A moment of silence, please, for 20-year-old Lanah Burkhardt, who has suffered through a harrowing ordeal that should chill us all to the very core. The tragic tale began when Burkhardt was just 11 years old and opened up a Scholastic children’s book which contained what she describes as “a single kiss”.

That single kiss, Burkhard told a Texas school district at a public hearing this November, changed the trajectory of her young life. “This was the start of my porn addiction journey … I looked for other books that gave me pleasure, and it led to internet searches I will never forget. I was addicted.”

Dreadfully sad, you might be thinking, but why is she airing all this in public? According to Burkhardt, it’s because she wants to save other young souls. “I don’t want [Conroe school district] students to repeat what I went through because they accidentally ran upon a Scholastic book or another book that can lead them down this road.”

In other words: she wants the school district to ban a book. The book in question – the devilish text that allegedly sparked Burkhardt’s porn addiction – is Drama, a graphic novel, by Raina Telgemeier. Drama includes what Houston Press describes as a “chaste stage kiss” but also contains a plot about a boy called Justin coming out as gay and commentary on toxic masculinity. You can see why conservatives don’t like it. Indeed, Drama is frequently targeted for censorship by activists on the right.

Being a civic-minded sort of person, Burkhardt doesn’t just want Drama banned, she wants the school district to remove all Scholastic books from schools and end Scholastic book fairs. Only then, Burkhardt argued at the hearing, will Texas’s young minds be protected from “sexual obscenity”.

None of this would be newsworthy if it was some kind of one-off; if Burkhardt was just some random woman with an axe to grind. But she isn’t. The story – which was first covered by Judd Legum and Rebecca Crosby of Popular Information last week – is part of a coordinated assault on free speech in the US, with public schools as a key battleground. All across red states, rightwing activists are pressuring school districts to censor books and – scarily – they’re succeeding. School book bans and restrictions in the US rose 33% in the last school year, according to a September report from the free speech group PEN America. Meanwhile the number of books that have been permanently removed from school libraries and classrooms has quadrupled to 1,263 books in the last school year from 333 the year before. The books that are targeted for bans often include LGBTQ+ related content or themes of race or racism.

Burkhardt may have been happy to share intimate details about her life with school district officials but one thing she wasn’t so keen on sharing? Her current employment. The Houston Press reports that, according to her now deleted LinkedIn page, Burkhardt is a public relations coordinator at a rightwing Christian publisher called Brave Books. And Brave Books happens to be linked to SkyTree Book Fairs, which is a Scholastic competitor. It seems highly likely that Burkhardt’s bizarre sob story was largely fiction (she was, it turns out, homeschooled and wouldn’t have been at a Scholastic book fair without a parental chaperone), a stunt designed to get Scholastic book fairs shut down.

Again, it can not be stressed enough that Burkhardt is not a one-off. The rightwing narrative around book banning is that concerned parents across the country are organically rising up to challenge what is taught in public schools to protect their children. In reality, the book-banning movement is highly organized and well-funded.

It’s also growing rapidly: the non-profit Moms for Liberty, for example, one of the key players in the book-banning movement, has seen an enormous influx in funding. In 2022 the “parental rights” group, which positions itself as a grassroots organization, reported $2.1m in total revenue which was largely the result of contributions from two anonymous megadonors. Maurice Cunningham, a former professor who has been tracking Moms for Liberty’s meteoric rise, told the AP he views the organizations’ recent funding as further evidence that the group is part of a “top-down” attack on public education.

From censoring books to banning drag performances to trying to pass bills that would require internet service providers to block sites that provide abortion information, it’s clear that Republicans are intent on cracking down on free speech in the US. So what are the Democrats doing to protect it?

The depressing answer is: not much. Indeed, rather than fighting to protect the first amendment many Democrats are joining Republicans in undermining free speech protections. Congress, for example, recently voted on a controversial bill declaring “anti-Zionism is antisemitism”, which dangerously conflates criticism of the Israel government with bigotry against Jewish people. While three Jewish House Democrats urged their fellow Democrats not to vote in favour of the bill, citing all the worrying issues it raises, 95 Democrats helped the House GOP pass the resolution. This comes amid a “McCarthyite” backlash against any criticism of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

Perhaps you don’t give a damn about Palestinians (clearly the vast majority of politicians in the US don’t), but you should give a damn that many Democrats seem eager to help Republicans stifle criticism of a foreign country. Going down this road takes us to a very frightening place indeed.

Speaking of which … The Florida attorney general, Ashley Moody, recently argued that the first amendment did not apply to public school libraries and that school boards should be able to remove any book for any reason. In the court filings, Moody stated that the purpose of public school libraries was to “convey the government’s message”, which can be accomplished through “the removal of speech that the government disapproves”. You can see where this leads, right?

A creative way to challenge regressive norms about family structures and secure the same sort of rights and services available to more traditional families.

The actor, who is under formal investigation for rape, is captured making sexist and obscene comments about women in a new documentary. After the documentary aired on Thursday night, many figures in the French film and TV industry said they will not work with Depardieu again.

Ladies, do your part to stop political polarization by marrying a guy who doesn’t view you as fully human and doesn’t think you should have bodily autonomy!

This is basically just a total ban on abortion. The bill won’t pass but the very fact it was introduced shows just how extreme many Republicans are – and how little they seem to know about how pregnancy works.

Taylor Swift is Time’s person of the year. In a way that only a megastar can, she rocked up to the magazine’s photoshoot with her cat, Benjamin Button, draped around her neck. Benjamin is now very much the internet’s purrrrson of the year.

QOSHE - The Week in Patriarchy Republicans will do anything to ban books, even saying they cause porn addiction - Arwa Mahdawi
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The Week in Patriarchy Republicans will do anything to ban books, even saying they cause porn addiction

4 1
09.12.2023

A moment of silence, please, for 20-year-old Lanah Burkhardt, who has suffered through a harrowing ordeal that should chill us all to the very core. The tragic tale began when Burkhardt was just 11 years old and opened up a Scholastic children’s book which contained what she describes as “a single kiss”.

That single kiss, Burkhard told a Texas school district at a public hearing this November, changed the trajectory of her young life. “This was the start of my porn addiction journey … I looked for other books that gave me pleasure, and it led to internet searches I will never forget. I was addicted.”

Dreadfully sad, you might be thinking, but why is she airing all this in public? According to Burkhardt, it’s because she wants to save other young souls. “I don’t want [Conroe school district] students to repeat what I went through because they accidentally ran upon a Scholastic book or another book that can lead them down this road.”

In other words: she wants the school district to ban a book. The book in question – the devilish text that allegedly sparked Burkhardt’s porn addiction – is Drama, a graphic novel, by Raina Telgemeier. Drama includes what Houston Press describes as a “chaste stage kiss” but also contains a plot about a boy called Justin coming out as gay and commentary on toxic masculinity. You can see why conservatives don’t like it. Indeed, Drama is frequently targeted for censorship by activists on the right.

Being a civic-minded sort of person, Burkhardt doesn’t just want Drama banned, she wants the school district to remove all Scholastic books from schools and end Scholastic book fairs. Only then, Burkhardt argued at the hearing, will Texas’s young minds be protected from “sexual obscenity”.

None of this would be newsworthy if it........

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