#MeToo and The Necessity of Transformative Justice Practices in Writing Communities

Shauna Osborn
March 12, 2018
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Writers are strange creatures that spend most of their time locked inside their brains–which is what is required to birth books. We grow new characters, unrealized technology, new forms of knowledge, and all sorts of new worlds. We scrutinize our past to discover nuggets of wit and insight. We are often not seen (or portrayed) as the most social of beings, but we are all a part of the writing community at large. Most of us are a part of several smaller writing communities as well. From local writing groups to national writing organizations, we organize ourselves into as many relevant groups as we want and then show up to the meetings to talk about writing, share our books, and commiserate on the hard parts of the writing life. While each of these communities engage us and offer useful elements to our craft, they also tend to hold some shadowy, whisper network things too. Names of the ones who drink too much, the ones who always make advances on new or younger writers, and the ones with prior jail time for violence, are often cataloged and shared with newer members. If you’re lucky, you hear the whispers before you find yourself in a dangerous situation and/or something bad happens to you. If you’re not so lucky, what people know of your experience becomes part of the whispers. Not often, but occasionally, whispers turn louder. Then we get to read about it in our newsfeed.

Since the #MeToo movement went viral last year and accusations against many powerful men gained traction, there have been authors and workers in the publishing industry wondering how long it would be before some of the powerful names in our field’s whisper network would find themselves answering for their actions. Then the accusations and the “shitty” people lists started. Publishers, editors, journalists, and authors found themselves in the thick of harassment accusation adjustments. Last week a new round of prominent literary figures accused of serial sexual harassment hit the news and started the now familiar process of releasing terribly inept apology letters, shifting attention elsewhere, or outright attacking the character of anybody’s name that is associated with the news story seeing daylight. We get to witness comments from everyone—past associates, current collaborators, third grade bus drivers, people who are big fans of the author’s work, and people who barely knew the accused wrote books but have an opinion on their actions anyway. By now you’ve probably read a few of the articles, seen the list of actions taken (if any) because of the accusations, and formed your own opinions about what happened and went back to drinking your coffee. Unless, of course, you’re someone who’s got a vested interest in the outcome. Someone who personally knows the folks involved. Someone who has an intimate knowledge of what it means to be harassed or sexually assaulted. Someone who cares whether or not you/family members/partners/friends will be surrounded by predators. Someone who’s found out you/your family member/partner/friend is considered a predator. Then the story’s never going to go completely away. It’s a narrative that’s going to continue to have consequences.

The thing is, #MeToo is making a difference when it involves prominent figures—people with clout or money enough to be considered newsworthy. It is not going to reach the predators who aren’t headline-worthy on their own. We have to work together in order to make our communities the type of places where we can all feel supported and safe. Whispers and blacklisting individual perpetrators, while useful, are not enough. Writing communities need to find ways to create safer spaces for their members, such as the suggestions listed in the VIDA #SaferLIT campaign. By utilizing transformative justice practices in our writing spaces, we can help individuals in our communities with trauma informed/survivor focused healing, community accountability, and collective action. We can display through our policies and responses that all members in our communities are accountable for their treatment of one another. This can only strengthen our connections to one another and shift our conversations toward individual and collective action that get results.

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