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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

When Did My Threshold of Acceptancy Change?

I don't normally write personal posts, but this is a topic that I seemed to have attracted attention to yesterday and I wanted  to clarify my thoughts and position on the matter. I hope you will bear with me and read the whole post as you might actually be surprised by the outcome.
Yesterday on Twitter I made a rather flippant comment about incest.
I felt that it shouldn't be a topic for YA fiction. That it was taboo.
This was my personal opinion.
I really put myself in the firing line, receiving some rather strong worded complaints and  I did accept that my comment could have been worded better. I was surprised by the reaction from bloggers and Tweeters who wholeheartedly agreed with the inclusion of incest in books. I honestly couldn't see it from their point of view, especially as it was a subject that personally made my skin crawl. Why would anyone enjoy a book about incest, when it was illegal in society? We would be abhorred to discover it happening in real life, but we were happy for our children to read about it? I was utterly shocked by the response. Until I was reminded by a good blogging friend about a book that I had read in my teens,Flowers In The Attic by Virginia Andrews. Many of you would not have heard of this book, but I can tell you now it was full of incest and what's more I truly loved that book! In my twenties I must have read it three or four times and the fact that it was full of incest, didn't cause me any issues at all.
In consideration of that, I began to wonder why I was so against this subject matter in books now. Many of my trusted blogging friends have tried so hard to convince me to read Forbidden by Tabitha Sazuma; I have been so obstinate about this book that I refused to even talk about it, let alone read it. Yet on reflection, I have to ask myself why I am so against it now yet I was happy to push Flowers In The Attic under everyone's nose to read when I was younger. On reading the summary of  Forbidden,  I can see that the situation might be considered mitigating circumstances in a similar way to Flowers In The Attic and  I have heard nothing but immense praise for the book. Yet I still wouldn't read it.
 So what changed?
When did my threshold of acceptancy drop so dramatically?
This really wasn't hard for me to pinpoint. The birth of my twin girls dramatically changed my perception of life and the safety of my children became paramount, perhaps even a little stifling at times for them. I can't speak for every other parent, but I found bringing up identical twin girls similar to living among paparazzi. They attracted a lot of attention, often too much  and occasionally unsavoury. Instantly my protectiveness was thrust into being which unconsciously changed my reading choices dramatically.  No longer could I read true stories where children were victims of abuse; anything dealing with children dying was a complete no-no. I found these subjects made me feel physically sick. I became a lover of fantasy and the paranormal.
Why?
Because it wasn't real. It wouldn't ever happen. I no longer had to feel uncomfortable. It was pure escapism.
Looking back now I can see why my issue with incest in books then grew so vehemently. I could see it occurring everywhere  in the real world; the news was full of it, an abundance of true life abuse stories were on sale and I felt I needed to shield my children from reality. However after the discussion yesterday, I realise I was in the wrong. I cannot hide my children from the bad things that happen in the world and reading is  a source available to enable them to discover the reality of the world we live in. I have to learn to sit in the middle of the scales between protective mother and occasional librarian. I have to guide my children's reading rather than restrict it. They may not be as shocked by these situations as I am; they probably won't be able to digest the reality of these situations that do occur in the world, but they will be more aware of them. I don't want to be considered a book banner because a subject makes my nervous.
My only advice to other parents is that perhaps you need to consider the maturity of your child before you place such books in their hands; will they comfortably be able to deal with the subject matter and be able to truly understand what they are reading. However you may be surprised by what they are actually capable of digesting. 
So after digesting these thoughts, I vow that I will read Forbidden at some point, because I don't want to think of myself as being against certain subjects in books. I may not feel comfortable reading it, but it isn't anything I haven't read before. I have always considered myself quite open minded, but I now realise that perhaps I am not. I am still learning what is right or wrong and I doubt I will ever stop until I am on my last journey.
I would just like to make a final point to the bloggers who were very much for the inclusion of  incest in YA books by sharing a saying my mother repeatedly tells me, 'I Once Stood Where You Stand Now'. In other words I once held the same strong beliefs that you hold now, but life has changed my opinions, something that you will find may happen to you as time passes and your life finds the direction it is supposed to take. With this in mind, I hope you can see why I expressed my opinions in the first place and view the situation from both sides as I try to now.
This was a difficult post for me to write, but I feel so much better that I have. I would be interested on your thoughts over this matter, so please feel free to comment.

39 comments:

  1. What an absolutely brilliant post - so well thought out and articulate.
    I agree I wouldn't want my girls to read about incest & like you I loved Flowers in the Attic as a teen. Being a mother to girls really does change the way you view the world

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    1. Thanks Emma. *hugs*
      It changed my views more than I had ever realised.

