Category Archives: Feminism

Off the Shelf and Into the Closet: The “Ed Scare” and the LGBTQ+ Book Banning Crisis

Those in the literary community have likely paid close attention over the past year to the sharp uptick in the number of banned books across the country—the American Library Association reported over 300 challenges in the last three months of 2021 alone —largely focused on diverse books written by and featuring LGBTQ+ people and people of color. In April 2022, a well-known picture book Everywhere Babies written by Susan Meyers and illustrated by Marla Frazee, “was featured…among dozens of works recently targeted by an advocacy group called the Florida Citizens Alliance, which cited the picture book in a report identifying ‘extremely age-inappropriate and pornographic books…in the K-12 classroom.”

Readers familiar with Everywhere Babies are likely shocked at its inclusion on a list targeted for pornography as the book contains no nudity or sexual content and rather is full of illustrations of infants and families going about their mundane, everyday lives. On its face, there’s nothing remotely pornographic about the book, but it seems depictions of same sex couples within the pages are enough to warrant outcry more than twenty years after its publication. This mild representation of diversity seems to be the reason for the ban and is the latest, and one of the most extreme, examples of the “Ed Scare” currently targeting children’s literature.

Coined by PEN America, the term “Ed Scare” refers to the growing rise in censorship efforts, book challenges, bans, and legislative efforts targeted at curriculum and classrooms that overall impact free speech while creating a rampant and pervasive environment of homophobia and racism. According to a report from PEN America, “Between January and September 2021, 24 legislatures across the United States introduced 54 separate bills intended to restrict teaching and training in K-12 schools, higher education, and state agencies and institutions.” While legislatures across the country have also been targeting books with racial diversity for teaching so-called “critical race theory,” the scope of this essay will focus primarily on the impact and consequences of LGBTQ+ book bans and challenges and the role the literary and publishing community plays with regard to the bans.

Important in the context of the rise in LGBTQ+ children’s book bans and challenges is the ensuing political backlash against the queer community, much of which is playing out in schools and within the literary community.

As of February 14, there are at least 177 anti-LGBTQ state bills proposed across the country; 69 of those are anti-LGBTQ school policy bills. State and federal legislation targeting LGBTQ education in schools typically takes one of three forms: bans on books and materials, “Don’t Say Gay” bills targeting LGBTQ conversation in school and bans on “Critical Race Theory” that also prevent teachers from discussing discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

GLAAD – “Media Guide: Reporting on Book Bannings and School Censorship”

Thus, book banning bills are undeniably tangled with larger political efforts to suppress and erase the LGBTQ+ community like bathroom bills and the recent “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”

LGBTQ+ children’s book bans don’t simply remove an offensive title from a classroom or library but have far-reaching effects. With LGBTQ+ book bans in particular, there is an increased risk of violence and self-harm as, “The rise in efforts to ban specific topics from school libraries—largely books about LGBTQ people and race and racism—is inextricable from longstanding efforts by extremist groups to increasingly use schools as a political battleground, including more than 170 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed in state legislatures in 2022.”

Despite the ongoing “Ed Scare,” LGBTQ+ children’s books play a critical role in the wellbeing of all children by exposing young readers to diverse viewpoints, teaching them empathy, and reflecting their identities back to them. Because of this, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, those in the literary community including authors, parents, educators, and publishers must work to protect LGBTQ+ children’s books and the queer community as a whole. This essay will examine the history of book bans, LGBTQ+ book bans in the modern political context, the consequences of banning LGBTQ+ children’s books, and what can be done to protect LGBTQ+ children’s literature.

A Brief History of Book Banning

As the latest wave of LBGTQ+ book bans come to a head citing obscenity or inappropriate sexual content, it’s important to understand the historical and legal precedent for challenges to literature. According to Brady, “arguments over obscenity—how it’s defined and how that definition relates to the First Amendment—have been at the heart of banned-book controversies throughout the 20th and 21st centuries,” likely since the banning of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the first book in the United States to experience a national challenge due to its abolitionist content.

Roughly two decades later, “a carping moralist government official named Anthony Comstock convinced the United States Congress to pass a law prohibiting the mailing of ‘pornographic’ materials.” Comstock’s broad definition of the term pornography would have lasting legal implications for nearly 75 years until 1957 when Roth vs. The United States redefined obscenity and placed importance on creative expression and intent behind art. This ushered an era of free expression and sexual liberation in the 1960s and ‘70s that was soon met with a wave of conservative backlash and censorship during the Reagan presidency, leading to the first Banned Books Week in 1982.

Banned Books Week hadn’t yet existed for a decade before the publications of Heather Has Two Mommies, written by Leslea Newman and originally illustrated by Diana Souza, and Daddy’s Roommate written and illustrated by Michael Willhoite, two of the first and most seminal LGBTQ+ picture books for children that simply depicted normal children with happy same sex parents. While publishing today has worked to make room for diverse authors and stories, Newman faced roadblocks and rejection when she initially tried to publish Heather and ended up crowdfunding and self-publishing the first printing of the book before it was reprinted by a small LGBTQ publisher. Unfortunately, Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate became some of the most banned books in America in the 1990s. “By the time 1999 rolled around, the American Library Association had ranked it No. 9 on its most banned-books list, with Daddy’s Roommate coming in at No. 2. For perspective, the titles were higher on the list than J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Madonna’s graphic coffee table book Sex.” While Newman and Willhoite paved the way for other queer children’s book authors, their books also predicted the challenges to come for future LGBTQ+ children’s books.

