Towards a sex-positive librarianship

Mark Rosenzweig, always in the minority on ALA Council, wrote this email to the Council listserv recently, lambasting the conservative atmosphere around the filtering debate. I\'ll be frank: I think Mark is right.


Here is a short excerpt from his email:


I am seemingly (and, in my opinion, most unfortunately) in a minority when I would assert to public and press alike that the real problems of youth in America have NOTHING to do with their exposure, if such there is of any significant magnitude, to porn on the internet terminals in libraries, even the most graphic images of naked people doing whatever it is that naked people can do.Or for that matter their being glutted with the sex-and-violence decadence of Hollywood films (not to mention all \"foreign\" films!) and TV (network and otherwise).


From a psychological/developmental point of view, the stagerring HYPOCRISY about sex in this country is, in my opinion,more deleterious than all that combined. Much more destructive. But rationality and the evidentiary are thrown to the winds as irrelevant in a debate in which \"higher powers\" are being invoked left and right.


Interested? Read on...

Date: Thu, 14 Sep 2000 20:14:50 -0400
To: ALA Council List
From: Mark Rosenzweig
Subject: [ALACOUN:5067] Re: Chicago PL smacked down with editorial


SANE MINDS AT RISK: Towards a sex-positive librarianship


If I mayI\'d like to express my viewpoint, whose articulation is occasioned
by reading the article in the Chicago Sun-Times
(http://www.suntimes.com/output/byrne/byrne13.html - about \"porn in the
public library) to which Karen Schneider referred us, albeit an opinion
probably not consonant with ALA\'s mainstream, that, in the library, \"the
emperor has no clothes, and...THAT\'S OK!\".


It\'s too bad we can\'t come out publicly, confidently and say that, as a
profession, without being demonized and, apparently, without feeling
unable to fight back against the inevitable \"moral outrage\".


After all, in these sorry times, Democrats and Republicans alike are vying
for the position of national Vicars of Virtue, Demigods of Decency, High
Priests of Purity, Saints of Sexlessness...What an inpropitious time to
defend the rights to sexual material of virtually all kinds, the
legitimacy of sex-knowledge for all those who are interested (and who
isn\'t)!


But what a price we will pay if we DONT actively defend that and, instead,
pretend even ourselves to be irreparably damaged
( \"shocked...shocked...\") by the mere sight of genitalia-in- action on a
computer screen!


I am seemingly (and, in my opinion, most unfortunately) in a minority when
I would assert to public and press alike that the real problems of youth in
America have NOTHING to do with their exposure, if such there is of any
significant magnitude, to porn on the internet terminals in libraries,
even the most graphic images of naked people doing whatever it is that
naked people can do.Or for that matter their being glutted with the
sex-and-violence decadence of Hollywood films (not to mention all
\"foreign\" films!) and TV (network and otherwise).


From a psychological/developmental point of view, the stagerring
HYPOCRISY about sex in this country is, in my opinion,more deleterious
than all that combined. Much more destructive. But rationality and the
evidentiary are thrown to the winds as irrelevant in a debate in which
\"higher powers\" are being invoked left and right.


My opinion apparently notwithstanding, we are well on the road to a
profound Puritan reaction, moving with blissful rapidity to the
destruction of the separtion of Church and State (which is what even the
English Puritans demanded!), giving full reign to the rule of the
holier-than-thou, developments which, to what I believe will be our shame
and regret, are encouraged by the inability of the very people who know
better (like most of us, librarians) to stand up and say \"There are MUCH
WORSE things that children in America are exposed to and suffer than
pornography and depictions of violence\".


For instance, there\'s ACTUAL violence, with which NO established
connection has been made with its representation in various media, but
which comes, indubitably and increasingly, from more fundamental
social,economic and social-psychological causes. There\'s the pornography
and violence of hunger amidst plenty, and disease and physical suffering
where the means exist to eradicate it, and homelessness amidst the
\"lifestyles of the rich and famous\", and poverty in the face of arrogant
affluence and there\'s youth\'s sense of powerlessness and meaninglessness
and hopelessness . There\'s a public education system which is increasingly
inequitable AND ineffective, reduced to pauperism in communities where it
is most needed .


And beyond institutionalized , peculiarly American hypocrisy about sex,
morally deleterious as it is, there is the increasingly organized,
bullying, effective, opposition to the so-much-needed real-world sex
education in the schools, of the promotion of safe sex and the protection
of the right to freely available birth control and abortion,not to mention
libraries carrying sex-related materials for young people\'s (yes, I mean
YOUNG people\'s) edification, amusement and education with minimal
restrictions on their availabilty.


OK, let\'s face it. ADDICTION to pornography (as to anything) is one thing
(an illness), curiosity about it , EXPOSURE to it, is another ( a facet of
human life from time immemorial). Even then, addictions to cigarettes and
alcohol clearly are FAR MORE HARMFUL than ever was addiction to
pornography. Yet there are those who think that even the casual
exposureof kids to naked people doing it every which way is indisputably
among the MOST harmful things one can imagine.


Advice for people who believe that: don\'t take your porn-protected kid on
a walk through the stately Metropolitan Museum of Art \'s classical
antiquities departments. You will find rooms FULL of explicit depictions
of sex of every kind (even of men and women with animals and
semi-animals!) on everything from goblets and vases to giant architectual
friezes. Move through the other galleries and you will seee the explicit
depiction of virtually every \"perversion\" and form of violence. Take \"The
Rape of the Sabine Women\" or paintings of \"Leda and the Swan\" (in which a
young lady is overcome by a particularly well-endowed bird).It can only be
TRAUMATIC for children, a threat to their moral health and virtue. Imagine
people leaving these things around where CHILDREN can see them! And, now
that you mention it, what of those adults lurking around...


We are going backwards, folks. Watch out that you don\'t lose all your
rights and your reason on the road back to to the \"golden age of
innocence\" and good old American Family Values(about which no one can
publicly say ANYTHING critical, at the risk of being considered a
subversive of some sort).


It\'s a shame we have to walk on egg-shells here and buy into the
irrefragable Puritanism and cast-in-stone Family Values in order to even
continue to exist. I realize that, by virtue of this new puritanism,
libraries - once thought to be the most benign (if taken-for-granted)
institutions are now seen as intensely \"controversial\", so much so that
NO candidate for office is likely to invoke the desperate need for
massively increased support for the nation\'s libraries, because that would
associate them with an institution which is suddenly
perceived-to-be-perceived as being virtually satanic, yet EVERY candidate
has something to say about the pressing need for internet filters as an
urgent necessity to defend the young people of the nation.Maybe we should
find some way to make the most out of being controversial, and militantly
rally the sensible people in our communities who recognize how
out-of-proportion this preoccupation with pornography in libraries is, and
what the real enemy is: everybody\'s rights..


Political discourse and public policyare being degraded, debased
(naturally including that about schools and libraries - institions of
EDUCATION to which everyone pays lip service) . Can we, librraians,
educators, afford to go along and appease the protectors-of -everyone
else\'s-virtue in the hopes of receiving a few more crumbs which will
enable us to merely survive?


Alas, there is unlikely, in the present climate, to be any dialogue about
that.


Mark C. Rosenzweig
ALA Councilor at large

At 3:27 PM -0400 9/14/00, Karen G. Schneider wrote:
>
>For the record, we\'re a busy library and we don\'t have these problems. But
>no one is going to write an editorial that says \"things on an even keel at
>local public library.\"
>
>Karen G. Schneider kgs@bluehighways.com
>Assistant Director, Shenendehowa Public Library, NY
>http://www.shenpublib.org

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