Pretty much anyone reading this column has likely been shocked and disgusted by the slew of revelations of sexual harassment and abuse by high-profile men over recent months. The women reading this column will not have been entirely surprised. (For the men reading: there is likely a natural fear around this discussion, but I hope you will read on. It has been as difficult for me to write as it may be for you to read.) Yet the response so far from publishing has been a resounding silence – can we pat ourselves on the back and assume that our enlightened, majority-women industry doesn’t have a problem?


Not so fast – for many women in publishing, these stories of harassment and discrimination are sadly and painfully familiar. My first encounter was just 5-6 months into my first job as a publicity assistant at Blackwell when I started receiving sexually explicit, middle-of-the-night phone calls from an Oxford don whose book I was promoting. I felt terrified, and guilty – what had I done to encourage this? It took me a number of weeks to find the courage to share this with the appropriate editor (who, to his credit, dealt with it swiftly and definitively). And then there was the colleague who took to emailing me regularly with questions about my underwear. And the author who groped me in the elevator. And the colleague with whom I always found myself doing up an extra button as his gaze was fixed permanently some inches below my face.

Over the past 30 years I’ve learned to navigate this terrain pretty effectively. That’s partly because I’ve learned what to avoid – for example, as an acquisitions editor I knew which authors were “safe” to meet for drinks or dinner, and which were better managed in daylight with people around (calculations I’m sure never entered the heads of my male colleagues). But it’s also true that as my role has become more senior and prominent, I’m less vulnerable than I was early in my career. This is, after all, all about power.

The point of sharing this is not to suggest that I’ve been especially unlucky, but rather to illustrate the run-of-the-mill kind of harassment that so many women experience as part of their professional lives. Whatever we may want to think, the data shows that women experience harassing behaviors at surprisingly high rates (these include everything from staring or leering and suggestive comments to unwanted touching). Data from the Youth Development Study (the largest survey of these issues undertaken to date) suggests that by age 31, 46% of women have experienced harassment of some kind. Not only that, but most experienced multiple incidents over a 12-month period. So how prevalent are these behaviors in scholarly publishing? The honest answer is that we don’t know because we don’t have the data, but based on my informal poll of women friends in the industry, I’m fairly sure that the answer is also a lot more than any of us would like to think.

“This is not a fight between men and women. It’s a fight over whether a small subgroup of predatory men should be allowed to interfere with people’s ability to show up and do what they signed up for: work.”

And while my focus here is on sexual harassment, we need to recognize that this is a continuum of behaviors from gender bias through the legally actionable harassment. Research shows that more extreme behaviors are more common in organizations that tolerate bad behavior and more insidious forms of implicit gender bias. This is particularly true as women begin to climb the ranks into management and leadership roles and run into conscious and unconscious associations about women, men and leadership. Still not convinced this is our problem? Just recently, I learned about a highly qualified woman who lost a leadership role to a less qualified man because she seemed “over prepared” and “too polished”, and those hiring didn’t believe this could be authentic. Remind you of anyone else recently?

That said, we have come a long way since the days of Anita Hill being vilified as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty,” to a point where the women who spoke out were recognized as Time magazine’s people of the year in 2017. The #MeToo moment is changing how we’re talking about sexual harassment but we need a concentrated effort to get to a point where this behavior becomes far less commonplace and there is no fear or shame in speaking up. So, what can and should we be doing, collectively and individually? The Harvard Business Review has recently published an excellent collection for those who want to dig deeper, but here are some thoughts.

Responsibilities for organizations and leaders

As a starting point, all of us in leadership roles need to be very clear about which behaviors will not be tolerated in our organizations. Of course, words alone are not enough and so we need to have appropriate training and strong, comprehensive policies in place. Now is a good time to review your anti-harassment policy and ensure that it meets basic requirements (and if you don’t have one, create one). Make sure that you have simple, impartial and accessible complaint procedures – the majority of incidents still go unreported and a significant reason for that is onerous or opaque reporting requirements.

We must also to be ready to act swiftly when needed. Individuals who engage in harassment should be disciplined appropriately and proportionately but so should managers who respond inadequately or overlook these behaviors. As we develop and assess our middle managers, let’s make sure that establishing a respectful team culture and dealing with complaints is a core part of that evaluation.

