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Book-Banning Controversy

Originally Published By: Women’s eNews on December 13, 2010

A book-banning effort against “Speak,” a young-adult novel about date rape, is creating an uproar. A campus group is making a documentary, a Twitter feed is discussing censorship and a library group expects the controversy to attract teen readers.

(WOMENSENEWS)–A Missouri State University professor’s bid to ban a young-adult novel about date rape, among other “filthy books,” from the school district’s English courses is spurring young-adult authors and teachers to speak out against censorship in a country where more than 10,676 books have been challenged in libraries and schools since 1990.

“Teens don’t live in a vacuum,” Andrea Cremer, author of the young-adult novel “Nightshade,” wrote in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal. “They inhabit the same brutal world as adults without the knowledge and tools of adulthood. For those teens whose lives have already been affected by drugs, violence, suicide or any number of traumatic experiences–what children as well as adults struggle with–books can provide comfort, healing or simply the realization that one isn’t alone.”

One in six women will be a victim of sexual assault during her life, according to data published by the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, based in Washington, D.C. Young women between 16 and 19 are four times more likely to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault.

“Speak,” a young-adult novel by Laurie Halse Anderson about a teen who was raped at a party, is on the New York Times bestseller list, was a National Book Award finalist and has received many honors, including the Michael L. Printz and Golden Kite awards.

However, Wesley Scroggins, an associate professor of business management at Missouri State University in Springfield and a fundamentalist Christian, is demanding that “Speak” and two other books be banned from public high school English coursework in Republic, Mo.

Scroggins filed his complaint in June to the Missouri public school board and wrote an opinion piece on Sept. 18, arguing that the two rape scenes in the novel should be classified as “soft pornography.”

Call to Ban Two Other Books

One of the other books Scroggins wants struck from high school reading lists is “Slaughterhouse Five,” the 1969 antiwar novel by Kurt Vonnegut, which Scroggins complains has too much profane language and sex for high school students.

The other is “Twenty Boy Summer,” by Sarah Ockler, published in 2009. Scroggins said the book “glorifies drunken teen parties” and sex on the beach with condoms.

He is opposed by those who argue rape is a violent act of assault–not porn–and that removing the book would infringe on students’ First Amendment rights.

“Teen readers lose their First Amendment rights as well as access to information that may help them grow intellectually or emotionally if a book is unjustly removed from their local school or public library, or if the library unjustly restricts access to it in some way,” Beth Yoke, executive director of the Chicago-based Young Adult Library Services Association, said in an interview with Women’s eNews.

Since 1990, the association has documented the removal of at least 10 books from the schools and public libraries in Missouri. However, the information provided to the group is voluntary, said Bryan Campbell, an administrative assistant for the Chicago-based Office for Intellectual Freedom, in an email interview.

He also said the group is working on a system for larger data collection that may provide a more reliable picture of book banning statistics in the future.

Each year the American Library Association, based in Chicago, recommends a variety of books to libraries, including “contemporary realistic fiction that reflects the diversity of the teen experience.”

Hundreds of books, including some recommended by the organization, are also challenged or banned from schools and libraries each year.

Between 1990 and 2009 the most common reason listed for challenging a book was “sexually explicit,” at 3,046 complaints. Complaints of “violence” numbered 1,258, according to data provided by the American Library Association.

Thousands Say Thanks

“When ‘Speak’ was published, there was some whispering that this was not an appropriate topic for teens,” Halse Anderson said in an interview with the Springfield, Mo., News-Leader four days after Scroggins attacked the book on the newspaper’s opinion page.

She added that thousands of readers had written to thank her for the book: “They said it made them feel less alone and gave them the strength to speak up about being sexually assaulted and other painful secrets.”

The highly popular young-adult author, Judy Blume, a frequent target of book banning herself, has written to the National Council Against Censorship, based in New York City, on behalf of Halse Anderson.

Ockler, author of “Twenty Boy Summer,” one of the three books condemned by Scroggins, blogged on her Web site in September and October about the dangers of censorship. She also emphasized the importance of healthy discussions among parents and their children: “Truly asking for parental involvement would mean encouraging parents to read the books in question, discuss issues and themes with their kids and come to their own decisions about what’s best for their own families.”