LGBTQ+ Book Bans in the Modern Era

There’s a sad but direct lineage from Heather Has Two Mommies to the infamous picture book about a penguin with two dads And Tango Makes Three written by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson and illustrated by Henry Cole which “…caused quite a stir when it was published: it topped the American Library Association’s list of challenged books in 2007, 2008, 2009, and reappeared again in 2011…” While challenges to LGBTQ+ children’s books have never gone away, the recent uptick of the “Ed Scare” movement is different in both number and overall political fervor. 

What makes modern-day book banning so stark and alarming is not the banning itself, though the sheer number of challenges is noteworthy. While the aforementioned 330 challenges the ALA reported between September and December of 2021 “is an increase relative to the same months in prior years…the figures are most likely an undercount, as teachers and librarians are often afraid of the consequences of reporting censorship campaigns.” The consequences of the bans will be discussed in more detail later, but it’s important to note that censoring a book never removes the title alone, but has numerous ramifications, including the emotional welfare of teachers and librarians who do not want to lose their jobs. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that challenges and bans targeting LGBTQ+ children’s books are steadily and scarily on the rise.

Yet while this uptick is of note and unsettling, bans are nothing new—historians note that censorship and challenges have coexisted alongside publishing throughout time. Rather, it’s the multi-pronged political attack on the larger LGBTQ+ community utilizing children’s books and education with little logic or evidence to back up the bans that feels startling. For example, Leah Johnson’s You Should See Me in a Crown made a list of obscene books under investigation in Oklahoma, despite the fact that her novel is hardly obscene, containing mild profanity and a brief same sex kiss. These nonsensical bans—which generally are not tied to the text itself—are instead linked to the broader movement to restrict and remove civil rights from the LGBTQ+ community through the educational setting. To wit, in November 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered his state education and library boards to originate statewide standards that would keep pornography and obscene content from entering Texas classrooms, which many saw as a homophobic dog whistle to target LGBTQ+ literature. However, other states have proposed even more disturbing and invasive bills that seem intended to surveil LGBTQ+ students and parents, like Arizona’s HB 2011 which:

…amends the state’s law requiring parental permission for sex education to cover student participation in LGBTQ clubs. Schools now must ‘seek consent’ from parents if a student attempts to join a club ‘involving sexuality, gender or gender identity’; it also requires that schools provide the group’s charter to parents as part of the permission process.

Vox – “Why Book Banning is Back”

In short, educational Pride organizations, a traditionally sacrosanct safe space for LGBTQ+ teens and young people, are now under threat, too. School board members have even gone so far as to advocate for burning banned books to ensure total eradication of content they deem to be unseemly, an image many associate with fascist Nazi Germany. Of course, those who live within a marginalized experience know their communities cannot be censored away or erased, but while schools are supposed to be a safe haven for children, the “Ed Scare” breaks the foundational trust in the classroom between the administration and students and most importantly removes access to books and literacy for young readers at a critical age.

On the whole, these political efforts amount to state-sponsored censorship of the LGBTQ+ community, beginning with children’s books. Even more upsetting, those who control the levers of power have little understanding of the community they seek to control through the texts they challenge and ban. This indifference to understanding the subject matter presents a fresh challenge for literacy and free speech advocates.

Previous banning movements did not overtly concentrate on race, aim to empty libraries, or associate so closely with one political party. The people behind these movements prided themselves on their direct familiarity with the explicit contents of that which they wished to ban (or even burn). They used their literacy in their brazen efforts to control the uses of others’ literacy. Today’s banners and burners, by contrast, are the new illiterates, achieving a rare historical distinction.

Publishers Weekly – “The History of Book Banning”

Driving this point home, six of the top ten most challenged books in 2021 were LGBTQ+ children’s books banned for being sexually explicit despite lacking pornographic content. Even more frustratingly, the latest book bans have fallen on the legal definition of obscenity to remove objectionable texts but may not be within the legal right to do so. “Since 1973, this has almost exclusively been understood as visual hardcore pornography. It’s nearly impossible for a book to be obscene.” Instead, obscenity and pornography function as dog whistles and synonyms for any kind of queer subtext, desire, or joy that is objectionable. Conflating obscenity and pornography with queerness at large is at the very least fear-mongering and at the worst a gross false equivalency. Most frustrating of all, the politicians who seek to ban LGBTQ+ books claim to have children’s best interests at heart, but instead harm those they allegedly seek to protect.

This willful lack of engagement with the discourse at hand is evidence of the sinister and pernicious thinking that impacts those in the LGBTQ+ community. The painful irony of the “Ed Scare” is that LGBTQ+ authors understand just how much power words have, regardless of the ignorance or intent behind them. The underlying commonality in the ongoing political effort is the assumption that queerness can be taught, a central tenet of conversion therapy (i.e. if someone can be led astray to homosexuality, they can be converted back to heterosexuality). As a result, intentional or not, the LGBTQ+ “Ed Scare” has an underlying sinister, deadly ideology rooted in conversion therapy that seeks to control young queer children, a framework that is proven to be violent, harmful, and ineffective.

