The 39 Most Iconic Feminist Moments of 2014*

Amy Poehler feminism

“If you look up feminism in the dictionary, it just means that men and women have equal rights. And I feel like everyone here believes men and women have equal rights. But I think the reason people don’t clap is that word is so weirdly used in our culture.” ~ Aziz Ansari, on Late Show with David Letterman (October 2014)

I’ve been saving this for an end of the year post, but, well, life . . . so now it’s a beginning of the year post. I’m only listing a selection of the ones I liked the most. Enjoy.

from (*click link to see full list)

by Elizabeth Plank

In 1998, Time magazine declared feminism dead. Nearly 15 years later, it wondered if instead, perhaps feminism should be banned. Constantly on attack from all sides, feminism has spent the past few decades proving its importance and relevance over and over and over again. If there’s one thing history has taught us, it’s that the backlash against feminism will always be a measure of our success. That’s the thing with progress — it is perceived as a threat by those too weak to embrace it.Indeed, it’s clear 2014 was a historic one for feminism. Women stood up for their rights, challenged stereotypes, fought for recognition and took control of the dialogue. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the most iconic feminist moments this year:

1. Malala Yousafzai accepted the Nobel Peace Prize — and went straight back to chemistry class.

The Nobel Peace Prize is “not going to help in exams” Yousafzai joked to reporters after becoming the youngest person to win the award. In addition to advocating against violence, poverty and advocating for more access to education for women and girls, the 17-year-old activist has become a symbol of hope and proof that feminism really does have the power to change the world.

2. Mo’ne Davis made everyone want to “throw like a girl.”

When the 13-year-old Davis led her team to the Little League World Series, it’s safe to say she captivated the nation. Poised and confident, Davis was an instant role model for millions of little girls — and boys — and also was the first Little Leaguer to grace a Sports Illustrated cover.

3. Emma Watson stunned the U.N.

We knew Watson was destined for big things as soon as the U.N. named her as an official Goodwill Ambassador, but we had no idea how much of an impact she would have — and so soon — until she gave a speech highlighting the importance of gender equality and feminism. Although some feminists were disgruntled by a perceived lack of acknowledgment by the star of her own privilege, her public defense of feminism certainly started a conversation, sending the message that feminism is important and should be embraced by both men and women.

4. A survivor brought her mattress — and sparked a national movement.

Frustrated by what she saw as an unacceptable response from school officials to her alleged sexual assault, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz took matters into her own hands. As part of her senior performance art project, Sulkowicz announced she would carry her mattress everywhere she went until her alleged rapist was expelled.

It didn’t take long for others to notice, eventually sparking a national day of protest culminating in 28 mattresses being dropped in front of the office of Lee Bollinger, the university president, in a dramatic show of solidarity.

5. Jennifer Lawrence beat the Internet’s worst trolls at their own game.

It’s no coincidence the 4chan celebrity nude scandal targeted almost exclusively female celebrities. Culturally, we still view women’s sexuality as inherently shameful, making the exploitation of said sexuality one of the most effective ways we have to try to put women down. Lawrence, however, is far too strong a woman to be shamed by a few cowardly trolls hiding behind the anonymous cloak of the dark net.

She told Vanity Fair that those who attempt to denigrate women for taking intimate photos are the ones who should be ashamed. “I started to write an apology, but I don’t have anything to say I’m sorry for,” she said. Amen to that.

6. Women stormed the halls of Congress.

The 2014 midterm election may have been a “shellacking” for Democrats, but it also saw victories by a new wave of women, on both sides of the political aisle, ultimately increasing the ratio of female representatives greatly. A record 100 women will serve in the 114th Congress, and that’s something we should all celebrate.

7. A bro tried to defend catcalling on TV — and was totally shut down.

Although it’s rare to hear anyone describe a crime like harassment as a “compliment,” it’s always shocking to hear a man on television think he can get away with telling women how they should or should not feel about it. Amanda Seales did not take kindly to Steve Santagati’s suggestion that women should be thankful for the attention during a debate. From now on, every reaction to mansplaining will forever be judged against the flawless takedown that resulted.

9. Laverne Cox didn’t break barriers, she crushed them.

Laverne Cox, in addition to being an incredibly talented actress, has spent the past year helping to open doors for her transgender brothers and sisters. Some of her firsts included being the first openly transgender woman to garner an Emmy nomination for her role as Sophia Burset in Orange Is the New Black, a rare, realistic portrayal of a transgender woman in mainstream pop culture. Cox also graced the cover of Time magazine, shining a brilliant light on the talent of trans individuals and the growing strength of the transgender rights movement.

10. Taylor Swift had a feminist epiphany. 

After years of comments to the contrary, the superstar entertainer finally came out of the gender equality closet this year, confiding to the Guardian that she was a feminist all along (knew it)! Swift then set about proving her commitment to the movement, releasing a video for her single “Blank Space” that was described as a “dystopian feminist fairy tale.”

