After Sexual Harassment Suit, the Publishing Industry Reacts
Monday, June 21, 2010
David Davidar's resignation from his post as Penguin Canada's CEO two weeks ago has kicked off a conversation among women in the publishing industry about their own stories about sexual harassment in the office.
An anonymous post on the blog "In the Midst of Life We Are in Debt, Etc." was picked up on Twitter and on publishing blogs. The post, entitled "What it Feels Like For a Girl" tells the story of one young woman's career at an unnamed publishing company and the intense work and casual socializing that led to inappropriate interactions with her male boss.
The anonymous writer explained:
The atmosphere at the office was very casual. We were encouraged to view each other more as friends than co-workers. We laughed, we talked, we all went out drinking together. As friends, we were expected to talk about our relationships. So many many meetings disintegrated into conversations about whom we were dating. Those conversations often led to discussions of our sex lives, sometimes in graphic detail; the exact sort of conversations you'd have with your friends. We were young, we were among "friends," and we thought nothing of it. I'd often joke about "Boss's harem," though I was more right than I thought I was.
Her boss propositioned her after work and made crude comments after nights of drinking or smoking weed, but the writer explained that she laughed it all off. It was all part of the office atmosphere, at least according to her boss. She said that now, looking back on it, she's embarrassed at how she responded to his remarks:
I flirted back when he'd flirt, and I'm ashamed. But I blame him. I blame the way he manipulated us into thinking it was all part of the job, the "culture" of the office. We were often told to "entertain" people at our parties, like we were geisha. Dress sexy, be the first ones on the dance floor, get drinks. Looking back, I feel like we were supposed to represent not the brains and talent of our office, but the tits and ass. Lucky for him, we were a smart, hard-working bunch of people, and we managed to make that place work.
This anonymous post was circulated widely on twitter and received a number of comments from women who had similar stories to tell, including one anonymous commenter who said, "I worked at a major publishing house in Canada too and the atmosphere was very much as you describe it - the numerous incredibly drunken social events (aka book launches) which inevitably ended with girls from the office (or their friends) making out or sleeping with the male authors. It was all part of the culture, and at most, people simply laughed it off. Just reeks of professionalism, doesn't it?"
The post also led to an article by Stacy May Fowles, the publisher of Shameless, a feminist magazine aimed at teenage girls. According to Fowles, who has worked in both magazine and book publishing, the general culture in publishing-that of long hours, heavy drinking at social events, intense relationships with coworkers, and males who make up a minority of employees but a majority of executive positions-leads often to this kind of relationship between coworkers. Fowles wrote, "Publishing is so often a glory sport, a place that encourages (demands?) aggressive ego and entitlement, and I’ve had my parts grabbed and discussed at enough magazine and book parties to know that somewhere along the line it became okay, even encouraged, to cross the line."