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Children’s Publishing Reckons with Sexual Harassment in Its Ranks

20 February 2018

From School Library Journal:

A writer was making small talk during the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ (SCBWI) annual conference when she says the man she was chatting with, a successful children’s book illustrator, reached over and touched her hair.

“He fondled a lock of my hair and leaned in to my ear and said, ‘You’re kinky, aren’t you?’” says the writer, who asked not to be identified. (See updated story: “Ishta Mercurio Goes Public as David Díaz Accuser.”)

The exchange, which happened in 2012 at SCBWI’s winter conference in New York and was witnessed by one of the writer’s friends, left the woman feeling “horrified” and “disgusted.” The illustrator, David Díaz, was a member of SCBWI’s board and a faculty member at the conference. Still, the writer, who at that point in her career was an unpublished aspiring children’s book author, did not complain about the incident at the time. However, in December 2017,  Díaz resigned from his position on the SCBWI’s board, after sexual harassment complaints emerged about his past.

. . . .

In an investigation by Publisher’s Weekly (PW) this fall, numerous women reported troubling incidents of sexual harassment over the course of their publishing careers, ranging from degrading remarks to groping and physical attacks. Two recent resignations this winter have shined a light on the problem within the more close-knit world of children’s publishing.

. . . .

At the beginning of December, Giuseppe Castellano, executive art director of Penguin Workshop, Penguin Random House’s imprint for children’s books, resigned due to allegations made against him by actress Charlyne Yi. In a series of messages posted on Twitter on Nov. 14, Yi claims that after a work meeting at a bar earlier that month to discuss a potential book project, Castellano walked Yi back to her hotel and repeatedly pushed Yi to invite him to her room as she repeatedly refused. Yi says the interaction was unnerving because Castellano had gone on at length during their meeting about the many “creeps” in children’s publishing who abuse their power to sexually harass and assault women. He also, according to Yi, told her his wife would be OK with him having an affair.

Castellano denied Yi’s claims outright, calling her story “fabricated” in a statement published on his blog shortly after his resignation. His meeting with Yi was social, not professional, he claimed, and he never pressured Yi to allow him up to her room. He resigned, Castellano says, because Yi’s public claim against him made it untenable for him to continue in his job. In response to his statement, Yi released copies of emails exchanged between them in which Castellano suggested they meet for drinks to discuss her book ideas and later apologized, saying he was “sick” about how he acted during the meeting. Penguin Random House had also previously disclosed that the company was investigating the matter.

The details of Yi’s and Castellano’s interaction—outside of the office, at a bar, while the actress was traveling and staying at a hotel—highlight aspects and dynamics of the way informal socializing is embedded into the publishing world, sometimes creating scenarios that leave people vulnerable to sexual harassment. Networking is considered a crucial part of making it as an author or illustrator or rising in a publishing house, and many women told PW that they had experienced sexual harassment during off-site social situations, such as book parties, readings, and conferences.

Link to the rest at School Library Journal

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8 Comments to “Children’s Publishing Reckons with Sexual Harassment in Its Ranks”

  1. “Castellano denied Yi’s claims outright, calling her story “fabricated” in a statement published on his blog shortly after his resignation.”

    Strange how he didn’t try to deny it ‘before’ resigning …

    Business as usual – until it’s not allowed to be usual anymore. They get caught not keeping up with the times.

    Though the times do have to be considered, as had my parents been born 60 years later, my then twenty-five year old father would have gotten in trouble for trying to date – much less wed my at the time under eighteen year old mother. Instead, the young G.I. spent long hours driving 400 miles (no interstates yet) to be with her a few hours (spending the night on his mother-in-law-to-be’s sofa) before having to drive back.

  2. This was a lot more rational and self-service when I grew up.

    1) Wolf whistle from construction workers: Courtesy, or maybe sashay for a few paces — your choice. (It is, after all, a compliment.)

    2) Pat on the arm: Eyebrow lift or nothing.

    3) Pinch on the ass: Pivot and slap.

    4) Copping a feel: Slug, preferably in the belly.

    5) Frottage on the subway: Stamp on the foot, preferably with a high heel, followed by (4) and a good deal of loudly expressed disgust.

    (3) was always very satisfying, since they amazingly never expected it and were always demoralized by the loud slap which made people look at them and laugh.

    The withering look was also an art form, along the lines of “what worm of a man would take such a liberty”.

    • You and I are of an earlier age…

      #5 is especially effective, although I really think it should be applied at Stage 3.

      I carried for many years a “dent” in my right foot. Those things should be classified as assault weapons.

      (Not for cause – my mother stumbled over the dang cat. Who did not pay the price other than a wounded ego.)

      • The older counter for (5) was a hatpin but, alas, fashion has now supplied high heels instead of hats.

        “Mashers” have always been a thing, and this is not rocket science.

    • You left out 6), the withering put-down. But good list.

  3. When I was 13 I spent a few days by myself in Italy. I looked like I was 16.

    It was an education.

    Any girl who didn’t know how to deal with this stuff directly from 14-30 should’ve turned in her “girl” card.

    You only start to worry if it looks like you’re cornered or outnumbered or outgunned.

    This is not to deprecate the men who want to protect women from this sort of thing, but they’re not always around. And sometimes the defensive force they volunteer is overkill for the situation (though it is always nice to see someone flattened for (3) thru (5)).

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