Tender Morsels: Not Bitchy Enough

Bitch Magazine posted a list of 100 Young Adult Books for the Feminist Reader, which is a great thing, and it’s a fantastic list featuring a lot of really good books, and quite a bit of speculative fiction. The list included Tender Morsels, by Margo Lanagan, which you might recall I think is a really good book. So, hooray!

Except that, in response to a single commenter on their list who objected to the use of “rape as vengeance” in a scene in the book, the people behind the Bitch list reread the book and decided to remove it from the list, along with two others that had received complaints.

Several authors and readers, including Margo herself, have objected to this over Twitter. Some tweets have included:

@margolanagan Can’t quite believe this, but Bitch Magazine appear to have caved in and REMOVED TM from their 100 books list. http://tinyurl.com/4jx2qgd

@maureenjohnson Dear @BitchMedia, please put Tender Morsels back on the feminist YA list. You were right the first time.

@scottwesterfeld My comment on the @BitchMedia 100 Feminist YA Books do-over: http://tinyurl.com/499qdgr

@maureenjohnson Additional to @BitchMedia, please reconsider this position or please remove my book as well. @MargoLanagan is a great feminist author.

@Gwenda By the way, immediate outcry and rally against @BitchMedia’s actions? Just one reason the YA community rocks. #justsaying

@JonathanStrahan Is it just me, or does it sound like no-one at @bitchmedia has read any of the books on their own list?

@ColleenLinday Incredibly disappointed in @BitchMedia for removing both LIVING DEAD GIRL & TENDER MORSELS from this list: http://bit.ly/gbCsgO #growapair

@dianapeterfreund pausing in quest to soothe teething infant to request my novel be removed from @bitchmedia’s “safely feminist”list #bitchplease

@sarahockler: Your job is not to protect us from literature. Help us discover it. Engage us in conversation & debate. #bitchplease #speakloudly

(PS: the hashtag is awesome, guys, until you click it and realise how many people use the same hashtag WITHOUT IRONY. Ick.)

Scott Westerfeld, Maureen Johnson, Justine Larbalestier and Diana Peterfreund have all requested that their books be removed from the list, in protest to the removal of Tender Morsels.

It really surprises and disappoints me that Bitch Magazine were so lacking in belief in their original choices that they caved and removed these books at the first hint of controversy, rather than letting them stand and allowing discussion about these books to continue. I find it a little boggling that “moral ambiguity” is presented here as a negative, instead of the sort of thing that literature is supposed to do.

I commented on the removal myself:

I am really disappointed in the decision to remove Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels from your list. This is a sophisticated, complex piece of fantasy fiction which deals with the psychological recovery of an abuse victim, and how this affects both her own view of the world and how she parents her daughters – indeed, how abuse can have a knock-on effect into the next generation. It has a great deal to say about the traditional roles of women in the history of fairy tales and fantasy fiction, and is absolutely a book to recommend to young, mature feminist readers.

I don’t think the book validates the use of rape as vengeance at all, and I fail to see how anyone would come away from the scene in question thinking that this is portrayed as a good thing.

This is a very skewed, shallow reading of one of the most important fantasy novels of the decade.

The reasons given for the books removed seems to have been through worry that the titles were not quite feminist enough, which suggests a really problematic attitude to feminist literature: that only books which contain 100% feminist theme count, perhaps? An awful lot of excellent, important feminist literature is also problematic. Most really crunchy books are, in one way or another.

I really like Diana Peterfreund’s comment about “safely feminist list”. The books chosen to replace those withdrawn are very safe choices: a Diana Wynne Jones, a Robin McKinley, and a John Marsden. All really great books, and yet none of them have as much to say as Tender Morsels.

Tender Morsels is a hard book, a difficult book, and it simply drips with moral ambiguity. If you don’t think it belongs on a YA recommended reading list, that’s your choice, but don’t be brave enough to put it on there, and then flick it off the second someone remembers that there are some icky bits in it.

UPDATE: There are some amazing comments over at that list and they’re just getting better.

I follow up this topic with Strong Books Make Strong Girls.

7 replies on “Tender Morsels: Not Bitchy Enough”

  1. Anonymous says:

    That’s a great summary, Tansy. I missed alot of the conversation while taking kids to school, but that gives me the gist of it. Thanks. 🙂

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anthony Ha, Gwenda Bond, Liz Burns, Paolo Bacigalupi, Pam van Hylckama and others. Pam van Hylckama said: RT @tansyrr: Tender Morsels: Not Bitchy Enough http://bit.ly/guNq9n #bitchplease #speakloudly @bitchmedia […]

  3. Thanks, Tansy. As I said on the BITCH MEDIA site, I was initially really pleased to have one of my novels included on their list. It was by accident this weekend that I happened to see a complaining blog comment regarding the inclusion of SISTERS RED based on a single negative review by ANOTHER blogger. The magazine’s IMMEDIATE response was that they’d replace the book, since they hadn’t read it. I thought this was really inappropriate and a knee jerk response, especially for a professional magazine. By the time I had a chance to respond, they said they were going to re-read a few of the books that included or alluded to rape, including Sisters Red (which DOESN’T). At that point (yesterday) I commented about how a lot of the books on that list include that issue, including mine.

    I didn’t know until I saw the Twitter feed tonight that they had chosen to go through with the removal of several books. It’s now clear that the magazine didn’t actually know the content of the books they supposedly recommended. It’s not an honor to be part of a list of books not because the list creators ACTUALLY think the books are illustrative of the best in feminist YA literature, but just because their scant research didn’t happen upon a negative blog review of YOUR book.

    I have no way of knowing if the editors of the magazine have read my book, or if they reread it as part of their reconsideration and gave it a pass, or if the voices decrying Tender Morsels or Living Dead Girl are louder than those decrying Rampant, but if the argument the magazine is making is that books that deal with rape are too disturbing and dangerous to appear on the list, then Rampant most certainly does not belong.

  4. TM is such an artful tale, that hits on several issues, dealing with them appropriately and genuinely. Bad form Bitch Media.

  5. tansyrr says:

    Hey Diana!

    I agree that one of the most eye-opening things about this is that Bitch Magazine published the list apparently without themselves reading all the books.

    Tender Morsels has been a controversial book since its publication (or, more truthfully, since a few newspapers picked up on the controversial content of its first few chapters, about a year after it was first published) but I think this is the first time that content so far into the book has been criticised in this way. I guess that’s progress?

  6. Kaia says:

    The thing that shocked me the most was probably that they chose to listen to a comment that labelled Margo a “shoddy writer”. I mean, she’s pretty much a genius. Not exaggerating at all.

    I can also say that reading Tender Morsels was kind of showing me how my hiding (for people not being Tansy: I have been struggling with extreme social phobia for the last few years) had to stop. It took me a long time after I read it to actually get to a point where I could work on it in a constructive way, but I think it did it’s part. Really.

    But it makes me very happy to see all these writers joining to ask their books be removed. Piss off one author, piss off them all. I love the community feel of it.

  7. […] fellow Zombies vs. Unicorns Anthologist and the author of the removed Tender Morsels) Karen Healey Tansy Rayner Roberts Gwenda […]

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