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  2. I read Flowers In the Attic too - when I was 15. And I loved it. But I wouldn't want Little M to read it just yet. And I would also hope that YA publishers flag a sensitivity warning of some sort on any books that deal with harm or abuse or possible 'adult' themes.

    I think what you said was brave and honest and I applaud you for that. It sparked a discussion about issues that are often taboo. Your comment wasn't made in the context of banning books and I'd be surprised if anyone read it in that light. I never thought you wouldn't let your children read a book. Much as I wouldn't. But there are books I'd prefer them to wait a few more years so that they can understand and appreciate some of the subtleties of the human condition a bit more.

    It's more about us being able to guide young readers in the first place so that they can make informed reading choices. If that's been overprotective.....

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    1. Thank you. You were aware of how uncomfortable I felt with this yesterday and I felt I had to write this post to get my point across. I have seen many youngsters reading books that I did not feel was age appropriate but as they are not my children, I never felt it was my place to say anything. I am happy to be overprotective to a certain point.

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  3. Wow, what a brave post. I really don't think anybody really wants to see incest, violence and other unsavory things in YA or other fiction - I'm guessing (hoping) they were just demanding its right to be there and sadly it exists in the 'real world'. I think you are perfectly within your rights not to read a book if you don't want to.
    I won a set of Tabitha Suzuma's books and read Forbidden first (the only one I have read so far). Why did I pick that one? Because the reviews were outstanding as is the book. It makes you understand how these things could happen and it broke my heart just a little.
    I am speaking as a person who is not a mother but I recognize that the protective feelings that come with that are not made up, I have seen some quite unsappy friends changes quite dramatically. I think you are right that parents need to be more aware of what their children are reading (and watching) and not police it or stop it but to be prepared to discuss the difficult issues that arise. I think literature is an amazing way to learn and I think we do children a disservice if we protect them too much leaving them naive and a bit vulnerable possibly. Neither do I believe we should shove it in their faces before they are ready. My copy of Forbidden does say 'Not for younger readers' on the back.
    I think the reasons I have drawn to paranormal/fantasy are similar - it's not real - it's escapism. I don't think I could read a Forbiddenesque book everyday and stay happy but sometimes we need to understand the dark side too - it's just way too scary otherwise.
    If you do decide to read it I look forward to your review.
    Thanks for this very thought provoking post.

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  4. Thank you Kirsty. I often think people don't realise how some people do change when they have children. I was really surprised by my own change of thought.
    I am glad to read that Forbidden does have say something on the back.

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  5. Excellent post, I caught some of the discussion. I don't think there should be any forbidden topics tbh, but I also don't think anyone should be made to read anything they don't like. I struggle with books including miscarriage and baby loss now, but it's just about our own personal perspective. I do agree that books should carry some warnings if they cover adult themes, parents and children should be able to make informed decisions.

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    1. I don't want to see things banned at all and I think that might have been the way I came across yesterday. I just want an awareness and more guidance to be established. I read things at 13 and 14 that I would be shocked to see my kids read now and really I shouldn't be. It is really about exploration.

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  6. I think it is very brave of you to write this post after being involved in a twitter firestorm. I didn't see it, but I know how nasty things can get. I also think my perspective on certain subjects changed when I had children and I now find it very hard to watch certain news items - especially when they involve children suffering. For some strange reason I haven't had the same response to books and am equally happy to read darker books now. As for YA, I actually think it is important for teens to investigate these topics in the safety of their home. I'd hope that the books didn't glorify or encourage the behaviour, but children are so innocent and I think learning about the darker side of society is an important thing for them to do before they head out into the world alone. As an 18-year-old I was very niave and headed into some dangerous situations that I shouldn't have. If I'd have read more widely then perhaps I wouldn't have been so stupid.

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    1. Thank you Jackie. I felt I had to get my point across as quickly as possible. You hit a valid point there where you mentioned naivety at 18, is it better to prepare teens by the written word of the subjects we may find difficult to discuss face to face.

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  7. I think it was very brave of you to write this, Viv - and you've expressed yourself beautifully. You have what we should all aspire to have, strong principles twinned with the willingness to re-evaluate when necessary, and deeply kind heart. *Hugs*

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    1. This really brought tears to my eyes. Thank you. *hugs*
      I am not one for controversy so I am willing to admit when I might be wrong.

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    2. That truly is one of the best trait of character a human being can have. Zoë is right and I just want to say that I agree 100 % with her eloquent comment.

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  8. I completely missed this yesterday. Hmm...I'm not sure how I feel about incest in YA books. Its not something I would really want to read about. I read for fun and I don't think I want to deal with such heartbreaking and complex issues since the real world, which I am in fact escaping, is full of it, I like my books more on the light side.
    I don't believe such books should be banned but I agree they should have some type of warning. That way if the book made it's way into the hands of a teen reader, they would know that the content deals with a mature or difficult topic.

