Sexual Harassment in KidLit
As a librarian, I don’t often feel genuinely a part of kid or yalit. I’m not an author. I’m not a publisher. I’m not an agent or an editor.
But I am someone who regularly talks about books and puts them into the hands of kids and teens. So these last few days, I have really sat with and thought about what is happening with the MeToo movement in kidslit. And more importantly, what is my response as a human being and as a librarian.
If you need some background, Anne Ursu wrote a post on Medium sharing the results of a survey she did regarding sexual harassment in kidlit publishing. (Sexual Harassment in the Childrens Book Industry Anne Ursu)
In addition, School Library Journal, with whom this blog is networked, shared a piece about sexual harassment in kidlist as well. Then sometime yesterday the comments exploded and people began naming names of their harassers and there were a variety of discussions had regarding sexual harassment. (http://www.slj.com/2018/01/industry-news/childrens-publishing-reckons-sexual-harassment-ranks/#_)
We as a nation and, really, as a culture, are wrestling with sexual harassment. It’s a discussion we should have been having all along, and it’s an uncomfortable one. The most necessary and most difficult conversations often are. But just because it’s messy and uncomfortable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be having it.
As a general rule of thumb, this is where I stand on the issues.
1. Believe the victims
As a survivor myself, I can assure that there is nothing to be gained by coming out as a victim. Even in the midst of the MeToo movement, victims are still shamed, ridiculed, questioned and reviled.
2. Practice the fine art of listening
This past week I have spent a lot of time reading and listening. Yes, even as a survivor myself, it’s still important to listen. Not everyone reacts the same way, not everyone feels the same way, not everyone thinks the same way.
3. Keep in mind that anyone can be a harasser and anyone can be a victim
Although it is true that women are victims far more often then men, and men are abusers far more often than woman, it is also true that anyone can be a victim/survivor and anyone can be a perpetrator. Sexual harassment happens regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and religion. It happens regardless of where a person is, what they are wearing, or how much they have had to drink.
4. The abuser is always responsible for their behavior
When talking about sexual harassment and violence, it’s important to remember that ultimately, the abuser is always responsible for their actions, their choices. At some point, the abuser must make the decision to engage in the behavior. They and they alone are responsible for their choices.
5. Survivors don’t owe you their stories
If, how and when people choose to share their stories of harassment and abuse are totally up to the victims/survivors. We do not get to demand of them their stories. They have already been violated once, we do not need to violate them again by denying their personal autonomy and demanding that they answer our questions, share the details, etc. Even if their abuser goes on to abuse 100s of other people, they don’t owe anyone their stories and they are not responsible for any subsequent abuse. They get to process their trauma on their own terms and in their own time.
I also have seen some discussion about what this means for us as librarians who work with kids. And I think that it is a good question, one with which we will wrestle with for quite some time. I know that what I may choose to do personally or as a blogger is different than what I will chose to do as a professional librarian. I purchase and put in my collection every day books that I don’t agree with by people I don’t like because I am a public employee and as such I am not building a personal library, but a community one. To hold the title of public librarian comes with a lot of responsibility to a community that is larger than just me. I am bound by community standards, board adopted collection development policies, and the teens in which I have chosen to serve. So while someone may be named as a serial predator and I will personally chose to believe the victims, I will probably not be able to stop buying their titles for my library. It also means that if I have reason to suspect that my teens will not be safe in the presence of said author, I will chose to invite someone else to an event as a speaker.
As a librarian and a reader, I believe in the power of words. I believe that what we say and what we do matters and helps shape the world that we live in. I believe that every person deserves to walk through this world with a reasonable expectation of respect and safety. I am keeping all of this in mind as I listen to the conversations we are having and trying to figure out when, what and how to say something.
I also want to remind us all that teens today have access to these conversations that we are having. They are connected in ways that previous generations never were. They are connected with authors, with the larger kid/yalit community, and with the news. They see and hear us talking about consent, sexual violence, and sexual harassment. They are listening. They are learning. Now, more than ever, what we say and how we say it matters. We are not just reckoning with our past, but we are helping to shape the future in terms of these issues. What is happening matters.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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