“The architects and infantry of this latest moral panic have no interest in the platitudes they spout about sexualizing children, nor do they have the range to honestly discuss the content of the books they despise. Theirs is a campaign of hate, bent on erasing queer lives so they can bully more vulnerable kids into being “normal” heterosexuals and make it easier to abuse them at the first sign of rebellion.”

Them. – “Queer Book Bans Aren’t About Books At All”

While LGBTQ+ book bans are rooted in a moralistic agenda to protect children, regardless of the true intentions, that’s the last thing these challenges are accomplishing. If lawmakers wanted to protect children, they would provide equitable access to information and books about a diverse range of experiences and identities, allowing children to explore and navigate their perspectives and worldview in their own time. Instead, “What matters to them is controlling the information their children have access to—ostensibly to keep them safe and ‘innocent,’ but in truth, it’s because they think that if kids don’t know about LGBTQ+ identities, they won’t form one. It’s conversion therapy-by-ignorance.

This is particularly dire with literature targeted for younger age categories like picture books where parents view themselves as more in control over their children’s education and identity, regardless of whether a child has begun to explore their LGBTQ+ identity. Young readers may be the most impacted by the bans as, “Children are often aware of their sexuality and gender at an early age, and there are increasing numbers of families with same-gender parents. Representation of these identities and families is critical for building healthy perceptions among youth.” As a result, LGBTQ+ children’s book bans can have tragic consequences.

The Consequences of Banning LGBTQ+ Children’s Books

To understand the future implications of LGBTQ+ children’s book bans, we can look to the prominent psychological theory, social learning theory, by psychologist Albert Bandura which says that children learn and encode behavior through observational learning. A child’s behavior will be either negatively or positively reinforced through direct interactions with a parent or role model, or the child will receive vicarious reinforcement by witnessing positive or negative reinforcement of a similar behavior on someone else. Per social learning theory, with regard to children’s literature, the impact of LGBTQ+ books works twofold: if children have positive role models in the form of picture books, authors, illustrators, and educators, their own identities or experiences will be positively reinforced and they will develop positive self-images; but if these texts are banned or erased, visible role models outside of texts may be harder to find, and a young LGBTQ+ reader’s identity may be negatively reinforced, leading to a negative self-image.

For young children, particularly LGBTQ+ children who are at increased risk of self-harm and violence, removing books from schools and libraries that represent their identities is negative reinforcement in action. According to The Trevor Project, at least one LGBTQ+ youth attempts suicide every 45 seconds. Bandura’s social learning theory draws a direct link between the “Ed Scare” book bans and the impact of the loss of these texts on LGBTQ+ children. Without the opportunity to positively reinforce and encode behaviors through peer models in LGBTQ+ books, children are left to internalize the rampant negative reinforcement of homophobic book bans and laws. “The young…face the greatest threat to intellectual and psychological development. That danger is most severe for the racially and gender diverse, who see themselves being erased or banned.” Without access to LGBTQ+ representation in books, queer children immediately internalize, or per Bandura, encode, the homophobia of the bans and interpret the language directed at LGBTQ+ books and authors–obscene, pornographic, inappropriate—as directed at them.

This negative reinforcement extends beyond childhood, however, as the effects of the bans are felt by parents, educators, librarians, and the authors themselves, which children in turn witness and encode. Take for example the case of Call Me Max, an early reader written by Kyle Lukoff and illustrated by Luciano Lozano about a young boy beginning his social transition on his first day of a new school year. When a young student in Utah brought Max to share with his class, the school’s storytime program ended in an overall bid to censor further “inappropriate” books brought from home. Lukoff wrote about the pain this decision caused him as an author and a trans person:

When I watch these school board meetings or read the bills introduced to penalize librarians for their collections, I see bloodlust barely disguised as civility. I see the veneer of due process peeling around the edges of genocidal fantasies. I see Jay, and his peers, and his adult counterparts like myself, twisted from human beings into points of rhetoric and symbols of societal degeneracy.

“My Children’s Book Was Challenged in Schools”

Lukoff’s emotional recounting of the experience is vivid and serves as an important reminder of real world consequences of book bans beyond a title leaving a classroom. With the LGBTQ+ “Ed Scare,” censoring books functions as censoring the larger LGBTQ+ community which can do irreparable harm, especially for children. Research shows that LGBTQ+ youth are more at risk for serious mental health issues relative to their cisgender and straight counterparts, making the “Ed Scare” all the more dangerous.

…in their urgent zeal to “protect” children from the “evils” of homosexuality and genderaffirmative care, conservatives are proactively endangering queer and trans children. Decades of research have established the link between negative social environments and poor LGBTQ mental health, and the link between allowing kids to safely express their sexuality and gender identity and positive mental health.

Vox – “The Right’s Moral Panic Over ‘Grooming’ Invokes Age-Old Homophobia”

Therefore, it’s no exaggeration to say LGBTQ+ affirming children’s books that show a safe, loving, and accepting world can save lives. LGBTQ+ children’s books can also be an emotional education for young readers who may not otherwise know diverse identities exist and simply need to learn how to be accepting and tolerant in order to avoid growing up hateful and ignorant.

