I’ve had this post sitting half finished in my drafts since 4/14 — yeah, almost a year. OOPS. That is the state of my drafts right now — about a hundred of unpublished posts. I kind of just forgot about it after getting it all down but never went back to it. But I was creeping on an interesting conversation between some smart & thoughtful ladies on Twitter that reminded me about this post — particularly because they were talking about the same book that sparked this post for me.
So back around this time last year I was reading Open Road Summer. I LOVED it and it was interesting to see all the conversation about the main character Reagan and about some of the slut-shaming that goes on in the book. I personally LIKED Reagan. No, I LOVED Reagan. I saw a lot of high school/college Jamie in her. But it was interesting to me how many people DID NOT like Reagan (also valid). One of the other things I saw was how they were disappointed with how slut-shaming was handled in the book. I didn’t see it the way they did necessarily but their opinions were definitely valid and they were super thought-provoking.
For a little context, if you haven’t read Open Road Summer (which you should), Reagan is a bit judgmental and prickly when it comes to some of the other females that aren’t her best friend Lilah (their friendship is AWESOME btw). Some slut-shaming goes on. But personally? I found it to be SUPER realistic of what I was like. I acted a lot like Reagan — saying things about other girls/being judgy/tearing them down was my defense mechanism. It was a HORRIBLE defense mechanism but through the years as I grew up I realized how awful it was. How toxic it was. How tearing other girls down and shaming their choices to make myself feel better did actually NOT make me feel better or make me any less insecure. But it took me years to learn that and see that.
I don’t LIKE seeing slut-shaming in books. It’s hard. I feel ashamed that this was how I acted. It’s sad how much it happens. It makes me want to be like, “LADIES LET’S DO BETTER.” I don’t LIKE or condone to it but it hasn’t ever really bothered me personally as a reader in the context of the story because I think it FEELS realistic to me.
I think when I encounter things I don’t like in a book — bullying, slut-shaming, racism, misogyny — I try to think about the context and if I think the book IS condoning it. Often times we read things that we don’t LIKE necessarily and that HAPPEN in real life but it doesn’t mean the author is condoning it always. So typically it doesn’t make me react negatively to a book just because I don’t like the THING that happens in it.
But the more interesting question that I’ve been thinking about ever since I read this book and saw conversations about it (that I have no answer to) is this:
Is it the author’s job to address a problematic thing as wrong somewhere in the text?
In Open Road Summer’s case people brought up the fact that nowhere is it really addressed how wrong her slut-shaming was. I think I saw it different when I read it — I think she DID in some ways see how it didn’t help her any/that her defense mechanism was flawed but also I think that not all lessons are learned at the same time. I think it was a START. So while, it didn’t personally bother me when I read it, other people’s thoughts and criticism on the matter made me think A LOT about it in general.
Is it the author’s job to give some sort of moral? Give clear consequences for something that is wrong? Basically in some way make it CLEAR that the THING was wrong? Or can it just merely exist to show authenticity of a time or a social situation and what really happens? (because, in the case of slut-shaming/tearing down other girls, just spend 5 minutes with my 17 year old niece and her friends and you’ll know it’s the way of a lot of teens). Can it exist just to be a character flaw sometimes?
I have no clear answers, honestly. I’d LOVE to talk about this because I think it’s an interesting topic and y’all are smart and thoughtful. I LOVE that about being part of this book community for the past 5 years…how I’m engaging with books and thinking about things I probably wouldn’t have on my own!