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To think sexist phrases should be edited out of modern novels by well-known authors from well-known publishers?

(92 Posts)
AnnaLP Wed 11-Nov-15 10:28:39

Just finished reading Frederick Forsyth's "The Kill List" (really enjoyed it) and at the end is a short story "The Veteran", which also seemed like a good read until about 30 pages in where 3 sexist comments pop up in the space of 2 pages:

"She blushed a fetching pink..."
"The pretty and bright WPC...."
".... was very bright and very pretty..."

They are just so unnecessary to the story - they add nothing of value and just demean the female characters they refer to. If I were an editor I would have just removed them - or AIBU?

partialderivative Wed 11-Nov-15 10:35:30

How do you feel about other forms of censorship?

StellaAlpina Wed 11-Nov-15 10:35:43

I think those sentences individually are all OK in that they are describing a character (I like to know what people look like). I think it's more a case of bad writing that the author has put a lot of descriptive bits about her in one chunk making it noticeable rather than space it out throughout the book.

In general though I am not sure whether/which sexist bits should be edited out of books or not...because on one hand freedom of expression/on the other harm is it harming women?

I wonder how TV censors decide?

Thurlow Wed 11-Nov-15 10:37:17

YABU. Books reflect the language and attitudes of the time they were written. I doubt any editor at the time would have even seen those as sexist comments.

It's a fine line to judge the opinions of authors and characters from books written in another time.

Don't ever read Gone With the Wind or Tom Sawyer

caroldecker Wed 11-Nov-15 10:37:49

The veteran was published in 2001, so how far should people go back?

Andro Wed 11-Nov-15 10:40:40


AlwaysHope1 Wed 11-Nov-15 10:41:49

Yabu, write a book yourself.

Rollermum Wed 11-Nov-15 10:42:43

YABU as Thurlow says they are from a time period and should reflect that. To alter survive things like that would change characters and our understanding of their motivation for acting which could make the whole plot nonsensical in some cases.

Also, annoying as it is to come across a load of sexist crap from respected authors, it's a useful way to understand past attitudes. To lose that, even if nuanced, is a shame.

Re-writes on the other hand with a different author can make an old story more accessible to modern audiences and I don't mind that so much (like film remakes).

Crabbitface Wed 11-Nov-15 10:44:01


How will we learn about the progression of social attitudes if we obliterate any evidence of different societal norms? It is important to have evidence of the prevalence of different forms of discrimination to show future generations how far society has come and to give them hope that it is possible to change attitudes, structures and policy over time.

Also - sexist/racist/homophobic language in a piece of fiction could be integral to the storytelling and a wider message of acceptance.

No to censorship.

LiviaDrusillaAugusta Wed 11-Nov-15 10:47:38

The problem is that everyone's interpretation of sexism differs slightly. Who gets to decide what is sexist? There's a discussion on here at the moment about using the word 'girls' which illustrates that!

Like a PP said, books are a reflection of the time they are set/written - once you start censoring them, I think you are starting something very dangerous.

I'm very uncomfortable with most kinds of censorship, on the basis that most people are capable of deciding what is appropriate for them to read/watch and what isn't - these days most films etc have specific warnings about the type of adult content it may contain, so people can make an informed decision.

MissBattleaxe Wed 11-Nov-15 10:49:33

If written in first person, the narrator can have any attitudes he wants as he is writing in character. If writing in third person, then actually, yes the writer can still also say anything they want. We have the freedom of critical thought.

Scremersford Wed 11-Nov-15 10:53:50

Of course not! Who would want to set a precedent that history, as recorded in books, is changed for whatever political purpose is expedient at that moment in time? What precedent do you think that would set and what about the potential for misuse? This is actually what the central character in Orwell's "1984" did as a job!

Its fiction. Its not real. People that read it mostly understand that. And how will future generations be able to prove how bad things were, if the warnings from history/social commentators is deleted?

LiviaDrusillaAugusta Wed 11-Nov-15 10:56:33

Scremers I was going to mention 1984 too but posted too soon! It's my favourite book of all time and it scares the shit out of me because some of it is too close to the truth!

ThroughThickAndThin01 Wed 11-Nov-15 10:59:28


Start with that and where do you stop.

It might be integral to the book; a character might be sexist for example.

Once a book is written, it should never be tampered with IMO.

