Anne Frank's diary isn't pornographic

German diarist Anne Frank (1929 - 1945) writes at her desk prior to her and her family going into hiding during World War II, Amsterdam, Netherlands, early 1940s.

German diarist Anne Frank (1929 - 1945) writes at her desk prior to her and her family going into hiding during World War II, Amsterdam, Netherlands, early 1940s. Photo: Anne Frank Fonds - Basel/Anne Fr

There’s no snappy way to put this week’s most infuriating news story: a mother in Northville, Michigan filed a complaint to the school board because her 7th grade daughter’s class was reading Anne Frank: Diary Of A Young Girl (the newer unabridged edition of what you probably read under the title The Diary Of Anne Frank). Specifically, that the book contained a passage - where Frank describes exploring her own body - that the mother considered to be “pornographic”.

Here’s the paragraph in question: “Until I was eleven or twelve, I didn’t realize there was a second set of labia on the inside, since you couldn’t see them. What’s even funnier is that I thought urine came out of the clitoris…When you’re standing up, all you see from the front is hair. Between your legs there are two soft, cushiony things, also covered with hair, which press together when you’re standing, so you can’t see what’s inside. They separate when you sit down and they’re very red and quite fleshy on the inside. In the upper part, between the outer labia, there’s a fold of skin that, on second thought, looks like a kind of blister. That’s the clitoris.”

Sounds pretty standard for the twilight years of young girlhood, and is sure to strike a chord with anyone who ever borrowed/stole a copy Judy Blume’s Forever between the ages of 8 and 15, but apparently it was too much to bear in this particular instance. Gail Horek, the mother who made the complaint, was interviewed by local news, telling them she made the complaint after her daughter had raised the alarm. “I thought it was because of the depressing aspects,” she tells FOX2 in Northville, “but it was because they were talking graphically about Frank’s female... genitalia”.

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(The fact that one-paragraph’s worth of musing about the vulva is apparently more disturbing to some people than the events of the Holocaust that are also detailed in the book doesn’t bear mentioning, I hope.)

It may seem ridiculous that such an innocently written passage could be considered “pornographic”, but then we live in an era of abstinence only sex education. Michigan is one of the States whose sex ed classes regularly stress abstinence only, indeed, $1.4m in funding was pledged to the programs in 2008 (I could find no mention of sex ed of any description on either of Northville’s middle schools’ web presences). If students aren’t being taught about reproductive organs and genitalia in school then it stands to reason that Frank’s description of her own might be a bit of a shock. It’s hard not to feel a sense of pity for a girl whose upbringing has left her so divorced from her body that Frank’s discovery of her own is worthy of a “red flag”.

More broadly, the reaction to the inclusion of this particular passage is just another edition in the ongoing saga that is “denying that tweens and teens have bodies and are interested in how they work”.

Nobody likes to admit that tweens and teenagers, particularly female ones, are interested in sex (indeed, it was Frank’s own father Otto who, under heavy suggestion from Contact Publishing, edited her diaries into the version most people will have read at school, removing any references to her emerging sexuality), but time and time again parents and educators fail to realise that if young people aren’t given the opportunity to formally learn about these things, they’ll seek it out anyway themselves.

I can say that from personal experience: since we didn’t have a copy of Where Did I Come From? or What’s Happening To Me? at my catholic primary school, I decided that the cover of Oscar Hijuelos’ The Mambo Kings Play Songs Of Love - which was in the family bookshelf - looked a bit sexy and was indeed rewarded with a number of (rather baffling) passages about sex. (It later became one of my favourite novels, so it was win/win for that spot of literary subterfuge). The rest of it was worked out by carefully studying a surfwear ad that featured a pashing couple really going at it (“So that’s what they mean by ‘tongue kissing’.”).

Frank’s discussion of her own body is just another example of this. As The Gloss’ Jamie Peck put it, “This passage is obviously inappropriate for preteens, because it alerts them to the existence of female genitals and even, dare I say it, the clitoris. That is supposed to be a secret! Before you know it, they’ll be exploring their own bodies and learning even more details about them, like the fact that it’s possible for human beings to gain pleasure from touching themselves in certain ways, or the fact that contraceptive use can be effective in preventing pregnancy and disease. Knowledge is dangerous!” Quite.

Funnily enough I think the fuss about the “pornographic” passage in Diary Of A Young Girl ties back in to the kerfuffle over Justin Bieber’s (admittedly hamfisted and ego-driven) assertion at Anne Frank House in Amsterdam that “hopefully she would have been a Belieber”.

Given her well documented interest in Hollywood stars (“Yesterday I put up some more film stars in my room but this time with photo corners so I can take them down again” - October 18, 1942), and the fact that she even wrote what we’d now call fanfic, it’s not a stretch to assume that - in a different time and reality - she probably would have been a Belieber (or a Tumblr user, or whatever hallmark you choose to define the millennial tween).