    Great post you really made me think about a topic I haven't given much thought to.

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    1. I think it comes down to personal choice a the end of the day. If you can stomach it, then you should read it. I just want more awareness out there.

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  9. Great post. i have actually not come across this in YA books, and glad for it. It did happen in a book I recently read, but that was an adult book

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  10. Interesting post, Viv!

    If I'm honest, I'm always a little uneasy when parents say they don't want their children to read books on a certain subject. I think the reason it makes me wary is that it's most frequently heard in relation to books with LGBT characters, as though the very fact that one character (for example) falls in love with someone of the same gender automatically makes a book age-inappropriate for a teenage audience. Whilst I can understand why parents may feel particular content (e.g. sex or violence) is unsuitable, it worries me that some people seem to assume an entire subject is off-limits, even though the actual content may be less adult than many mainstream boy-meets-girl books.

    In principle, I can see why parents feel protective of their young readers in this way. However, I'm sure those who sought to ban Harry Potter thought they were acting in the best interests of their children. One parent's protective instinct is another parent's indoctrination.

    In this context, I guess I can see why you might have sparked some strong reactions on Twitter. Personally though, I feel that the parents who ask themselves the kind of questions you're asking are the ones who are most likely to be getting it right.

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    1. I can understand your uneasiness concerning books containing LGBT, but incest is an entirely different matter. It is a subject I personally find really uncomfortable with my kids reading this. At the moment I know they are not mature enough to deal with that topic.In this context of this book, as I understand it has been dealt with very well, however I would still read it before allowing my children to read it.
      As to LGBT books I would hand those out gladly to be read by teens.

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  11. Brlliant and brave post. Thank you. I completely understand how parenthood changes so many of our perceptions, and so dramatically. I, too find it very difficult to watch or read anything which involves children coming to harm in anyway. I remember not long after my first daughter was born, I had to leave the room when the film version of Lord of the Flies came on the telly because I found I could not bear the thought of children being cruel to each other.
    I agree with you about guidance, and I hope I will bring my daughters up to make sound judgements about what they feel comfortable reading.
    Thanks again x

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    1. Thank you Anna. It seems we may have similar views on this matter.

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  12. This is a really wonderful post, Viv. I feel exactly the same as you regarding books featuring children being hurt in any way - can't read them (although I was talked into reading Room and I loved it), but you seem to equate 'incest' with 'abuse' whereas the novels you mention - Flowers in the Attic and Forbidden - aren't abusive relationships at all, they're consensual relationships that happen to be between siblings. (At least I'm fairly sure they are - haven't read Flowers for years and have only read the sample of Forbidden.)

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    1. I hope I don't come across as seeing 'incest' and 'abuse' as the same because I really don't think that at all. I just find the whole concept of 'incest' uncomfortable reading matter.

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    2. Oh yes, I totally understand that - I just wanted to point out that incestuous relationships aren't necessarily abusive.

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    3. I have amended the post as I would hate to be miscontrued. Again. LOL.

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  13. This is a wonderful post Viv. I think it's important to draw a distinction between topics that shouldn't be covered, and topics we might not personally want to read about. I don't want to read a book about a girl whose cat gets run over, but that doesn't mean that book shouldn't be written/read. I think it's really great that you've looked inside yourself and evaluated where your strong reaction came from, that's a very balanced and admirable thing to do.

    I think we all have an innate desire to protect those who are younger/less grown up than ourselves. I worked in Waterstones for 2 months and always wonderered about the suitability of books I was selling. I would consider myself to be a very laid back person and one totally opposed to censure, yet when I sold 'Dark Inside' to an 11 year old (with his mother present) part of me DID want to snatch it back from what was admittedly a very mature, very advanced reader. I think we do forget what we were like when we were teens, and what we could have handled reading.

    Really great post Viv!

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    1. Thanks Cait. I needed a whole night to get my thoughts around the conversation from yesterday. I felt it needed to be addressed.

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  14. Viv, this is a very honest and thought provoking post. It's brilliant, and I'm sure it rings true for many of us. As long as we can send our children out into the World safe in the knowledge that we will always be able to offer continual guidance and support, then I think we will have done our job well. It's the thought that as adolescents and young adults they might think we are not interested any more, that I find worrying.

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  15. Great post, Viv. I too remember reading 'Flowers in the Attic' - the Twilight of the day! And I completely understand that having children changes what you choose to read yourself, even if that can slide into over-protectiveness. Really thought-provoking stuff, thank you for exploring your own thought-processes for us.

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    1. Thanks Susie. I appreciate having the perspective of authors on this subject.

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  16. Isn't it interesting how becoming a parent so wholly changes your world view? I've found my opinion on several subjects changed after having kids and that my tolerance level for books, movies and tv changed, too - like you in that I can't handle stories where children (or parents) die now. It's just too much. And yes, sci-fi fantasy is a great escape! Great post!