Furthermore, bans and challenges ignore historical queer subtext in literature. While there are countless examples of LGBTQ+ protagonists in modern day children’s literature, that was not always the case. For many years, young LGBTQ+ readers instead created their own subtextual queer canon, sometimes with characters that were written to be interpreted as LGBTQ+ by their authors. Characters like Caddie Woodlawn, Pippi Longstocking, and Harriet the Spy were depicted as “tomboys” and have been adopted as unofficial lesbian icons. Picture book characters like Ferdinand, a bull who doesn’t want to fight and thus rejects masculine norms, and Frog and Toad, have also been interpreted as gay or queer. Needless to say, even if explicitly queer books are removed from shelves, authors will find a way to insert queerness between the pages and readers will identify with the subtext.

What Can Be Done About The “Ed Scare”

  • Regardless of one’s relationship to the LGBTQ+ “Ed Scare,” any concerned individual can take a wide variety of steps to fight back.
  • Be a vocal supporter of LGBTQ+ children’s books and speak out against censorship online and in your community.
    • Share information about the “Ed Scare” on social media, educate your neighbors, or write an editorial for a local newspaper.
    • When LGBTQ+ books are challenged in your community, organize neighbors to educate them, host forums, and rally with fellow concerned citizens.
    • Visibility and numbers matter—create, sign, and share petitions in person and online.
  • Fight back on a policy level: if a book is challenged, check your school’s policies, and potentially work to change them.
  • Individuals can also provide monetary support.
    • Buy challenged books from local or independent bookstores or donate them to classrooms or libraries.
    • Request them from libraries if you cannot afford to make a purchase.
    • Partner with or donate to organizations fighting against censorship like the National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America, and American Library Association.

  • Publishing companies need to recognize the necessity of protecting their authors as financial assets in the face of political unrest.
  • Some publishing companies like Hachette and Penguin Random House have put together online resource hubs for authors, illustrators, parents, students, educators, librarians, and other concerned stakeholders, but can do more.
  • With recent changes to advance payment structures, authors are already struggling financially. The “Ed Scare” book challenges will undoubtedly hurt author income; not every challenged book hits the bestseller list—it’s in fact quite rare. If the publishing industry can profit off of LGBTQ+ authors and readers, they in turn have a responsibility to support and protect them. Implementing standardized, equitable pay and health insurance for the authors who are most vulnerable would be a way to protect publishing’s assets.
  • Publishing could also do more political lobbying and recognize that there may be an immediate short-term loss in sales from conservatives while sustaining a long-term win for future legal precedent over censorship in books.
  • Protecting authors is a critical forward-thinking investment. For LGBTQ+ authors who are already in the business, they need to be protected for the assets they provide; for future aspiring authors, they need to see that publishers will value and protect their work in the face of political adversity.

This essay barely scraped the surface on a hugely important topic, but if the “Ed Scare has taught us anything, it’s that art has always been a medium to push forward diversity and conversations and to fight back against political hegemony, which makes literature a hotbed of censorship battles and challenges. In turn, LGBTQ+ children’s books must be protected at all costs on behalf of those who labor to create them and the queer community and readers they serve. Perhaps the plea can best be summarized by young adult author Malinda Lo, whose book Last Night at the Telegraph Club won the 2021 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

This year, schools across the country are facing significant right-wing pressure to remove books about people of color, LGBTQ people, and especially transgender people from classrooms and libraries. I urge every one of you watching to educate yourselves about your school boards and vote in your local elections. 2022 is coming, and we need your support to keep our stories on the shelves. Don’t let them erase us.

School Library Journal – “2021 National Book Award Winner Malindo Lo: ‘Don’t Let Them Erase Us'”

Lo warned of the increasing book challenges for LGBTQ+ books and authors of color when she accepted her award–three months later, Last Night at the Telegraph Club was flagged for removal in Texas.

What Should a Dramatization of the Trump Era Look Like?

As a pop culture junkie living through the first-ever reality star President, I’ve spent maybe a little too much time wondering what the inevitable series of political biopics and miniseries about the Trump Era and all of the events surrounding it will look like.

With the shortening of the news cycle, so much has happened this year that we’ve already forgotten about (Trump was impeached in January) let alone before he even took office (the Access Hollywood tape). In my eyes, a sweeping, well-done narrative would actually be both enlightening and engrossing, not to mention the fun there is in dream-casting. (Patti Lupone as Nancy Pelosi? Allegra Edwards as Kayleigh McEnany or Ivanka? Holland Taylor as Hillary?)

However, it would be too easy to go into parodic territory. Long before Trump came down the escalator, when he still hosted The Apprentice, people did bad impersonations of him, telling friends, “You’re fired,” across the table at dinner parties. (Guilty.) This has only increased since he took office. But it’s not funny anymore.

It’s one thing to impersonate a guy with funny hair who hosts a successful reality competition show who says incendiary things on cable news but mostly stays away. It’s another thing to impersonate the President on Saturday Night Live, or a talk show, or at a dinner party, who makes fun of disabled people, disrespects war heroes, refuses to attend the funeral of civil rights icons, and basically violates everything to do with common decency and respect in the name of America First.

