As an undergraduate, I had to run out of the apartment of a former instructor, who I thought wanted to hang out to talk Socrates. That's not what he wanted. I’ve never been that scared before.
As a graduate student, I bravely took my advisor’s advice and approached a guest author whose ideas inspired me and yes I would love to get a cup of coffee and share my own ideas! But no, I did not want to go to his hotel room. But no, he did not want to hear my ideas; he wanted to put his hand on my thigh. And no, the friend I ran to, shaking, did not commiserate. He laughed it off. As did a department higher up whose own behavior with women I would learn about later, firsthand.
As a bookseller, I stood behind the counter while a regular told me that women want to be raped. I left the room, but not the job. I had to sell that man more books, while he commented on my hair, my clothes, my worth, but never listened to my mind...while I put his brand-new Jim Harrison novel in a bag.
As an author of children’s literature...is it just a matter of time until I have another story to tell?
Or is it "time's up?"
I’ve been telling people what’s been going on in children’s literature lately—from Anne Ursu's eye-opening article about sexual harassment to the comments in the School Library Journal's article in which women named names to the subsequent drops by agencies and publishers of those authors who’d been named—and they’re shocked. Aghast. In children’s literature! It’s sort of the same shock you get when you talk about serving alcohol at a children’s literature conference. We’re not serving it to children for pete's sake. We write for them; we’re not children ourselves. We’re badass artists, making badass art, for badass kids.
I’ll admit though, I too thought the kidlit community would be squeaky clean and G-rated. My misconceptions were quickly put to rest when I attended my first conference (SCBWI-LA 2015) where the first speaker was Mem Fox and one of the first words out of her mouth was, “F*ck.” Mem Fox! Ten little fingers and ten little toes Mem Fox. I breathed a sigh of relief and settled into my seat.
We write for kids, but we are adults. Unfortunately, that means we also have adult problems.
So now we know. Now everyone knows. We’ve taken the important first step, so where do we go from here?
Others have already made great suggestions, including Tracey Baptiste who wrote on this same topic. Read her post here. I humbly hope my post will add to the conversation.
I want to start with what we know:
1) We know that sexual harassment and predation of women are not rarities; they are regularities. As are women getting less pay, less status, less success, less respect, less visibility, fewer awards and fewer opportunities than men (even though there are a whole lot more of us in this industry, which is roughly 80% women.)
2) We know that male-privilege and institutional sexism—which are perpetuated by all genders—are responsible.
But, before we can tackle that, we need to make sure we all know this as well:
1) that harassment and discrimination of women of color* are not rarities; they are regularities. As are women of color getting less pay, less status, less success, less respect, less visibility, fewer awards, and fewer opportunities than white women. (*Race is just one possible marginalized identity here. Class, ethnicity, nationality, religion, disability, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, and neurodivergencies could also be discussed.)
2) that white-privilege and institutional racism are responsible.
Next, I’m going to assume that everyone in this movement understands why we need KidLitWomen, why we say MeToo and TimesUp, why WomenMarch.
But I know that not everyone in this movement understands why WeNeedDiverseBooks and OwnVoices, why BlackLivesMatter.
And that’s a problem.
To be strong is to be inclusive and to be inclusive is to NOT make this movement work only for women with dominant identities.
We need to know that many people in this movement have overlapping identities, or “intersectionalities” that work together to shape their realities and the degree and depth of the discrimination working against them. A black woman, for example, has a completely different reality that a white woman, because she deals not only with sexism, but with racism.
To deny or fail to understand this truth is a problem.
I think denying or failing to understand our own privilege is at the root of that problem.
And unless you are marginalized in every single category, in which case god help you, because I cannot even imagine the shit you deal with on a daily basis, we all have SOME privilege--and that is not a fun thing to hear or think about.
To make this movement inclusive, we need to know the problems. We need to know the problems within ourselves as much as the problems within our industry. So ask yourself:
for identities in which I have privilege—you have to look at each one separately—(white, cis-gendered, straight, young/middle age, middle/upper class, able-bodied, neurotypical, etc), do I treat women who do not have privilege (people of color, non-binary/trans, lesbian, elder, poor/lower class, people with disabilities, neurodivergent, etc.) the way I want people in this industry to treat me? Or do I forget them, misrepresent them, exclude them, ignore them, deny them, overlook them, mistreat them, silence them?
If your answer is not what you want it to be, if you have blind spots, well, you’re not alone. I don’t think even the most “woke” among us have never made a misstep. In fact, one of our contributors, Dill Werner, called out the very name of our movement—kitlitwomen—as perpetuating the myth that there are two genders (rather than gender existing on a spectrum) and thus excluding everyone who does not fit in that binary. Read their post here. Our “cis” gaze and privilege caused us to exclude a whole lot of people. My use of the binary terms "women" and "men" in this very post is problematic! See? We’re all learning. But if we know, we can work to change that. We can listen when someone points it out instead of getting defensive. We can educate ourselves. We can do the work, and we can do better. We have to do better.
If we don’t, if the people fighting for equality for women are not also fighting for equality for women and people with other marginalized identities too, we’re not doing the right kind of feminism.
Because ALL OF US deserve to be safe, respected, and equal in this and every industry and ALL OF US need to work together to achieve this goal.
Because--although I’m a writer and I like to tell stories and I’ve got a lot more like the ones I opened this post with--I’m ready to tell a different damn story.
I think ALL OF US are.
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