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.
Photo Credit: quinn.anya