Regardless of what policies you support or which party you’re registered with, the research and statistics show that Trump has not made America great again. He has done everything in his power to ignore the coronavirus pandemic and act like we’ve defeated it when it’s only getting worse while working to undo the legacy of presidents before him.

At this point, to portray Trump in any fashion is to perpetuate his image and legacy. From a practical, artistic standpoint, it’s impossible to do a portrayal or impersonation of Trump and have it taken seriously at this point. Even if Daniel Day Lewis did his method acting most, we’d all still laugh at it because that’s what we’ve been trained to do since 2015–laugh at the “orange man” so you don’t take him seriously and notice what he’s actually doing. From a political standpoint, to keep impersonating Trump is dangerous. It contributes to mythmaking, positive or negative, and no good can come of that.

So to answer the central question posed in this post’s title, what should a dramatization of the Trump Era look like? We’re getting our first taste very soon. Showtime announced this week their new miniseries, The Comey Rule, and yes, it looks as gross and trite as it sounds.

With Jeff Daniels as the eponymous James Comey and Brendan Gleeson doing his damndest to “seriously” portray Trump, The Comey Rule seems to be prestige television’s answer to my question. However, I would argue that building off of what I’ve stated above, Trump should be entirely absent from any dramatizations of the Trump era.

The Comey Rule is a bad idea for lots of reasons (least of which it seems to ignore the Hillary Clinton mess entirely and start with Trump in the White House?). But the story could easily be told without Trump in it at all. (No shade to Gleeson, who is a fine actor.) But if this is a taste of the kind of stories Hollywood thinks we should tell about the Trump era, I’ll pass.

Molly

Read more about The Comey Rule here: James Comey is no hero and Showtime’s The Comey Rule won’t change that

Mrs. America Coverage

Below are links to all of my coverage of Mrs. America for Culturess.

Season 1

Mrs. America series premiere live stream: Watch online

Mrs. America series premiere review: Meet Phyllis Schlafly

Mrs. America season 1 episode 2 review: Revolution is messy

Mrs. America season 1 episode 3 review: Power concedes nothing

Mrs. America season 1 episode 4 live stream: Watch online

Mrs. America season 1 episode 4 review: Mother of the movement

Mrs. America season 1 episode 5 live stream: Watch online

Mrs. America season 1 episode 5 review: Just a phase

Molly

Recommendation of the Week: Hillary

There are still a few days left in Women’s History Month, so we may as well recognize the woman who came closest to breaking that “highest and hardest glass ceiling” by winning the popular vote in 2016.

The new docuseries Hillary on Hulu examines Hillary Rodham Clinton with unprecedented access and provides new insight into her political campaigns, career, and private life. Regardless of what you think of Hillary as a person, she has paved the way for future female leaders and that deserves credit.

Read more of my thoughts on the docuseries for Culturess.

Molly

Recommendation of the Week: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Okay, so my recommendation for you this week isn’t exactly new. In fact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered on the long-departed The WB network nearly a quarter of a century ago. Buffy is by no means a perfect show and it hasn’t aged well in some ways (it is painfully white), but it is nonetheless extremely meaningful to television, the first show to blend genre and mythos with humanity in such a thoughtful way.

Because of this, Buffy is the perfect show to binge right now while self-isolating, or while dealing with generalized anxiety around the Covid-19 crisis. Whether you’re looking for catharsis or escapism, Buffy Summers is your girl. Read more of my thoughts at Culturess.

Molly

Walk On, Teachers

A few weeks ago, when talks of a teacher walkout in Oklahoma were just a rumor, a friend on Facebook asked his followers to share the name and memory of a teacher who’d made a difference. (The post ended up going viral.) Like many of us, there’s no way I could pick just one teacher.

My second grade teacher, Mrs. Morrison. When I got braces with glow in the dark bands, she let me lead the class to the teachers lounge so I could climb up on a desk, smile at the fluorescent light in the ceiling, and see them glow. (They were a letdown.) In a fun twist of fate, I recently got to award her a certificate in honor of her fiftieth year since graduating college this past Homecoming. I asked if she remembered me. She said, “Oh yes. You were a fun one.” I hoped that was a good thing.

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Purkey, who had to reteach us third grade math, but let us watch The Goonies in class one day and was consequently horrified. (She did not remember the language  when she’d last watched it in the ’80s.) I still know how to count back change because of her.

My fifth grade teachers, Mrs. Underwood and Mrs. Pate. I used to go back and visit them every year for a while because they were just simply the best.

My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Bridges. The amount of reading we did in her class was amazing. She gently harassed me about taking too long to read The Lord of the Rings, but she still let me try. (We were supposed to read a book a week, I think, and of, course, it took me two, or three, to read just one of those.) She had an amazing audiobook collection to facilitate reading. Of course, anyone who knew my mom knew she was addicted to audiobooks. Mrs. Bridges gladly let us borrow from her classroom library.

My seventh and eighth grade algebra teacher, Mrs. Hamm. She let me and my friends have a second home in her classroom. I got to be a teacher’s aide for her one semester and felt like I was really responsible, but really I spent most of the time reading Harry Potter fanfiction. She still tutored me long after I left her class. She was even responsible for helping me find Lois Lane and cultivating my pomeranian addiction!