Indeed, over the span of only a couple months, Swift has been on something of a feminist tear, disproving stereotypes about feminists, calling out the music industry’s trivialization of women artists and giving thanks for the invaluable role of female friendships in her life. Oh, and can we talk about that VMA performance?

11. #YesAllWomen reached almost 2 million tweets in under four days.

Not all men assault, rape and harm women, but #YesAllWomen have to deal with the threat of being hurt every day. That was the rallying cry behind what may be the most viral feminist hashtag of all time. Born out of the tragedy that took place in Santa Barbara, California, it was an opportunity for women to speak openly  about the injustices that plague their lives. At one point, the hashtag trended more than Kim Kardashian’s wedding, proof that the conversation was long overdue and resonated with many.

Thanks to #YesAllWomen, the conversation about the shooting was seen through a gendered lens, something that the media has been reluctant to do for far too long.

13. Beyoncé danced in front of the world — and a gigantic feminist banner.Remember the bizarre spectacle that was last year’s VMAs? For all those wondering if they would ever get Robin Thicke’s gyrations out of their nightmares, Beyoncé’s 16-minute performance was quite literally a sight for sore eyes. The world’s biggest diva proved feminism wasn’t just accessible, it was cool. As Time remarked, the entire show was about women’s empowerment. From Swift’s lively performance with exclusively male backup dancers to Nicki Minaj’s assertive “Anaconda,” the performances gave many of us hope for a future music industry that respects and highlights its female talent.

15. Lupita Nyong’o forced Hollywood to take blackness seriously.After becoming only the fifth black woman to receive a best supporting actress award for her role in 12 Years a Slave, Nyong’o set off on a whirlwind awards tour, earning a Glamour Woman of the Year honor and the Essence magazine Black Woman in Hollywood Breakthrough Award. Proving that she was as brilliant as she was beautiful, Nyong’o’s speech on body image and blackness was deeply moving.

“I remember a time when I too felt unbeautiful,” she told the Essence audience. “I put on the TV and only saw pale skin, I got teased and taunted about my night-shaded skin.” The path to self-acceptance is hard, she noted, but finally coming to terms with the idea that beauty comes in many shades has changed her life.

24. Crafty crafters did amazing things in Hobby Lobby stores.

After the Supreme Court ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor, effectively allowing the crafting giant to stop providing birth control in female employees’ insurance packages, clever and crafty feminists took to the aisles, expressing their frustration via pro-woman messages left in stores across the nation. The best part? Male customers also got in the fun. It’s good to know that you don’t have to be a lady to appreciate the responsibility of for-profit corporations to provide comprehensive contraceptive care.

30. The MTA took a stand against “man-spreading.”

In an encouraging move, New York transit announced in the fall it was beginning a campaign to combat the amount of space some men take up in public. The problem, sometimes known as “man-spreading,” “lava balls” or “subway sprawl,” will be tackled through awareness programs the MTA is planning to roll out in January 2015. While women may miss witty feminist Tumblrs like Your Balls Aren’t That Big, we certainly won’t miss having to deal with men’s wide-legged dominance on a daily basis.

34. Feminists finally got us talking about Bill Cosby.

Allegations against Cosby have been around for years, but for some reason (ahem, misogyny), the mainstream media took a while to actually star caring about it. But that all changed after comedian Hannibal Buress’ routine woke the not-so-sleeping giant of the feminist network.

Overnight, activists left the media no choice but to pay attention, a movement solidified after savvy Internet users hijacked a promotional chat, R. Kelly style. In the wake of this outpouring of support, even more women have come forward to tell their own stories of alleged abuse at the hands of the venerable comedian.


“They say when she fell from Heaven she wore a crown of jagged stars that slit the skies throat. They say she loved them all, in the secret corners of their shallow sleep. Strangers, at the last. They say a lot of things. They’re all lies. Everything is already written.” ~ Gabriel De Leon, from Party at the World’s End

Herbert James Draper The Lamia 1909

“The Lamia” (1909, oil on canvas)
by Herbert James Draper

“It’s none of my business but you must have done something very special
to make a man remember you so” ~ Michelene Wandor, from “Eve to Lilith”

Thursday night. Partly cloudy and cold, 47 degrees.

I’ve been reading a lot lately, two books yesterday after Olivia left. I just couldn’t sleep. But I’ve also been pondering some mythology, specifically that surrounding Sybil and Lilith. Don’t ask me why those in particular because I have no idea. Anyway, a poem began to come to me during the night, and thankfully, I was able to recall at least the subject of it, which is better than what happened the other night when I thought of the start of a poem but could remember nothing upon waking.

Lilith by John Collier 1892

“Lilith” (1892, oil on canvas)
by John Collier

Interesting aside: In a dream a few nights ago, my mother came to me and said that she was glad that I was writing again. The bitter irony is that my mother never read anything that I have written, with the exception of a few poems written as a child. She never expressed any interest, and I suppose I never felt I could share. So the dream was bittersweet.