SeekEveryEveryKnownHidingPlace Wed 11-Nov-15 11:00:41

But it's Frederick Forsyth! What did you expect!

UsedtobeFeckless Wed 11-Nov-15 11:04:00

No! You can't just go round bowdlerising things that annoy you ...

eddiemairswife Wed 11-Nov-15 11:03:52

It is interesting to read novels written some time ago and realise how some things have changed (or not). I re-read Margaret Drabble's early (1960s) novels a couple of years ago, and was struck by the frequent use of 'gay' to mean light-hearted or happy. On the other hand we tend to think that building homes on green-belt or in rural areas is a modern problem, yet in George Orwell's 'Coming up for Air' published in 1937/8, the main character is appalled when he re-visits his childhood home to find it tranformed by a vast new housing estate.

mileend2bermondsey Wed 11-Nov-15 11:04:51

I really hate Burt Bacharach's 'Wives and 'Lovers'

Hey, little girl,
Comb your hair, fix your make-up.
Soon he will open the door.
Don't think because
There's a ring on your finger,
You needn't try any more

For wives should always be lovers, too.
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.
I'm warning you.

Day after day,
There are girls at the office,
And men will always be men.
Don't send him off
With your hair still in curlers.
You may not see him again.

For wives should always be lovers, too.
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.
He's almost here.

Hey, little girl
Better wear something pretty,
something you'd wear to go to the city.
And dim all the lights,
Pour the wine, start the music.
Time to get ready for love.

Oh, time to get ready,
Time to get ready,
Time to get ready
For love.

But I'm not into censorship.

GummyBunting Wed 11-Nov-15 11:06:10

Censorship is never a good thing, certainly not in books. We only learn by looking at past mistakes.

AnnaLP Wed 11-Nov-15 11:07:59

As caroldecker pointed out The Veteran was written in 2001 - to me that IS modern times. I think the editor could have edited out sexist comments then in 2001 - I'm not suggesting we edit historical novels for our modern consumption, which would clearly be ridiculous.

I have a teenage DD (who happens to be very bright and very pretty) but both her and I would take it as an insult if the "very pretty" tag had to be assigned to her when talking about her intelligence and capabilities.

It's accepting that sort of throwaway comment that enables sexism to persist. The comments in no way enhance the story or help describe or understand the characters (one a WPC and one a lawyer). We would never expect a male lawyer to be described as "very bright and very handsome" - shouldn't we just focus on professional abilities? In modern novels just as much as in life...

Procrastinatingpeacock Wed 11-Nov-15 11:10:41

OP YABU but I do get where you are coming from. I love Frederick Forsyth and am halfway through re-reading them all (first read them about 7 years ago), and I have really noticed the innate sexism this time round. It doesn't take away from my enjoyment of the books though. It's certainly made me realise how much mumsnet has opened my eyes to just how pervasive sexism is!

redstrawberry10 Wed 11-Nov-15 11:13:59

It's accepting that sort of throwaway comment that enables sexism to persist. The comments in no way enhance the story or help describe or understand the characters (one a WPC and one a lawyer). We would never expect a male lawyer to be described as "very bright and very handsome" - shouldn't we just focus on professional abilities? In modern novels just as much as in life...

don't read it if you don't like it. vote with your pocket book instead trying to censor people. That's the way the author wanted to express his thoughts.

exexpat Wed 11-Nov-15 11:15:00

If we're going to censor all sexist comments now it is the 21st century, can we start by cutting out large swathes of the Daily Mail and its website, please? Not to mention many other newspapers and glossy magazines...

TPel Wed 11-Nov-15 11:18:03

Without the original author's agreement it would've totally inappropriate to edit any text/lyrics/art.

That doesn't mean that some works are not open to censure, but more is to be gained by exposing these works not blurring them.

LiviaDrusillaAugusta Wed 11-Nov-15 11:19:04

But what you or your DD find offensive isn't what others might. Plenty of male characters in books are described as handsome. If you don't like a story, and there are phrases that don't enhance the story, then by all means stop reading it. Other people may enjoy the story and find the phrasing useful.

As a woman myself, I would object to that phrase being taken out 'because it's sexist' - I'm intelligent enough to be able to decide whether I find it offensive or not. And if I find it offensive then I am capable of putting the book down and finding something more suitable.

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