Thursday, September 23, 2010

Speak Loudly

For those of you who use twitter, or are pretty religious blog readers, you're probably aware of the recent controversy regarding Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK, as well as Sarah Ockler's TWENTY BOY SUMMER and Vonnegut's SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE. Professor Wesley Scroggins is trying to get these books banned in the town of Republic, Missouri. He's so far claimed that SPEAK is "pornographic and immoral." But honestly, I'm more worried what it says about him that he finds a book that deals with rape to be pornographic.

Though I have yet to read SPEAK, it is in my TBR pile (and I promise to write a review once I actually get to it). But for those of you not familiar with the story, here's a summary from Amazon:

In a stunning first novel, Anderson uses keen observations and vivid imagery to pull readers into the head of an isolated teenager. Divided into the four marking periods of an academic year, the novel, narrated by Melinda Sordino, begins on her first day as a high school freshman. No one will sit with Melinda on the bus. After school, students call her names and harass her; her best friends from junior high scatter to different cliques and abandon her. Yet Anderson infuses the narrative with a wit that sustains the heroine through her pain and holds readers' empathy. A girl at a school pep rally offers an explanation of the heroine's pariah status when she confronts Melinda about calling the police on a summer party, resulting in several arrests. But readers so not learn why Melinda made the call until much later: a popular senior raped her that night and, because of her trauma, she barely speaks at all. Only through her work in art class, and with the support of a compassionate teacher there, does she begin to reach out to others and eventually find her voice. Through the first-person narration, the author makes Melinda's pain palpable: "I stand in the center aisle of the auditorium, a wounded zebra in a National Geographic special." Though the symbolism is sometimes heavy-handed, it is effective. The ending, in which the attacker comes after her once more, is the only part of the plot that feels forced. But the book's overall gritty realism and Melinda's hard-won metamorphosis will leave readers touched and inspired.

Other books that come to mind when we're talking about the gritty realism teens face are Lucy Christopher's STOLEN (one of my all-time favorite books), and Elizabeth Scott's LIVING DEAD GIRL (which I actually wrote a review of). Stockholm Syndrome, kidnapping, child abuse, etc. are all things that are common in our society, but are rarely written about. I fully support those authors who take the time to bring up these topics and try to get kids talking. For all you know, the girl sitting next to you in class may be a rape victim who finds comfort in a book like SPEAK. The fact that authors are writing about things teenagers encounter and suffer is important. Bad things happen to people all the time, and we're not helping them by sweeping it under the rug.

I speak from experience.

For those of you who are not aware, I spent two months last year living in Galway, Ireland. It was for a study abroad program, and I was supposed to have spent four months there. However, after being sexually assaulted outside a bar, I found myself too afraid to remain in the city. I'd lost all of my confidence, and I didn't feel safe. I still remember how terrified I was that night. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried for over an hour, then managed to get in contact with my best friend back in the US. And while she helped to calm me down, I don't think I ever got over it. No, I wasn't raped, but I could have been if the guy hadn't been so drunk. But he left marks that didn't fade for a few days. Sometimes I'll look down at my arms and still see the bruises.

A year later, I've regained a lot of my confidence. I haven't lost faith in people, but I'm certainly more careful. I still prefer to stay away from bars when going out, and I make sure to take my guys with me when I do. I'm vigilant in making sure my girl friends are all safe. 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and I'm trying to make sure none of my friends have to go through what I did. It was the most terrifying few minutes of my life, and I can recall them now with perfect accuracy. Things like that don't fade. They stay with you, but I'm trying to use those feelings as motivation, rather than a hindrance.

But for those women and men we can't save, it's important that books like SPEAK be available. I've found comfort in the strength some of these characters have. It reminds me that I'm not alone.

And that is why I Speak Loudly.


  1. thank you so much for this brill post! as usual, you are spot on. i can't believe he called it "pornographic". wow.

  2. I know. I was kind of horrified. I though we, in America, were allowed free speech; shouldn't that apply to writing as well? If you don't want to read something, that's your prerogative, but you need to let others make that decision for themselves.