Moving right along . . . following is my take on Lilith, based in part on the common stories, including this particular passage:

Much to their surprise they found the cellar furnishing in perfect condition: none seemed to have aged at all. They were worthy of a place in a palace, and especially valuable was a mirror with an ornate gold frame, which in itself was worth far more than they had paid for the house.

The wife brought the mirror and all of the fine furnishings in the cellar to her own home and proudly displayed it. She hung the mirror in the room of their daughter, who was a dark-haired coquette. The girl glanced at herself in the mirror all the time, and in this way she was drawn into Lilith’s web/

For that mirror had hung in the the den of demons, and a daughter of Lilith had made her home there. And when the mirror was taken from the haunted house, the demoness came with it. For every mirror is a gateway to the Other World and leads directly to Lilith’s cave. That is the cave Lilith went to when she abandoned Adam and the Garden of Eden for all time, the cave where she sported with her demon lovers. From these unions multitudes of demons were born, who flocked from that cave and infiltrated the world. And when they want to return, they simply enter the nearest mirror. That is why it is said that Lilith makes her home in every mirror.

From “Lilith’s Cave,” as found in Lilith’s Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural, edited by Howard Schwartz


Unintended Consequences

You do know, don’t you, that she never replaced you?
I mean, how could she? For all of the places where
you are dark and death, she is light
and life, the mother of all things,
and totally and completely
predictable. No one has ever said as much about you,
you spurner of god and angels alike,
and while I pretended to want the second one,
the helpmate, what I really wanted
was just one more good fight with you.
and when I heard them call you the mother of all demons,
I will admit it made me smile—inwardly, of course,
now that I’m on probation, kicked out of paradise
because of fruit, if you can believe it. I mean,
the utter smallness of it all. Had it been you?
You would have never risen to the bait,
too smart by half, with those eyes that see everything,
every little fissure in my composure,
all of the pitfalls of living in a place
that has nothing but grace.

I will say it, to you alone: It gets old.
I thought about colluding with the antelopes,
hiding among the herds,
a possible way to escape the sameness,
but they had heard about what was going down
from the lemur, that rat-faced bastard, so they hemmed:
Adam, we like you and your wife, but
we want to keep this gig for a while, you know,
avoid that whole being hunted thing. It’s all good,
What a bunch of posers.
Do they actually think that they are fooling me?
But, truthfully, what could I say? It was good,
too good, too boringly, stultifyingly good.
And then we were evicted, no let’s
work on this
, no thirty day warning,
and she just kept saying, I’m Sorry,
I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I never
would have taken that apple if I’d known
and you know me, Mr. Male Pride,
I wouldn’t budge, couldn’t forgive.
I just wanted to scream at her,
Leave me alone for a while, would you?
Go talk to the serpent over there,
the one who gifted you knowledge.
Not much use now, eh? Miss Knowledge?

Yes, I know. You have said it before,
told me that I cannot, will not
admit fault, remember only what
I choose to place into history’s books—her mistake
her problem, my feelings, my wounds . . .
me, me, me.
I, I, I.

Sorry. You probably don’t want to hear about her
any more than she can stand to hear about you.
She cried for days after I commented
on how good you looked in the Draper portrait
you sat for. Striking and sensual, I said.
That screech owl, she said. The irony
is not lost on me. Neither is the fact
that she abhors mirrors, cloaks them
in black, as if that will alter
anything at all. Hardly.
Lately, though I have been thinking
that perhaps you were right,
you know, about changing places once in a while,
positions? Trying a few new things?
It may have been a pleasant interlude
from the predictable, the god-awful banality
of everyday life—the same thing,
day after day, not that I’ll ever know now.

By the way, I heard about what they did to you,
trying to make you return, to get you to behave.
Honestly, though? I knew better.
You? Obeying anyone? Never happen, I said.
Tried to remind them
that you were made of such serious dust,
but Sammengelof wouldn’t hear it,
a bloody sycophant when it comes to the boss.
But I never believed they would succeed.
And then when he returned without you,
he tried to pretty the lie,
mumbled something about
Lamia laying down and finding rest.
But his two companions, Senoi and Sansenoi?
You could tell by the looks on their faces
that Sam had gotten it all wrong.
You were never going to give up what you had,
go back to being a housewife,
and I must admit, I’m beginning
to understand that better now
given the recent changes in my circumstances.

Anyway, I just wanted to drop a line,
see how things are at the Red Sea, see
if you managed to make it work
with Samael (you and
the angelic Sams, a bit wicked, that).
I know. I lost the right to inquire
long ago when I ratted you out. You
never could abide a blabberer,
But hey, distance and time? Perspective?
Ironic, huh? But I think I finally appreciate
what you tried to tell me.
Maybe one day you could, you know,
write or text, or even call? Of course,
I don’t know that I would get the message.
We’re still on the move, told the neighbors
we were downsizing, looking for something
with a little less upkeep, and besides,
she is even more clingy now that everyone
can see her for what she is.
It’s so damned tiresome, but
I am the one who asked for her . . .
C’est la vie, as they say. At least I’m not
still walking around with a face
on the back of my head. Damned awkward that was.

