Vaginas, Cervixes and Rebecca Skloot. Oh My!

Well book friends, it’s happened again–and not in Kansas I might add–someone has proposed the banning of a book!

Just this afternoon I was directed to an article published by Jezebel which details the situation that took place in Knoxville, Tennessee. A mother was upset with the content of a book her son was given to read in school. The culprit this time? The New York Times best-seller, the book which became a smash-hit film, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Let me say again. The New York Times best-seller. Which means that millions of people have read this book. And each one of us has apparently been supporting and reading pornography. Yeah. You can read the article here.

Here’s the gist:
Basically, this mother was upset about the content of this book and calls it “porn.” In the story, Henrietta discovers a lump on her cervix when she inserts her finger into her vagina. According to the article, the mother was offended that her son, who attends L&N STEM Academy, a science-and-math based high school, was expected to read such content. The book appeared on his summer reading list. Rebecca Skloots’ response? Classic.

skloot tweet 2Anyway, down to the real meat we go. Again, nothing irks me more than the concept of banning books. It is an ignorant exhibition of control, an instance of someone else exercising their moral beliefs over another. It is a conflagration of our basic rights and freedoms.

What this mother, Jackie Sims calls “pornographic” is nothing of the sort. She may deem the content inappropriate for her child, but she can’t legitimately call it pornographic because she would be the only person in the world to think so. You can’t call something pornographic just because you don’t like it and it involves certain parts of the human body. Is a vagina pornographic? Can it not be scientific? Or just a body part like an arm or a leg? I have read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and it doesn’t even tip the scales of a Romance novel, much less something more erotic and exhibitionist. Can something be pornographic when it isn’t sexual? My inclination is NO.

As Rebecca Skloot states, just because someone doesn’t like a book does not make the content controversial and the mother clearly is purposefully upping the ante by referring to the book as pornographic, especially considering that this is a book that her son’s SCHOOL recommended the students read. You can read my rant about book banning I wrote a few weeks ago here.

Sims’ son was given an alternative reading choice and yet this woman STILL continues to try to cause a problem. The school responded appropriately by offering a different book to read. But this woman clearly has a vendetta against Skloot, the book, and vaginas and cervixes.

According to an article published by, “Her son has been provided with an alternate text, per district policy, but Sims said she wants the text out of the hands of all Knox County Schools students.” Not to mention, she says that the story could be told differently. If I were Skloot, I would find this insulting. But Skloot is likely too classy to let that irk her!

Let me just say that denying that sexuality exists, that women have cervixes and vaginas is ridiculous. Particularly in 2015. Have we not crossed this bridge yet, people? Clearly not.

The thing that makes me saddest though? The fact that this story was beautifully told and it revealed the way that Lacks and her family were treated by the medical world.

Jezebal writes, “One might argue that the truly appalling thing in the book is that neither Lacks nor her family ever gave consent for her cells to be used. Long after she died of cervical cancer in 1951, the entire medical establishment made both enormous scientific gains and enormous financial ones from her body.” And I totally agree. When I read this book, I was outraged by how these poor people were treated and how the medical world capitalized off of them. But now, because of this woman in Kentucky, people will not remember the important messages and stories that Skloot tells in this book. Instead, they’ll remember it for the scene depicting Henrietta placing her finger on her cervix. And no, it won’t be because she finds the lump. People will be looking for pornography instead. Thanks for that…

3 thoughts on “Vaginas, Cervixes and Rebecca Skloot. Oh My!

  1. That’s a sad small-mindedness. I read the book and absolutely loved it. The book teaches so much about science, society, and civil rights issues. Anyone who reads it will gain a lot. That young man is missing out.

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