On Sexual Harassment in the World of Children’s Literature

Though mostly silent on social media these days, I am aware of the earthquake taking place in the kidlit world. That’s the most accurate metaphor I can think of to describe this long overdue upending of the status quo. It’s the kind of event that leaves everyone shaken, and makes you question things you had assumed to be foundational, or self-evident. Perhaps some of us were unaware of the underlying fault line that has ruptured, or the depths to which it reached. In the interest of owning my own part in this, I’m the latter. I’ve been peripherally aware of these issues, but I haven’t ever undertaken the kind of examination that would have revealed the full reach of this problem. Because yes, this industry that I cherish has a problem. A very big and deeply ingrained problem. I wish I had been more fully aware of it before now, and I’m sorry that it took this earthquake for me to see it. My heart breaks for the women who have been harassed, devalued, and victimized. If that is you, then I want you to know that I believe you.

The fault line revealed by this earthquake needs to be addressed, urgently, and I want to do my part. I fear that this chasm, which has always been there, but only now opened wide enough at the surface for everyone to see, has the potential to divide our community of writers, and it already seems to be doing just that. Some people are actively taking sides and rejecting the claims of the other. To some degree, that is expected. It’s human nature to reject information that makes us feel uncomfortable. After all, belief seeks the path of least resistance; if we are passive in our beliefs, we go through life avoiding dissonance and hard truths the way a river avoids certain terrain on its way to the sea.

We might say to ourselves, “I know the accused, and they would never do that.” But that is the easier path. That is simply another way of saying that we don’t want to re-examine our assumptions and biases, which is evidenced by the speed at which people have already decamped into their corners, where they seem to be digging in for a lengthy siege before the facts are known. That some of the accusations are anonymous seems adequate justification for rejection, by some, even though the accused may not have even denied the claims. The harder path in all of this, the active path, is to allow for the possibility that we might have been wrong about someone. We might have been wrong about lots of people, or even an entire industry.

I am trying to take the harder path. I am trying to hear and consider things that make me uncomfortable. I’m trying to examine my own biases and assumptions, because this fault line will not be healed by refusing to acknowledge it or blaming the other side for its inevitable rupture. It will only be healed if we stick our heads together like Lego Batman minifigs, and clench our Batman abs, to pull together.

Right now, there are women who need our support, and none of us have the right to judge the validity of their experiences, or the validity of their responses to those experiences. If you ever find yourself deciding for someone else how they should think and feel about something, well, speaking as a psychologist, you’re engaging in a form of psychological abuse. If you’re doing it to a victim, you’re victimizing them all over again.

Just stop it.

Now.

And listen.

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