I enjoyed reading your blog about banned books. I’d love to know you thoughts regarding a book.
We live in Missouri with our five kids who attend public school: three in elementary, one in middle school, and one in high school (10th).
I’m currently reading, The Handmaid’s Tale, which my daughter would read next year in an advanced IB English class (11th grade). I had heard some negative things and decided to read it. I’m so glad I did read it, and I’m very disturbed with the content. The language includes many four letter words, sexually explicit language and even perverse terms referring to male / female anatomy as well as sexual intimacy. I’m not quite sure how to approach teachers and would appreciate your thoughts. I do not want my daughter to have to delve into this book’s sexual netherworld and wonder why there’s no other choice. The teacher sent me the class syllabus which states in bold print a warning for content and that no other choices are offered. When I expressed my concern over this book, the teacher emailed a reply that all the novels have some type of [sexual content]. She mentioned that we might need to pursue a different route. I was really disappointed. I would like to read all the novels to verify her claims, but I don’t know if I can. Just a few titles that I recognize seem to refute her statement, and I’ve read summaries (Sparks Notes) of several others. The reviews don’t seem to have even an inkling of the adult content such as this one.
Is there anywhere I could research this book or a site that reviews school novels from a Christian worldview? I’d like to meet with the teachers and logically discuss the book, it’s themes, and how it was chosen. What are your thoughts?
Thank you for your time!
Thanks for writing and for commenting on my banned books post. I’d be happy to look into the book for you and some academically attractive alternatives. WELL DONE! for reading the novel for yourself. I wish more (Christian) parents, youth leaders, etc. were so thoughtfully involved. Your having read it also prepares you to go through the novel with your daughter—should no alternative be possible—perhaps even helping her skip over the highly graphic and explicit sections of text.
I would be sure to talk about the reasons why you understand the book is on the list to establish common ground and to affirm that you are objecting to the book and not attacking the teacher or questioning his/her competence:
- The Handmaid’s Tale is an important addition from feminist scholarship to the dystopian genre. (Check out this excellent article on the importance of Atwood’s work from a Christian perspective over at bethinking.org.)
- It raises legitimate, even if somewhat alarmist, questions and concerns about the extremism (of the anti-feminists) of the Religious Right in the 1980s.
- It is important to discuss, as this book does, the sexual objectification of women, including the fact that society largely blames women when they are ogled, molested, raped.
Once you’ve established some common ground in an effort to assure the teacher you are on his/her side, then talk about the sexual explicitness and how extreme it is compared to the other books in the curriculum. Talk about how it’s important for high school students to begin dealing with adult content, but not at this extreme/graphic level. Certainly there are alternatives.
For my part, finding possible alternatives for The Handmaid’s Tale has not been an easy task. (Speaks yet again to why the book is on the reading list. It really is one of a kind in good ways and bad.) I think I would ask the teacher if (s)he would consider, or had any objections to, Marge Percy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, which is, from what I’ve read about it, a very strange book, but one which has fingers in the pots of the feminist dystopian genre as well as the feminist utopia genre and possibly magical realism as well, which is a popular genre these days.
Of course the extreme feminism of the 70s/80s shows itself quite strongly in this book as well and will have to be engaged critically. (Today’s feminists have really, for the most part, backed away from such extremes (or are beginning to) and are largely concerned with gender equality rather than female superiority. I’ve started to notice among my classmates and professors a reaction against the constant man-bashing of today’s sit-coms, commercials, and general attitude among society, as well as the extremism of yesterday’s feminism.) There will still be themes of violence and sex to deal with, though from what I can tell, not with the same frequency or graphic explicitness as in THT.
I hope that’s helpful. Hopefully your daughter’s teacher will see that you aren’t trying to be a thorn in his/her side; you aren’t making a big to-do and calling for a public ban on the book (although a PTA meeting or something might be an appropriate next step if necessary), rather that you understand the novel’s value and are objecting, in this case, more to the age-appropriateness of the book than to the book itself. May the Lord give you favor with this teacher.
Let me know if I can help in any other way, and keep me posted on what happens.
Yours in Christ,