Clean Reader and Body-Shaming.

So if you all haven’t heard, there is now an app called Clean Reader that exists to remove profanity and anything else it deems offensive from e-books and replace it with something more child-friendly.

The issues of censorship and mutilating someone else’s work has already been covered by writers far more eloquent than I – Chuck Wendig, Joanne Harris, Lilith Saintcrow and Jennifer Porter – but there is something else I would like to talk about regarding the Clean Reader app.

Please note, this post will contain ‘naughty’ words so any pro-Clean Readers, y’all know where the door is.

Apparently there are three levels to this app: Clean, Cleaner, and Squeaky Clean. Jennifer Porter gave Squeaky Clean a test run. The results were pretty horrifying. According to that app, the word ‘sex’ is bad. Yup. That’s right. Clean Reader designated ‘sex’ as a bad word that needed to be scrubbed from books.

What sort of mad fuckery is this?

The app that seems to want to shelter the innocent eyes of our cotton-wool swaddled offspring instead presents the toxic message that sex is bad. It presents the message that the word ‘sex’ is so offensive it must be removed from the pages of literature lest it corrupt the fragile minds of today’s youth.

Children are impressionable little things, and the last thing they need to be told is that a simple word – one referring to a completely natural act that will form a large part of their adult lives – is something to be ashamed of. After all, if the word is bad then the act itself must be downright horrific.

Oh, but it gets worse.

Not only is ‘sex’ on Clean Reader’s list of naughty words, so are anatomical terms like ‘vagina’ or ‘breasts.’ Yes, my dear Ramblers, these are filthy, shameful words and we must shield our little darlings from them. After all, we wouldn’t want kids understanding the correct terms for their own anatomy.

The sheer absurdity of this is astounding. The Clean Reader app takes the word ‘vagina’ and replaces it with ‘bottom’ therefore rendering all ‘scrubbed’ sex scenes as acts of anal intercourse. Well done, Clean Reader. That makes perfect sense.

I’m not alone in my concern over this. Author Joanne Harris points out that ‘trying to pass off the words ‘anus’, ‘buttocks’ and ‘vagina’ as the same thing is very confusing indeed, not to mention damaging.’

And she’s right. Those body parts are not all the same and it’s ridiculous to label them all as ‘bottom’ simply because someone thinks that’s ‘cleaner.’ It’s equally ridiculous to replace all mentions of ‘breasts’ with ‘chest.’ I cannot fathom how anyone can possibly say that breasts is an offensive word. This is flat-out body-shaming, especially with regard to women. Modern society likes to pretend it’s very enlightened but an ugly vein of sexism and slut-shaming still runs through our culture, and by condemning words like ‘breasts’ and ‘vagina’ as bad, Clean Reader is contributing to that stigma. It is sending impressionable young readers the message that sex is dirty and that their bodies are things to be ashamed of.

I repeat, what mad fuckery is this?

That sort of vile, toxic message is far more offensive and far more damaging than the odd f-bomb or use of cockwaffle.

What exactly do the creators of Clean Reader plan to do when it comes to educating their little darlings about the birds and the bees? According to their app, they will be telling their children that the man’s groin goes into the woman’s bottom. Awesome advice about sex, guys. The absurd nonsense their app comes up with to replace so-called explicit material sometimes ends up sounding worse than the original.

Need an example? I’ll borrow one from the ever-awesome Chuck Wendig.

Original material: “Oh, fuck, I want you to put your prick inside me and fuck my asshole.”

Clean Reader version: “Oh, freak, I want you to put your groin inside me and freak
my jerk.”

Riiiight, that’s not confusing for kids at all.

Here’s a thought, if you don’t want your kids reading explicit material then, y’know, don’t buy them explicit books. I know books don’t come with warning labels but things like erotica are usually pretty easy to identify. If the cover image of a bosomy heroine or bare-chested, muscle-rippling hero doesn’t give it away the blurb certainly will.

If the cover and the blurb don’t give much clue about the book’s content then how about parents read the book first and determine whether or not they think it’s suitable for their children, rather than relying on a very stupid piece of technology to do the parenting for them.

