You know who you are. I’ve watched you proudly brag about your sensationalist writing, how you use your words to remind every woman of every time she has felt unsafe. You with your stories appropriating assault and fear and trauma. We don’t like you. You offend us. And you like it. You verbally assault us. And you revel in it. We are responding with war cries and boycotts and you—and I imagine you all hanging out in a room lit only by your Twitter feeds—cry, “Censorship!” You rally for freedom of speech!
Guess what, guys? Criticism is not censorship. Criticism is that horse you claim to have in this race: freedom of speech. Criticism is saying what is on your mind, what you love fear hate want think and not having anyone in the government say, “No, we don’t like that so we are placing tape over your mouth and zip ties around your hands and throwing you in a cell.”
Censorship is definitely not having your book removed from Amazon. Amazon is a book store. Amazon is not the trunk of your car. It is not the weird bookshop down the block that for whatever reason is okay with carrying your rapey excuse for a quasi-memoir. When we petition Amazon to stop selling your book, we are not censoring you. We are saying we don’t like you and we don’t like that you advocate rape. But, hey, you’re free to do so—just do it somewhere else where a large corporation isn’t making money off of sick fucks who think your book is a good time.
Okay, maybe that’s a type of censorship. But if that is censorship, so is a magazine sending you a rejection letter. So is your mom asking you not to swear at the dinner table. So is a retraction in a newspaper. And, you know, it’s also the free market at work. When we don’t want to give you money, that’s us telling you what we don’t want—namely, you. Nobody is taking your words from you, not in America. They’re just telling you they don’t want to receive them.
So push send. Push publish. Push schedule. Watch the hits to your blog fly up, up, up and watch yourself not be censored because some other poets said “Hey, bro, your poem isn’t cool and we no longer support the magazine that published it.” There are approximately eleventy billion literary journals online and off and if all else fails I’m sure you can find a stapler or a glue gun and a Xerox machine and print those poems off and put them up on street lamps, hand them out at the coffee shop, sell them for $10 a pop because you are an American and nobody is taking away your right to say whatever filthy apologist shit you want. Be racist. Be crude. Nobody is stopping you.
There are other places where they can and will stop you. But you don’t live in one of those places. You live in a place that protects you. And, hell, that first amendment is like my flag pin. Put it on my lapel and let me die for it. For you and for me. But when a magazine says no, when the people you hurt say no, when your work threatens the safety of real people and that magazine retroactively says no? That’s not your first amendment rights being trampled upon. That’s criticism. Any real writer learns to take criticism with grace, rather than a GoodreadsTwitterFacebook tyrade.
I know lots of those authors fighting real battles with censorship in city-run libraries and schools. Was your book removed from the public library? Are seventh graders clamoring to read your coming-of-age story that the PTO took away from your teacher’s classroom? Did you have to go sit somewhere else while everyone else in the ninth grade got to read Lord of the Flies? Because that’s the kind of censorship that keeps me up at night. That’s the kind of censorship I worry about here in my beautiful, fucked-up country. Sure, it’s a slippery slope, but I’m sliding on it every time I say that I believe in freedom to read. And I slide on it every time I say no to writers like you who would pervert the word “censorship” to mean “someone else is using their first amendment rights in a way that I don’t like.”
So I’m not worried about you. I’m not worried about you with your privilege and your poems that threaten people in my community. I’m not worried about the criticism that you cannot handle half as well as the women whom you would put on a pyre and send out to sea, lit like an erect candle. I’m not worried about you creepy assholes who make people I care about shake with your threats. And while I will stand by your right to put your creepy-ass writing anywhere you’d like—because in America we accept the good with the bad in order to protect the rights of our artists to not be in jail and the rights of our children to read Judy Blume—you are not Judy Blume.
Art is dangerous and I like it that way. I am a celebrator and defender of intellectual freedom. Art is a weapon and we need those weapons. But your “art” is the kind of weapon that crosses the line from weapon into danger to the public. You have declared war and you can’t hide behind the idea of art every time you decide you want to dehumanize a person. A woman. A faith. An ethnicity.
Art is my weapon, too. And I’m here to tell you no. I am one of many feminists and my art and our art is here to elevate the voices that tell you no. Feminism is here to tell you no over and over and over again and if you don’t hear us, and choose to cry, “Censorship!” well, that’s you plugging your ears. So we will shout louder. We will be the danger. We will not let your “art” assault cause the harm, hit the target, trigger the fall of this feminism that you fear so deeply. We will not let you bring on your oh-so-desired nuclear-privilege-winter. So every time you write something as morally repugnant as the work I read today, I will allow the rage and the right to write itself from my pores.
Go ahead and scribble on about your conquests while I say no, tell everyone I can to say no, hold victims and would-be victims tight to my heart. We are a bomb shelter and you are on the wrong side. Cry censorship, guys. I dare you. But be ready to take your lumps like a man.
E. Kristin Anderson
E. Kristin Anderson is a Pushcart-nominated poet and author who grew up in Westbrook, Maine and is a graduate of Connecticut College. She has a fancy diploma that says “B.A. in Classics,” which makes her sound smart but has not helped her get any jobs in Ancient Rome. Kristin is the co-editor of Dear Teen Me, an anthology based on the popular website and her YA memoir, The Summer of Unraveling is forthcoming in 2017 from ELJ Publications. Her poetry has been published worldwide in many magazines and anthologies and she is the author of five chapbooks: A Jab of Deep Urgency (Finishing Line Press), A Guide for the Practical Abductee (Red Bird Chapbooks) Pray Pray Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night (Porkbelly Press, 2015), Acoustic Battery Life (forthcoming from ELJ) and 17 Days (forthcoming from Choose the Sword Press). She is a poetry editor at Found Poetry Review and once upon a time she worked at The New Yorker. She now lives in Austin, TX where she works as a freelance editor and writing coach and is trying to trick someone into publishing her full-length collection of erasure poems based on women’s and teen magazines. She blogs at EKristinAnderson.com and tweets at @ek_anderson.
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