Saturday, 25 September 2010

Can't You Hear Me? Then I'll Speak Louder! - Banned Books Week 2010

This may be the most difficult post I have ever written.  Be warned: some of it may not make easy reading.  But I want to speak out, because finally, after 40 odd years, I feel brave enough to do so. 

First, though, I want to talk about Speak the book. You may have heard of it.  It's been all over Twitter (with its own #SpeakLoudly hashtag) and the internet this week. This is because one Wesley Scroggins, Associate Professor of Management at Missouri State University would like it to be banned from the Republic School District on the grounds that he thinks it is 'soft porn'.  Let me quote some of what he says about it. 
   "This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time."

Now I have just finished Speak, and let me tell you that this man has a very different idea of what this book is about than I do.  The particular (small) part of the book he is focussing on in the last part of the sentence is not even a major plot element, but a brief and ironic flash of thought from the teenage protagonist, Melinda.  What the book is actually about is the effect of rape on one young girl.  I will also quote what the author, Laurie Halse Anderson, said about Scroggins' interpretation, because I can't put it better than she does.
   "To call rape "pornography" (as Scroggins did in his editorial) thus considering it as a sexually exciting act, is horrifying."  Yep.  Correct.  Halse Anderson also says, "If you use Scroggins' technique of cherry-picking lines from books, you can falsely accuse any story of just about anything you want. That is a destructive and shameful practice."  Once again, yep.  Correct.

The poet Louis Macneice once said that "the writer today should be not so much the mouthpiece of a community...as its conscience, its critical faculty, its generous instinct."  What Halse Anderson does in her book is brave, extraordinary, marvellous, sensitively handled and it fits right in with Macneice's criteria.  She shines a light on something uncomfortable, yes.  But the rape and abuse of schoolgirls by schoolboys is something which undeniably happens, and which, because of raw shame and paralysing fear, is almost never talked about in public by the victims and exposed to the sunlight.  It is because of this book that I have taken a very deep breath and decided to go public with my own story.  As a writer and someone who is lucky enough to have a voice and words to use as tools, I have written over 25 books for children.  My YA novel has as one of its themes bullying--a thing which I abhor. I use fiction to make my points mostly (although I have written several times on this blog about my fight with depression--another uncomfortable subject for many people).  What you are about to read is not fiction, and it has taken me over 40 years to let it out from the drawer in my head where it was locked up tight. 

It was a hot August afternoon and I was about 8 years old.  I was flattered that the two older boys wanted to play Doctors with me. They usually took no notice of me (and I wish that they had gone on doing so).  They laid me on a straw bale in the shed and took off my knickers and top.  I can still feel the prickliness of the straw on my back, and see the algae-stained transparent corrugated plastic roof with the jagged bit broken off the left-hand corner.  The sun shone and shone, and I could hear the voices of the strawberry pickers in the distance. The boys examined me thoroughly in their doctor roles.  It hurt a bit, but I was suddenly too scared to say anything.  They were a lot bigger than me.  Then they went outside to discuss the 'diagnosis'.  I can remember exactly what they said, and I shan't repeat it here.   In effect, they were arguing about whether to go 'all the way'. One wanted to, one was less sure.  I should say here that at that age, I had no idea about the 'facts of life'.  It was the '60's. You weren't told things like that at 8, then.  The one who was less sure won, thank God (who had taken her eye off me for a moment).  But I was told by both boys that if I ever said anything about what they had done, then they would tell everyone that I was 'a dirty little slut'.  I didn't know what that was, but it sounded bad, and I felt ashamed and filthy.  I didn't tell.  I never have.  Till now. 

Banning books like Halse Anderson's is wrong-headed, ignorant madness. She herself says that it has helped many victims of rape and abuse to come forward and begin the process of healing. So please join me, Speak Loudly and spread the word further about this fine and splendid novel.  And if my own story helps just one person who has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of another child,  it will have been worth telling.  
More about Banned Books Week and Speak HERE and HERE

46 comments:

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

My current WIP deals with the impact of rape. I was appalled when someone reading a part of it said, "shouldn't she get over this by now, why's she still dealing with it - it's a year later...". I don't think people have a clue how deep the impact goes.
Kudos, my dearest Lucy, for such a brave and intelligent post. xxx

Lucy Coats said...