Look at the misguided outrage at Bieber’s statement, or think about that mother’s “pornographic” assessment of Frank’s writing, and again what’s at hand here is a determined effort to deny the fact that Frank was, despite the immense importance her writing would later take on, just an ordinary young girl in extraordinary circumstances.

15 comments

  • I'm pretty sure that the edition I had when I was younger was the unedited "original" version where Anne talks about her feelings for a girl who's a friend of hers - I'm surprised the mother in question didn't also bring that up (though I think it's further on in the book).

    In any case, I think it's important to keep these kinds of things in because books for that age group tend to avoid talking about anything like this (leaving kids to find out through other, sometimes more sketchy means), and I also think it's disrespectful to silence Anne Frank's "true" voice.

    But I'm not a parent. I was just raised by two people who thought I should be able to ask them about anything at all without embarrassment or shame.

    Commenter
    Jezebel
    Location
    At my desk :(
    Date and time
    May 02, 2013, 9:27AM
    • Exactly, nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about! i don't see why it's an issue.

      At the end of the day, it's Anne Franks personal diary. If it's too 'X rated' for you then don't read it.

      Commenter
      BB
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 02, 2013, 11:37AM
    • @BB, while I don't agree with the mother's 'prudish' reaction, one issue here is that there is no choice in whether to read it or not since it's on the school syllabus.

      Commenter
      Ozwald
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      May 02, 2013, 3:51PM
  • I read Anne Frank's book as a young teen. I don't remember this passage, maybe it was an edited version??? Or maybe I was looking more for holocaust references....

    Anyway, nothing porno in that passage. It sounds more educational than anything. No sexual reference, just describing a body part and what happens when you move to it.

    Considering a lot of women/teens, have not even looked 'down there' with a hand mirror (oooooh!) this may well have prompted anyone reading to take a look and check it out. I remember convincing my 17 year old friend to use a tampon for the first time so she could come swimming with us. She told me she didn't know where to put it! She thought there was a 'pee' hole and a 'poo' hole, not the one in the middle. I was lost for words.

    I hate to reference it, but I remember a "sex in the city" episode where Charlotte admitted she had never looked 'down there' and by the end of the ep, finally took a mirror to look. She was so immersed in what she saw, she fell off the bed. Funny, but kind of sad.

    Commenter
    butterball37
    Date and time
    May 02, 2013, 9:48AM
    • If they think this is porn then i can't imagine what they think about 50 Shades Of Grey.

      Commenter
      BB
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 02, 2013, 11:39AM
  • That passage was not in the book I read, so it must have been the edited version I read as well back in the early 70s. I am surprised that Anne knew all the names of her various bits, considering I would have thought back in those days, the words labia and clitoris wouldn't have been bandied about as in this day and age. But she did have her older sister, Margot. Certainly not pornographic but there's always one wowser Mom out there it seems. I'd chuck a copy of "Go Ask Alice" her way for something else for her to freak out about (though there is some questionmark about whether GAA was written by wowsers to scare teenage girls)

    As for Justin Beiber, gawd what a moron. I agree with your defence of him Clem, but he's still a moron! That hairdo gives me the irrits!

    Commenter
    Ms Patonga
    Date and time
    May 02, 2013, 10:36AM
    • Whether this passage is pornographic or not is hardly the point. Is this passage necessary to understanding the place in history this diary occupies? Hardly. What we have here is the private diary of a young girl made public because its account has a public value that outweighs a sense of privacy. But it doesn't follow that those personal parts of the diary with no social or historical value should be unabridged. I'm not offended by the 'pornography' of this passage, but I am offended that Anne Frank has been, almost literally, stripped of her privacy. Which is an obscenity of a different kind. And no, that the holocaust was a greater obscenity does not make it right.

      Commenter
      Craig More
      Date and time
      May 02, 2013, 10:39AM
      • I didn't find the book's passages "pornographic", in fact, I found it to be a very articulate description of her genital anatomy.

        But then again, I believe that the Michigan mother is responding to the way she was taught to view sexuality (i.e. prudishly and conservatively) — in a culture where sex education is abstinence-oriented and deferred to later in life.

        However, I believe it is possible to teach students about their own anatomy. Anne Frank's Diary offered, in my view, an opportunity for students to ask questions and to receive answers.

        Commenter
        MainSail
        Date and time
        May 02, 2013, 10:43AM
        • Just realised I read the edited version at Catholic school. We had an English assignment based on the diary, where we were encouraged to write down our true and honest thoughts. Nearly got me expelled. When I went back to school years later to do a talk, the students and teachers thought this was hilarious.

          Sounds like Northville, Michigan, is still back in the dark ages.

          Commenter
          Rubylou
          Location
          the real world
          Date and time
          May 02, 2013, 10:44AM
          • Meanwhile - the internet.

            I mean, with an iphone and 10 minuts these kids are going to be able to see more naked bodies than someone who lived in the victorian age saw in a lifetime. And it won't be just a scandalous peek through a crack in the wall Fanny Hill style.

            Commenter
            Steve
            Location
            Sydney
            Date and time
            May 02, 2013, 10:47AM

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