My sophomore English teacher, Mrs. Meigs. I think I probably drove her a little crazy with my pedantry and sometimes antagonistic questions. By the time I had her, I was ready to prove everyone wrong. However, she never ceased to find new ways to keep me challenged and encourage me. I’ll never forget a comment of hers stating, “You should be a journalist!” on some assignment we had. I kept it on my wall for years.

My junior physics and calculus teachers, Mr. Brown and Mrs. McMillen. OSSM was the most challenging year of high school and easily the thing that prepared me the most for college, even though I didn’t end up doing anything math or science related. I was not good at it. At all. The first week of class when they gave out their cellphone numbers in case we needed help with homework, I thought they were crazy. And then I called. Mr. Brown and Mrs. McMillen never made me feel bad, they never stopped encouraging me, or helping me. Mr. Brown tutored me long after I left his classroom (see a pattern?) and I’ve enjoyed keeping up with both of them through the years.

My high school computer teacher, Mrs. McClain, got to school early just to let my friends and I in to her classroom so we could mess around with photoshop or other stuff on the computers. She gave us room to learn and play around and explore. Crazily enough, almost 10 years later, with no training in college, I still use all of my knowledge I learned from her in my current job!

Last, but certainly not least, my music and theatre teachers:  Miss Holly, Mrs. Green, and Mr. Peters. Like so many others, Choir and drama were my havens in junior high and high school. I would have lived in the PAC if I could have. Art gave me and my friends the freedom to be silly and awkward and goofy all while still learning to be who we were and who we wanted to be without judgment.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my best friend, Thomas, who is striking at the Capitol this week. No, I didn’t have him as a “teacher” but he certainly likes to school us all.

And because I work for a university, faculty are on my mind as well, since higher ed in Oklahoma has also seen incredibly steep cuts with no means of replacing funds. Dr. Mintler, Amy, and Renée were all instrumental in my early college experience. (I still pester them a lot today.) I owe a lot to the entire communication department at NSU, including my sister, who teaches me informally every day. And my time in the van with Kris and the speech and debate team was a formative part of my college experience I’ll never forget.

When choosing a memory to share, it inherently asks you to leave others out, and I know there are people I will miss or forget. (As long a post as this already is, I am trying to keep it brief.) But perhaps the most vibrant picture of what teachers have done in my life was when my own mother died. At the time, she was a teacher herself. She had recently re-entered the classroom, teaching high school English, and loved it, though she dealt with many of the issues you’ll hear other Oklahoma teachers discuss. At her memorial service,  when we greeted everyone, I remember being shocked at who all took time out of their days to come. Her fellow teachers, some of whom I didn’t know, but many of whom were my former teachers. Miss Holly made a point to find me and hug me before the service. Mr. Peters gave me a big bearhug in the line. Mrs. McMillen, who know longer works in town, drove all the way in just for my mom’s memorial. Professors my sister taught with and my mom knew.

Teaching isn’t just a job; it’s a calling that goes beyond a day or a year. Teachers impact students for their entire lives. Our teachers deserve to be paid what they’re worth and our students deserve the peace of mind to know that their future in the classroom is secure.

Molly

Happy Birthday, Buffy

This week marks the twentieth anniversary of the premiere of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’re a nerd on the Internet, you might’ve seen a think piece or two about it. For those of you who weren’t aware of this milestone or the show itself, Buffy began as a high school drama masquerading as a supernatural monster-of-the-week escapade. Creator Joss Whedon (who went on to make some movies you may have heard of like The Avengers), came up with the a superpowered girl to challenge the stereotype of the blonde cheerleader who always died in horror movies.

This trope was played up throughout the show with frequent baddies being surprised that Buffy was the “one girl in all the world” with the power to kill vampires and other “forces of darkness.” The show used this frequent surprise as a subversion and statement on ’90s girl power, flaunting Buffy’s strength. Within the universe of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Buffy was always the strongest person around and would find a way to defeat evil, even when fighting a god.

Of course, Buffy didn’t do it alone. Unlike hypermasculine superheroes such as Batman, Buffy always had her friends who worked with her to plan, research, and fight. This collectivism was uniquely feminine and uniquely Buffy.

For me personally, Buffy was all-consuming for me when I first binge-watched it in 2003. I had never seen a television show that had a girl at the center of it, let alone a girl who was superpowered and in a world full of smart and funny people. Buffy quickly became my hero at a time in my life when I needed her most.

Buffy, the show and the character, will always be close to my heart. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve read the criticisms and agree it has issues of diversity and some of the sex and gender storylines could have been better. But without Buffy, there would be no Veronica Mars or Pretty Little Liars, just to name a few. When asked what my favorite television show is, I answer Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I often get a laugh, like it’s a guilty pleasure show. Buffy is a show that should be taken seriously, though, and those who laugh likely do not understand how important this show is for representation of women in the media. My favorite superhero isn’t Superman, Iron-Man, or Batman, but Buffy. “She saved the world. A lot” all while showing that being a strong woman does not necessarily mean being masculine or self-sacrificial or lonely.

All that said, Happy Birthday, Buffy.

Molly

What Comes Next? A Guide for How to React to the Election

I should start off by saying I am not a political scientist or commentator or expert. I study and write about media and rhetoric will get back to that soon. But I also study gender, race, and culture and, thus, like most people, have been consumed by this election. In short, I have a lot of thoughts.

