- Emily Gould is a very good writer. Why does she have to deal with misogynists all the time?
Yesterday, I told you about E.R. Kennedy's claims that author Tao Lin emotionally abused him. It's important to note that these are not even the first instance of allegations of misconduct to circulate through the alt lit world this week. A writer named Sophia Katz published an essay on Medium accusing a man in the Brooklyn literary scene of raping her repeatedly. Writers on social media quickly outed the man in the story as Pop Serial editor Stephen Tully Dierks. In response, as Allie Jones reports on Gawker, Dierks seemed to confirm Katz's allegation in a Facebook post, citing "very poor judgment" and claiming that he "would never intentionally have nonconsensual sex with someone." At the end of the post, Dierks claims he has "taken in the toxicity of our society's patriarchal structure," and that he plans "to cease running my magazine, cease pursuing a public writing career, and reflect deeply on how I let this horrible thing happen."
And of course it's been one week since litblogger Edward Champion's public Twitter meltdown. In a fight that was apparently triggered over a deleted Facebook comment, Champion threatened to publish private information about author Porochista Khakpour unless she apologized for her imagined transgressions. (This came about three months after Champion published an unhinged 11,000-word post about author Emily Gould and then, when confronted with criticism on social media, publicly threatened suicide.) Champion's Twitter account was suspended and in the week since his threats against Khakpour, other authors have stepped forward to accuse Champion of a long history of multiple instances of bullying, misogyny, and threats of violence.
I haven't had any interactions with the other two men, but I met Champion once at Book Expo America and I've interacted with him over Twitter and e-mail a handful of times. He's always been pleasant to me—once he sent me a long, supportive e-mail when I told him I was feeling depressed about working, however peripherally, in the publishing industry. Champion has been melting down on Twitter for years now, and his outbursts have been so forceful and so over-the-top that I never wanted to get too close; it was clear he was a man who took the whole Twitter outrage cycle a little too personally. After his shameless assault on Emily Gould—this was not literary criticism; it was a personal and embarrassing screed with uncomfortable sexual overtones—I had written him off entirely as a colleague and as a person.
But I didn't publicly stand against Edward Champion, even as nearly everyone in the literary Twittersphere piled on. I stayed out of it. I don't know if my silence was the right response or not. On the one hand, I am all for women standing publicly against their accusers, and I am also all for showing support for those women, to let them know that it is not their fault and that they deserve to tell their stories. But the pile-on with Champion started to feel less about supporting Gould and Khakpour and more about Being Publicly on the Right Side. Twitter is an engine that feeds on outrage, and since Champion has been off Twitter, he's been portrayed as the Wicked Witch of the West, rather than a clearly sick man stuck in a feedback loop of publicity and shame. I'm not excusing Champion—again, I want nothing to do with him—but I am also not excusing those shameless social media ambulance-chasers who get a little endorphin rush out of tilting at the monster of the week.
Maybe part of the problem is that social media, with its liking and favoriting and retweeting, is too ridiculous a medium for these kinds of discussions. But that can't be right, because these discussions should honestly be happening everywhere. People need to know that this kind of behavior is never acceptable, and the best way that people learn is through stories: Stories of normal people doing evil things, stories of heroes not accepting silent victimhood, stories of damaged people who take their sicknesses out on the world, stories of brave people who take action when they see other people being hurt.
The publishing industry clearly has a pro-masculine bias. It's nothing so intentionally malevolent as an "old boy's network," but it's plainly regressive because the publishing industry favors white male voices and diminishes the voices of women and people of color. It's just true, and that needs to stop. Everyone involved with the industry—reviewers, publishers, editors, writers—need to be more vigilant about representation, about the message that their contributor pages and convention panels and spring lists are sending to the world. There is a direct correlation between the institutional lionization of young men and the institutional exploitation of young women.
We need to support and to protect vulnerable young writers. Older men in power have been preying on impressionable younger men and women for decades; the literature professor who sleeps with a nubile young writing student is one of the hoariest literary cliches of the 20th century and men continue to act out the same scenario over and over again in the 21st century. Male critics are allowed to publish deeply personal assaults on female novelists. This is a story as old as humanity, and we have an opportunity to change the script, to make it easier for the next generation of young writers to be respected (and praised and, yes, loathed) on the basis of their work. And while supporting the victims of terrible men on social media, letting them know that we believe them, and that it's not their fault, is an important part of the process, it's also very important to remember that this work happens every second of every day, in every choice we make as members of the literary community—as writers, as readers, as reviewers, as book lovers, and as human beings.