More than two years ago, I wrote a post in which I called out the Romance community for the shaming, silencing, and doxxing of readers who were critical of authors, as well as the seeming unwillingness of the larger community to come together in solidarity.
I ended that post (which, ironically, drew possibly the largest number of comments ever for a DA post, more than 800) with the following admonition:
And we can do better than that. We need to do better than that, not just to protect the integrity of the books and the book-talk, but to protect ourselves as women from even more vulnerability than we already face. Because, in the end, what this is really about is not reviews or criticism or Goodreads message boards, but threatening, punishing, and silencing women. And it’s not okay; it’s never okay.
And two years later, targeting women, shutting down our voices, making us afraid of speaking out about issues of both professional and public concern, is still not okay. But this time something is different. This time, something has catalyzed a powerful, almost instantaneous show of support for the principle of honest, open, and legitimate speech. Even if it’s to articulate a fear of being silenced, people are speaking out. Women and men, both inside and outside the Romance community, are refusing to sit down, shut up, and be afraid.
Oh, yes, I know there are some who can’t or won’t join this growing chorus of voices. There are authors and bloggers who are legitimately afraid, and their silence is unfortunate but understandable. Fortunately, other voices are filling in those silences, lending support where they can. There are others who may be snickering behind their hand, and who may think we do not notice. Perhaps they do not understand how much their own interests are being betrayed and imperiled when legitimate, lawful speech is chilled.
But so many have come forward in solidarity and sympathy and generosity. So many comprehend that this is not about personalities or petty grudges or paying someone back for less than glowing reviews. It’s not about any particular blog or blogger. This is about supporting each other, reinforcing the value of open dialogue, and making sure that readers and bloggers and authors who don’t feel they can stand up to an attempt at forced silence – no matter how unwarranted – aren’t isolated and ignored.
I see this as a defining moment for all of our mutually engaged book communities, just as I saw the situation two years ago as a defining moment. Now, as then, any threat to open, honest, legitimate discussion about books is a threat to every reader, because if it happens to one of us, it can happen to any and all of us. Book sales are not motivated by fear and silence among readers and authors. Books, by their very nature, are shared cultural resources; they contribute to our cultural literacy and provide endless opportunities for us to contemplate different realities and alternate points of view. They can help us understand ourselves in new ways and mark important moments in our lives. They can inspire us, challenge us, comfort us, and enrage us. Books we hate can be as significant and meaningful to us as those we love. All of those responses are valid and contribute to the vibrancy of our book-based communities. And the momentum created through all that engagement and exchange helps keep the commercial market robust and dynamic, as well.
For all of you who have showed support for Dear Author – thank you. For all of you who have stood behind someone who is afraid to speak up – thank you. For all of you who have put circumstantial antagonisms and minor offenses aside for the greater good – thank you. For all of you who are trying to protect online anonymity and pseudonymity– thank you. For all of you who are standing on a piece of online space and trying to keep it open to divergent, even dissenting opinions – thank you. Each of us is fighting for all of us, and it’s both heartening and humbling to see how many of you have rallied around Jane and Dear Author.
Whatever comes of this, I hope we do not lose the momentum of this moment, the solidarity of a shared commitment to fight against the chilling effects of unjust threats. The power of this commitment should not be underestimated, and every single contributing voice adds a significant show of strength to the whole. We are doing something important here, showing how, as women, we will not be silenced; we will not be made to fear the value and validity of our own voices. It’s a long-term project, for sure, but I think we’ve made progress over the past couple of years, and hopefully we can keep it moving.
In the spirit of open, honest, and ethical exchange, if you have anything you want to share, please do. If you want to recommend a book or an author, please do.