A handful of parents in the Knoxville County Schools system in Tennessee have taken issue with The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a book about medical ethics and racism some deem “pornographic.”
As Jezebel’s Anna Merlan notes, much of the “controversy” has to do with the book’s subject matter: cervical cancer. As in a book that “makes reference to the fact that women often have cervixes and even vaginas.”
Perhaps that’s the quickest way to judge Jackie Sims‘ response to the book, which her 15-year-old son was required to read over the summer. Sims, however, explains that… Actually, Merlan’s right. According to WBIR, the angry mom is angry mostly about the “graphic” nature of the book:
“I was shocked that there was so much graphic information in the book,” Sims said.
What Sims read appalled her, she said, citing a passage that describes infidelity and another that describes Lacks’ intimate discovery that she has a lump on her cervix.
“I consider the book pornographic,” she said, adding it’s the wording that bothers her most.
“It could be told in a different way,” she said. “There’s so many ways to say things without being that graphic in nature, and that’s the problem I have with this book.”
Sure, maybe a passage on infidelity graphically described might irritate a parent, but one detailing “intimate discovery that she has a lump on her cervix”? In, just to repeat the point, a book about the history of cancer research and medical ethics? Right.
The Immortal Life‘s author, Rebecca Skloot, responded to the news story on her Facebook page. In the note, Skloot took issue not only with the parents’ reported complaints, but with WBIR’s reporting:
A few misinformed people (perhaps just one in this case) objecting to something doesn’t mean it’s a “controversy” trend story that warrants 6:00 news placement. Interestingly, not once in the story does the reporter quote the supposed “graphic” “pornographic” content the parent is objecting to. So I’ll tell you what it is: Henrietta’s husband was unfaithful, and he brought home at least one sexually transmitted disease. Also: Using her finger, Henrietta found a tumor (caused by a sexually transmitted disease) on her cervix, just as women find lumps in their breasts with their fingers. So is a breast self-exam pornography too?
As the story’s virality (ugh, phrasing?) continues to grow, Skloot later updated her Facebook post and included comments from Jim Allen, the Assistant Principal of L&N STEM Academy, where the book was assigned:
For those who haven’t seen this post in the comments thread below from Jimm Allen, vice principal of the school at the center of this parent’s protest … I was thrilled to read it: “Know that the book and teachers have the complete support from the administration of the school. It’s an amazing book that fits with our STEM curriculum better than almost any book could! The next book that the sophomores are reading? Fahrenheit 451… Oh, sweet, sweet, irony.”
Check out the clip below, via WBIR:
[Image via screengrab]
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