As social media continues to play an increasingly more prevalent force in determining societal trends, so too does it also serve as an ever-sharpening weapon in the battle for free speech.
A few months ago, Jenny Trout, a USA-Today bestselling author and feminist activist, initiated a campaign to have a book removed from sale after finding its contents offensive. The book, a fictionalized retelling of the real-life romance between Thomas Jefferson and his slave, Sally Hemings, found itself at the center of a heated controversy regarding the nature of consent.
After stumbling across the book, Jenny created a blog post requesting that her fans do not buy, read, or search for the book, but that if they must read it, they should pirate it. Additionally, she asked her fans to call e-book retailers and report the book for “rape,” although the book itself does not actually contain any rape, sex, or BDSM of any kind.
According to her blog post, entitled: “Don’t Do This Ever: “WHAT THE FUCKING FUCKITY FUCK FUCK FUCK?!” Miss Trout determined that, because Sally was a slave and Thomas was her master in real life, she reasoned that any romance between the two characters, fictional or otherwise, must naturally constitute rape regardless of how they are portrayed in the story. Miss Trout also claims that due to the historical fact that Sally was also a child at the time she ended up with Thomas Jefferson—regardless of her age in the fictional story—then that must mean it’s not only a book of rape, but child rape, as well—and racist. Essentially, racist child rape.
After establishing for her readers why she feels that the book is a rape fiction (though the book has neither rape nor sex), Jenny provides her fans with a list of telephone numbers to various ebook distributors including Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and she asks that they call these retailers and ask them to pull the book from sale.
Amazingly, her tactics worked. Within days, the book was removed most major e-book venders.
“I contacted amazon about this, and a lovely and very helpful consultant named Dayana promised me she would do everything she can to ensure that it is removed,” remarks commenter Amber.
“Update us if you do find it on Smashwords. I have a friend who works there, and I can talk to them about it,” remarks feminist author Amy Leigh Strickland.”
Alternatively, Jenny suggested that if for any reason her fans wanted to read the book, that rather than pay the author for her work, it would be a better idea to pirate it so that the author is not given royalty money for the sale of her book. The following is a direct quote (the capital letters as well as use of bold font were part of the original post)
“PLEASE, PLEASE, I URGE YOU NOT TO BUY THIS BOOK. NOT TO SEE “HOW BAD” IT IS. IT IS BAD ENOUGH WITHOUT KNOWING THE CONTENT. ITS EXISTENCE IS BAD. IF YOU ABSOLUTELY MUST READ IT, AND I DON’T KNOW WHY YOU WOULD WANT TO, FIND A PIRATED COPY OR LEARN TO LIVE WITH DISAPPOINTMENT.”
If all these seem like extreme measures, then complicating matters is the fact that Jenny Trout, by her own admission, did not read the book. When asking her for comment on Twitter, she informed me that she does not “want” to read the book, either.
When considering her status as a best-selling author, Jenny Trout’s actions call into question the matter of ethics. Is it an abuse of power for a best-selling author to use her fan base for the purpose of sabotaging another author’s career? Especially one who was inexperienced and had very few fans?
In what was perhaps the most shocking twist to the story, it was later discovered that the author Jenny Trout was brutally attacking was actually a black woman. This created some confusion, because Jenny claims her actions were designed to help “women of color” in the field of writing, although the only known result of her actions was to remove one from it.
While all this was happening, I tried to reach out to Jenny to defend this author and her work even though I personally did not even like the book in question. I was merely concerned about freedom of speech and censorship. I told Jenny that she shouldn’t do this. That this is hideous behavior. Her response? She took a picture for me. I feel it is fair to suggest that her response was very “feminist” in nature.
Since this incident, I have been branded a rapist, a rape apologist, a racist, a misogynist, and I have had my own books attacked by feminists who support her and her cause.
Recently, several of Miss Trout’s fans have even gone to my author page on Amazon to call me a rapist, warning potential customers not to purchase any of my novels because I am a “Rape Supporter.”
What do you think? Do authors have a right to create stories even if someone else finds them offensive? Or should the things we are permitted to read, think, feel, say, do, and want require a feminist permission slip? Feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts on the matter.