  3. Wow, I hadn't heard about this professor and I hadn't realized what happened to you in Ireland. (I suspect I missed that somehow. ::hugs in retrospect::)

    Unbelievable we're still arguing about banning books.

  4. It's okay! I didn't really talk about it much. But I really feel the need to speak out now, especially when our combined voices could do a lot of good.

    And I'm amazed, too. This discussion should have been laid to rest a long, long time ago.

  5. I'm writing this anonymously because, so far, only my best friend knows about these two incidents.

    When I was 11, a boy at school sexually harassed me. On two different school trips he touched my breasts, and one time, at the end of a school day, he tapped my butt with a rolled-up poster.

    I've never thought of it as sexual harassment until VERY recently. As in a or two week ago. Until then, to me, it was just a boy who annoyed me, not one who sexually harassed me.

    Lately, I've been wondering if he's the reason I can't talk to/interact with guys my age normally. But worst of all, I wonder if HE'S the reason for my very disturbing (and wrong) sexual fetish.

    Unfortunately, that wasn't the only time I was harassed. In June of this year, a twenty-something year old drove by me. I was waiting for my dad to pick me up. The guy stopped his car and wanted to ask me a question. I thought it would be something like "How do I get to such and such street?" But I couldn't understand what he was saying, so I ignored him and backed away from the car.

    I then called my mom to 1)let her know what had happened and 2)not be a girl sitting on a stone wall ENTIRELY alone. Being on the phone was better than nothing.

    It turned out that the guy kept driving, parked his car and walked back to where I was. He asked me if I went to a law university--yeah, AS IF I looked 18. I said no, still on the phone. He asked if I wanted to go with him. I said no. He asked my name--I said goodbye and crossed the street. My dad showed up half a minute later.

    I thought I'd be safe waiting for my dad there--a public park behind me, a primary school on the other side of the street. But no.

    And now, because of that guy, I am TERRIFIED of being alone in town. If friends invite me to go see a movie, I have to take the bus with one of them to a small village where I'll be safe until my dad can come pick me up. Or I need to be able to wait for my dad at a designated spot in town, with a friend.

    What happened when I was 11 didn't take away my confidence--what happened 3 months ago did. Probably because in the first incident, I could have defended myself had it gone any further--he was my age and I was a tomboy, unafraid of getting into a fight if I needed to. In the second case, the guy was at least 7 years older than me. Had it been any later in the day, darker, had there been any less people around...

    Although this is anonymous, it feels good to tell someone. And if you want to post my comment in a blog post or something, go ahead. (The truth is I'd create an anonymous blog and post this there, but I'm too lazy.)

  6. OMG, Sammy! I never knew D:

    I'm so sad and upset that this happened to you. It must have been horrifying. I hope...I don't even know what I hope. But I'm glad you've regained your confidence.

    <3 Kat

  7. I'm so sorry that happened to you... and you're right, things like that don't fade. I mean, something like that happened to me when I was about 14 (I'm nearly 22 now) and I've still not forgotten it.

    I guess I'm "over it" technically, but I'm still scared of the guy - I still see him cause he lives near me - and more than what he did, I still remember how he made me feel... weak, powerless, violated - it's the powerless thing that stuck with me. I always thought I was strong, that I could fight someone off if I was in that situation but I'm a 5ft2 girl - size alone gives the majority of guys the upper hand and that realisation terrified me.

    About what the anonymous commenter said... when I was younger, one of the guys in my class did things too me (saying inappropriate things, exposing himself to me... touching me) but - I never really thought of it as sexual assault. I didn't like it or want it and I told my mum and there was this big drama - I don't remember much, just the deputy head teacher at school asking me about it and him getting into trouble.

    But the anonymous comment above made me realise how weird it is that I didn't consider it sexual assault - maybe it's because I was younger and he was my age, not some older person taking advantage who knew what they were doing... and what he did, he didn't leave me scared of him or anything, it didn't emotionally scar me (that I'm aware of).