Thank you for such a quick response, Nicky. It is because so many people haven't a clue that I wrote this. When the abuse happened I felt I had no choice but to keep silent. Now I choose to let that shame and guilt (which is almost the worst part of all) go. It is a great relief to me.

Ellen Renner said...

Reading this made me feel slightly ill for several reasons. One is that Springfield, Missouri is my home town and I went to the local university, now called Missouri State University. I'm shocked that an associate professor at my old uni should actively promote censorship of this kind. I loathe book banners & hate to think of them hard at work in my home town.
I haven't read the book in question (or heard of it) but I will certainly do so now.
And thank you, Lucy, for your brave post. Rape affects all women, whether we have ever been abused ourselves or not. And it's an issue which needs to be addressed without shame or fear or prurience. And without banning books.

Lynn Huggins - Cooper said...

This is a superb, brave post Lucy my love. As a survivor of abuse myself, what you say chimes with my thoughts exactly. Over the years my life has been touched by many people, male and female, who have experienced sexual abuse. It is so hard to raise the subject as one feels so ashamed and isolated - somehow 'other.' Novels that address the issue and speak into the silence help people to give voice their pain and the very idea that they should be banned as 'pornographic' makes me sick. Thanks so much for this, Lucy xxx

Keren David said...

Thank you for this brave and important post. How extraordinary that this silly and dangerous man has evoked such a powerful response from you and so many others.
I wonder whether the boys involved remember what they did and been haunted by shame and fear of what might have been. Well done for owning the memory and letting go.

Maria said...

Lucy, what a brave and generous post you've shared here with us. What a horrible ordeal you went through and to think you bottled it up for 40 years. Looking at my own 8 year old daughter as I read it makes me so angry that this happened to you. Your openness about it will surely prompt others who've been through anything similar to speak up. A beautifully written, honest and touching post. Hugs. Maria x

Katherine Langrish said...

Lucy, I echo what the others have said - it's heroic of you to put up this post. I haven't read this book, but now I shall. Thankyou so much - and another hug from me.

Ellen Brickley said...

Lucy, thank you for this post. And thank you for your bravery.

I have already blogged in support of Speak, but I cannot say enough in support of that book and the many women and men that it has helped.

Thanks again.

Book Maven said...

What a horrible experience! And having to re-live it must have been very hard. Have a hug from me too.

And I'll have to read Speak now.

rachelcarter.me said...

Gosh. What an ignorant man and well done to you for speaking out. Of course what he has achieved here is potentially more sales of the book. I am very keen to read it now. I was very moved by your post and am very sorry you felt ashamed for such a long long time.
I'm thinking of Alice Sebold's 'Lucky' now and how angry attitudes to her experience made me feel.

Lucy Coats said...

Ellen, Lynn, Keren and Maria. Your comments have made me sure that this was the right thing to do. Thank you.

Ellen, I can understand your feelings, but one man doesn't make a town. I am sure that there are many in Springfield who will feel as you do.
Lynn--as you and I know all too well, and as I said to Nicky above, the shame and isolation are the reasons this Thing stays underground. The more of us who speak out and up and take power back from what has been done to us, the more we can help others.
Keren--I shouldn't think they even give it a moment's thought. It was a very long time ago. I can't wonder, really, because there is no point for me in doing so.
Maria--I too have a daughter as you know, but older. We try to protect them so hard, but it's not always possible. I am just thankful that these days talking to and being open with your children is encouraged! Bringing up children is a wonderful adventure for me and I'm thankful for that too.

Susie said...

I'm almost grateful to the witless Scroggins for his absurd campaign: I too only read 'Speak' this week. Since then I've read so many posts from people, like you, who've had the extraordinary courage to speak of their own experiences, empowered by this book. I can't think of a stronger case for making it more widely available - to readers male and female, teen and otherwise. Thank you for sharing.

Tessa said...

God, that is iniquitous! Outrageous. How about Alice Sebold's 'The Lovely Bones' which was published to great aclaim and even made into a (rather bad, actually) movie?
Bravo for bringing this to our attention in such an eloquent manner. Thank you.

Nick Cross said...

Do those dark memories of the past define who we are as writers or simply hold us back from achieving our full potential? I think with your bravery here, Lucy, you point to the latter and illustrate your point about books with great lucidity.
I know some might call the survivors of childhood abuse damaged, but there is something about writing that makes us whole again.

Lucy Coats said...