Take care. Don’t forget
to watch out for the amulets.

Wishing you were here,

L. Liwag
December 4, 2014


Music by The Civil Wars, “Pressing Flowers”

“I am overflowing with words I do not have.” ~ Adam Falkner, from “When it Matters”

Lucien Levy-Dhurmer Les Cygnes 1930

“Les Cygnes” (1930)
by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer

“Try me.
This is a torch song.
Touch me and you’ll burn.” ~ Margaret Atwood, from “Helen of Troy does Countertop Dancing”

Saturday evening. Partly cloudy and 50 degrees.

So today I wrote another poem. It started out as a thought, and then it just grew and grew. I’m not sure, but I think it may have gotten away from me at some point. This creative spark, wherever it comes from, leaves me more than a bit mystified. I mean, the lines, the phrases—they come, and they seem to make an odd kind of sense, and I find myself playing with new themes, internal rhymes I’ve never tried before. And after each new piece, I feel more than a bit spent.

Lucien Levy-Dhurmer Scene in Venice oil on canvas

“Scene in Venice” (oil on canvas)
by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer

But all is good with the writing muse, even as unaccustomed to it as I am, or have been. Really, really good. I mean, today’s poem and one other recent one are not such personal pieces. Most of my previous poems are very personal, about me, about my life, about my loves and losses. But I find that lately I’m able to think on a larger scale, take on more general themes about the human condition. I’m not claiming that I’m achieving any kind of success in doing so, but it’s a different kind of approach, like trying on new clothes that I never would have worn before.

Too esoteric? Sorry . . .

I would truly appreciate any feedback that anyone cares to give me. It’s hard to write in a vacuum. Honest, constructive criticism is a very necessary part of the writing process, and since I am not in any kind of situation in which to garner that criticism, I turn to you, my readers, whoever you are out there in the ether.

“But though the lights
one by one extinguish
as you explore deeper,
that final light — the sun —
grows stronger,
despite the coming winter,
the darkening seas.” ~ John Kinsella, from “Tenebrae”

Speaking of readers, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that I’ve picked up a few more subscribers in the past few weeks: Thanks for subscribing to my little blog. I hope you enjoy the journey. I do have my regulars, like Leah in NC, and Izaak Mak from I Want Ice Water, and then I have people who have been with me for several years: Titirangi Storyteller (who is so busy being creative in New Zealand), ViewPacific (check him out). If you would like for me to mention your blog, just drop me a line. I have no problem with sending some props out into the universe.

Lucien Levy-Dhurmer pastel on paperGondolas à Venise, sous un clair de lune

“Gondolas à Venise, sous un clair de lune” (pastel on paper)
by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer

One other thing: I’m terribly curious as to how some of you arrived here on this site. WordPress doesn’t allow Google Analytics, and I’m not nearly savvy enough to figure out such things on my own, but I’m curious, truly. Was it an accident? Were you searching on a word? a name? a song? a work of art?

If you would be kind enough to let me know, then I can try to pay more attention to such avenues. I mean, I’m still on blogsurfer, but I think that it’s mostly a dormant community. I’d love to find another blogging community to join, just not something that gives you super inflated stats, like Alpha Inventions, or whatever name it’s going by these days. Suggestions would be appreciated.

Anyway . . .

“It is
the way of things and it never stops, never calls a halt—
this knocking and dismantling, this uprooting, cutting out
and digging down” ~ Eamon Grennan, from “Steady Now”
Lucien Levy-Dhurmer Le Silence 1895 pastel

“Le Silence” (1895, pastel)
by Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer

So I am absolutely gaga about this particular Lévy-Dhurmer image. I know little to nothing about this artist’s history or what he was trying to achieve with his art in general, but “Le Silence” is one of those pieces that I find particularly haunting. According to the Musée d’Orsay site, the artist kept this painting his entire life, so it must have been pretty important to him.

I’ve been waiting for the right post to feature the image, and I think that this post is it: juxtaposing the symbolic silence, the cloaked woman who will not speak, against my poem about speaking—somehow it seems to fit; at least I think so.

This poem came about after I saw the line from The Crucible on my tumblr dash, and I began to fixate on the idea of speaking sins. (If you’ve never read Miller’s play, here is a link to an online version in its entirety.)

So following is my latest effort. It’s different for me, not just thematically, but also as it is structured. I ended up using repetitive rhythm quite by accident, and then the references to other works just kind of evolved naturally. I really didn’t think too much; I just did . . .

