High schoolers reading explicit material is news to the right

Blog ››› ››› MATT GERTZ

The Right-wing has rushed to attack Kevin Jennings because the organization he used to run lists several books with sexually explicit passages among those they recommended for adolescents. Aside from the fact that GLSEN's list specifically recommends that adults review the books themselves before selecting them for youths, the conservative media's argument is undermined by the fact that numerous books that are often assigned to high school students and are considered classics contain similar material.

For example, during my tenure at a public high school, I read the following books from an American Library Association list of "Banned and/or Challenged Books" that have been cited for sexual content:

  • The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, "Challenged at the Baptist College in Charleston, SC (1987) because of 'language and sexual references in the book.'"
  • The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger, challenged or removed from several schools due to "sexual scenes," "sexual references," "depict[ion of] premarital sex," "lurid passages about sex," and "sexual exploits experienced in the book"
  • The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, "Challenged in the Greenville, S.C. schools (1991) because the book uses the name of God and Jesus in a 'vain and profane manner along with inappropriate sexual references.'"
  • Beloved, Toni Morrison, "Challenged in the Sarasota County, Fla. schools (1998) because of sexual material."
  • The Lord of the Flies, William Golding, "Challenged in the Waterloo, Iowa schools (1992) because of ... lurid passages about sex."
  • 1984, George Orwell, "Challenged in the Jackson County, FL (1981) because Orwell's novel is 'pro-communist and contained explicit sexual matter.'"
  • Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck, "Challenged at the Jacksboro, Tenn. High School (1991) because the novel contains 'blasphemous' language, excessive cursing, and sexual overtones."
  • Native Son, Richard Wright, Challenged or banned in various districts because it was considered "sexually explicit," "sexually graphic," and for "sexual content."

We also read Gunter Grass' Cat and Mouse, which is not on the ALA's list, but contains an extremely vivid scene of group masturbation.

On the other hand, most of the sexual content in the above books is of the heterosexual variety. Perhaps that is why the conservative media isn't as worked up over them.

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, LGBTQ
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