Earlier this week brilliant, award-winning author Anne Ursu published an essay about the responses and conclusions from a survey on sexual harassment in the kidlit and YA field she recently conducted, spurred by the #metoo movement. If you haven’t read it yet, go do so immediately. I’ll wait.
Like many, I was not so much surprised by the findings that our community is no different than any other. And, like many, I’ve felt frustrated and angry and helpless. I don’t have all the answers, but last night I found myself asking where our Scalzi is on twitter — referencing my friend John Scalzi’s convention harassment policy pledge *five years ago* when similar issues were being highlighted in the science fiction and fantasy community. As Scalzi pointed out right away:
I’ll note here that when I did my harassment policy pledge I was acting because a) I knew too many women who had to deal with shit, b) I was staking a position based on work that women in my field had already done. I stood on ground they cleared.
— John Scalzi (@scalzi) February 9, 2018
And then this morning, I realized that I’m not comfortable waiting for someone else to take point. I firmly believe that we need male authors and illustrators and publishing professionals to sign on to any effort to combat sexual harassment in our community, and that perhaps it would be taken more seriously if one of them led the charge. I hope they’ll show up, but to wait for that is unacceptable to me. Many people are asking “what can we do without names?” A lot it turns out. We can send a message and we can apply pressure to advocate for change.
No one should have to feel unsafe at an event in the children’s lit world. No one should feel like they can’t speak up or have someone to go to if they are harassed at an event. And no one should be able to get away with harassment, no matter how much of a big deal they’re considered to be.
First, I invite all of us to adopt the same pledge that Scalzi set out several years ago, which I’m stealing whole cloth here and encourage you to post about on your own sites.
1. That the convention has a harassment policy, and that the harassment policy is clear on what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.
2. That the convention make this policy obvious by at least one and preferably more than one of the following: posting the policy on their Website, placing it in their written and electronic programs, putting up flyers in the common areas, discussing the policy at opening ceremonies or at other well-attended common events.
3. In cases when I am invited as a Guest of Honor, personal affirmation from the convention chair that a harassment policy exists, that it will be adequately publicized to conventiongoers, and that all harassment complaints will be dealt with promptly and fairly, with no excuses or rationalizations for delaying action when such becomes necessary.
I’d also like to send the letter below to YA and kidlit specific festivals and organizations and to the heads of publishing houses with as many names attached to it as possible. If you would like to sign on, please post your name in the comments below (which I must approve so there might be a slight delay). Here’s the letter, which I know is not perfect, but hopefully it’s a starting point.
Dear conference or festival organizer or publisher,
You may be aware that larger discussions of sexism and sexual harassment have now—finally—turned to the children’s and YA literary community. Recently author Anne Ursu conducted a survey that received ninety responses detailing the unacceptable behavior that far too many women in our sphere have been subjected to over the years. We know that the problem is far wider, and it’s one we all have a responsibility to act to end.
If you have a sexual harassment policy, we would encourage you to make sure it’s strong enough and well publicized enough at your events or work functions to be effective. If you do not have a sexual harassment policy, we encourage you to develop one immediately or you may find many authors will no longer attend your events. This policy should, to borrow from author John Scalzi’s pledge wording, spell out “what is unacceptable behavior, as well as to whom those who feel harassed, or see others engaging in harassing behavior, can go for help and action.” In keeping with that pledge, we also ask that you promote and publicize this policy as widely as possible: on your website, in your programs and conference materials, through flyers in the event space, and by talking about it at the beginning of conference events.
You may feel this isn’t necessary or will somehow “send the wrong message” about your event. But, in fact, the lack of these things does just that. The lack of a clear harassment policy tells predators they can get away with bad behavior and it tells women and other community members that they will have no one to go to if they experience harassment, they will just have to remain quiet and accept it. Publicizing a message that harassment will receive zero tolerance tells everyone, including our young readership, what behavior they should expect in a professional environment. You can find resources to assist with your policy development and wording at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website.
If you are a publisher, we encourage you to revisit your own harassment policies and to ensure they are observed at public events that you host. We would also ask that publishers communicate to their authors, illustrators, and staff that if harassment by them is reported in a professional setting it may lead to consequences related to employment or invitations to represent the publisher at events or on tour. Again, it may seem unnecessary or ineffective to take this step. But sending a message about what behavior will be tolerated and what will not is the only way change will come.
And this change must come. Time is up.
and hopefully many, many of you
Edited to add: Thank you THANK YOU all for supporting this effort. If your comment signing doesn’t show up immediately and you don’t get an error message, don’t fret. I just have to approve it and your name will be added. If you do get an error message, just contact me via the contact page or any other format and I’ll note your name and add it manually when I compile the final letter. THANK YOU.
Edited to add again: Comments are open, though the letter is closed for sending.