Some of you may not be aware of the fact that I do research on obscenity law as a part of my academic career which means I keep track of banned books and obscene materials in the news. Today I read about a mother in Michigan who wants the Diary of a Young Girl (Anne Frank’s diary) to be banned, and go back to the edited version for the sake of her middle schoolers. The history of the book itself has been one fraught with editorial revisions, the edited version (which was published originally by her father) removed sexually explicit content and unflattering descriptions of her mother. This is not the first time that the Diary has been challenged on this basis, but it is the first time that I think the internet has fully grasped the challenge. Gawker posted a link!
When I first read the Diary, I had no idea that it had been edited. I think I was eleven years old when the book was put in my hands for the first time. I definitely don’t remember the passage that this mother is referring to. (Quote borrowed from Gawker)
Until I was eleven or twelve, I didn’t realize there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn’t see them. What’s even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris…When you’re standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you’re standing, so you can’t see what’s inside. They separate when you sit down and they’re very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris.
That being said – I sort of wish I’d read the version with that intact. I wish that I had known about those parts of her thoughts too, because as a young teen, knowing that other people in my age group had thought about these things would probably have made me feel normal.
Sure, the mom may have wanted to have some warning about the topics covered in the diary, but instead of banning it because her child is “uncomfortable” perhaps she could be having an open and honest dialogue about bodies with her daughter.
I hope that the school will choose not to go back to the edited version of the diary, because having access to honest writings by a fellow teenager might be one of the best ways to think about bodies. It’s not a grownup telling you what to think about your body, or a textbook, it’s a real person talking about their experience with their body – and that is a gift.
Furthermore, I think that the bulk of censorship issues can be solved by two things – 1) Not reading content that you don’t want to and 2) accepting that sometimes you’re going to see things you don’t like out in the world. Instead of simply not reading things and refusing to let ANYONE see them because it might “offend”, perhaps expanding horizons is what book reading is really about.