Speaking My Sins

“I speak my own sins; I cannot judge another. I have no tongue for it.”  ~ Arthur Miller, The Crucible

I remember when smells of sex and sin
rolled from my shoulders and puddled
‘round my feet, how I
delighted in the act, the doing, the making
and taking of sin, such a smooth, ironed out plane of being,
my afternoon explorations—virginal
in their corruption
as I lay ensconced
in the arms of my newest lover,
safe from the mundane existence
my mother laid before me,
a vapor trail of bottled Joy
enveloping every word she spoke, but
oh how I, oh, how I, oh
how I saw myself
far beyond the reaches
of PTA meetings and casserole recipes
and all of the trappings
offered up so blithely within
the pages of women’s magazines.
Oh no, not I, I sighed,
even as I eschewed the words that spewed
from my mother’s Revlon
fire and ice red lips, circa 1950s
Oh no, I, no I know, I

know what you think there,
in the safety of your white-washed
life of dinner on the table by five
and a nice side of green beans and
slivered almonds, you see, you cannot see
how I see you there, cannot unsee
the fuzzy lines of deception and desire
I wield like a non-stick spatula
gently turning the unsullied egg,
yolk intact, like your reputation.
What say you now, oh mother dear, oh
harbinger of rules and commandments com-
mending to me the care and feeding
of cherubim and nephilim alike?
Oh no, you know, no

matter how many times you wag
your finger in my face, for
some reason, the lesson never sticks
but you smile and smile and so I
too smile my way into villainy
one time, no two, perhaps
more? the number has been for-
gotten, obliterated from any records
recording my vices and desires
It’s so much better this way,
after all, aren’t we all just
carbon copies of our mothers’
motherings, smothering
our yearnings with learning
the right ways to right-
eous actions, act like
a lady, for god’s sake you little
tarted up upstart. Now, now

now don’t you fret none,
nothing to do but sweep up the bits
of egg shell on the kitchen lino-
leum, hey, um, howdy,
did you do it? No? I know,
no more gallivanting about
like the cheap hussy you are,
hows about you come inside,
get that load off, let me
shake the rain-
drops from your jacket,
sit here, won’t you, snif-
ter of brandy for your chill,
what say you now, now
that you have so completely
washed away my sins like
the long-lost Breck shampoo-filled
Saturday nights when everything
was so clearly defined and
ruled by advice column ladies
with shellacked hair and

Max Factor pan-stik complexions?
Just a little tete-a-tete, no need
to get testy, after all,
weren’t we just talking about
setting to rights all of the wrongs
you carry with you—cummings said
he carried your heart with him
wherever, so I will too.
Okay, oh? KKK, wait,
no, that’s the wrong one, Gracie,
gracious, goodnight, goodnight, good-
night, I reek still, sweet princ-
ciple of humanity, kind,
human cup of charity—
it begins at home, after all.
What? say you, you say? What
do you say, once more, even though
I have never understood the sake
of old time, no, no, know-
ing me the way you do do
you doubt my commitment,
my cunning com-

mingling of lies and truth?
Commendable really how we
commit so many sins in
the name of veritas yet in-
variably too many truths
spoil more than the broth, you see
seeing as reality’s all connected
really, I can no more real-
istically atone for my sins
than Faust could foist off
his one-way ticket to
ride the conflagration
ferris wheel, wheels up,
hurry up, it’s time to
bring out the dead-
ened spirits of our sweet,
sweet youth, birds
and flocking and feathers
and foibles, mea culpa,
mea maxima culpa.
Peccavi, peccavi, peccavi,
regrets, none, but
sine qua non.

L. Liwag
November 22, 2014


Today’s images are again by French artist Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer—a selection of his blue works.

Music by Mary Gauthier, “Walk through the Fire”

“I’m thankful to my father for not clipping my wings and letting me fly.” ~ Malala Yousafzai, joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014


This right here makes me so very, very happy:

From BBC News:

Pakistani child education activist Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi, an Indian child rights campaigner, have jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize.

At the age of just 17, Malala is the youngest ever recipient of the prize.

The teenager was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen in October 2012 for campaigning for girls’ education. She now lives in Birmingham in the UK.

Malala said she was “honoured” to receive the award, saying it made her feel “more powerful and courageous”.

She revealed she found out the news after being called out of her chemistry class at her school in Birmingham.

“I’m really happy to be sharing this award with a person from India,” she said at a news conference, before joking that she couldn’t pronounce Mr Satyarthi’s surname.

The Nobel committee praised the pair’s “struggle against the suppression of children and young people”.

Mr Satyarthi has maintained the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and headed various forms of peaceful protests, “focusing on the grave exploitation of children for financial gain,” the committee said at the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

The 60-year-old founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan, or the Save the Childhood Movement, which campaigns for child rights and an end to human trafficking.

Reacting to the news, Mr Satyarthi told the BBC: “It’s a great honour for all the Indians, it’s an honour for all those children who have been still living in slavery despite of all the advancement in technology, market and economy.

“And I dedicate this award to all those children in the world.”


