank group on FB recently posted a link to a video from a woman (some sort of lifestyle vlogger, I think) who has some pretty strong views on library materials and programs.

I won’t post her video here, but it is called “What’s in the children’s section of YOUR library?”

vloggerlady

The woman lives in the US, but I saw some Canadians responding in her comment section too. As a Canadian who has a Bachelor of Education, who has been working in a public library for over 7 years, and who will beginning my Master of Library and Information Studies program in the fall, I’d like to respond with my thoughts on some of the comments made in this woman’s passionate rant video.

 

“For a long time I took my kids to the library every week. I want my kids to read. I want them to develop a love of reading”

That’s wonderful. I wish more families would visit the library regularly.

 

“I brought my kid here because I thought we were going to read something like Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel but that’s not what’s happening here. (They’re) trying to indoctrinate your kids”

“they read a story about a little boy who thought he was a girl…”

“the least you can do is tell parents hey, this story is pushing an agenda.”

It is unfortunate that you thought the story-time was not acceptable for your kids, but many other parents value diverse stories and want their kids to learn about families, children, and people who are different from them. Reading about people who are different than you is one of the best ways to develop empathy.

The only agenda being pushed here is a reflection of realitybased on the life experiences of many kids and people in this world. Whether you are comfortable with it or not, the library is for everyone, not just you. 

 

 “Drag queens are public libraries newest storytellers… when did it become the responsibility of the library to bring cross-dressers in to read stories to our children? I’d really love to know… this is not why we bring our kids to the library. We bring them… so they can improve their reading skills”

“Stop bringing drag queens into our library!”

As long as we live in a world where marginalized people are discriminated against, bullied, harassed, assaulted and denied equal rights in society, libraries have a responsibility to give these people voices and to make every effort to enlighten the general public that people who are different than you are not some faceless “other” to fear.

LGBTQ+ people face bullying, hate crimes, discrimination, and violence- even execution- just for being themselves.

We cannot hope to face discrimination, bullying and violence against LGBTQ+ people without making efforts to change the culture that promotes these actions in the first place. 

If you aren’t comfortable attending a Drag Queen Story Time, it’s simple- don’t go. Walk away. It’s your choice. Don’t try to take away the choice from others.

 

 “THIS IS NOT ABOUT CENSORSHIP. THIS IS ABOUT Y’ALL PUSHING STUFF ONTO OUR CHILDREN. COULD YOU JUST STOP ALREADY?”

“These are books with profanities, about sexual violence, suicide, transgenderism, homosexuality… suicide… hey, we love you library, but could you just not bring this stuff up to my kids?”

“I don’t care if you carry this stuff in your library, but the least you can do is make a section for it so that parents know what their children are reading”

“put it under gay and lesbian studies. Put it under transgenderism”

What you are advocating here IS a form of censorship.

Censorship doesn’t just mean outright banning of books, withdrawing them from the library system. Restricting certain titles and making an effort to hide them away or make them less accessible is an act of censorship. 

The library doesn’t push content on you. They provide a wide variety of materials- libraries have something for everyone. Our collections are ever-growing to reflect the diversity of our communities and our world, and to highlight a variety of perspectives on any given subject.

Libraries strive to give access to information. Again, if you want to censor what your child has access to, that’s on YOU as the parent. 

LGBTQ+ people are more than their chosen labels, or the labels we assign them. They are people with hopes, dreams, hobbies, and interests just like you. It is important that they have representation in stories because, as mentioned above, they face bullying, harassment and violence just because their identity isn’t understood. If the only people reading books with LGBTQ+ characters are those who are specifically seeking out LGBTQ+ reads, then the general public is missing out on a chance to read about someone different than themselves, and to develop empathy and acceptance. 

Furthermore, if we censored every title that someone didn’t like, there would be nothing left in the library! Censorship isn’t the answer.

Yes, some books contain content that is violent, profane, explicit, upsetting. Life also contains these things, unfortunately, no matter how safe we try to be. How can we learn about and discuss these topics if we can’t even read about them?

If you want to censor what your family sees, reads, and takes part in, that’s your choice as a parent, but that’s on YOU, not the library.

You want to bring your kids in to improve their reading skills, but that’s only one purpose of a library. Libraries are also places of programming, community, and tons more.

Please don’t boycott your library because it provides titles or programming that you do not appreciate. Talk to your library staff and librarians- I’m sure they can help you access many things that you WILL enjoy without restricting the access of others to content OTHERS might enjoy.

 

 

 

Freedom to Read: A Poem

I wrote this poem for Freedom to Read week, which happens at the end of February each year.

 

Freedom to Read

 

The Freedom to Read is truly precious;

vital, essential.

Take grave care that you do not lose

the freedom to learn, explore, peruse,

and pick up or put down whatever you choose.

This freedom, in fact, is the right to get wise;

to consider all sides, agree, criticize,

approve or disprove, with unlimited sources,

to scour all evidence with your own two eyes.

Having access to something doesn’t mean you promote it.

How do you seek truth in what you consume?

Pull it apart and consider who wrote it,

discuss every view, question, thought, and idea,

regardless of whether or not you support it.

Upsetting words upon a page,

voices in your ear, scenes on a screen,

may be deemed problematic, or fill you with rage,

but ignorance is not a solution.

How do we praise or denounce ideas

when they are locked tight in a far-away cage?

Who is to say what shouldn’t be

available to you, or them, or me?

Censorship, despite claiming noble intentions,

fixes nothing, suppresses all.

If you don’t like it, you need not look;

simply close the book.