We also have a responsibility to pay particular attention to our most vulnerable employees. Those likely include our younger staff – especially those who interact significantly with authors, editors and vendors (studies show that most harassment doesn’t come from a boss, but from coworkers, customers and clients). Scholarly publishing is closely intertwined with academia, and there’s ample evidence (here and here) of the pervasiveness of sexual harassment across fields. Many junior and mid-level publishing roles work closely with academics and scientists, and building close relationships is an important success factor. Those are open to abuse and far less easy to report given the power dynamic at play. We need to ensure that our employees know that we will be behind them, no matter who the perpetrator is. And most importantly, we need to prepare them to navigate these issues – looking back on the first decade of my career I sorely wish that I’d received some guidance rather than forging my own path and learning from my mistakes.

My focus here is on harassment of women and while it is less common, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that some 17% of sexual harassment complaints filed with the EOCC in 2016 were from men. Occasionally the harassers are women but more typically they are other men, underlining the need for organizational policies and actions to be gender-fair.

Last but not least, I doubt that anyone in our industry sees harassment settlements as simply a cost of doing business and yet I’ve seen this happen more than once at organizations in which I’ve worked. For too long, we have chosen to pay off victims rather than deal with the perpetrators and that has to end. The choice to tolerate an abuser sends a visible, damaging message especially to young women building a career.

Empowerment for employees

While your managers and leaders have a very particular set of responsibilities, you too have a role to play in ending harassment. You can support co-workers who are targets and report unacceptable behavior, even if it’s not directed at you personally. And you can help to keep your managers and leaders accountable – if your organization doesn’t have appropriate policies and training in place, ask for them. Should you find yourself in the situation of being harassed, document what has happened and find a way to report it. If you’re uncomfortable with your organization’s policy or with talking to your manager or HR, talk to someone you trust. Above all, don’t let them get away with it.

Direct action for men

This is an uncomfortable time for many men. While the majority of men are equally upset by this behavior, the reality is that for the most part, harassment is committed by men towards women. Men who harass in this way are typically emboldened by power and know that their behavior is wrong. As Trump said in the infamous Access Hollywood tape “They let you do it!” – in other words, look what I can get away with. And unfortunately, too many men have been complicit – as Billy Bush was with Trump – or remained silent. As Ed Yong acknowledges in his recent piece for The Atlantic, it’s time to move beyond mere support:

“I knew that I care about equality, so I deluded myself into thinking that I wasn’t part of the problem. I assumed my passive concern would be enough. Passive concern never is.”

So how can men be allies in addressing this problem in the workplace? There have been a number of thoughtful pieces abut how men can respond (such as here and here), but perhaps the most important thing that men can do is to break the “guy code” and speak out. Assuming that many men stay silent not because they think harassment is okay but because they’re not sure how to act, here are a few ideas:

  • Recognize that this is not only a women’s problem. Hopefully that’s obvious, but understand that we all make choices about what to attend to and prioritize (within SSP too, when sessions on gender and diversity attract barely a handful of men in the audience).
  • When you witness any kind of harassing behavior – or even just a sexist comment – don’t just look the other way or hope that someone else will deal with it. Call it out. Think about how you can challenge other men and not simply “rescue” women. And how you can develop allies with other men who are willing to speak out.
  • Watch Tony Porter’s TED talk to understand the ways in which men have been socialized to view women. Examine your own implicit biases and how they may impact your worldview.
  • Accept discomfort and keep listening. Conversations about discrimination and harassment won’t always feel good, but they are absolutely essential if we are to make lasting change.
  • Promote and hire women – diverse workplaces where women occupy leadership positions are less at risk for this kind of behavior.
  • Create space for and amplify women’s voices at work – sit back in meetings and let a woman ask the first question. If a woman is being ignored or interrupted, speak up to support her and create space.

As Joan Williams and Suzanne Lebsock note in their introduction to the recent HBR collection:

“This is not a fight between men and women. It’s a fight over whether a small subgroup of predatory men should be allowed to interfere with people’s ability to show up and do what they signed up for: work.”

Like many, my hope it is that this is not just a moment but an actual tipping point that leads to lasting change. Scholarly communication, like every other industry, needs to name and own its problem in order to walk forward together to ensure that the world is better for the next generation of women.

(Thanks to a handful of friends and fellow Chefs for feedback on navigating a topic that is critically important and deeply personal.)

Alison Mudditt

Alison Mudditt

Alison Mudditt joined PLOS as CEO in 2017, having previously served as Director of the University of California Press and Executive Vice President at SAGE Publications. Her 30 years in publishing also include leadership positions at Blackwell and Taylor & Francis. Alison also serves on the Board of Directors of SSP and the Center for Open Science.


