Censorship or evolution? 'Sensitivity readers' divide publishing world

By Inès Bel Aiba

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"If you're writing about a people or community that you're unfamiliar with, and you want it to be authentic... then you find somebody who's a sensitivity reader who's part of that community and ask for their opinions," she explains.

If that's the case, I don't have a problem with it. An author can put their own work through whichever creative process they choose.

But I disagree with taking published, established works and filtering them according to the social mores and sensibilities of the present. Taking that route means they'll have to be reworked once more 10 years from now when what we deem 'acceptable' has changed again.

Books are a great way to learn about a great many things, particularly history and culture, and as such, I think they should be preserved.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

If authors want to self-censor or ask advice about their book, that is their business. If it is enforced, then it is censorship and unacceptable. Altering the text of an adult work simply because views change is disgraceful. The author has the final say, and when they expire, the text is fixed. Rights holders have the right to choose not to keep it in print or put a warning on it, if they wish. There will always be second hand copies out there. But rewriting the book for 'sensitivities' is wrong. All of Voltaire's work would have been banned for offending clerics.

If my last one was translated into Japanese, I would want the translator to flag anything that they felt was clumsy or if they believed a Japanese audience would receive it in a very different way to the way it was intended and received by a Western reader. I would be happy with technical tweaks for a Japanese audience, to maintain the characterisation and events. But if it was intended to push the envelope, it still would. Breaking taboos across cultures is an important way of mashing them up, and that's how most cultures evolve. British culture absorbed heaps from the Empire over the years and changed in response. It's a healthy process. Carefully staying within one's safe little bubble is reductive, insular and ultimately, an act of cultural cowardice. Artists break rules and cause aggro. It's what we do best and it is a good thing.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

You know that this is nothing new, right? Societies have always been changing language and perspective as wee progress.

Yes. As new works are produced, they reflect the ideas and beliefs of their time. That's progress. Going back and changing preexisting works is a kind of anti-progress. You could say it challenges the ideas of the past, but in my opinion it's more important to challenge ideas by countering them with better ones than it is to simply erase them. Kids shouldn't be shielded from old ideas, they should be taught by them.

All of Voltaire's work would have been banned for offending clerics.

Why stop at Voltaire? The Bible has ideas that are anathema to some people today. Do we send it to the sensitivity readers?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

Messages you don't like are best challenged with counter-arguments, not with authoritarian censorship.

The job title of sensitivity reader shouldn't even exist when it comes to rewriting old works ostensibly to avoid upsetting the emotions of some readers. If those readers are upset by a book, stop reading it! It's not that hard to do.

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And which side of your argument, that on one hand it's okay to censor language, but on the other it must be done with respect for freedom of speech and expression, does the word "fat" written by an author 40 years ago fall into? And by extension, do we also have to seek and destroy other words like chubby, pudgy and stout? Must we remove all mention of long noses, bad skin, ginger hair, moles and other words that may cause emotional or psychological harm? I mean, we've got the ball rolling with weight sensitive people, let's keep it going with other features people might be sensitive about.

I agree with your opinion that the public should be protected from physical harm caused by speech (threats, incitements to riot and so on) although that duty falls to the government rather than the author or the publisher.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

These edits are are immature and regressive and assume people are too daft to understand the circumstances that they were written. People and life changes and so does the way people speak and write.

Whitewashing and censoring used to be route of the extreme right wing religious types now it’s the left who find offence with everything.

Its unhealthy and leads to the further dumbing down of society.

1 ( +4 / -3 )


Too late, it’s already happening to the detriment of all sections of society when there’s more important things to focus on.

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These are derogatory terms. Why would you ever need to use them?

Why should you be able to tell me I can't? Can I describe myself as fat, or is that not allowed now?

'Long nose' etc. are descriptions, not derogatory terms, designed to be initially hurtful to others.

Actually, I find long noses and ginger hair quite attractive and sexy. As I'm sure some people are attracted to fat people. Making arbitrary rules as to what descriptors are appropriate (and to follow your line of thinking - illegal) is simply ridiculous.

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As GBR48 put it, if the authors chooses to write a certain way and it's voluntary, that's fine. If it is being forced, that's censorship.

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Nothing new here at all. There always have been strange history epochs or eras when it has been usual and common sense to censor books and art or even destroying or burning it to ashes if it was not mainstream. And again we are entering or already are in between such a weird new era of brainwashing and violent propaganda measures or let’s say cutting freedom dead into small pieces, by correctness, wokeness and such. My theory is even such that we humans in fact have so far never completely left those eras and archaic behavior. We just can’t stand it seeing someone else in more freedom, love , wealth, health, peace etc. than we have. No , we always envy that in an extreme way and want to end it once and for all if possible, even if the cost is very high and results in own less freedom, love and peace. That we humans don’t care so much, as we only want the main problem fixed, to destroy it all for the others immediately.

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Nobody is telling you you can't do anything. That's what you and many folks get a bit confused about and start to panic that the world is about to change and get out of control.

Of course they are. If I'm an author and I know that in the future, or in the present, certain words will be removed from my work, then I'm not going to use them. And as that list of words gets longer and longer, then future works of art and literature are going to end up all pretty bland. Then I can't, as in Dahl's case, use a word like 'fat' to describe a character whom I am using to teach a lesson about greed and gluttony.

Again, 'fat' is a derogatory terms as is 'fag' and racial slurs or epithets that target a specific ethnic or racial group, such as the N-word, chnk, spc, kke, etc. Gender or sexual orientation-based slurs or insults, such as fg, slt, btch, etc. Ableist language that discriminates against people with disabilities, such as using the word "retarded" or "crippled.

Be careful, half your post will be removed. Would you be happy with that?

Retarded and crippled are interesting examples. When I was younger, they were acceptable terms and used widely. Now, due to progress, we avoid using them. But we don't go 50 years into the past and erase them, do we? Nor with the rest of them. Seeing them in print now shows us how bad they are. Removing them removes the lesson.

Long' nose' is a description 'ginger' is a colour, not a derogatory term.

I'm offended by 'long nose.' Mods, please remove it. See how silly that is? Fat is a description too. My wallet is fat. And are you suggesting we can't use colours to describe people anymore? Prince Harry is described as a 'ginger' all the time. No more, it seems, according to the language police. When I'm sunburned, I go red and when I'm cold I go blue. And don't you dare describe someone as being white or black. Where does it end?

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There is no such thing as 'wokeness'.

LOL. It's just a word to describe the changes that have been going on. "wokeness", or whatever you wanna call it, is not a grassroots movement.

You seem way too over sensitized to be commenting and giving opinions on this topic.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

If you are an author you will already be familiar with the editing process where inappropriate words are often removed already. It has always been like this so no need to panic.

Perhaps for newspapers and magazines. But in literature, that's a collaborative process. Editors don't unilaterally remove words from a manuscript. And if they did, they wouldn't remain a writer's editor for long.

You still seem unable to distinguish between descriptive terms like 'ling noise' and derogatory terms like 'fag'. It might e worth investigating to help ease your concerns.

Sigh. Fat is a descriptive term. So are variants of fag such as faggy. You are advocating for the posthumous removal of any word that could possibly hurt someone's feelings, whatever form it takes; adjective, noun etc.

I get your argument: we should all be nice to each other and never use bad words. It's a nice, albeit simplistic, idea. Unfortunately, that's not the world we live in. You can't wrap the world in bubble wrap because one kid stubbed their toe.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

To quote a famous old English song,

"Do the Wokey-Cokey and you clown around;

That's what it's all about."

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