The Society of Authors is neglecting fundamental duties
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.