“I’m against book banning in schools,” Daisy Whitney, author of “The Mockingbirds,” a young-adult book published on Nov. 2 that also treats the subject of date rape, said in a phone interview. “‘Speak’ is a novel that has helped so many teenagers understand the emotions surrounding someone who has been through a traumatic experience. The reason some people have suggested banning ‘Speak’ also concerns me because in no way should rape ever be equated with sex.”

Teachers, Librarians, Parents Protest

Paul Hankins, an English teacher from Indiana, started a Twitter feed called SpeakLoudly in response to Scroggins’ complaints. A community of teachers, librarians, parents and publishers also founded with Hankins soon after, in September.

The controversy has also helped publicize the books under attack for censorship.

“Tell a teen that a book is banned or challenged and they will want to read it to find out why,” said Yoke, of the Young Adult Library Services Association. “So, in one way, book banning actually piques many teens’ interest in the controversial titles.”

Vern Minor, superintendant of the Republic school district where Scroggins’ complaint was received by the school board, told the News-Leader in September that “Slaughterhouse Five” was removed from the English course curriculum.

However, in a Dec. 6 e-mail with Women’s eNews, he said: “We have not made any decisions on the books in question. Our discussions are currently focused on board policy, not the three books per se. We are really trying to look at this matter from a much broader perspective than just three books.”

The school board hopes to set standards for book selection. They do not have a set time frame to implement the revised curriculum policies.

Candice Tucker and Brandon Bond, students at Missouri State, have started filming a documentary about the events, censorship and Scroggins’ “radical views.” Bond has also launched an advocacy group on Facebook called “No More Banned Books,” where he hopes to fight against “the enemies of reason and tolerance.”


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Christa Fletcher is an online writer and editor dedicated to promoting awareness about women’s issues. Her work has been featured by Channel One News,, Marie Claire and she keeps a blog at

For more information:

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network:

National Council Against Censorship:




A Novel Debut

A Remedy in Writing

Originally Published by on November 1, 2010

Author and Media Expert Daisy Whitney

“Talking about things is what helps us heal and recover from challenging times in life,” explains Daisy Whitney, host of New Media Minute and author of The Mockingbirds. Yet, many women feel silenced about sexual abuse – especially teens who have been date raped. Daisy Whitney just might change that with her new book. She knows a thing or two about overcoming obstacles and finding the strength to speak out.

Daisy Whitney is a talented writer and media expert with a thriving personal business and family. She’s also releasing her debut novel, The Mockingbirds, on November 2, 2010, which has already received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. Yet, her journey to success and “masterfully” written novel began with a hardship — one that changed her life and inspired her to write about date rape, vigilantism and academic politics.

Daisy Whitney was date raped when she was 19-years-old and she understands firsthand what it means to find her voice and the strength to press charges against her attacker. “I was a freshman in college at the time and am definitely a big believer in the power of speaking up.”

With the support of her friends Whitney pressed charges in her school’s justice system at Brown University. “In the early nineties we were starting to understand date rape,” said Whitney in an interview. “Institutions now have disciplinary systems that recognize sexual assault as a violation of the


Thankfully, her school handled Whitney’s case and she healed from the incident by being able to talk about it and find closure for herself. After receiving her degree, Whitney started her career in journalism as a reporter and later founded her own business as a reporter and media expert.

The Mockingbirds is the first in a series about a secret society in a private high school called Themis Academy. The protagonist,Alex, is sexually assaulted after a night of drinking. She struggles to remember what happened that night as she copes with her fear of the classmate who raped her. Her friends provide guidance when she realizes that she has been violated and abused. In her quest to heal, she encounters the Mockingbirds, a student-run justice system and she decides to press charges against her attacker.

The Mockingbirds, by Daisy Whitney

In this exciting and evocative book, Whitney captures the complexity of date rape with her narrative about Alex, an exceptional concert pianist who wants to pursue music at Juilliard. Whitney creates a powerful scenario, filled with realistic characters that show teens the trials of coping and the importance of finding empowerment after assault.

The novel comes at a crucial time. One in six women will become victims of sexual assault during their lifetime, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Many of them are girls, ages 16-19. The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault estimates nearly half of reported cases of sexual assault and attempted rape are teens. “According to a study conducted by The Northern Westchester Shelter, with Pace Women’s Justice Center, about 83% of 10th graders said they would sooner turn to a friend for help with dating abuse than a teacher, counselor, parent or other caring adult,” said Whitney in an email.

