The obvious issues with banning Maus from schools are not what we need to be talking about. Decrying Nazis or censorship is easy since it does not require self-reflection. We know where we stand there. We need to talk about the misogyny that is inherent, and largely unchallenged, in the school board’s reasoning.
Maus I and II have a lot of horrifying images. They depict a series of conversations author Art Spiegelman had with his parents about their experience in Auschwitz. Jews (represented as mice) are gassed, hung, shot, rounded up, and displaced. None of this was deemed too much for schoolchildren.
If we take the school board at face value, they were focused on a single panel that depicted Spiegelman’s mother, as a mouse, being found after she committed suicide by slitting her wrists in a bathtub. This was not an erotic scene. The author was depicting his mother, dead at her own hands.
All of the violence was ok. The problem for the school board was that there was a nude mouse representing a woman in a bathtub. There was no issue with the fact that she was dead. There was no issue with the fact that she was driven to suicide. There was no need to protect schoolchildren from that. The issue was that she was a nude mouse in a bathtub. A stand-in for what one might imagine would be a nude woman.
The firm ground on which the school board is standing is that they expect us to accept as granted that a woman without clothing is more damaging to children than all the horrors of a concentration camp. We can’t continue to let that assumption go unchallanged.
/As a coda, I want to thank my excellent high-school English teacher, Ms. Orbison, for understanding that the best way to tend to my education was to present material that I found challenging rather than to protect me from the world. It was in her class that I first ran into Maus.