Kath and Mary--as always, your friendship is a shining light in my life.
Ellen--I've commented on your blog. Thank you too.
Rachel--very often good can come out of 'evil', as in this case. I wouldn't have come across 'Speak' if it hadn't been for the #SpeakLoudly campaign on Twitter.
Susie 'the witless Scroggins'. I LIKE that one!
Tessa--yes, the Lovely Bones is another good example. I didn't like the movie either btw. But Sebold didn't move me in the way that Halse Anderson did.
Nick--I've never felt that this or anything else has held me back from achieving my full potential as a writer. But you are entirely correct in your premise that writing makes us whole again.

Thank you all, and please spread the word!

Amy Baskin said...

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Lucy. When we #speakloudly, we shine the klieg lights on painful circumstances. The more we speak out, the less agressors can hide in the shadows. If we all speak out, and there will be no occasion for those abused to feel shame.

Leila R said...

Thank you for this strong and important post, Lucy. These are things that should be spoken about.

Jackie Morris said...

From what you say it sounds as if Speak should be a set text for children in schools these days, for both boys and girls. I think they have such a difficult time growing up in a world where young girls are dressed up to look like prostitutes, where women in music still continue to sell themselves through the medium of sex. How are boys and girls ever to learn how to relate to each other , to respect each other, to understand and respect themselves and their own feelings?
Children and young adults can learn so much through reading.
We carry so many things through our lives, blaming ourselves always, feeling shame for things we either did or didn't do.
I will get this book, for both my son and for my girl to read.
And thank you for your honesty and your courage and your rage.

Caroline said...

This is very close to the bone for me and all I can think to say is that you are a brave and amazing woman. I mean this with all of my heart x

Gillian Philip said...

What a wonderful and courageous post, Lucy. I've been following the SpeakLoudly campaign on Twitter, but now I will order the book immediately. xxx

fionadunbar said...

As all have said, a brave and important post, Lucy; thank you so much for your honesty, and for drawing this book to our attention. People like Scroggins only end up shooting themselves in the foot, because in attempting to cover something up, they only serve to highlight it.

Fire Byrd said...

When I was 14 a gang of lads ranging in ages from 15 to 22 about 6 of them held me down with the intention of raping me. They got my top off. It was only cause my sister heard my screams from where she was playing nearby (she was 12) that they didn't get any further.
I have dealt with this and the bullying I got at school. But it is probably no accident that I've been a therapist for the last 25 years.

LINDA M. FAULKNER said...

As the mother of a rape survivor, I applaud you for sharing your story and understand why it took so long to do so.

Abuse and small-mindedness affects us all. It seems that the small-minded man who wants to ban SPEAK has, unintentionally, done a good thing. He has united those of us who abhor violence and censorship.

Here's one more person who will be reading that book.

Stroppy Author said...

It didn't let me comment last night, so now I'm coming late to it. Huge hugs, as you know. Very courageous xxx

LisaD said...

Well done on sharing your story so bravely and for supporting this important book. I will be ordering it straight away. people who try to ban books are appalling.

Catherine Hughes said...

Lucy...

I've been in hiding, as you know, and it was only by chance that I came and read your post. I am so sorry I missed it until now.

I haven't read the book but I am always bemused, more than anything, when people want literature to be banned. I'll be reading it soon, that's for sure.

In the meantime, I am in awe of your courage. And please feel free to just delete the ignorant email I sent you last night - you have better things to do!

Much love

Cat x

Keith Charters said...

Lucy, as others including Fiona Dunbar have said, someone attempting to ban something usually gives it the best publicity it could get and is totally self-defeating. I offer up Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax, c/o DJ Mike Reid.
Good on you for speaking out, and also for sharing. Not an easy thing to do. Respect.

Rachael Kelly said...

Anyone needing help or advice about rape or sexual abuse can find it here http://www.rapecrisis.org.uk/centres.php

If you are looking for a counsellor look here to find a qualified one http://wam.bacp.co.uk/wam/SeekTherapist.exe?NEWSEARCH

Anyone in the Warwickshire area can get free counselling from RoSA where I work as a volunteer counsellor, men and women both welcome http://www.survivorguide.co.uk/

Runny Thinker said...

Wow. Agree with every word of your argument, and awed by the honesty and bravery.

Rhiannon said...

Lucy, I made a comment and the internet seems to have eaten it.

The gist was that I read 'Speak' as a teenager and thought it very powerful. I'm saddened that there aren't many more books like this and that the trend seems to be towards fewer challenging texts.