For Daisy Whitney, speaking up and increasing awareness are not only key elements of her novel, they are also part of her business plan, turning her tragedy to triumph, while helping teens on the way.

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Sit, Watch, Enjoy: A Night at the Movies

Eat, Pray, Love
Image via Wikipedia

I first read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert during my own four-month stint in India. I was riveted by the story she told, but for some reason, some sections felt self-indulgent and disingenuous — I’m not sure why. This was not the case when I watched the film on Tuesday.

Like the book, Gilbert takes a tri-country trip to find herself, first to Italy, where she abstains from sex, while consuming an orgy of pasta and wine. Next, she prays in India at an ashram where she learns to clear her mind and guilty conscience about her life choices. Finally, in Bali, she learns to love, not just friends and family, but herself.

Before seeing the movie I was quite skeptical. I feared that the worst parts of the book would be the basis for the film, or, the director would turn Gilbert’s story into a romantic-comedy schmultz-fest. Thankfully, neither occurred. The pacing of the film, along with the casting, were fantastic. Each actor seemed perfect in his or her role.

I rarely see such raw emotional performances in mass market films. Billy Crudup as Stephen, trying to convince Gilbert that “she is his dream,” while she is trying to divorce him, was devastating. Yet, I thought James Franco as David, was a perfect foil to Stephen and his mundane relationship with Gilbert. Franco has the charm, passion and immaturity you can see was impossible for her to avoid, but there was something incomplete about him as well. And, from Julia Roberts’ performance, you knew something was incomplete about her too.

When she meets Richard Jenkins’ character, Richard from Texas, Gilbert is really struggling with finding god. But there’s a special relationship of support between the two characters that I found so evocative. Jenkins is very talented, evidenced by his dynamic dialogue with Roberts at a table outside and when he reveals why he’s at the ashram on the roof. His pain and past torture him — you can almost feel it in your gut.

Javier Bardem as Felipe is as magic as the cinematography in Bali. His lust for Roberts onscreen oozes from the screen like one of Wayan’s health concoctions, making the audience feel good and right with the notion of love. I was particularly touched by the scene with his son when Philipe cries when saying good bye and Gilbert gets choked up too.  To have that ability to love, so completely — Gilbert didn’t stand a chance.

Most notable about the film, and I don’t mean any disrespect to Gilbert as the author, was the genuineness of the journey portrayed by Julia Roberts. I’m not a Gilbert hater, nor am a jealous of her trip and success like some, but at times, in the book, she came across as selfish. Roberts’ acting seemed to combat that feeling I had from the book. I felt compassion and sympathy for her in the film, like so many others experiences when reading Eat, Pray, Love.

I know that sounds totally backwards to think Julia Roberts’ acting was more authentic than reading Gilbert’s words, but there was something amazing about her performance — an honesty that made me want her to overcome those emotional demons and find the inner peace she desperately wanted.

And, who could deny the emotional performances of those four men? I feel like this strong supporting cast really enriched the story and made for a better film. It was great to see actors who could hold their own with Roberts and to finally get the Eat, Pray, Love moment millions felt when they read the book a few years ago.

All in all, a great night at the movies.

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Celebrity Mother Knows Best?

Gwyneth Paltrow, Image By Virgin Media

There are many celebrity moms who are taking the media by storm as “pregnancy pundits,” touting parenting tips, fitness advice and more. Stars like Angelina Jolie, Bryce Dallas Howard and celebrity bloggers Kourtney Kardashian and Bethenny Frankel, dazzle audiences with their openness and cute photos. And people are reading it.

Now, the list of pregnancy pundits continues to grow beyond the third trimester. Gisele Bundchen is a champion for breast-feeding and home births, while Gwyneth Paltrow is releasing her new cook book and revealing her struggles with postpartum depression. “I was confronted with one of the darkest and most painfully debilitating chapters of my life,” Paltrow wrote in her newsletter, GOOP.

Yet, these moms aren’t the only ones willing to share their family secrets and personal insights on motherhood. A number of celebrity mom and babe sites are filling the Google search engine, baby powdering the web with photos of  A-list babies and the products their famous mommies use, sometimes, without their permission. So, why all the interest in these leading ladies and their broods?