    I wonder if that's unusual. Or maybe it's not affected me because I spoke up about it and it was dealt with at the time and... he didn't make me feel powerless or terrified the way the other guy did when I was older. That guy, he just made me feel - ashamed/dirty and I got over that when I told.

    Sorry, I'm rambling. I'm not even going to get into what I think of the guy who said that stuff about Speak and the other books, I'll just ramble even more - I already posted up a ranty blog on my book blog about it and my co-blogger and I put up a post like this one too, talking about what happened to us and why speaking up and books about these issues are important.

  8. Anonymous, I know how you feel. One incident can totally change your perception of people. Where you need people to be with you when going out, so do I. As I mentioned, I'm not very comfortable going to bars anymore, and when I go, I make sure I have guys with me. I've regained the confidence to walk home by myself at night, but I always walk with my keys between my fingers, in case I'd ever need to defend myself. You said you're 13? I'm so sorry all of that's happened to you already! It's really sad to see people so young being harassed. I'm just glad your dad was able to pick you up when he did. I hope that, as you get older, you'll be able to trust yourself to be alone again. It definitely takes time, but I hope you're granted that peace <3 Thank you for sharing your story; I'm really honored to have heard it.

    Kat, I didn't talk about it much when I got back, though I definitely didn't hide it if people asked. But I feel like now's the perfect time to speak up. It means a lot just having you read this, and because I know you're supporting Speak Loudly <3

    Lanna, all of those words you used to describe how you felt are exactly what I experienced. Even when I was just sitting in the shower crying, I felt powerless. Sometimes, if I get crowded by men at the bars, I still get panicky. But it's all a learning process, and I've definitely gotten better over the last 12 months. And I don't think it's unusual not to consider what happened to you sexual assault/harassment, because sometimes I think people don't really understand what it is. Especially as kids. But I think now, as adults, it's really important that we speak out about it. Thanks for supporting the cause, and I really appreciate you sharing your story here <3

  9. Oh god, Sammy I'm so sorry that happened to you :( But thank you for being brave and speaking out (so much admiration for you!) and I'm so glad that you've managed to regain your confidence <3

  10. Thanks, Vee! I'm definitely glad, too. Though I'd still like to take a self defense class ;-)

  11. You should Speak Loudly; we all should for all those who still can't do it. Banning those books doesn't mean these things don't happen in real life.

    You should definitely read Speak, although it might be hard to read for people who have been through something similar I also found it incredibly empowering. If these books are banned, we are preventing people of learning the truth but we are also preventing victims of finally understanding that they are not alone and that they can't overcome their trauma.

    Sammy, I'm so sorry that happened to you but I'm glad you shared this. You always seem so strong. Maybe people who read this blog will see that it’s possible to stop feeling hopeless and powerless. You said it perfectly: "I'm trying to use those feelings as motivation, rather than a hindrance".

  12. Sammy: I'm not 13, I'm 16. If I was 13 and that had happened to me, I don't think I could have handled it the way I'm handling it now. I might not be able to be in town alone, but I haven't let those two incidents affect me. I told my friends when these things happened and while occasionally I think about it and get a bit down, not depressed, I remain a positive, mostly confident person. And thank YOU for sharing YOUR story. I'm lucky in that I've never been physically injured...

    Although just last night I went out with a group of friends (8 other girls and 1 guy, so I felt VERY safe), and we got plenty of looks from guys in their twenties. I hate that a 16-year-old guy can walk around town and feel safe but we can't. Scratch that, no matter our age, women cannot walk around town alone and feel safe.

    Lanna: It's exactly that. When I was 11, HE was 11. I never felt powerless. Although, once on a school trip after he touched me, I ran away crying and told the people I was sharing a room with what had happened. They thought it was no big deal--how could they think sexual harassment was no big deal?

    To this day I hate him, but he didn't make me feel scared for weeks afterwards. But what happened in June still affects me. I would not be able to go into town with some friends to see a movie and afterwards walk to a bus stop and take the bus ALONE.