“Don’t observe Banned Books Week because a few idiots don’t like The Hunger Games, but instead because our very existence as a free, enlightened society rests on the idea of the flow of information coupled with the skills to understand it.” ~ Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Executive Religion Editor, The Huffington Post

 “We grow up and we get scared of everything — so much so that we try to censor and restrict real life. But that kind of fear keeps us from evolving.” ~ Jeneé Osterheldt, from The Kansas City Star

Saturday afternoon. Sunny and warmer, 77 degrees.

So I just took the new online quiz, “Which Banned Book Are You”,  and for my first result I was American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. Then I took it again and changed my answers, and I was Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. As these two are quite different, I thought what the heck, and took it again, trying to go with my first gut response, and . . . wait for it . . . Brave New World again.

Anyway, today marks the end of Banned Books Week, and I just want to take a second away from the reposting and the articles and the quotes to tell you why this particular movement means to much to me:

Reading has always been an important aspect of my life. I began to read at an early age, and I haven’t looked back since. But during some particularly dark periods in my life, I was literally unable to read; the very act of sitting down with a book and concentrating on the words was too much for me. I just couldn’t do it, and so for months on end, I eschewed the very thing that has brought me so much comfort in my life. And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, the drought ended.

This has happened to me twice, and the fact that I was physically unable to read only made the act of reading so much richer for me once I regained the ability. I simply cannot imagine living in a society in which what I can immerse myself in is dictated by a government or a group, in which someone else decides what is best for my mind to ingest. To me, censorship seems like one of the great evils of a society.

Consider an extreme example most people know: Hitler and the pyres of books he burned. Did his attempts at censorship stop people from reading? No. Did it stop people from writing, from thinking, from discussing? Perhaps outwardly, but try as he might, he was unable to completely quash the human spirit. Witness Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, survivors who went on to write unstintingly about their personal hells.

“Written words running loose have always presented a challenge to people bent on ruling others. In times past, religious zealots burned heretical ideas and heretics with impartiality. Modern tyrannies promote the contentment and obedience of their subjects by ruthlessly keeping troubling ideas out of their books and minds. Censorship can place people in bondage more efficiently than chains.” ~ Time Magazine essay (1981)

If I have my way, my love affair with words will continue until I take my last breath, and until I take that breath, I will continue to buy books for myself and others, to recommend things to read to anyone who asks, to tell anyone who listens about this author or that one. Look, censorship always has the opposite effect, like it or not.

Captain Underpants Banned Book List

Brett’s favorite book series in grade school: The Captain Underpants series was at the top of the American Library Association’s Banned Book List for the second year in a row

You tell someone not to do something, not to see something, not to write something, not to read something? They’ll go to extreme lengths to do exactly what you have forbidden. It’s human nature. Better to ignore something you really loathe; disinterest breeds disinterest . . . sometimes.

We live in a democracy, and for that, we should express our gratitude to the hills, because there are still too many people who don’t have the freedoms we enjoy. We have the right to disagree. We have the right to wear funny clothes. We have the right to tell the president he is wrong. And we cannot be silenced or jailed for exercising these rights.

As far as I’m concerned, anyone who makes it through James Joyce is a trooper. Tweens who read Judy Blume aren’t reading about anything that their friends aren’t discussing. Decide for yourself is Ayn Rand is boring or if Catcher in the Rye really is the best thing ever written (she is, and it isn’t, in my opinion). And if you really don’t want your child to read something? That’s your prerogative; just don’t assume that you know what’s best for the world, because frankly? You don’t, and neither do I, and that’s what makes life interesting.

N’est-ce pas?

“To own ‘Mein Kampf,’ to support its right to exist, is not to endorse its awful venality. Rather, it is to recognize that, as Henry Miller once wrote,'[y]ou cannot eliminate an idea by suppressing it.’ This is a notion that, if we face it openly, offers us a vivid freedom — not to do anything, but to do the right thing.” ~ David L. Ulin, LA Times Book Critic, from “The Implications of Banned Book Week”

From Open Culture:

Today, in honor of this year’s Banned Books Week, we bring you free online texts of 14 banned books that appear on the Modern Library’s top 100 novels list. Next to each title, see some of the reasons these books were challenged, banned, or, in many cases, burned.

This staple of high school English classes everywhere seems to mostly get a pass. It did, however, see a 1987 challenge at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC for “language and sexual references.”

Seized and burned by postal officials in New York when it arrived stateside in 1922, Joyce’s masterwork generally goes unread these days because of its legendary difficulty, but for ten years, until Judge John Woolsey’s decision in its favor in 1932, the novel was only available in the U.S. as a bootleg. Ulysses was also burned—and banned—in Ireland, Canada, and England.

Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare often seems like one of the very few things liberals and conservatives can agree on—no one wants to live in the future he imagines. Nonetheless, the novel was challenged in Jackson County, Florida in 1981 for its supposedly “pro-communist” message, in addition to its “explicit sexual matter.”

