I have always been a reader. When I became a mother, I did all I could to teach my son to love the written word. It was sometimes an uphill battle. There was the teacher who used reading as punishment, setting impossible goals and choosing the worst books possible. Then there were the required summer reading lists with books often containing age inappropriate topics. This post came out of the latter and shows just how important it is to know what our kids are reading, especially for school.
MGC is usually a blog by writers about, well, writing. Or at least about the publishing industry, be it traditional or indie. Today, however, I’m going to step outside of the writer persona and into the reader and, more importantly, parent persona. You see, I saw an article linked on Facebook this morning that had me alternating between shaking my head and wanting to shake someone else. The article itself isn’t all that important. What is, is the mindset behind it and the pointing of fingers without taking a moment to take a bit of personal responsibility.
In this case, yet another person has raised their head to complain about Harry Potter. Believe it or not, but according to the post, Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.
Yes, you read that right. Harry Potter promotes a rape culture.
How? I know you are each asking that and the answer is simple. It does so because — gasp — love potions are used.
Now, on the surface of it, if I squint really tightly and turn my brain off, I can almost see the point. After all, love potions do take the “choice” away from the person it is being given to, much like rohypnol or any of the other date rape drugs.
However, let’s not squint and twist our brains around and actually look at the allegation in the light of day and as adults with more than two working brain cells. Are we going to condemn every story — every fairy tale — that has been told over the years and centuries that has mention of love potions in them? Think about it. Most of those stories revolve around young women, teenagers often, who use the potion to win over the man of their dreams. Will we condemn those stories as promoting rape culture or give them a pass because the one using the potion is female?
Now, before I go any further and some of those who might read this think I have no problem with using an artificial means to take someone’s free will or ability to knowingly consent away from them, I don’t. In fact, you won’t find many folks with a lower opinion of anyone — male or female — who do so. I have worked with victims of sexual assault, male and female. I have friends and family who have been such victims. No one has the right to force himself or herself on another when that person either refuses to give consent or who has been so compromised that consent cannot be freely and willingly given.
With that said, when looking at Harry Potter, you have to remember it is fiction, fantasy. Love potions don’t exist. However, as a parent, when you are reading the book with your kids — or when you see your child reading it — talk about the book with them. Use the book as a teaching moment without taking away the joy of reading. In other words, take responsibility to read the books your kids are reading and then take responsibility to spend some time talking with them about it.
Maybe I’m strange that way but ,when my son was growing up, I made a point of knowing what he was reading, what movies he wanted to see, what video games he wanted to play. I didn’t wait for him to come to me and ask about something in a book. Well, not usually. One book on his summer reading list I read half of and made an assumption about the book. That assumption came back to bite me. More on that in a minute.
I didn’t do that sort of supervision because I wanted to keep my son from reading anything that might “harm” him. I didn’t do it to keep him from reading something I didn’t agree with. I did it so we could discuss the book — or the game or the movie. If there were themes I thought he might not understand, I wanted to be prepared to discuss them with him. What I usually found was that he was already three steps ahead of me. However, on occasion, he did have questions or he wanted to talk about what he had read.
The one time not reading the entire book came back to bite me was, as I said, with a summer reading list book. My son was about to go into the fifth grade. We were on vacation out-of-state and this was the last book he had to read. I’d read about half of it and nothing set off any of my warning bells that there might be a theme or scene or anything we might need to talk about. It was a nice little gothic mystery.
Until you got to the last two chapters. Then, out of the blue, came a very graphic attempted rape scene that culminated in an almost as graphic murder of the attempted rapist by the ghost that had been haunting the house. Imagine my surprise and then frustration when my son started asking me questions about the scene. We had a long talk about the scene and how it fit in with the rest of the book, the realities of rape (age appropriate discussion) and how no one, male or female, had the right to force someone else to have sex. If I had read the entire book, I would have been prepared.
What I learned when we got back home — and when the English teacher who had assigned the book as part of the summer reading list finally agreed to meet with me — was that the list for these newly minted fifth graders had been compiled by so-called experts: librarians, business professionals and education administrators. Oh, and the list was actually for students going into the 10th grade but because my son and his classmates were in the gifted and talented program, the teacher had deemed the books appropriate. It didn’t matter that there was a five year difference in age between the students the books had been recommended for and those she had assigned them to.
Responsibility. Or, in her case, a lack thereof.
Her response was to try to pass the responsibility buck back to me, telling me that I could have requested another reading list, or at least an alternate to the book I found objectionable. The problem with that was we weren’t given the list until after school was out for the summer and teachers unavailable. Then there was the little fact that nowhere in any of the information we were given with the list was there made mention of being able to substitute books.
I dropped the ball by not reading all the book but the teacher and the administration dropped it first and farther by not taking into account the age of the students being told to read a book recommended for kids much older than they were.
So how does this relate back to the Harry Potter books? Simple. From the time the first book in the series came out, parents and educators and critics have condemned the books for a number of different reasons. There were the calls to ban the books in schools and libraries because they promoted devil worship and witchcraft. Of course, many of those making the claims had never read the books. They weren’t about to risk being contaminated by Satan’s work.
To read and think before condemning.
There were complaints because the books didn’t follow the hallowed “Zero Tolerance” edict that has been put into play in our schools. Harry and friends never, ever should have done anything to protect themselves from the bullying and attacks from those who weren’t good and pure.
To read and think and discuss bullying and standing up for yourself and others.
To make sure your kids understand the difference between fantasy and reality.
Now, about those love potions. What a great opportunity to talk about what I just mentioned, the difference between fantasy and reality. Or how about how it is never acceptable to take away someone’s free will? There are so many things you could discuss, all without taking away your child’s joy in reading the book. Discuss, not lecture.
It’s simple really. By talking about the book — or the movie or TV show or video game — you are spending time with your kids. You are bonding. You are showing them you care about things they think are important or that they care about. That is what’s important and will set the example for how they can be good parents when the time comes.
With regard to the allegation that the use of love potions in Harry Potter promote rape culture, gimme a break. It’s a fantasy, first and foremost. For another, as far as I remember from the books (and it has been some years since I read them) it was generally made clear that there were negative consequences eventually from using them. But none of that fits the social construct right now. That means it is up to each of us as parents or aunts and uncles or extended family or big brothers and sisters to make sure we know what our kids are reading and to take the time to discuss it with them.
In other words, we have to adult and take responsibility.
Who knows, in doing so, we might just find a few new authors and books we like in the process.
(This post originally appeared on MGC back in 2016.)
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Featured image by Annie Spratt from Pixabay