For over a decade Deal With It has been high on the hit list of censors across America. Among their various claims, varying from the exaggerated to the dishonest to the deranged, are that the book contains “graphic” or “explicit” depictions of sex, or that it promotes teenage sex, abortion, and homosexuality.
As usual, on actually reviewing the book, I find myself wondering whether the censors ever opened the cover. And if they actually did consider the contents of the book, I can’t help but wonder at the bizarre notions of human nature and human sexuality the censors must be living with.
Deal With It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain, and Life as a Gurl, written by Esther Drill, Heather McDonald, and Rebecca Odes, and first published in 1999, is a book of information about health, puberty, and sex for teenage and pre-teen girls. A limited preview can be seen on books.google.com, and the most controversial parts of the text, taken completely out of context and anything but a fair representation of the book as a whole, can be found at pabbis.com. The book is a distillation of information accumulated over several years on gurl.com, a website that continues to be active and useful.
Frankly, the front cover is the most provocative part of the book. It shows a young woman with her back to the reader, holding her raincoat open (but faced away from the reader), in what many would take to be a “flasher” pose. This is an overleaf attached to the front cover, and when this is opened the figure is reversed, revealing that the “flasher” is not nude, but is wearing either a bikini or bra and panties.
That is the totality of any luridness or salaciousness in the book. The rest is information, practical, useful and technically accurate, presented with fairness and balance. In fact, the text is dense by the standards of young readers, so much so that pre-teens and even some young teens are just not that likely to read it.
Illustrations are both minimal and minimalist. There are technical drawings of both male and female genitalia, rendered as monochrome line-drawings with the usual scientific names of the parts. There are a total of three illustrations of sexual positions, which are made up of black-and-white stick figures, lacking any detail.
The informational content of the book is exactly focused on the issues of bodily and emotional changes that most teenage girls have concerns about. It’s about: breast development and brassieres, acne, body hair and how to deal with it, menstruation, sex, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, what to expect in the gynecologist’s office, etc. There are also sections on mental health, drugs and drug use, self-esteem, healthy boundaries, emotions, relationships, and the like.
Deal With It is empowering, because knowledge is power, but it doesn’t “promote” anything. The emphasis throughout the book is on balanced and factual completeness, not on any particular ideology. That means that, for example, methods for controlling pregnancy and the transmission of disease are discussed, in terms of both their effectiveness and failures. The effects of recreational drugs are described, but so are their risks. Room is made for consideration of individual values and religious beliefs, without promoting or denigrating them. A few quotes illustrate this balance:
“When it comes to protection from sexually transmitted diseases, the only truly safe sex is no sex at all (or sex with yourself only). Any sex with another person introduces an element of risk” (p. 108).
“If you’re sexually active, there is a chance that you will get pregnant, no matter which birth control method you use. The possibility is higher or lower depending on which method of birth control you use. But know that no birth control method, except abstinence, is 100 percent effective” (p. 121).
“If you’re sure that you’re pregnant, you have to make a relatively quick decision about whether you will continue the pregnancy. For some people, there is no decision to make. Their religious, moral, or personal beliefs make it unthinkable to intentionally terminate a pregnancy” (p. 124).
Is there any valid legal principle that would allow this book to be banned or restricted anywhere? No. Not at all. There is nothing in the least bit prurient about the book, and it clearly has serious value, both to minors and adults. By definition, then, the book is neither obscene nor “harmful to minors.” So far is the law is concerned, this book can be handed out to five-year-olds (not that they’d be able to read it).
Some parents won’t want their daughters to have the information in this book, in spite of its fairness, balance, and accuracy. They are entitled to make that personal decision, although they’re deluding themselves if they think they’re protecting their daughters from the “promotion” or “encouragement” of anything, or a challenge to the values of one or another religion. Parents who would withhold this book are those who believe that their children, and society as a whole, are better served by knowing less, which is exactly why those particular parents should not be allowed to make this kind of decision for anybody else’s children.
Banning or restricting access to this book is just ignorance striving to beget ignorance.