The story that a parent in Northville, Michigan filed a formal complaint with the local School Board after her 7th Grade daughter was assigned to read “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl“, has the Jewish and the general blogosphere buzzing with indignation.
The world’s most famous holocaust book is made up of several versions of an honest and well-written diary that Anne Frank kept while she was a young teenager living in a cramped apartment with a few other families, hiding from the Nazis. They were found and she died in a concentration camp. Her father published an edited version after the war which was made into a play and a movie. An unedited version was released in 1995, after Otto Frank’s death containing parts that were deemed too private in 1947.
The passage that alarmed the mother of the middle-schooler was:
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.
The mother, Gail Horalek, called it pornographic. It is not. It is merely an accurate description of the vulva. Ms. Horalek’s reaction is more common than we like to think as we are very uncomfortable with women’s and girls sexuality. Note that the passages about the menstrual cycle were not upsetting to this mother. Vaginas are ok to talk about in terms of male sexual pleasure, fertility or in their role as the birth canal. It is specifically because the parts that are mentioned in the passage are those that are commonly associated with female sexual pleasure that upset this mother. Does she think that while reading this her daughter or her friends might discover pleasurable aspects of their anatomy that they would not otherwise have known about?
But what struck me as proof of the depth of this problem of our deep discomfort with female sexuality is that many of the blog posts and articles decrying this attempted censorship from a feminist point of view unwittingly participated in it.
Let’s look at their titles:
from a previous, similar controversy:
It is not reading about a vagina that upset Ms. Horalek. It is reading about Anne Frank’s vulva and clitoris that upset her. The vagina is not mentioned in the passage above. If we are going to look down on someone for being uncomfortable with basic human physiology, then we probably should be using the correct terms ourselves. Calling the vulva a vagina is part of our discomfort with female sexuality. ( For a full discussion of why this is so see V is for… )
Many girls and boys grow up thinking that girls use their vaginas to pee, for example, which they do not. This is because parents usually refer to the vulva as a girl’s vagina. We do not pee out of a vagina, shave it, or see it (unless we have some medical devices or are very invasive). ( For a full discussion of why this see V is for… )
My children use the correct terms. So sure criticize this woman and her censorship. But take a look in the mirror as well.