Also, this is a brave and powerful post and thank you for making it. It's not naming the bad things we should fear but the bad things themselves.

Lucy Coats said...

First, I know Blogger has been playing up again and not publishing some of your comments at all. Apologies--and please keep trying. I think it's fixed now (at the risk of letting in some spam).
Amy, Leila, Jackie, Caroline, Gillian, Fiona, Fire Byrd, Linda, Anne, LisaD, Cat, Keith, Rachael, Runny Thinker and Rhiannon--thank you all. As I have said before, your comments, moving shared stories (via this blog, email and elsewhere), support and useful resources are a source of immense strength and comfort to me. The sun may not be shining on the UK today, but I am feeling the warmth anyway. :-)

Charlie Butler said...

Late on the scene, but I just want to echo what others have said and thank you for writing this courageous post.

Mundie Moms said...

It makes me sick that people in the world do this kind of stuff to kids and others. It makes me so disgusted that people want to ban books that talk about this. Rape and all sorts of horrible things are happening to children and teens and even adults every day. One book may be the voice that a victim needs to SPEAK UP.

Thank you for sharing your story!

Jo Treggiari said...

Very brave Lucy, and thank you.

Lucy Coats said...

Charlie, Mundie Moms and Jo--thank you for your support. Mundie Moms--you say " One book may be the voice that a victim needs to SPEAK UP" Exactly. It was for me. Perhaps if I'd had this book at 12 or 13 or 14, I might have done so sooner, and not had to lock everything up for so many years.

Savita Kalhan said...

I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your terrible experience - I know from experience that it's a very a difficult thing to do.
And thank you for highlighting SPEAK, which I know is a must-read. (One of my novels about an Indian girl shares a similar theme, but may never see the light of day for just this reason, although I have been told that it's a powerful read by some very high profile publishers! It's seen as too risky, although it isn't graphic, for 14+ teens. Still hoping for a brave publisher...)
On the theme of the Banned Books week, I'm doing a blog for ABBA about my experience of living in a country where most books were banned.

Lucy Coats said...

Savita--I hope to read your novel one day. Sounds just the sort of important thing publishers should be taking on. And I shall look forward to you ABBA blog very much.

Samantha VĂ©rant said...

Lucy- Thank you for your courage. We all have to SPEAK LOUDLY. Abuse comes in many forms. Even guilt. This book, and probably this whole campaign, has helped people everywhere, I'm sure of it. What we are doing as a community is raising our voices together. So through all this "bad" comes a very good thing. SPEAK!

Lucy Coats said...

Samantha--yes. Sometimes, as in the case of the #SpeakLoudly movement, a rose grows and blooms out of a dark place.

Candy Gourlay said...

I am very late to this piece, Lucy ... but it's never too late. I salute you and yes, SPEAK LOUDER everyone. and I for one, will try to WRITE LOUDER too.

You are an inspiration.

Lucy Coats said...

Yes, Candy--WRITE LOUDER too! An excellent reminder of the power of the pen. Thank you.

Jan Kozlowski said...

Lucy, thank you for your wonderful, brave and inspiring post. I am a survivor of childhood abuse as well and I understand how difficult it is to write those words for the world to see.

Silence is the enemy. Silence allows abusers and abusive situations to flourish. Silence kills, but books like SPEAK and Crutcher's CHINESE HANDCUFFS save lives.

Lucy Coats said...

Jan - how right you are. And there has been a conspiracy of silence for far too long. I have not read CHINESE HANDCUFFS, but I shall go and look for it now. Thank you for your comment, every time I read the words 'I am a survivor', my heart breaks for all of us. But we DO survive, and sometimes the scars even heal.

Lizzie said...

Wow. Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is incredibly brave of you to, even after all these years. You're definitely inspiring and making me want to further share my own story. Thank you so much for posting this. <3

Linda said...

All best wishes and admiration to you. During my teaching career I found myself supporting several girls who had been molested or raped, and the one thing they all needed was a voice, to express their grief and anger and confusion. Harder still, at times, was the reaction of their parents, many of whom blamed themselves for not protecting their daughters better. One mother, I remember, was so unable to cope that she refused to come into physical contact with her poor child - it was easier to blame the girl than help her. This book could be very useful in schools for pastoral staff, with copies to lend parents or girls.

Sarah said...

Well said, Lucy! And thanks for sharing your own experience, things like that are important. x

 
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