#SpeakLoudly: Laurie Halse-Anderson's "Speak" Is Not Porn

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Melinda is just a girl that went to a party. It was her first high school party and it did not go the way she had planned. How could it? Melinda never planned on being raped. After being raped Melinda stopped talking. Speak is her story -- and at least one man in Missouri would like you to think it is soft porn.

Melinda's story, Speak, is fiction. It is a young adult novel written by Laurie Halse-Anderson. It's not just a novel, though it's a powerful story of a girl who has been broken. She can't talk about what happened to her, so she simply does not say anything at all. Her character is the kind that comes to live inside you and never completely leaves, because you know too many people who have experienced something like she did. Melinda's rape, like all rapes, is not a sexual act. It's a crime.

Cover of Speak by Laurie Halse-Anderson

Wesley Scroggin, an associate professor of management at Missouri State University, would like you think that Melinda's story is porn. He wrote an opinion piece in the Springfield, Missour News Leader about the books that teenagers read in English class -- titled "Filthy books demeaning to Republic education."

In high school English classes, children are required to read and view material that should be classified as soft pornography. One such book is called "Speak." They also watch the movie. This is a book about a very dysfunctional family. Schoolteachers are losers, adults are losers and the cheerleading squad scores more than the football team. They have sex on Saturday night and then are goddesses at church on Sunday morning. The cheer squad also gets their group-rate abortions at prom time. As the main character in the book is alone with a boy who is touching her female parts, she makes the statement that this is what high school is supposed to feel like. The boy then rapes her on the next page. Actually, the book and movie both contain two rape scenes.

Scroggin frames his protest around Christianity and Christian values. He asks how Christians in the community can allow children to read these books:

This is unacceptable, considering that most of the school board members and administrators claim to be Christian. How can Christian men and women expose children to such immorality? Parents, it is time you get involved!

Christian readers were quick to stand up and say that Scroggin does not speak for all Christians. Author Myra McEntire does not generally speak of her religion on the internet, but she had to speak up:

I'm crying right now. Here's another reason I don't like to talk about religion to a vast, unknown public. Emotion is involved. You don't know my heart intimately. I can't discuss this with you. I can't look into your eyes and touch your hand and tell you that all people who "claim to be Christians" aren't like this. I can't live out life with you day to day and show you all my mistakes and my sin. Because I am sinful. I am trying, but I WILL NEVER GET IT RIGHT.

Jessie Anderson is a writer and Christian.

Do horrible things like rape happen every day? Yes. But there can be healing after. Our Lord Jesus Christ can bring healing and wholeness that the enemy and the rapist took away.

But sometimes it takes a little nudge. It takes someone like Laurie Halse-Anderson to write a book like Speak that shows young people they don't have to remain silent. Speak gives them a point of contact, someone to resonate with, a spark of recognition that maybe, just maybe they can be all right. If we keep silent about these issues like rape, abortion, drugs, or abuse, kids will discover answers on their own. Why not give them a point of reference that may just help make their lives a little better?

Let's look at the definition of pornography, shall we? According to OxfordDictionary.com, pornography is defined as "printed or visual material containing the explicit description or display of sexual organs or activity, intended to stimulate sexual excitement." The part that I want you to pay attention to is "intended to stimulate sexual excitement."

Melinda's rape does not fit this definition. This is the rape scene from the book:

"Do you want to?" he asked.

What did he say? I didn't answer. I didn't know. I didn't speak.

We were on the ground. When did that happen? "No." No I did not like this. I was on the ground and he was on top of me. My lips mumble something about leaving, about a friend who needs me, about my parents worrying. I can hear myself -- I'm mumbling like a deranged drunk. His lips lock on mine and I can't say anything. I twist my head away. He is so heavy. There is a boulder on me. I open my mouth to breath, to scream, and his hand covers it. In my head, my voice is clear as a bell: "NO I DON’T WANT TO!" But I can't spit it out. I'm trying to remember how we got on the ground and where the moon went and wham! shirt up, shorts down, and the ground smells wet and dark and NO! -- I'm not really here, I'm definitely back at Rachel's crimping my hair and gluing on fake nails, and he smells like beer and mean and he hurts me hurts me hurts me and gets up

and zips his jeans

and smiles.

pp. 135-136

I don't know how anyone can read that passage and think that it is pornography. When I read that passage, I get angry. I want to lash out and scream. I want to jump into the pages of the book and haul him off of her. When I read it, I want to hold Melinda and tell that she's going to be OK. I want to call the police. I want to take her to the hospital.

