by Rose George
Thursday, 18
August 2022
Response
15:49

If Joanne Harris won’t defend women, I won’t support her

The Society of Authors is neglecting fundamental duties
by Rose George
“This is cowardice, when the abuse is individual and the price paid by women is individual”

I am a coward. I travel to faraway places alone, I have been to war and down sewers and into dangerous places. But I am a coward because I do not have the guts of Kathleen Stock, or JK Rowling or Rachel Rooney or any other of the creative and clever women who have been hounded out of jobs or given regular death threats because they have dared to say in public what should be banal.

I have not spoken at meetings while people have pelted rocks at the windows trying to drown out women simply trying to have a debate. I wish I had the guts and I hope that one day I will find my stern stuff (I’m still smarting over a Twitter troll who said I had a paunch), because this modern assault on women’s rights, and the capture of countless institutions — including far too many schools — by Stonewall gender ideology is unprecedented and appalling.

I have one thing in common with these fabulous, free-speaking women. We are authors. Our books range from non-fiction to essays to history to philosophy to children’s literature. And authors have another thing in common: they often belong to the Society of Authors, a membership association — a polite version of a union — that exists to represent anyone who writes books. I have been a member for years. I pay £120 or so a year to access the helpful website, to read The Author, the in-house magazine, to ask for help and advice when I need it.

I have paid willingly and thought it good value. So yesterday I wrote an email to the membership team that I hesitated over. My email was about Joanne Harris, chair of the members’ committee at SOA, the body that oversees SOA decision-making. Last week, Harris — whom I have met at one of the book festivals that make me both love authors and think them bloody weird — tweeted a poll. It was, we suppose, in response to JK Rowling’s tweet of her latest death threat, in turn a response to Rowling’s expressing her dismay over the stabbing of Sir Salman Rushdie.

Yes. A woman expressing concern over the vicious attempted murder of a fellow author gets threatened with death for doing so. Harris’ response to this? A Twitter poll asking authors if they had received a death threat, with the responses “yes”, “hell, yes”, “no, never” and “show me, dammit”. It was crass and cruel and she quickly deleted it.

But it was no surprise from Harris, whose loud refusal to express support for Rowling and other hounded authors has been consistent. So has the silence of the Society of Authors, which has not publicly defended free speech in the case of Kathleen Stock (bullied out of her job); Rachel Rooney (who quit children’s publishing because of abuse); Julie Bindel (who has been abused for over a decade) or JK Rowling (death and rape threats too frequent to mention).

An open letter published yesterday acknowledged a Society of Authors statement on 15 August, but it was “too little, too late”. Harris role as chair, the letter said, is untenable. I agree: so my email asked for the Society to make a strong statement defending the female authors who are being targeted for their free speech. I sent my email before I noticed the SoA statement but I want more than “we do not get involved in individual debates or in disputes between authors”.

This is cowardice, when the abuse is individual and the price paid by women is individual. So my email stands. Unless the Society better defends the freedom of women to speak, to debate, to write, and unless it investigates the behaviour of its chair, I don’t want to be a member anymore. It’s a small thing, I know. But small things make big ones.

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Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
1 month ago

I stand with the adult human female writers who stand for free speech. Expelliarmus wokeus twaddlus!

Charles Lewis
Charles Lewis
1 month ago

expellamus wokeum twaddlum…?

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago

Very nice article. Thanks.

Melissa Martin
Melissa Martin
1 month ago

Joanne Harris needs to get a grip. Salieri is not a good look on a woman in her fifties.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 month ago
Reply to  Melissa Martin

Joanne Harris needs to be cancelled. Woke fascists need a taste of their own medicine.

Marianne Vigreux
Marianne Vigreux
1 month ago
Reply to  Melissa Martin

the second part of your comment was unnecessary

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

Ok Rose – time to be brave.

Start a new writers organisation, one that supports writers and doesn’t suppress writers in accordance with fashion or the latest ideological beliefs.

The LGB Alliance and Sex Matters did it. You can too.

Paula NIXON
Paula NIXON
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Surely a woman ( adult human female) has the right to free speech especially in the face of so much absurd misogyny in society that is so damaging to the few rights we biological women have gained through great sacrifice and hard work.

David Pogge
David Pogge
1 month ago

Your essay is wonderful, but why keep referring only to ‘women authors’? Everyone is being intimidated by the demand that we say things that we do not believe and denounce things that we know to be true. This is a problem for all thinking people who believe in the virtue and value of free thought, free speech, and civilized disagreement.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
1 month ago

Suggest you join the Free Speech Union, Rose. And cancel your membership of the Society of Authors.

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
1 month ago

Well said. But the SOA should defend free speech for *all* authors including men.

Richard Barrett
Richard Barrett
1 month ago

Joanne Harris is obnoxious, but calls to remove her will only seem like cancel culture, which should be avoided.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
1 month ago

To fight against ‘cancel cuture” WILL require some cancellations to be made,

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 month ago

We absolutely should cancel the woke.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

If you don’t use your enemy’s weapons against them you won’t last very long.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago

I understand the position is unpaid. Furthermore, if she is deemed unfit for that position she is replaced rather than cancelled.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
1 month ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Exactly. It’s not about her beliefs. It’s about her performance in her role.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 month ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

Actually it’s entirely about her beliefs, because it all stems from her bizarre belief that her son is a girl.

Judy Englander
Judy Englander
1 month ago

I beg to differ. She could both hold her beliefs about gender and perform her role neutrally, for the benefit of all her members.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 month ago
Reply to  Judy Englander

She could indeed, but she clearly won’t, presumably under pressure from him/her/it.

Lizzie J
Lizzie J
1 month ago

Her child is now named Fred. It would appear that it is Fred who believes he/she/they is a boy (I don’t know the ‘preferred pronouns’ in this case). We can never know what Joanne Harris really believes, only what she says she believes.

Christine Hankinson
Christine Hankinson
1 month ago
Reply to  Lizzie J

Yes a trans man, she wouldn’t misgender her daughter, & I think he is in his twenties not a child.
With even the best will in the world this is an example of the utter confusion (it is reported in press he is trans girl, that is natal boy) and why open debate is being called for! For everyones sake. It needs generous, sensible, sensitive leadership which Joanne Harris is clearly not offering.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 month ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Cancel the woke harpy anyway.

James Graham
James Graham
1 month ago

Excuse me! Being fired for performance is not the same as being fired for beliefs, holding or expressing them. Don’t equate them. Joanna Harris is going to get the axe because she utterly failed to defend certain members of SoA, based on their beliefs. (She’ll resist departing her unpaid position, her only claim to media glory.) Cleaning house is not canceling the dust.

Jane Awdry
Jane Awdry
1 month ago

Maybe all authors should cancel their membership & found a Society that has a serious interest in representing & championing all authors no matter what they write.
Have we learned nothing since the fiasco of Lady Chatterley’s Lover?

Marianne Vigreux
Marianne Vigreux
1 month ago

Thankyou: good to have the courage of our convictions and stand our ground!

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
1 month ago

I’m confused. The author declares that she is a coward, then goes on to declaim cowardice displayed by others. So she wrote an email, and then wrote this piece to tell us she wrote it. Take a bow, I guess?

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 month ago

You’ve never heard of rhetoric, clearly.