Gisele Bundchen in Vogue

Well, I think there are a few things at play, first, people are nosy and they want to know everything about these women’s personal lives. Second, pregnancy, birth and motherhood are no longer taboo to discuss. Over the last ten years the pregnancy bump has become a trophy, rather than a reason to stay out of the spot light (or off the red carpet) for a few months.  And, thanks to women like Angelina Jolie, women are can still land high-powered and interesting roles after mommy-dom.

Even in India, things are changing. Look at actress and former Miss World, Aishwarya Rai, she’s one of the few actresses to continue her successful career in film after getting married to actor Abhishek Bachchan. Often, after an Indian actress marries, in Bollywood it can mean bye-bye career. Hopefully after Aishwarya Rai has kids she’ll be able to continue acting if she wants too.

Anyway, back to the point, I think the paparazzi’s obsession with celebrity baby photographs is a little scary and potentially dangerous, but if the mothers are willing to give photos and speak about their experiences, I think that’s great. People obviously want to read about their lives as parents and who doesn’t want to see their cute babies?

I mean, truth be told, when they do comply and offer advice, I’d be willing to follow their tips if I were shopping for a friend’s baby. They have access to the best fashion, beauty and baby products — why wouldn’t I want to know what’s the best? In fact, when it comes to style these moms know best.

Not sure how to tap into all these celebrity parenting tips? Well, here are a some websites where these moms are featured: — Famecrawler blog

People Magazine — Moms and Babies

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Not Worth Carrying On About

When Candace Bushnell published the Carrie Diaries, I bought the book and read it in an effort to get excited about the upcoming movie and get a glimpse into what she imagined her famed character, Carrie Bradshaw, was like as a teenager. Dear Diary, it was a mistake.

Not only did it seem like the book was written over the course of a weekend in an effort to tap into a new, younger audience for the franchise (and to make a couple extra bucks), the writing was bad AND the character didn’t fit in with traits or things we’ve learned about Ms. Bradshaw in the show.

First off — Bushnell used bizarre phrases to describe Carrie’s thoughts and feelings that didn’t make sense. At one point Carrie described a feeling in her stomach like light shining through diamonds when she sees a guy she likes. What does that even mean? Are there sharp pains? Is you stomach hot? Cold? Do you feel like you are glowing? Do you feel heavy? Or maybe just bloated with purple prose?

I know writing for a younger audience can be challenging at times (trust me, I do it every day at a teen news site), but seriously, just use metaphors and analogies that are clear and practical, not weird.

Another odd thing, aside from the fact that the book meanders along as Carrie complains about her crush and wanting to be a writer (but seldom DOES anything inspiring or noteworthy), toward the end of the book teenage Carrie makes Coq au Vin for her friend, sisters and father (her favorite dish to make, supposedly). Well, as any SATC fan knows, in the show, Carrie used her oven for storage, I HIGHLY doubt anyone who makes a dish and likes to cook from the Julia Child cook book would cease to use their kitchen. Those skills don’t curdle in the fridge.

In addition to several annoying moments of, “Would Carrie really be like this?” there was also a naming issue. A woman nicknamed “Bunny” who is not in fact, the mother of Trey MacDougal, the ex-husband of Charlotte in the show — meets Carrie and has an effect on her future. I won’t spoil who she is or how she affects Carrie (in case you do read this against my advice), but it is not related to the matriarch of the same name. Anyway, couldn’t Bushnell think of another name?

I know these things seem like three minor details, but they are just a couple of examples of the larger problem, it was a bad book and there’s not point in wasting time writing about it. If this had not been The Carrie Diaries, but some other YA novel about a teen (which it could have been), people wouldn’t have read it.

The worst part about it was, after reading this young adult novel (and I’ve read my fair share), I felt like chucking it out the window and asking Bushnell if she ever even watched the show that built her career. There was nothing fun, charismatic or interesting about it. I mean, yes, she created the characters, but there’s so much more to them and what the fans know about them from the series. She could have done so much more with it!

Why write such a stupid book? Well, according to one Jezebel writer, who went to a publicity event for the book, it’s probably best to not ask … anything about it. I just don’t get it at all… the grotesque publicity for Sex and the City 2, the back tracking on important themes of love, sex and feminism in the films — the whole thing is just too much.

Why revive a phenomenal franchise and then as Charlotte would say, “wrap it in brown paper and just smear some dog poo on it!?”