There have already been many articles written about what to do after the election, but they have been targeted at a narrow audience. Regardless of partisan affiliation, Americans need to come together now. It may sound clichéd, but it’s true. We are already more ideologically divided than ever before. Now, Americans have elected a man who more often than not uses divisive rhetoric rather than unific, empowering segments of the population who already have power while further disaffecting the marginalized.

No one wants to be made to feel they are complicit in someone else’s pain. While many, many Trump voters are not explicitly and overtly sexist, racist, xenophobic, or homophobic, they voted for a man who is. White people overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump. These votes are emblematic of a white supremacist system that privileges some lives over others. (I highly recommend you read this for a primer on whiteness.) It is time for white people to recognize what they have done. White liberals also need to reckon with this.

Below, I have listed some things that everyone can do following the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. Unless we want the divide between Americans to grow further, it is time for all of us to talk and listen to each other, and treat each other as human beings.

If you voted for/supported Trump:

  • Talk to someone who is different than you. Many people are scared right now. Trump ran on a platform promising to ban Muslims, build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and repeal marriage equality, just to name a few of his platform issues. He has flip-flopped on many of these issues and it will remain to be seen what he will do in office. However, he has actively sought support from radicals and hate-mongerors like Alex Jones, and appointed Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist to his cabinet, not to mention David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Thus, it is easy to see why people may be afraid. Even if you personally do not feel this fear, and may even be excited, talk to someone who is not white/not straight/not Christian/not a natural-born citizen. Listen to them. Attempt to understand their fears and where they are coming from. What can you do as an individual to make these fears lesser? Can you talk to your fellow friends and family members who supported Trump about these fears?
  • Vary your information diet. Nonprofit, nonpartisan fact checkers have found that Donald Trump lies more often than he does not. Of course, virtually all politicians (and people), lie and bend the truth from time to time. But when comparing Trump to other politicians, he lies far more often. Read and listen to nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism to help parse through what Trump says. NPR and BBC are two well-established organizations that you can read, listen to, and watch. (Additionally, reading/listening to news sources outside of the States allows for objectivity on our politics.) Most states also have nonprofit/nonpartisan publications (for example, Oklahoma Watch or California Watch). ProPublica is also a good source for investigative journalism.

If you voted for/supported Clinton:

  • Don’t just wear a safety pin. Be a true advocate. By all means, wear what you want. But as Roxane Gay, along with several other people, got at on Twitter, the safety pin has logistical issues (how hard is it to find someone with a safety pin when you’re being harassed?) in addition to kind of being a cop-out. I tend to agree. It feels a bit like hashtag activism to me. Rather than wearing something, show your beliefs and values through your words and actions. If someone is being bullied or harassed, step in. Don’t be a safe space for people to come to. Push back against those who are making public spaces dangerous.
  • Support diverse and independent voices. The Trump campaign has spent a year and half attacking the media and sewing distrust in journalistic institutions. Liberals, too, blame the media for the rise of Trump. Yet, we will need them more then ever to hold Trump accountable. Subscribe to a newspaper (The Washington Post and The New York Times have been particularly excellent this year). Donate to your local NPR or PBS stations. Furthermore, as diverse voices are pushed to the margins, we need to support artists of color, female artists, LGBTQ artists, and more who will create vital and important counterculture under the Trump presidency.
  • Listen and talk to Trump supporters to the extent that you can. I said it once, I’ll say it again:  don’t block/unfollow/unfriend someone purely because of how they voted. If they are attacking you in the way that the alt-right does, protect yourself. But do not groom your newsfeed and timeline so that only people who think like you live in it. Now is the time to talk to people who voted for Trump. Ask them why. What do they think he will do as President? Communicate to them your hopes and fears. While some Trump supporters have engaged in reprehensible activity, many of them are average people who are concerned about the economy and ISIS. Connect with them on a human level. Work to bridge the divides that Trump won’t.
  • Support your favorite cause. Slate already compiled a great list of things you can do depending on what you care most about. Planned Parenthood and ACLU have seen spikes in donations after the election. Not everyone can afford to donate. Then you should volunteer your time. Those who can do both absolutely should.

If you voted for/supported Third Party candidates:

  • Find and support a strong candidate. There is a lot to be said for the argument that we need a strong third party in this country. This election may have shown more than any in recent history why. However, neither Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, or even Evan McMullin were those candidates, for a variety of reasons. If you truly care about building a third party, find a strong candidate and support their campaign from the ground up.

If you didn’t vote/don’t care:

  • Engage. We are taught that talking about politics is rude. I used to think the same. But frankly, this is a way for the elite to disempower the public. Politics effects every aspect of our lives. If you care about the cost of gas, your health, whether your brother or sister may see combat, civil rights, or education, these are all issues we elect politicians to decide. If you don’t vote and engage in civil discourse, you have no control over what happens to you, your friends, or your family. That said, as someone who got a terrible education in civics and government, I felt stupid when people discussed politics and disengaged for that reason as well. But I finally started asking questions because I wanted to know. I did my own research. I started listening to podcasts and public radio. (I cannot recommend the NPR Politics Podcast enough.) Read. Discuss. Engage.

Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments.

Molly

Obligatory Post About President-Elect Trump

Nausea. Heartburn. Migraine.

Those were my literal initial feelings as the electoral votes climbed higher for Trump Tuesday night. My brother-in-law voiced them first, asking for the Tums. I compulsively checked Five Thirty Eight and watched Clinton’s chance at the presidency sink lower and lower. Once I realized the inevitable, I felt sunken and low. I, of course, was devastated for Hillary. One of the most brilliant women to ever exist in this country, let alone serve it for thirty years, was defeated by a racist, sexist, homophobe who can’t keep his hands to himself.

I had a 7:30 am. flight to Philly with my sister for a conference. I didn’t want this to ruin my trip. So I went to bed before it was officially called and turned on Drunk History. (Incidentally, I highly recommend this show right now. It is more inspirational & patriotic than it seems, and incredibly funny. Perfect balm for the soul.) But I couldn’t stay off social media as much as I tried. I couldn’t sleep. I can’t turn off my brain most nights, but Tuesday night, my brain was cranked up to 11.

What would my mom think if she were here, a woman who fought for equality and education her whole life? How sick and degraded must President Obama feel, our first black president, to hand the president over to someone who doesn’t understand the Constitution. What world will my incredible niece and nephew grow uo in? Had I done enough? What could I do now to protect those who must feel so scared and terrified at losing their hard-won (and, for many, still not guaranteed) rights?

My sister was already spinning a positive. My brother valiantly tried to explain and defend my position to our dad who gleefully celebrated Hillary’s demise and Mike Pence’s “nice attitude.” Our mother taught us to always be optimistic and positive, to never stay down for long. Feel your feelings, then pick yourself up and do something about it. As previously written, I spent my undergraduate career working with my local community to protest rape culture. Why did I stop? Lack of resources and infrastructure. Frankly, I was also tired.

But now I am ready to go. I don’t know how or what but I will be organizing and doing it soon. We need to express our first amendment rights now more than ever before they are repressed and strangled. (If you are with me, let me know. I am with you.)

This is far from the darkest day in my life, and far from the darkest day in our country’s. This country was born on the backs of slaves and the blood of indigienous peoples. We have done worse and survived amd grown. I am scared and afraid and sad and know you are, too. But I believe in my fellow humans and I believe in our democracy. Now is not the time to let anger allow us to shut others out. Listen and talk. Dialogue and expression are our greatest tools right now.

In closing, I keep thinking about a broken flag. I am incredibly privileged to have attended President Obama’s inauguration in 2009. I remember watching him win in 2008 and feeling so incredibly proud of our country and inspired for the change and progress he promised. In Washington that January, it was freezing cold, but thousands of people filled the National Mall to watch history. Our country was proud. While not everyone is upset with the outcomes, and people were certainly upset with them in 2008, the feeling in our country is markedly different now. There are sharp lines in the sand marked by gender, race, and class. They have always been there, but Trump shone a brighter light. We have to work now to cross these lines and unite the country. It will be hard and messy, but it is fudamental and necessary.

They gave us little American flags to wave the day of the inauguration. I brought mine back with me, but it broke on the way home. i still have it. It sits on my bookshelf, hanging  together by a few splinters.

What a difference eight years can make.

Molly

As We #WearWhiteToThePolls, We Can’t Deny Our History

Today, millions of people in America will vote for the next president. For the first time in history, a woman may be elected to the highest office in this country. Regardless of political opinion, this achievement is remarkable as a few generations ago–within many people’s lifetimes–women were not legally allowed to vote. (The 2020 election will mark the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment that granted women this right.) But we must face the truth that not our country was not fully democratic until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

However, our discussion of suffrage is often limited. Like much of history in America, we focus on the white figures to tell the story. While few people know much of women’s history at all, the names Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony are the names they do know. While these two white women were important figureheads and leaders in the American suffrage movement, they actually got the idea for a suffrage movement form Native American tribes in New York. Additionally, Anthony, and other suffrage leaders, worked with Fredrick Douglass to earn votes for African Americans until they decided it was too risky for female suffrage.

History also erases the amazing women of color who worked to earn white women the right to vote. Ida B. Wells was a passionate advocate for all who documented lynchings, taught, and wrote. Sojourner Truth was a former slave and an incredible suffragist and abolitionist. I cannot provide an exhaustive list or history of the movement and its complexities. That is not the purpose of this post. I highly recommend you read this for a deeper and more personal explanation of the white supremacy of suffrage.

Wells once said, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” As modern feminists, humanists, and advocates for equality, it is important to recognize the full truth of our past. We should celebrate the suffragists for the work they accomplished and be grateful for the rights we have today as women. Put an “I Voted” sticker on Anthony’s grave if you can. Where your pantsuits and white to the polls.

However, we should also understand, especially if, like me, you are white, that our history is complex and we have to continue to pave an equal path for all women. Hillary Clinton has referred to her nomination, and potential election, as shattering “the highest, hardest, glass ceiling.” But there are yet more ceilings beyond. How long until we elect a Black woman to the presidency? A gay man? An Atheist? As we celebrate our accomplishments, we must consider the work ahead.

Molly

Suffragists Campaign For The Vote in New Jersey