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  17. Vivienne, what an articulate, thoughtful, and heartfelt post!

    I consider myself liberal, yet I do at times, see the benefits in "censoring" what our children read, or at least what my children read. Motherhood does change you. Out of necessity we adopt the role of protector to our children. Honestly, I do not want my children exposed to all the evils of the world, especially when they are so young. With respect to this topic, I'd have to examine the role of incest in specific books--was it just to grab attention, or did it have a higher purpose?

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  18. *Tips hat to Viv* First off ultimate respect to you for writing such a brave and controversial post! All I have to say on the subject of banned books or parental screening etc is that as the childs parent you have EVERY right to protect/raise your child in the way that you think is best. I never think it's right when people have a moan about parents not letting their kids read certain books, I mean who are we to say what YOUR kids can and can't do? HOWEVER I do have a problem when other people from the outside try to control or ban what OTHER PEOPLES children should be reading, you know the type who try to get "inappropriate books" out of schools and libraries. By all means you have every right to keep tabs on what your own kids are reading but when you take that right away from other people's children? That is not okay.

    I don't think you should have to apologise for not wanting to read something that will make you uncomfortable and I say that as someone who read and LOVED Forbidden. You have every right to your opinion and reading or not reading what you want. Like I said before the only time that would not be okay is if you were trying to persuade everyone that reading these types of books was a bad thing which I don't think you were trying to do at all. Each to their own I say, with this type of topic I don't think there is a right or wrong opinion everyone has different thresholds and as we have to respect the right of the people who read books we might not agree with, people also have to respect the right of the people who don't want themselves or their child/ren to read them.

    *big hugs*

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  19. I remember reading flowers in the attic as a teenager and it didn't shock me, but looking back as an adult my perception has changed. I feel I have an open mind and like you said initially I wouldn't want my children reading such things, but, this does happen in live and isn't all bad. I think as long as there is an appropriate warning on the book and the parent feels it's age appropriate for the child then it should be included as a subject. There are many worse things out there. It is our instinct to protect and shelter our children from the horrors of the world, but we cannot. We can guide them and help them prepare for the world out there but we cannot wrap them in cotton wool for as much as we'd like to. I've actually learned a lot about myself reading this post, so thank you. I too don't read any books that are remotely like real life. Especially anything with children being hurt. Excellent post Viv xx

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  20. I do not read books with incest in them, it makes me sick and that feeling has only gotten worse since I became a mother. However I would not want to keep books that speak of such important subjects from my children. We never know who might suffer under this kind of abuse, so I think it is healthy for children/young adults to read this. Get the message that adults aren't ever allowed to do this to kids and that they can get help.

    I think it is wonderful that literature addresses all aspects of humanity, especially the dark ones. Even if I don't want to read books on the subject I feel that they are immensely important. Just like you I feel that I get enough of these kind of horror stories on a day to day basis via the news.

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  21. I forgot to say that I love reading your post :) You bring up some good points, Vivienne. Now I'm off to read all of the other comments :) Have a great weekend!

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  22. Viv, it's really brave of you to put your feelings out there like that. I speak from the viewpoint of someone without children. I completely understand your feelings changing once you have children. This may sound strange but as you know I love my dog like you love your girls and I would do anything to protect him. I can see you wanting to protect the girls and even yourself from reading disturbing things like that. I myself do not pick up books tht have incest in them, not because I couldn't read it because I could but more because it really does bother me. That being said if a book is well done and can enlighten a child or teen who may in fact be going through a similar situation then i think that book is a powerful tool. Does that make sense?

    As for Flowers in the Attic, I too loved that book. I know it was incest but the circumstances were different than had it been, let's say, parent/child. I don't think it makes it right, I just think that story shows what happens when kids are thrown together with only each other to lean on. It's a bit different to me.

    Anyhow, you're right in needing to let your girls experience more of the reality of the world but at the same time I applaud you looking out for them as you do. There is plenty of time for them to learn the harsh realities.

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  23. Girl, The Flowers in the Attic series was like a right of passage for my generation of readers here in Florida. (Did you read the rest of them? #creepy

    I am one of the MANY who definitely think that you should read Forbidden because it is Teh Awsum but understand who your position changed due to children.

    I have a double master's in therapy/counseling and if I wasn't teacher I would definitely want to work with sex offenders. I think, in part, it's because I DON'T have any children nor do I WANT any. That sorta gives me the opportunity to stay emotionally segregated.

    Also, might I add if we all read and enjoyed and believed in the same books our blogging and real world would hardly be interesting. One of the things that calls me to the blogging community is that I can have intellectual discussions with fellow readers about boundaries and (dis)likes.

    Hats off to you Viv. Keep being honest and sharing these parts about yourself.

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