48 Thoughts on "Breaking the Silence: the #MeToo Moment in Scholarly Communication"

This is a brave and important column. In recent conversations with female editors, I’ve been shocked to learn about the harassment they experience from male authors.

I had always suspected it was no coincidence that the increase in volume of criticism of so-called ‘professional editors’ correlated with the increase in number of (usually young) female editors and that sexism rather than any fair judgment of their abilities lay at the root of this – it was noteworthy that these attacks always came from men, who often claimed that it was different in the old days (when of course their rejection letters came from men not women).

More recently, talking with various colleagues has revealed that some authors’ attitudes immediately change when they realize an editor is a woman (we probably all remember the widely circulated case of the author who demanded their paper be handled by a male author). Verbal abuse and bullying is common, but I was shocked to hear the tone and sexualized dimension this can take. Then of course there is the stalking of women at conferences and the implication that things may be gained in returned for favors. This of course is something academic women and editors both experience.

It behooves men in both in publishing and academia to do as Alison says and call it out not look the other way.

Thank you for a timely, honest, powerful, and necessary post, Allison.

An incredibly well-written, important, and poignant post, Alison! Thank you for being brave and writing this.

I really appreciate you sharing this, Alison. Thank you for continuing to spread the message that abuse of power and harassment of anyone is not OK.

Thank you, Alison, for speaking up and sharing these thoughts. As someone I have admired as a leader and mentor through several of my years in publishing, your clarity and bravery is once again an inspiration. I shiver as I read your post, knowing the work it took to unpack and shed light on the uncomfortable memories and realities so many of us work hard to keep in the shadows. And I so appreciate your actionable suggestions for how we can all work together to avoid the pain and fear that comes from gender inequity in our industry. Thank you!

Thank you for authoring such a timely and necessary post on what the #metoo movement affords our community as a springboard for honest and brave discussions.

As the accounts from the entertainment industry began to break last fall, there was a provocative and powerful piece in The Atlantic written by Brit Marling that I frequently reflect on and include here as recommended reading for anyone who missed her article:

Thank you for taking this on and for your candor and astute observations!

Thank you, Allison for giving a voice to our colleagues who are experiencing sexual harassment and bullying on a daily basis. Thank you for inviting men to the table as allies against insidious workplace behavior. Thank you for drawing a line in the sand for us that says “It’s over! We are not gonna take it anymore!”

Thank you so much for this really powerful and important piece, Alison. I especially appreciate that you’ve included practical recommendations – for everyone. As you say, we all need to take responsibility for eliminating sexual (and other) harassment and abuse in scholarly communications; your suggestions are a great start, and I will be sharing them widely.

Alison, Thank you for a powerful and practical piece on a pervasive problem. Frankly, from what I’ve seen over the years, part of the problem is the negative behaviors are often excused if the perpetrators are otherwise of great value to the company or if exposure would make the company vulnerable. Change will only happen if our leaders adopt a view that biased and/or abusive behavior always throws the “value equation” out of balance.

One of your points gets to another root of the problem, “And while my focus here is on sexual harassment, we need to recognize that this is a continuum of behaviors from gender bias through the legally actionable harassment. Research shows that more extreme behaviors are more common in organizations that tolerate bad behavior and more insidious forms of implicit gender bias.” That’s what the Workplace Equity Project project is addressing in the survey now being conducted. I encourage all SK readers to take the survey, and contribute to this grassroots effort to capture global data on current workplace experiences, practices, and opportunities in our industry, which has long been characterized by a majority female workforce, male-dominated leadership, and a striking lack of diversity. Here’s a link to the WE Survey:

Thanks for sharing that Susan. And to your first point about tolerating bad behavior from otherwise high performers, I couldn’t agree more. Reminds me of the famous Netflix Culture Deck ( in which they call out “brilliant jerks” – some organizations tolerate them, but for Netflix the cost to the organization is too high. Would that we get to a point when this view is widely shared, and acted upon.

Alison, Thanks for sharing the Netflix slide deck — where do I apply?!?! Our industry is full of leaders at all levels who want to do the right thing, and the time is upon us to figure out how. With people like you and Vicky Williams at the helms, I am confident we will.

Great post, Alison. I’ve been thinking about it all morning. I am sorry you had those experiences and I am grateful that you shared them with us.

I would add societies must have policies around harassment of staff by members. This can be a political fireball when an important member or big donor treats staff poorly. Societies need to have a transparent process for staff to report abuses and for investigation and remediation.

