Sunday, May 13, 2012

Banning Books: The American Way?

I was appalled to read that libraries throughout the country are pulling 50 Shades of Grey from their shelves. If you haven't read this article, please do,

There are hardly words for me to express how wrong this is, on so many levels.  I am enraged that more women aren't protesting.  Where is the feminist outcry over this obviously sexist assault on what we choose to read?  This is a prime opportunity for the romance community and feminists to show their power.  Romance and feminism are not antithesis.  Quite the opposite.

An aside (before I reeve up for my tirade). Dirty books have always been a huge part of feminism for me (see previous blogpost about my definition of feminism being about choice). When I was a high school freshman, I got ahold of the list of books banned by the Catholic Church (I am not Catholic, so I looked at this as a suggestion list, not blasphemy) and read every one of them, starting with Portnoy's Complaint.  I was probably the only teenager at the Bronx High school of Science who has read Ulysses, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Justine (I'd also read Lolita, Fanny Hill, Candy, Fear of Flying and Delta of Venus).  I got them all out of the New York Public Library.  After about the third book (I think it was Fanny Hill), the librarians knew me because I had asked them where some of these books were (in the old days of the Dewey decimal system library card catalog).  They lead me to the "secret" cupboard of dirty books in a separate room and told me to go in and get whatever I wanted (I think the Joy of Sex, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex and Xavier Hollander's books were there too, but that was nonfiction and I was only interested in fiction).

Smut made me into the voracious reader I am.  I cut my literary teeth on smut.  Some of that smut was later decried literature, but all of it was deemed reprehensible by someone.

After reading Delta of Venus and Little Birds by Anais Nin, I wrote in my journal at 17 that some day I wanted to grow up and start an erotic magazine for women.  Three decades later, I started an erotic ebook company.  So you see, sharing the diversity of female sexuality has always been a dream of mine.

And the reason I wanted to start an erotic magazine (that was the quick and cheap means of communication in the 70's) was because almost all the smut I read was by men, and even then I knew that women needed to express their sexuality freely and frequently.  Our voices (or moans) needed to be heard. Loudly.

Male authors have been expressing their sexuality in print for years.  It's our turn.

EL James is the tip of the iceberg of this revolution.  

We MUST fight for our right to female-expressed erotic content in libraries.  This is about much more than censorship.  It's about personhood and the right to see women express their sexually as freely as men, and the right to choose.

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy needs to be available in every library in America to inspire every young girl  (and boy) who seeks it out.  S/he should be able to find a reflection of female sexuality without judgment.

If I had Bill Gates' money, I'd buy a set of her books for every library in America.


tlbodine said...

I don't know...when I read that, my first thought was, " this weird? do libraries *normally* carry erotica?" Not being a big romance reader myself, and only ever reading erotica online, it never occurred to me that you would ever find smutty books in the library.

I can't imagine it's any different/worse from a DVD rental (do those places still exist?) that doesn't carry porn. Sure, you can rent some adult DVDs at Hastings, but it's sort of in the minority there (and the selection is terrible).

Scintillating and revolutionary though 50 Shades may be, I don't think anybody is in a rush to call it "great literature." Lady Chatterly's Lover and Lolita get a pass with libraries because of their quality, but I would consider those things to be the exception, not the rule.

But like I said, I am woefully ignorant of the thriving erotica market. Perhaps there's substantially more contemporary smut in the library than I'm giving it credit for.

Ravenous Romance said...

No, not every erotic novel is "literature," but 50 Shades of Grey is definitely a "classic," a phenomenon, and a pop culture experience. EL James was just chosen as one of the top 100 people of 2012 by Time Magazine. It SHOULD be available to the American public through libraries, and anything else is out and out censorship and sexism.

Anonymous said...

In the UK, public libraries are being closed to save money.

Censorship; banning and burning books - even of no literary merit - is anathema to civil freedom of thought and speech. Under repressive totalitarian governments, extreme religious states, and non-democratic regimes, control of media, including books is common.

In 'liberal' free thinking countries, any book which argued for the overthrow of Western capitalist banks which offend against cultures where money-lending is considered sinful, might be banned.

People's reading preferences are being judged, and paternalistically deemed 'unsuitable' - an insidious form of cultural fascism.

It's not just sex, but 'kinky' sex. Politically incorrect; about women submitting to powerful men in the bedroom.

Barbara Cartland's entire bestselling ouevre is about women submitting to powerful men, although she always steered clear of anything requiring tissues or the bathroom afterwards.

In the 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'trial, one of the antagonists asked: "Is this a book you'd wish your wife or servants to read?!", betraying his attitude: women were feeble-minded and would imitate actions they'd read. The revelation: middle aged 'respectable' women are the main market for genre BDSM (Fifty Shades of Grey is not acclaimed by the majority of self-identified BDSM 'lifestylers') has caused Moral Panic.

Men prefer pictures. When it comes to reading fiction - from Proust to Cartland - women are 80% of readers. In the serious lit crit world, men account for around 75% of critics, 70% of books they review are by male authors.

Of erotica, most successful authors are women. The few men often write under a female pen name, or obscure their gender; using initials.

Sadly the market abounds with formulaic, cliché ridden genre trash. There are some exceptions, and only the e-publishing phenomenon means they can reach wider audiences. In the UK there's less awareness of Fifty Shades of Grey, despite the author being British.

I bet she had fun with Random House. In the UK Grey is the colour the USA spell 'gray'. Because the US market is so much bigger, I've published there under my pen-name of Marge T Felcher with Sizzler Intoxication, part of Renaissance e-books. But I write in British English. I spell bum; 'arse': they call a bum a hobo, and spell butt; 'ass'. I can't do it 'til it comes to the final USA re-edit. When my female characters start speaking with American accents, I think of Britney Spears, which completely puts me off writing about sex.

It's time more was written about sex. If the love of money is the root of all evil, repressed sexual attitudes come a close second. UK literary agents are terrified of representing authors who write about sex. Even my non-erotic writing involves sexual attitudes as a major element. I wonder if Fifty Shades of Grey will change anything?

In June I'm reading at the first Edinburgh Festival of the Erotic Arts. Even though I'm appearing as Marge T Felcher I won't be dressing as Mrs Doubtfire and adopting a falsetto voice. I expect my audience to be composed more of women than men; certainly the letters I get from readers are mostly from women. The men will probably be looking at pictures.

There's more sexism than censorship in Wisconsin's snobbery not supplying libraries with Fifty Shades of Grey. Underlying it all there's a deep fear of allowing women to be self-determined, which is a much more fundamental problem, affecting our culture in a particularly damaging way. Until men realise women have the right to their own sexual self-expression, they're going to be very miserable, because women are already taking control of Universities, workplaces and government.

Robert Zoltan said...

Whether or not the book is high quality, it's obviously popular enough that it should be in the library. There are plenty of crap non-erotica books in the library.

The prejudice against sexuality is still in our culture (thanks partly to the influence of the Puritans, which lingers like the pain of an old war wound), as evidenced by the Paypal debacle concerning erotica (which I fought against) and now the refusal of the library to carry this book.

I agree. People, especially women, need to stand up and refuse to be censored and shamed and marginalized by these neurotic, sex-fearing, body-hating people.

Keep up the good fight,
Robert Szeles
Author of "Jack & Dora Do L.A."