Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, September 22, 2014

A look at some of the leading ladies of Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week began yesterday(and ends on Sept. 27) and the official focus this year is on graphic novels, a genre that has been put in the spotlight by eager censors lately.

However, for LRG, our theme for 2014 is the Leading Ladies of Literature, women of all ages,backgrounds and genres who have been targeted not only what their books say to the world but their gender as well. Some might argue that many male authors have had their fair share of troubles in this department and while I do not dispute or discount that, it seems to me that some things appear to be seen as more of a threat to the status quo when the voice of dissent happens to be female.

A classic example of this is Harper Lee's one and only novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and has a revered place in American literature. It's themes of racial prejudice and injustice were rather hot buttons topics of the day(and still are),but the tenderly touching way that the book's  child heroine Scout dealt with them made a bit of difference towards how society looked at those harsh truths.

For years, it was rumored that Truman Capote(a long time friend of Ms. Lee) was the actual author of the book, based on the stereotypical assumption that a book this significant could have only come from a man. That falsehood has long since been discredited but sadly, bias against this book has not.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a commonly assigned book for middle school to high school students yet  it's still being challenged today for "language,adult themes and conflicting with the values of the community." Perhaps if some of those objectors took a moment to listen to Scout as she innocently brings out the humanity amongst the hateful adults around her, they might see the true value of this book in any community:

Another Pulitzer Prize winning writer also has had her most acclaimed novel, The Color Purple, hassled by folks who insist that the story of Celie, an African-American woman in the 1930s forced into an abusive marriage by an abusive father was too much for readers of a certain age to take.

However, that story is a heartbreaking as well as a heartwarming look at the courage it takes for a woman to rise above her circumstances to seek her own happiness and dignity in life. All too often, women of color such as Maya Angelou,Toni Morrison, Isabel Allende and Sandra Cisneros have had their works challenged by those who prefer to sweep certain subjects under the rug and a few who would rather keep women "in their place."

Given the current attention to domestic violence in the news these days, a book like The Color Purple proves to be very timely and should be read more widely, in order to encourage empathy and perhaps provide some motivation for those who need it to get out of a bad situation in real life:

What is truly puzzling when it comes to censors is how threatened they are by books that are out and out fantasies. For one thing, just about every book in the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling has caused cries of outrage from people who insist that the books are recruitment guides for Satanists.

Never mind that the only spell cast by this series upon young and older readers alike is the compulsion to read more, the real magic is that Rowling's books were powerful enough to overcome author gender bias. Originally, she was told that "boys don't read books by a girl" and therefore used just the first initials in her name upon publication.

Once it was revealed that J.K.(Joanne Kathleen) was a woman, that didn't slow down her book sales at all. In fact, many of her best beloved characters in the Harry Potter realm are the amazing females on the side of good(and some of her evil ones,too).

 From the dreamy sweetness of Luna Lovegood to the tough but fair Professor McGonagall and protective mother witch Mrs. Weasley, the admirable ladies on display are remarkable to behold. Yet, the one who stands out the best and the bright is Hermione Granger, whose intelligence is as fierce as her spells are and is considered the greatest witch of all time(not to mention best friend as well):

The latest fantasy series under fire is The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, where Katniss Everdeen takes part in the brutal title tournament in order to spare her little sister and winds up beating the twisted totalitarian hierarchy in charge at their own game.

It does seem odd that the objections to these books include charges of being "anti-family"(doesn't saving your sister count as a positive there?) and "sexually explicit"(granted, I only read the first two books but nobody even gets a chance to kiss for long in this story) and "occult"(the story takes place in a futuristic society that relies heavily on technology). Are some of these accusations being applied, I wonder, due to the fact that Suzanne Collins is female and not expected to write about such things as violence and social upheaval?

 Katniss is a warrior maiden but also a very human girl trying her hardest to deal with the harsh challenges put in her path, both political and personal. Maybe it would be good of those people who have a problem with these books to take a closer look at the humanity that drives Katniss to lead others into a better world for all:

Now we come back to graphic novels, which have many fine women artists/writers being banned such as Alison Bechdel and Marjane Satrapi, the latter of whom created a brilliant two part memoir about the changing times in Iran during the 1970s and 80s with Persepolis.

In 2013, Persepolis was pulled from seventh grade reading list in Chicago, due to "graphic language and images not appropriate for general use." One only has to watch the news to see just how sadly appropriate a book like this for young people to get a better sense of what is happening overseas and even here at home.

The freedom to read is very precious, especially since it offers a platform to those who have no voice or who are forced by social pressure to suffer in silence. Only by gaining insight and empathy can we change the world for the betterment of all and reading is the key that opens the door. As we think about the impact of books and reading this week, let us cheer those heroines both on and off the page who rise up with the will to survive and thrive:

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