While listening to the Book Riot Podcast (Episode 236: One of the Toms), the hosts mentioned a November 2017 article in The BookSeller, talking about the publication’s own survey where not only are the upper echelons of publishing companies male (and white), but that over half, 54%, of the respondents said they experienced sexual abuse. At the time, it was probably a couple of months ago (yeah I’m way behind on listening to podcasts), I wasn’t surprised at all. I shrugged, thought well publishing is just like any other industry and of course it has a harassment problem, especially being such a closed ecosystem, where it’s often more important who you know rather than what you do. (This has changed within the last couple of years, but clearly there’s still a problem here.)
And then the furor over the cocky trademark came along as well as my own experience with emotional abuse and not only the community’s lack of major response, but also the myriad of authors who said it “didn’t affect them”, so they said nothing. (More details? Read my blog here.)
This culminated last night in an experience where when a larger “big name” author said basically she didn’t see why I could say there’s been a lack of outcry because there’s been a big one over the over-broad and over-reaching trademark. I specifically said my issues weren’t with the trademark holder, but rather the group of people who enabled her to the point of triggering mine and other authors’ PTSD with their abusive rants.
And it took me back to the survey. If sexual abuse, which is a seriously high profile issue and one that everyone is hyper-aware of, can still have such a pervasive effect on this industry, then what chance does issues like PTSD and mental health awareness have?
Look, I am not the only person with PTSD to tell you that if I had a nickle for every time someone said “you’re being too sensitive” or “you’re taking this too personally”, I’d be so rich I wouldn’t care about anything else other than swimming in my large olympic-pool sized vat of nickles that overflowed. (Same with those of us with fibromyalgia who are constantly told to “eat a plant based diet” and “meditate and be grateful” so our symptoms will go away. The able bodied always have all the fucking answers.)
But as I work to still process what happened that Sunday evening a few weeks ago–and believe me when I say that most of us with any invisible illness, be it mental or physical, constantly go over our own responses. Were we too sensitive? Did we expect too much? Did we take things too personally? Because that’s how society has trained us — that it is always our fault. It came to me.
People with invisible illnesses within the publishing community are expected to not be seen or heard and to deal with potentially harmful interactions which will always solely be our own fault. We should just expect to be at best minimized and at worst abused within our own professional space and consider that a normal part of our professional lives.
Now before you start crying “not all groups” (And honey, do you know how much that sounds like “not all authors” or “not all trademarks” or “not all men”?), I’m in a couple and run one where I feel that this won’t happen. The difference? There isn’t the blatant hypocrisy of rules being followed by everyone but a select set of few individuals.
As I make decisions on where I spend my professional time, and believe me, I’m trying to decide if remaining where I have been completely minimized is worth it, I think it’s important for all authors in professional spaces to look at what is happening. Just because you weren’t impacted, doesn’t mean your fellow authors weren’t. And I think, more importantly, if you have witnessed or heard about this happening and you’re not speaking out — why not?
Do you really think it’s fair that authors with certain disabilities should just expect to deal with abuse simply because you couldn’t be bothered to speak out?
To those who have reached out to me, whether publicly or privately, thank you. I appreciate your sharing your story, entrusting me with your experiences, and knowing that authors with invisible illness aren’t alone. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.