Again the target of right-wing ire, Orwell’s work was challenged in Wisconsin in 1963 by the John Birch Society, who objected to the words “masses will revolt.” A 1968 New Survey found that the novel regularly appeared on school lists of “problem books.” The reason most often cited: “Orwell was a communist.”

  • Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut (Audio)

Vonnegut’s classic has been challenged by parents and school boards since 1973, when it was burned in Drake, North Dakota. Most recently, it’s been removed from a sophomore reading list at the Coventry, RI high school in 2000; challenged by an organization called LOVE (Livingstone Organization for Values in Education) in Howell, MI in 2007; and challenged, but retained, along with eight other books, in Arlington Heights, IL in 2006. In that case, a school board member, “elected amid promises to bring her Christian beliefs into all board decision-making, raised the controversy based on excerpts from the books she’d found on the internet.” Hear Vonnegut himself read the novel here.

London’s most popular novel hasn’t seen any official suppression in the U.S., but it was banned in Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929. The book was burned in Nazi bonfires in 1933; something of a historical irony given London’s own racist politics.

The Nazis also burned Sinclair’s novel because of the author’s socialist views. In 1959, East Germany banned the book as “inimical to communism.”

Lawrence courted controversy everywhere. Chatterly was banned by U.S. customs in 1929 and has since been banned in Ireland (1932), Poland (1932), Australia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959), Canada (1960) and, most recently, China in 1987 because it “will corrupt the minds of young people and is also against the Chinese tradition.”

This true crime classic was banned, then reinstated, at Savannah, Georgia’s Windsor Forest High School in 2000 after a parent “complained about sex, violence, and profanity.”

Lawrence endured a great deal of persecution in his lifetime for his work, which was widely considered pornographic. Thirty years after his death, in 1961, a group in Oklahoma City calling itself Mothers Unite for Decency “hired a trailer, dubbed it ‘smutmobile,’ and displayed books deemed objectionable,” including Sons and Lovers.

  • Naked Lunch, by William S. Burroughs (Audio)

If anyone belongs on a list of obscene authors, it’s Burroughs, which is only one reason of the many reasons he deserves to be read. In 1965, the Boston Superior Court banned Burroughs’ novel. The State Supreme Court reversed that decision the following year. Listen to Burroughs read the novel here.

Poor Lawrence could not catch a break. In one of many such acts against his work, the sensitive writer’s fifth novel was declared obscene in 1922 by the rather unimaginatively named New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

American literature’s foremost master of melodrama, Dreiser’s novel was banned in Boston in 1927 and burned by the Nazi bonfires because it “deals with low love affairs.”

You can learn much more about the many books that have been banned, suppressed, or censored at the University of Pennsylvania’s “Banned Books Online” page, and learn more about the many events and resources available for Banned Books Week at the American Library Association’s website.


Field of Dreams book banning scene:


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In support of Banned Books Week (September 21-27, 2014)


Supposedly Thursday afternoon, somewhere on the Eastern Seaboard, a woman stares at her monitor with a furrowed brow caused by pain and confusion . . .

Reblogged from the Huffington Post:

Banned Books Week: How One Person With A Pen Taught Me All About Censorship

by Claire Fallon

When I was a college student, I majored in English literature, which meant that I got to read a lot of novels for class — and my course reading could be purchased for a song. Unlike my STEM classmates, most of my class syllabuses were filled with paperback novels and epic poems I could buy used for five bucks apiece at the campus bookstore.

When I bought a copy of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides for a Contemporary Fiction class one semester, I applied my usual procedure: I grabbed a relatively clean-looking copy from the stack, flipped through the pages to check for excessive scribbling, and dropped it in my basket along with the 20-odd other books I was purchasing. A successful prelude to future learning, or so I thought.

When it came time to dig into the novel several weeks later, however, something went awry. As I read through the first few pages, my vision was suddenly assaulted by several dark, black scribbles covering lines of text. I was as viscerally shocked as if the book had, unaided, leapt out of my hands and whacked me over the head. I read on — and it happened again. More words covered by heavily, thoroughly crosshatched ballpoint pen. Having purchased many used student copies of novels before, no intrusive notes in the margin, underlining or aggressive highlighting would have been new to me — but this, this was new. I strained to see what words lay beneath the pen marks, but in vain; the scribbles were so firm and uniform that the pen had also imprinted bumpy, wide furrows into the page.

There was no getting around it: Someone, perhaps even one of my classmates at college, hadn’t wanted the future owners of this volume to read those few snippets of text.


Unfortunately for that person, the year was not 1807 — it was 2009, and I had a way to find out those obliterated words right at my fingertips: Google. So it was only a few minutes before I found myself facing the revelation that the words my book’s defacer had objected to were: “‘Fuck the Holy Mother’ […] ‘Fuck God'” and “telling God to fuck Himself all over again.” I couldn’t resist a bit of a chuckle — though I understood not everyone was comfortable with such language, even coming from the mouth of a fictional character, this was apparently the only thing the amateur censor had objected to in a book about the sexual objectification and gruesome suicides of five young girls.