While I have not had anyone on my team tell me about sexual harassment, there have certainly been times when I have had to tell members that they cannot be abusive to staff. I can easily see where these feelings of entitlement and superiority could go in another direction. Societies have a responsibility to protect staff from these abuses.

Thanks for adding that point, Angela. I too have seen this dynamic at play in situations with donors and in the same way as a bestselling author may have some degree of protection, this is likely to be an added challenge to reporting. I think the answer is for us to acknowledge that this happens and prepare our staff on how to deal with it (both in the moment, and in terms of reporting).

An important post and great recommendations.
The advice to men on how to be allies got me thinking. Particularly on amplifying womens voices.

Too often, it’s women in senior positions who may (I’m sure subconsciously) dampen the voices of more junior female staff in meetings by choosing to agree with or amplify male voices. I’ve seen this on numerous occasions and I think the quote from Joan Williams and Suzanne Lebsock really nails it.

Thanks for doing this.

Thanks, Bernie – I think you raise an important point. Even when it comes to true sexual harassment, women don’t always have each other’s backs. I’ve seen some particularly unpleasant examples of this and without naming names, it’s something for us all to be aware of.

Thanks Alison for this great post; for sharing your bad experiences and articulating the problem so clearly as well as providing clear steps towards solutions.

As you say, ‘we need to have appropriate training and strong, comprehensive policies in place. Now is a good time to review your anti-harassment policy’. We are in the middle of reviewing our anti-harassment policies and making sure that they are clear and that everyone in our company is aware of them. Alongside that we are refreshing training courses that go beyond helping women avoid situations that might put them at risk, but also empower women to report and get support in confronting inappropriate behavior which has no place in our industry.

Zero tolerance of harassment means confronting inappropriate behavior head on. It would be really good to have a supportive forum to share progress and learn from our experiences of enforcing change.

Thanks, Karen – that’s great to hear about training in particular. I think that too often our idea of training is limited to fulfilling legal requirements rather than anything more meaningful. And I love the idea of creating a forum to share progress and learn from each other – perhaps something for SSP and ALPSP to take on?

Using SSP and ALPSP to share experiences and learn from each other sounds like a good idea. I and others at SAGE would want to support follow up on this, to participate where we can, and support learning from each other to facilitate progress. An industry wide zero tolerance campaign will be more powerful than each publisher working this out alone.

Absolutely agree about working together, but a note of caution in how we use “zero tolerance”. I am not suggesting for a moment that we tolerate any kind of harassment, but research clearly shows that action is more effective when it is both swift and proportional. This has become a very touchy issue in #MeToo, but I’m hoping that with all of the smart people in our community we can appreciate this.

Loved your post Alison,
Thank you for giving voice to an important topic and for the thorough and inclusive post. A real contribution to our industry.

What about a case where an acquisition editor drank and slept with a so-called high profile person to get a project, and then realised he was not what he said he was? Who‘s #metoo is this then?
Such women actually spoil the case for #metoo. Greed and corruption can come from women too.

That’s corrupt behaviour. Pure and simple. The Editor should have been reported to her company for this as most have anti corruption policies.

It’s nothing to do with #metoo, sexual harrassment or any of the issues in this article.

The tendency for (some) men to conflate separate issues, and turn that specific into a general, to try and let themselves off the hook needs calling out here.

Thank you, Martin – your response is spot on. This is a red herring – it’s simply unethical behavior and has nothing to do with sexual harassment.

Your comment is a little bit like responding to an article on pogroms with, “What about a case where a Jew steals a cow? Such Jews justify the pogroms. Jews can be bad people too.”

That would be one weird comment, as is yours.

What is at the core of the problem is the abuse of power, based on a bias– which can be about gender, ethnicity, age, geography, disability, sexual orientation. Sexual aggressions, bullying, gaslighting, more subtle micro-agressions — they’re just the manifestations. As Alison says above, there’s a continuum of behaviors that define the issue at hand.

I’m also partial to a follow-up hashtag #whohasnt as it’s the scale of the problem has been the most shocking thing. It’s certainly no bandwagon.

After some Crossref staff were ‘cornered’ at one of our own meetings, we instituted a code of conduct ( and now make sure it’s highly visible at all our events. We’re also looking again at our sexual harassment policy and procedures to see if anything needs updating.