When I was a kid I had a pretty advanced reading age. The first school I was at recognised it pretty quickly and encouraged me to read more challenging books. I still wasn’t entirely happy with this and so started reading whatever books lay around my house. Some of those were adult books. Some of them contained ‘naughty’ words. I remember reading the words ‘bastard’ and ‘slut’ for the first time. Did my mum panic that her precious darling daughter was reading these words? No, she explained the meaning and the context in which the words were used. I have no doubt there are certain books she wouldn’t have wanted me reading at that age and I’m not saying we should be encouraging our children to read explicit books, but there’s a difference between deciding that some books just aren’t appropriate for children and handing them some ridiculous app that replaces perfectly reasonable words with nonsense. That is confusing and potentially very damaging for a child.

If your little precious darling is just too fragile to comprehend words like ‘vagina’ then keep them reading Winnie-the-Pooh for the rest of their lives. Assuming that ‘Pooh’ isn’t somehow offensive and replaced with something else (note, Winne-the-Pooh is fantastic and people should read it for the rest of their lives, just not exclusively)

There is a plethora of fantastic children’s authors out there – Jacqueline Wilson, Judy Blume, Vanessa Curtis, Lucy Daniels to name but a few. If your child wants to move on from those sorts of books and try something a bit more mature then let them. If they come across a word they don’t understand or that makes them uncomfortable, sit down and talk to them about it. What better way to show your kids the power of words? What better way to teach kids that some words can be ugly and hurtful? Isn’t it better to teach them these things rather than simply pretending this kind of language doesn’t exist?

Clean Reader might think it’s doing the right thing by shielding children’s virgin eyes from certain words, but I believe it would be far better to treat children with a little more respect and maturity, and actually discuss these things with them.





7 thoughts on “Clean Reader and Body-Shaming.

  1. Diana

    Love the article.

    One thing I would love for you to address is the substitution of “love” for sex.

    Love does NOT always = sex, and if they are teaching children this, it’s going to be more harmful than reading a naughty word or two.

    And this is geared toward females. I doubt most boys read romance novels, so they are not getting the idea that sex=love.

    There are so many problems with this app, it really does need to be removed. It will do more harm than good.
    I agree that parents need to discuss issues with their children instead of hiding behind an App.

    1. Bella Higgin Post author

      When I first heard about Clean Reader, I didn’t think too much of it. It seemed a bit ridiculous to be blanking out curse words to protect people’s delicate sensibilities, but then I started really looking into it and realising how damaging it could be.

      You raise some excellent points about the sex = love aspect of this. I’m not surprised that the app replaces sex with love since it was invented by a Christian couple, but I hadn’t really put much thought to how the sex = love message is being aimed more towards women. You’ve pointed out a really interesting angle.

      I may have to write another post highlighting the points you’ve raised :)

  2. Stephanie Ward

    First of all, “What sort of mad fuckery is this?” is my new favorite line. I am definitely adding that to my lexicon.

    I must be terribly out of the loop. I’d never heard of the Clean Reader app. Egads. :-(

    I agree with everything you wrote, and I’ve been essentially saying the same thing for years. ‘veI rarely banned my kids from reading or watching anything. I preferred to read or watch it with them and discuss our reactions to the material. Since I don’t own my own personal planet, I’ve always assumed they would be hearing about virtually everything sooner or later. It’s great if it happens while we’re still communicating openly so I can answer questions and do my level best to offer a thoughtful perspective.

    And, for God’s sake, words like “sex” and “vagina” should never be treated as obscenities. If this makes sense to parents, I suspect they’re ensuring that their kids will never come to talk to them about puberty, dating, intimacy, or anything else important. :-(

    Great post!

    1. Bella Higgin Post author

      Thank you, Stephanie. It really shocked me that simple anatomical terms were being treated as something ‘dirty’ and I absolutely agree with you that parents who use this app are, essentially, opening up a great rift between them and their children. Worse than that, the parents who use this app are teaching their children that sexuality is something to be ashamed of, that it’s something that needs to be scrubbed away. I can’t fathom how anyone can think that is a good idea.

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