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Teaching Feminism: Political Views of Fiction Authors Matter

Teaching Feminism: Political Views of Fiction Authors Matter

Welcome to Teaching Feminism, a series about equality in the classroom. Teaching feminism is about so much more than teaching girls. We need to teach all of our students to respect everyone, no matter what. Teaching feminism talks about just that. Have your own story about these issues? Share it here.

Picture this: you’ve just finished reading a wonderful book. In fact, you loved the book so much that you decide you want to read as many books by this author as you can, so you go to your computer and look up the author. What you find, in addition to a list of his books, is a litany of articles about his track record of horrible, misogynistic, anti-woman behavior. You are surprised because his books seem to respect women a great deal. As a woman, do you support this author by reading more of his books, or are you turned off enough by his political viewpoints to never read anything by him again?

This recently happened to me, only it was worse because I had to think of the effects an author’s political viewpoints might have on my students. Some of my students asked me for book recommendations to read over the summer and, knowing that they loved “The Hunger Games,” I tried to compile a list of young adult science fiction/fantasy books. I jumped to the first sci-fi book I loved as a teenager, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.

I did a little searching for other books by him, only to find this article, outlining Card’s anti-gay marriage views. Knowing some of the students were out, at least to me, I wrestled with the question of whether or not his political viewpoints mattered. Eventually, I decided that my students needed to make the decision for themselves, so I told them about “Ender’s Game” and about Card’s views along with my list of other books for them to read. Then, I told them the decision was up to them whether or not to read the book. Every single student crossed that book off of their lists, not intending to read it.

It’s a difficult question to wrestle with as a teacher, though. Lots of times you can teach a book without talking much about the author at all. If the book doesn’t espouse controversial political viewpoints, and if it is by all standards a fantastic book or a classic novel, why not teach it? Furthermore, is it appropriate to teach only texts that champion the teacher’s political values? Also, if students never read anything from the viewpoints that oppose their own, how will they ever learn to think critically and address all sides of an issue?

In my lesson on commercials, reality TV and marketing, the first thing I teach my students is that money talks. I tell them that when they choose to buy products that are tested on animals, for example, they are essentially saying that they support animal testing. By not buying those products, they are saying that animal testing is not okay. Though we don’t often think of it this way, writing is also a business. Publishers will publish what sells, and they are more likely to publish authors who are popular, as well. Buying books by authors whose viewpoints we do not support is similar to buying products that are tested on animals.

However, it is decidedly inappropriate for me to push my political viewpoints on my students. I want them to think in different ways and open their minds to new perspectives; I don’t want them all to think like me. All I can do is present literature to students along with information about the authors and let them make up their own minds. However, discussing these issues is important, especially when I’m trying to establish a tolerant and accepting environment for all of my students, no matter their political viewpoints.

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32 comments

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2:00PM PDT on Oct 3, 2012

i'd read them anyway. literature is literature. i've read Mein Kamf and Hitler wasn't a gentleman by any means. but the cost of education can be high. some books SHOULD be read, regardless of the authors misdeeds

5:42AM PDT on Aug 2, 2012

If I only read material produced by authors with exactly the same political views as me then I wouldn't get to read very much at all. And that would make me very sad. Reading material written by people with varying perspectives allows the reader to learn and grow, it can either help you to form new perspectives or confirm what you already believe.

I consider Ender's Game one of my favorite books. I have read it repeatedly over the years along with all of the other books in the series. I don't remember any hint of pro-Mormonism or anti- marriage equality in any of them. I will continue to read Card's work (recently read The Worthing Saga) even though I don't agree with his personal views as long as I don't find those views overwhelming what he writes.

9:08AM PDT on Jul 30, 2012

JACarlton A. I don't think people here would read that fantasy book. maybe if they were twin sisters fighting for the right to breast feed their 8 year old in public and be a fashion modle dispite being 700 pounds and having missing limbs and in a wheel chair, and then become a nation leader and having a Phd or something.

but you know, we're talking about people who don't even want women to write a story about a male fish.

6:29PM PDT on Jul 21, 2012

@ Miranda L. - my thoughts exactly. If you really want to read the book you could also try to find it at a library for free. That doesn't support the author financially, if that eases the hesitance about reading their work. And in my opinion, it's impossible to betray or sully oneself by means of self-education. What you do with the knowledge is what matters the most. The ages when reading was considered "taboo" to certain people and literacy was restricted to the privileged of society, were sad times, I think. This issue fringes somewhat on the issue of "banned books," which is a heinous crime in my eyes.

11:19PM PDT on Jul 20, 2012

I may not agree with what Orson Scott Card's ideas, but I do love his work. The same as Harlan Ellison and a few others. I try to separate the writer from the story so the story is not spoiled for me. I think that people should make up their own minds and while I will never be a fan of Card the man, I do love his books.

4:23AM PDT on Jul 20, 2012

Very thoughtful article, sad that you left out female fiction writers. Not all of us write only vapid formulaic romance. Some of us actually write intense psychological thrillers that plainly point out the effects of reaping what you sow. (Broken)

http://www.amazon.com/Broken-J-Carlton/dp/0983292701

Or Speculative fiction works that are terrifying projections of what may come to the citizens of a once great nation when greed, avarice and narcissism are allowed to run rampant, (Wednesday's Child)

http://www.amazon.com/Wednesdays-Child-J-Carlton/dp/098329271X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1301884999&sr=1-1

Or a heart rending fantasy of two young brothers who realize they are destined to save the world from agents of the sinister Living Dark, all while battling the every-day trials of poverty, and abuse.

http://www.amazon.com/Nick-Time-Heroes-Line-ebook/dp/B002A7XYCC/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1342783160&sr=1-2&keywords=ja+carlton+nick+of+time%2C+heroes+of+the+line

I was once told by a teacher that no one would ever want to read anything with dark overtones, no matter how bright the message beneath it, if it was written by a woman. Was she right? I hope not.

But the important thing, like the messages in the books listed here as well as their sequels, are that WE are ultimately responsible for who we become, that WE as individuals can be whatever we choose to be, no matter what other people tried to make us.

I can only

6:49PM PDT on Jul 19, 2012

thnx for this

6:49PM PDT on Jul 19, 2012

thnx for this

3:04PM PDT on Jul 19, 2012

What do you expect? Card's a Mormon.

2:56PM PDT on Jul 19, 2012

Depends....I will read a book and look up more books...if the book is what I am looking to read I will probably read more than one...frankly political views of all should count.

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