Monday, November 25, 2013

Another Banned Book, Another Failure to Crush the Human Spirit

Pakistani authorities announced Nov. 10 that they were banning Malala Yousafzai’s book, I Am Malala, from private schools and libraries throughout Pakistan.  Calling her “a tool of the West,” insufficiently respectful toward Islam, and too sympathetic to religious minorities, the authorities have banned the book from more than 40,000 schools.  In so doing, they’ve enlarged the target on Malala’s back.
Malala visits President and Mrs. Obama and their daughter,
Malia, in October.
They probably have also set in motion a response that will increase sales of the book and heighten the determination of those who believe this brave young teenager’s message deserves to be heard. 
Remember Reading Lolita in Tehran?  It’s a great example of why removing books from classrooms usually has the opposite effect of what the banners intend. But then — the Taliban and its cronies in Pakistan probably haven’t read that one.
I Am Malala is on the New York Times bestseller list and is likely to stay there for a good while.  The young author joins a long and illustrious list of writers whose books were banned, burned, or pulped.

James Joyce (Ulysses), The Arabian Nights, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (required reading when I was in high school), Darwin’s Origin of Species, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and of course, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.  Among the most ludicrous was the ban on Anna Sewell’s youth novel about a girl and her beloved horse, Black Beauty, banned in apartheid South Africa because the word “black” was in the title.  (A wonderful source for banned book titles is
The fact that the interest in, and loyalty to, banned books is heightened by the attacks on them  continues to be lost on communities, and community groups, that believe suppression of information solves a problem for them.  It never does.  Nevertheless, efforts continue around the world, led not just by political leaders but also by groups of all sizes.  Their persistence gave birth to Banned Books Week.
Banned Books Week is the national U.S. book community's annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. Banned Books Week 2014 will be held September 21-27.
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported.  For a list of the most challenged books of 2012, go here:
It is sad that the children in so many of Pakistan’s schools will not be able to read Malala’s book. But I imagine they will know about her story regardless of the ban. As of this writing, I Am Malala is No. 5 on the New York Times list. Millions of people know that.  And there’s not a thing the Taliban can do about it.
  — Sheila Gibbons, Editor
This commentary is reprinted from the Fall 2013 issue of MEDIA REPORT TO WOMEN.  For details about that issue and how to subscribe to this quarterly  news journal, visit

Saturday, November 2, 2013

No Good Answer to Daughter's Question: "Why Aren't There More Women on the Front Page?"

Nine-year-old Mellie Ahearn, reading The Washington Post over breakfast (way to go, Mellie!), turned to her mother and asked, "Mommy, why aren't there more pictures of women on the front page of the newspaper?"  This conversation, recounted on today's Washington Post reader feedback page, led to Mellie and her mother, Laura, conducting a study on the frequency with which the Post featured photos of women and girls on the front page.  The results:  20% for the month of August, their study period.

"I kind of thought it would be lopsided," Mellie said, "but not that lopsided."

This kind of continuing imbalance is damaging to the way girls see themselves, Laura Ahearn says -- and it can't help the Post with selling newspapers to women.  Indeed, women, as a proportion of newspaper readership, have been declining for years.

Read about the Ahearns' enterprising study here.