Case Study: The Diary of a Teenage Girl

diaryArtist and comics creator Phoebe Gloeckner has never been afraid to show the raw and gritty bits of reality in her work — something that possibly stems from her unique background in medical illustration. For that reason, Gloekner’s work is a frequent target of censors.

Gloeckner’s comics work was sporadic until 1998, when she released her first stand-alone graphic collection, A Child’s Life and Other Stories. In 2002, she released The Diary of a Teenage Girl, which combines prose and illustration to continue to story of some of the characters from A Child’s Life. While Gloeckner is reticent to describe just how closely the books correlate to her own life, many consider them semi-autobiographical. Through a series of interconnected strips, A Child’s Life conveys the loss of innocence that comes with emotional and physical abuse during childhood. The artwork is dynamic and heavily influenced by the undergrounds, and Gloeckner incorporates medical illustrations to evocative and sometimes shocking effect.

Gloeckner’s highly acclaimed work includes themes of coming of age and sexual awaking and contains references to sex, drugs, and STIs, so it is intended for mature audiences. But in 2004, A Child’s Life was removed from public library shelves in Stockton, California, after an 11-year-old boy in the community checked out the book. Upon discovering graphic content in the book, the boy’s mother reproduced images from it and leafleted the community with them in protest of what she considered unacceptable material in the Stockton public library. Library director Nicky Stanke believed the book worthy of inclusion in the library’s collection, but then mayor Gary Podesto disagreed, calling the book “a how-to book for pedophiles” and demanding that the city council exert more control over the library’s collection. In response, CBLDF joined the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Library Association to create guidelines for librarians about handling graphic novels intended for adult audiences.

Gloeckner’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl has faced strong scrutiny both as a book and as a critically acclaimed film. In 2015, CBLDF was involved in a confidential challenge against the graphic novel over its sexual content, and our efforts kept the book on shelves. The film adaptation of the book received an 18+ rating by the British Board of Film Classification in England, essentially banning all patrons under the age of 18 from seeing the movie in public theaters. The production company appealed the decision, but the appeal was denied. “We are massively disappointed with this final ruling,” commented the production company after their appeal was denied. “The film explores female sexuality with boldness and honesty in an un-exploitative manner. In an age where young women are still continually being sexualized and objectified, we feel The Diary of a Teenage Girl sends a very positive, reassuring message to young girls about female sexuality and body image.”