In fact, only a few paragraphs before the first pen marks, Eugenides gently tweaks such unthinking primness, characterized in the staidly faithful Mr. Buell, who blames a girl’s suicide attempt on the lack of a picture of Jesus in her home: “Otherwise he persevered, and always gently corrected us when we took the Lord’s name in vain.” Mr. Buell’s faith, Eugenides reveals, hasn’t cured his shoulder injury, and his fixation on faith leads to unthinking cruelty in the form of blaming a family for their suffering. His focus on the town boys not taking the Lord’s name in vain seems to be a superficial effort toward their betterment at best. But only a page later, a reader had mimicked his blanket silencing of curse words, as if the complexities of Eugenides’s narrative hadn’t registered at all. The threads of religious propriety and faith continue to weave through the text, making those words part of a greater tapestry that the previous reader had chosen to partly obscure.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the American Library Association, I’d grown up with fairly free access to reading materials — including, yes, sometimes books that were somewhat too old for me or that weren’t worth reading (which, fortunately, never caused any damage, lasting or otherwise). This incident, as minor and absurd as it was, reminded me of how fortunate I had been to learn in such a free environment, but also that censorship, even for a rule-following, straight-laced type like myself, only stokes the desire to read the controversial material.

The ballpoint expurgation of my Virgin Suicides served less to shield me from its obscenities than to highlight them, perversely. I may have skipped lightly over those words had they not been scribbled out, barely noticing them; instead, I dedicated 10 minutes just to finding and reading them, as well as thinking about what could have compelled someone to blot them out, and as a result I can remember them easily years later. The scribbler took those despised words and made them the most visible elements of the book by deeming them unfit to be read.

Though I don’t believe those words should have been the most memorable in such a searing, stunningly crafted novel, which contained so much meant to provoke thought, I do think it’s right that we pay closer attention to those words and ideas people try to hide from view. Though some words may seem dangerous and worthy of hiding, confronting them is the only way of effectively combating them. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” Sometimes, the light merely shows us that our fear was always misplaced.

This Banned Books Week, here at HuffPost Books, we’re grateful for all the books that have startled us, unnerved us, and even angered us — and we’re glad that the ALA and others are working to ensure that readers in America will continue to be able to engage with groundbreaking, if sometimes upsetting and even offensive, texts that will keep people engaged with the difficult work of learning and growing.


Music by Paolo Nutini, “Don’t Let Me Down” (Beatles’ Cover)

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It’s that time again . . .

Banned Books Week September 21-27, 2014

“Our most basic freedom in a democratic society is our first amendment right of the freedom to read,” said ALA President Courtney Young. “Banned Books Week is an opportunity for all of us – community residents, librarians, authors and educators – to stand together protecting this fundamental right for everyone and for future generations. We can never take this precious right for granted.”

Monday night, late. No idea what the weather is like at this moment . . .

It’s Banned Books Week, and you know how I feel about that. I found the wonderful poem by Robert Morgan below, and it really touched a nerve for me. You see, I taught myself to read with Superman comic books. My dad got so tired of me wanting him to read to me all of the time that he told me that I should learn to read for myself. I was four.

Anyway, I don’t care what your background is, who you are, what color you are, what your country of origin is—reading is one of the most powerful tools in the world. Reading is knowledge, and the idea that there are books and comics that should not be read for whatever reason just slays me. You see, I have seen illiteracy up close. It’s ugly, very ugly.

So if I young child comes to you with a book or comic and asks you to read it, don’t say no. Never say no. It doesn’t matter if you like it. It doesn’t matter if you agree with it. Words can save us all. Do not deny anyone that access.

Read to your children. Read to your siblings. Read to your grandchildren, your nieces, your nephews, your neighbors. You want to make this a better world? Read to someone, and then, teach them to read for themselves.

More later. Peace.

Important Links:


Funny Books

Because my parents had denied
me comic books as sordid and
salacious, I would sneak a look
at those of friends, the bold and bright
slick covers, pages rough as news
and inked in pinks and greens and blues
as cowboys shouted in balloons
and Indian yells were printed on
the clouds. I borrowed books and hid
them in the crib and under shoes
and under bed. The glories of
those hyperbolic zaps and screams
were my illuminated texts,
the chapbook prophets of forbidden
and secret art, the narratives
of quest and conquest in the West,
of Superman and Lash Larue.
The print and pictures cruder than
the catalog were sweeter than
the cake at Bible School. I crouched
in almost dark and swilled the words
that soared in their balloons and bulbs
of grainy breath into my pulse,
into the stratosphere of my
imagination, reaching Mach
and orbit speed, escape velocity
just at the edge of Sputnik’s age,
in stained glass windows of the page.

~ Robert Morgan


Music by Greg Holden, “The Lost Boy”