I appreciate your list of practical advice for organizations and male colleagues to think about. It’s hard to raise this topic without men feeling like they’re being accused. Recently, at STM Frankfurt, I was discussing #metoo with some senior male executives, specifically around how our staff and organizations are responding. Disappointingly from one was the defensive remark: “Well, we men have no idea what we’re allowed to say anymore”. Yes, we know #notallmen, and we know—and I have witnessed—that some men also experience sexual harassment at work, but there are plenty of resources for everyone to educate themselves (as you and commenters have shared here), plenty of unconscious bias courses (such as this one some colleagues and I are attending in London next week run by The Publishers Association, and plenty of private opportunities to read and listen and reflect and understand. It just takes actual willingness. Thanks for making that call here.

Thank you for the details in this piece, Alison. I want to embellish one point and add another:

1) Years and years ago, I went through Stanford’s mandatory training about harassment. (Academic settings have student/teacher relationships going on that add yet more complexity to this topic.) And I learned something: if a staff member of mine is being harassed by someone in another organization (e.g., a supplier or customer), I have a legal (not to mention ethical) responsibility to act. This was news to me (perhaps it shouldn’t have been). I was fortunate that the one time I had to act on this, the management in the other organization handled it professionally. This sounds somewhat like the cases mentioned with authors.

2. I once had a very strong colleague tell (not complain to) me about harassment she had experienced, but she said “I can handle this; I know the type.” It only later occurred to me that we have to consider others who might not be able to “handle it” and not treat this as a personal thing between two individuals. I honestly don’t know the limit on

John you raise a great point. Many years ago (in tech industry), I was being horribly harassed by my boss. He made my life hell on a daily basis. I was friends with the head of HR and asked her “off the record” for some advice. I could handle it, but I wanted her perspective. I found out the hard way that she had no choice but to report it and deal with it as the VP of HR. In retrospect, I’m glad she did. I wasn’t at the time though. Somehow I felt that his behavior was a poor reflection on me. It’s twisted when you type out or say it, but I really felt that way.

On a happier note – I ended up with his job 🙂

Thank you, Alison. “run-of-the-mill kind of harassment” it is, unfortunately. As others have pointed out, abuse stemming from a sense of superiority of gender and role is not always sexual.

Thank you, Alison. Your posting has given me much food for thought. Since the #metoo movement took off, I’ve been surprised just how long my own mental list of inappropriate work situations stretches despite being in an industry that I generally have felt has been only supportive of women’s careers and leadership, including my own.

I think there are a few factors particular to scholarly publishing that have made addressing harassment difficult. First, as has been raised, is the challenge of dealing with external authors/partners/customers and their misbehavior. I don’t think policies for dealing with behavior of non-employees are generally clear, especially to someone who may be early in career. Likewise, those external players who push those boundaries in my experience know their value to the organization, and I think realize how likely it is that their behavior will be stoically tolerated and gently redirected. Sadly, early in my own career I heard powerful women, sharing war stories, imply that their ability to navigate working with a lech and eventually get him on-side was a sign of their mettle. (Similar to what John Sack mentions above, they could “handle it”.) The model was not to expose and call out the misbehavior. Instead, a woman with career ambition had to somehow be strong enough to silently navigate the situation and remain professional no matter what.

While I have always enjoyed and appreciated being in an industry where women were not the minority, the lack of a literal boys club may make institutional blind spots regarding harassment far less obvious. Even with clear harassment policies, I think women in general and especially those early in career are very hesitant to raise legitimate complaints for fear of having an embarrassing situation amplified, being defined by the incident and decision to report it, and even being blamed if others think the consequences on their harasser are too severe. (“I don’t want to get him fired.”) Within university press publishing at least, I don’t think the situation is necessarily whether women have enough male allies. (I’ve been lucky enough to have had a parade of male allies and supportive male and female managers who not only would not tolerate harassment but were often among the most vocal supporters of policies from equal pay to maternity leave.) I think those who experience harassment often have a real concern about how both women and men will view a staffer who files a complaint, especially management who may see the organization as in some legal jeopardy. I think there is still a very real and very gendered pressure for women to be a “good girl” and shrug it off. I think we in scholarly publishing and communication rarely have trouble talking the talk on issues like sexual harassment, but walking the walk is more complicated. There are some great practical suggestions here and I’d love to hear even more ideas for how organizations and individuals can constructively demonstrate that women don’t have to just “handle it.”