As I wrote on my own blog, I remember reading Speak. I had taken a copy out from the library and read it cover to cover. Often, I stop and shut the book when I get to the last page of the story -- but this time I did not. The very last page of the book should have been a blank page, but it was covered in writing. The girls and women who had checked the book out before me had filled it with messages: "This happened to me." "I didn't tell." "I thought he loved me." They told their stories in single sentences. Their rapists and abusers were their boyfriends. Their family members. Strangers. Someone they thought was a good guy but turned out not to be. Or the story they told was not theirs. It was their sister's or friend's. I read that page, and I was filled with sadness that this was the only place they felt safe to use their voice. I went to the internet and grabbed the number for a local sexual assault crisis line and added it to the page. It was the only way I could think of to reach out them.

Laurie Halse-Anderson put out a call to action on her blog. Women and men are speaking out against this attempt at censorship and against silencing rape victims' voices. They're speaking out in blog posts, and on Twitter using the hashtag #SpeakLoudly. I've spent the morning following the #SpeakLoudly hashtag on Twitter and reading my way through the comments and posts on Laurie Halse-Anderson's blog. There have been times when I've wanted to cheer, and there have been times that I have wanted to weep. So many women writing these posts have been sexually assaulted or raped or know someone who has. Speak has been an important book for them. It has helped them know that they are not alone. These are their stories.

This man wrote that rape is "soft pornography." Oh yeaaah... but WHAT does this man knows about rape? Does he know how fragile you become, how shy, how empty, how dirty, how stolen you feel? No this man knows nothing but the things he has read in books or the things he's been taught. He thinks we shouldn't say a word about rape. But I'm not gonna shut my mouth up this time. - Matilda's Wonderland

Just for for one day, I wish he could know what the aftermath feels like. I bet if he spent the rest of his seventh summer wearing two pairs of panties under pants and long sleeved shirts, he’d have a fantastically different view of what’s immoral.

I bet if he ever had to remind himself that his wife’s hands on his body were loving hands, and breathe through it, he’d have a vastly different impression of how sexual and pornographic rape is. - Saundra Mitchell

I am a rape survivor. I was seventeen. While the details are mine to keep, I can tell you that there was nothing soft-core porn about my experience. And to anyone who can read about a brutal attack on a young girl and claim it's sexual, all I can say is shame on you. Shame. On. You. - Valerie Kemp.

And this is the part of this post that has me feeling like maybe throwing up would be preferable to typing, but I'm a big girl now and it's time to exercise my right to speak.

I'm a rape survivor. I can't remember the first time I was raped because most of my childhood from before my eleventh birthday is now a murky, shadowy haze of submerged memories I've long since stopped trying to access. The memories I do have of the abuse I consistently suffered at the hands of my grandfather are bad enough. I don't need the ones my brain decided were too difficult to hang on to. - C.J. Redwine

I have a family member who was raped at 16. It happened in an era where such things were not spoken of. Where the victim was made to feel like a dirty piece of shit. Needless to say, this person has never dealt with the trauma, and coupled with other numerous traumas this person experienced, they have led a very depressed, suicidal and unfulfilling life. It is a terrible thing to witness, and I always wonder if things would have been just a bit different for this person – if they could have talked to their parents about it, or gone to the police and not be shunned, or just tell someone – if they would have led a different life. - Smash Attack Reads

When I was 13 years old, I was raped by a 17 year old boy from my neighborhood. He was older than me, bigger than me and knew everyone in our neighborhood. He threatened to hurt me even more than he already had if I told anyone, so I kept quiet. I was afraid to see what he would do next. So for 6 months, I lived in fear of him hurting me if he though I had told anyone. I saw him walk my my house everyday, smile at me like we had a secret to share, and torture me when he got too close. - Brittany Wardrip

Wesley Scroggins's voice should not be the one we hear in this. His voice is not the one with power. The power lies with women like the ones I've quoted in this post. They had the power to #SpeakLoudly. Theirs are the voices that we should hear and pay attention to. If we allow Melinda's voice to be silenced we shame them. #SpeakLoudly against censorship and against rape. #SpeakLoudly to keep important books that deal with real issues available to girls that need them. #SpeakLoudly to keep the conversation going, because rape is not the victim's fault. #SpeakLoudly because Speak is not pornography. Most of all, #SpeakLoudly because there are too many Melindas out there who can't.

Contributing Editor Sassymonkey also blogs at Sassymonkey and Sassymonkey Reads.

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