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At the Root

Over the last few weeks I’ve gone through old photos, started reading journals I wrote when I was younger and writing my memories down when I can. It’s tough to reflect on the past, when there are so many different perspectives depending how who you talk to about it.

Cover of "Factory Girls: From Village to ...
Cover via Amazon

After reminiscing with relatives  and helping my brother with his sociology paper about a subject very close to both of our hearts, I’ve learned that there’s more to the past than what one mind remembers. My memory, for instance, is very sense-oriented, smells and images are particularly poignant for me. For others it’s dialogue or feelings. It all depends on the individual.

I think that’s what makes history so fascinating. I’m starting to see how hard it is to collect the facts, time line and details of my childhood, can you imagine what it’s like for a nation inhabited with millions?

For instance, in the book, Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China, Leslie T. Chang reports on the conditions of migrant women workers in Dongguan, China — one of the world’s largest producers of goods. She explores the city, culture and history of China through the young women she meets who are seeking their fortunes outside of their rural homes and away from family.

Chang investigates and writes these sub-histories to begin to explain a broader context of the country.  She does this with elegance and curiosity. I particularly like seeing how her own family history interweaves with the story, giving a background of Communism and her family’s hardship when they emigrated to Taiwan.

The anecdotes from the women shows the essence of human experience mixed in with nuggets of Chinese culture that would be difficult to explain. The way a woman dresses, or how she introduces herself are all indicators of this long history before her. Each story becomes the root of the history of Dongguan, women in China, or simply, people with a dream.

For anyone interested in reading a good non-fiction book with subtly provocative prose, check out Factory Girls to be inspired by the simplicity of a woman’s journey from the roots of her home, to the tenuous branches of her future.

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Raison d’Être

Cover of "The Female Brain"
Cover of The Female Brain

Are you one of those people who thinks a lot?  The kind who will be standing in line for a coffee, thinking, what does it all mean?  Well, let me tell you, everything means something if you want it to — and — most of time if you are thinking about it, there’s a biological impulse behind it, just like that caffeine craving… at least that’s what this book I read would have you believe.

In my book club, BrookLit, we focus on fiction and non-fiction works by women writers.  Last month we read The Female Brain, by neuropsychiatrist Dr. Louann Brizendine, who analyzed a decade of medical, social and psychological research and then tried to make it interesting for the female brain to read.

Now, since I’m obsessed with all things related to women’s issues and how women function in a world run by men, I thought this book would fuel my feminist thoughts about the concept of gender and nurture over nature.  However, that was not the case after I read this book.

In fact, it was just the opposite. This book provides every excuse for nature over nurture. While it explains the differences between the ways men and women’s brains function, it actually made women seem more ruled by their biology than common sense, logic or maturity.

Suffice it to say, I was disappointed.  Not only did it make women these communication needy beings who need to be liked, it made men out to be these grunting ogres who think about sex and their next fight.  I thought this book would reveal some great insight into the mind and maybe even my own thoughts about what it means to be human.  What I found was something else entirely — mind-numbing brain cramps.

The book breaks down the development of the brain and its hormonal influences from the moment of sexual differentiation in utero to menopause.  However, my age group (you know that age in between puberty and before the child-bearing years) was completely absent, though it was noted in the chart at the beginning of the book as a phase of life in between the teen and prospective mother phases.

And, surprise, surprise, in almost every phase of life covered in the book, women are shown to be driven by their menstrual cycle. While this may contribute to a woman’s mood, attitude or thoughts, there is no way this could be the sole determining factor for our happiness, as she would have us believe.

In fact, since some women:  take birth control, which regulates the bodies fluctuation of hormones; eat differently; have different stress levels; experience varied sleep patterns; take medications; exercise in different amounts; and live in entirely different living situations,  it’s not a fair assessment of who many women are at all.

In addition to the oversimplification of the women’s psyche as a chatty, hormonal mess, it did not include women of different financial status, race or sexuality.  In the section about sexual exploration, there was nothing regarding homosexuality or bisexuality.  So, basically, this book was about heterosexual, white, upper to middle class women.

Wow, that’s not limiting at all to women — oops, I must be letting my hormones get the better of me now.  Maybe in the future I shouldn’t read books that prey on my gentle sensibilities and my under-aggressive brain.  I wonder what Dr. Brizendine would say about sarcasm? Is that my over-developed ability to communicate, or is this why we are here, to refute concepts about who we are time and again?

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