Consent in Conversation: Education of Sexual Violence in Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou’s memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is just one of many titles challenged and banned in public schools for “sexually explicit” content. On page 71 of her 281 page autobiography, Angelou discloses that she was raped at 8 years old by her mother’s boyfriend, and despite it being followed with scenes that emphasize the value of healing through literature, public attention has been directed to the (non-consensual) intercourse itself as a reason for censorship. As censorship efforts have expanded in the past two decades, challengers have continued to add more ban-worthy qualities to the list as the book has been deemed “anti-white” for its description of Arkansas before the Civil Rights Movement, anti-religious for Angelou’s shift from Christianity to atheism, and homosexuality for her brief contemplation of her sexual orientation. The racism and rape culture that Angelou describes in her memoir continues to control American society as demonstrated by these challenges of her story, but by engaging in open and honest dialogue in the classroom, public schools can develop a community of citizens that can identify and navigate these unhealthy power dynamics at home, in school, and in the sociopolitical sphere.
Benning, Emily, "Consent in Conversation: Education of Sexual Violence in Maya Angelou's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (2023). Richard T. Schellhase Essay Prize in Ethics. 25.
African American Studies Commons, English Language and Literature Commons, Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Commons, Women's Studies Commons
First prize winner.