Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Let's talk about sex, baby. Let's talk about libraries.

Can someone please explain to me why librarians, who often position themselves as defenders of literacy, are scared of a word?

Do we really have to go into the libraries and play George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" aloud, so they can hear his reminder that there are no bad words? As Carlin points out, there are plenty of bad intentions and bad deeds, but words? Words are used to convey a person's intention or describe their deeds, but the word itself is just shadows scratched on a page.

To say that certain words are bad is the same as saying that booze is bad--people may do bad things as a result of drinking booze, but the booze is just a chemical compound. The booze is not the criminal--the person who committed the crime is. Similarly, words are not the source of hatred, intolerance, and Penthouse Forum letters--people are.

Declaring that a word--one word--renders an entire book unfit for reading is an absurd response. After all, if that's your approach, you should remove Moby Dick from library shelves. Fercryinoutloud! It's got the word right there on the spine of the book!

A rational response would be for these librarians, whom we trust to teach our children about language, among other topics, to use this as a teachable moment. I'm not naive enough to believe that there won't be some tittering and snickering from the students as they do this, but the librarians could at least make the effort. Because if they don't explain it, someone else will. Ideally that someone else would be children's parents, but it will likely be other kids on the playground, who aren't renowned for their depth of biological and medical knowledge.

And when your little Timmy or Johnny or Lance grows up and has swelling and pain in his scrotum, indicating testicular cancer, which could very well kill him if he doesn't attend to it, do you want him relying on what the librarian told him or what his friend Bobby yelled over his shoulder as he ran back to the classroom after recess?

In an age when ignorance about sex and your sexual organs can kill you, it should be socially unacceptable for professional educators to avoid the topic and any words related to the topic because--and let's face it, this is the real reason the librarians don't want to talk about a scrotum--sex makes them squeamish. I wonder how they propose I talk to 3B about his orchiopexy, or explain to 3B what Lance came back from, or why Melissa Etheridge was bald at the Grammys.

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  1. The indescribably wonderful Neil Gaiman has blogged about this too:


    Needless to say, this whole censureship issue is a load of bollocks!

  2. I don't get it. What's wrong with the word Moby? I saw it on an album somewhere, but I didn't think it was any more offensive than Pearl Jam or Jane Fonda.

  3. Hmmm...that book was written for 9-12 year olds. Like they're not interested in body parts, or know all the words--and more--already?

    It would be one thing if there were a slang word, or even an obscenity. I remember being mildly disapproving when the word "crap" appeared in one of the early Harry Potter books, because it seemed unnecessary (the characters weren't teenagers yet, when it might have fit in better). But the actual correct word for a part of the body? My 2 1/2 year old already knows those.

  4. Anonymous1:01 PM

    I hear you. As a former English teacher, it always annoyed me when certain books would be banned. The problem is that our society has over-sexualized everything to the point that people blush at the word "vagina." Guess what? Every gal has one.

    When my kids ask me what their parts are called, I tell them the right word. Banning a book because of the word "scrotum" is irresponsible. Scrotum is not a bad word and we shouldn't be making our kids feel shameful about any of their parts, no matter where they're located. Great post!

  5. 1. Now I want to buy the book just because I'm that type of "live on the edge" mom.

    2. I tried to send an email to my husband earlier today, and used the word "scrotum". It was returned to me through Outlook by "Big Brother" at my work...bor "containing language consistent with Adult Content."

    ...just for that...I sent about 25 emails containing MEDICAL information with words like....breast, vagina, penis, scrotum. They were all flagged & returned to me!

    Surprisingly...cocksucker, dick, and boobs made it through...
    I work in a hospital!
    "The patient will undergo a bilateral mastectomy, to remove cancerous breast tissue."
    That will now read: "We're going to cut her boobs off."

    Ugh. What a whooping...