Gema is an 18-year old from Miami, FL. She loves reading and writing young adult fiction and claims to pass out in the presence of sterile wit.
I apologize for showing my age in this article. I’m sorry for being eighteen years old and naïve enough to think that I lived in a place where the Bill of Rights actually means something. My only excuse for this is that the Constitution was fed to me for breakfast and lunch for four straight years when I was part of my high school’s Legal and Public Affairs Magnet. I assumed this was the way the United States was governed. In this program, we learned civil and criminal law and had trials for both. I never lost a case, so I thought it was safe to assume that I knew a thing or two about the system. Clearly, I was wrong. Law has many facets but they all stem from the constitution. Within the constitution is the bill of rights, which is the first ten amendments. The first amendment is the one that gets thrown around the most, and it’s the one that’s almost always in jeopardy. Here’s a refresher:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Freedom of Speech is the one I’m dealing with today. It astounds me how there are people out there who have the audacity to think that they have the right to tell a mass of people that they shouldn’t write about something and another mass that they can’t read about something. Who do you think you are? What gives you the right to tear a book from an adolescent that isn’t even your child and say “I don’t want you to read that”? Nobody, that’s who. You’re nobody.
The week of September 26-October 3, 2009 was Banned Books Week. Celebrated annually, this is a week that encourages us to truly enjoy our intellectual freedom by reading books that have been banned or challenged. Sadly, the opposite has been happening lately. Books are being challenged and banned left and right. If there’s an idea one individual doesn’t agree with in a book, it needs to be banned. The respect for other’s intellectual freedom is currently being stepped and spit on and I frankly, don’t appreciate it. I want my freedom. I want to be able to look up a book, go to the library, find it and read it. I’ve wanted this ever since I could read. I don’t want a stranger with a holier than thou attitude to block my access to a book.
But why are books being banned to begin with? You’d imagined that the author and its marketing team has come up with a pink and daisy filled cover and a fake a plot summary on the back, but inside is actually a digital hypnotist and that says: HAVE UNPROTECTED SEX AND DO DRUGS. IT’S GOOD FOR YOU! I honestly can’t stand the idea that teenagers are innocent sheep being herded by Satan’s pastor. Teenagers aren’t ignorant. They question what they read. Teens process, analyze and-dare I say it- THINK. If they read something that makes them uncomfortable, they’ll self-censor. I’ve seen it a million times. If they don’t want to read it, they’ll wrinkle their nose and set it aside. They know their own limits. If you don’t think you’ve raised your kids to know the difference between right and wrong, between what’s appropriate and what’s not, then that’s between you and your family psychologist. DON’T take it out on other people’s intellectual freedom and teens.
Following the idea that teenagers are blind and obedient followers of anything and everything they read, these are two of the most popular reasons for banning a book:
The Bermudez Triangle by Maureen Johnson, Lessons From a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky are just three examples of books that have been challenged and/or banned for homosexual content. Because of course, there is no such thing as a gay teenager. How is it possible that homosexual content is a reason to take books off the shelves? In the case of Jo Knowles, a superintendent implied that any book “with homosexuality promotes homosexuality and therefore is not appropriate.” How can schools promote tolerance and acceptance when they’re picking and prodding at the homosexual population in the schools? How dare they punish a bully when the school is picking on their own students because of their sexuality by demeaning their orientation as improper and immoral? By banning these books, we are promoting hate. I went to a public school yet I was taught that every homosexual person either had AIDS/HIV or was going to. My sixth grade science teacher told my class (of eleven and twelve year olds) that strippers were all lesbians because they enjoy getting money for dancing with other naked women. I had a Spanish teacher that punished us for saying bad words-gay was considered one of them. I practically lived in the school library and not once did I see a book about homosexuality. These are the odious people that are banning your kids’ books.
Even then, there were girls in my middle school whose first romantic relationships were with other girls. They were made fun of, they were set aside from the crowd. It wasn’t until high school that I was given the opportunity to form my own opinion about homosexuality. I met a girl who was attacked everyday in her middle school for being a lesbian. She had to travel with two older friends after school that defended her from the angry mob of homophobic students. THIS is the kind of violence that is being promoted. We’re told that bullying is bad; that we shouldn’t make anyone feel bad about their weight or color of skin. Yet it’s okay to ban a book because of a gay character because it promotes what someone feels is immoral. What they’re saying is: “If you’re gay, something is wrong with you.” When a teenager goes to a school with a gun and shoots half his/her class, the assumption is that the attacker was misunderstood, bullied and tired of it. If this is true, then why are books being banned just because it describes a percent of the student body? Are they waiting for the gay attacker?
2. Sexual Content:
Teenagers are having sex. The sex is not always planned and may be unsafe, but there you have it. That’s the reality of it. Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, Looking for Alaska by John Green, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez are examples of books that have been challenged and/or banned for sexual content. I understand that parents worry about their teenagers and whether or not their sexually active, but the truth of the matter is that banning books that relate to the subject is not going to stop sex. This relates to how schools that only teach abstinence to their students and refuse to talk about the ways that they can have safe sex have a higher pregnancy rate. Just because you can hide the sun with your thumb doesn’t mean that the sun has gone away. Banning a book because of its sexual content will not stop teenagers from having sex. If anything, it’ll make the problem worse. Stories provide relatable characters and situations. When a character learns something from their experience (even sexual ones) readers learns with them. But if we prohibit anything that has to do with sex, we’re leaving the curiosity out in the open. Curiosity killed the cat- or got the girl pregnant, in teens’ cases.
Homosexuality and sexual content are two of the popular reasons for challenged books, although there are plenty more: occult references, profanity, bullying, drugs, and my two favorites: too “intense” and because the characters make bad decisions. Basically teens, your entire lives are worthy of being banned. On why authors would write about such topics, Laurie Halse Anderson (author of award winning and challenged books: Twisted and Speak) said: “Because readers who can experience those decisions – by reading about them – and appreciate the consequences of those actions – by seeing those consequences affect the lives of a book’s characters—are less likely to do the stupid, dangerous, and occasionally horrifying things themselves.” I agree. When I read about the embarrassing moments that characters go through when they get drunk or do drugs, or even have sex with someone they’re not emotionally attached to, I take that into account. The last thing I think is: “Ooh, she was raped! I want that!”
I don’t think it’s wise to take a book off the shelf because someone doesn’t agree with it. If you don’t think your child should read a certain book, talk to your child. Express your concerns to them and share the ideas that you don’t agree with. Communicate with them. But don’t try to keep everyone else’s child from reading the book. Just because you don’t think your child is mature enough for such content doesn’t meant that every child in the nation isn’t either.
I will leave you with this: in Texas v. Johnson, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said: “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” If you can’t make the connection: the person who is banning a book is calling upon the government to prohibit it. Let the ideas reign. Ideas are power.