Patricia, thanks so much for your thoughtful response which identifies a couple of key issues. You’re absolutely right about the challenge of harassment from non-employees, especially authors and editors. Unfortunately, big egos rule in science and academia and there has generally not been much of an appetite for dealing with them (see Janet Stemwedel’s recent Twitter stream on what would happen if she named her harasser: I think that institutions are being forced to take this more seriously, but I still think we need to do a better job of preparing our staff to deal with this.

And sadly, I think you’re right about the pressure – real or perceived – to just get on with it, which I think comes back to the issue I raised regarding implicit biases towards women in the workplace. There’s a concern among many women not to fall into the stereotype of being “needy” or “emotional”, and so we stay silent.

As your response and the many others I’ve received here and elsewhere demonstrates, there’s a real need for us to find a space to address these issues, to share ideas and progress and to hold ourselves and our organizations accountable. Not quite sure what that would look like, but welcome any ideas!

Great article Alison. And, a nice round of comments, all very heartfelt. I don’t know if there is any women in the business world who has not be sexually or verbally harassed by a male boss, colleague, customer and vendor.
You mentioned changing your behavior so not to perpetuate one’s bad behavior. Early in my relationship with my husband, he said to me “when you smile and have a good time with people, men take that as a come on”. It seemed to be true, so you tone down your behavior. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to “handle” the situations I have been in, it is still uncomfortable and you would rather not see the person again.
I have been harassed by women bosses as well, they take their power and try to belittle people. I have seen them do it to men and women. I have to say, working at Mosby in the Journal division, women dominate, is where I felt the most empowered and encouraged to learn and grow. Kudos to the female leadership at Mosby.

While not wanting at all to offer any excuses for what is now generally agreed to ber bad behavior, I think it is important to acknowledge how standards and expectations have changed over time and also how attitudes differ culturally. Trump’s brand of locker room humor was once common and accepted as normal. It used to be that professors could date graduate students without any eyebrows being raised. Playboy clubs normalized objectifying women as objects for men’s gaze. The list goes on. Also, people from different countries have different ideas about what is acceptable. Kissing people on the cheek is common in countries like France and Italy. The press director whom I succeeded came from Eastern Europe and was physically demonstrative, hugging and touching people in a way that most Americans would consider crossing the line. So here are two questions: 1) who gets to decide when the once normal and accepted becomes abnormal and not accepted? Are there any bright ;ines here? 2) How do we take account of cultural differences? How do we deal with those differences in practical situations, enforcing our norms without offending others who may not share our norms?

Sandy, I appreciate that you’re trying to identify some of the potential complexity here, but I’d like to push back as I think these kinds of arguments tend to obfuscate what are in fact very clear issues. First, the historical argument. Harassment and other forms of bad behavior were tolerated only because women lacked the voice and power to make change. Next, the cultural one. I don’t think anyone is saying that the French should no longer be allowed to kiss cheeks, but there’s a pretty clear and bright line between that and the behavior outlined in my second paragraph that I don’t think is confusing to anyone. As for who gets to decide, right now it’s women – and it’s about time. Does this potentially lead to an over-correction in the short term? Maybe, but if that’s what it takes to eliminate this behavior then I for one am okay with that.

I accept your points, Alison, though I hope in time that complexity is not just entirely ignored. As to where I stand in general on this issue, may I refer you to an op-ed I wrote for The Daily Princetonian in the wake of the cancellation of the remainder of the season of the men’s swimming team (of which I was once a member) last spring: This is connected with a larger effort we on the board of directors of The Drake Group are making to combat sexual and other violence in collegiate athletics: I am currently drafting a white paper on codes of conduct vs free speech in America’s colleges, a hotly debated issue as you must know from your days at the University of California. This is a highly complex issue, but my position—even though as a longtime member of the publishing community (and once of the AAP’s Freedom to Read Committee) I have a predisposition to favor free speech—argues for exceptions to free speech where language is used to demean, attack, and otherwise disparage other people including especially minorities and women.

Here is an interesting discussion of when it may or may not be appropriate for a college president to hug someone. Context is obviously very important. As noted here, under many circumstances a simple handshake would be the appropriate gesture, but under some circumstances just a handshake and not a hug would actually be inappropriate. People have to learn what gestures under what circumstances make the best sense. It’s like learning a language. We can all make mistakes at times, and I hope we don’t end up in a world where mistakes are not accepted and excused. It’s when patterns develop that cross the line that we should worry about.

Sandy, I would like to respectfully call shenanigans on this argument which I think Alison correctly points out is obfuscating some pretty clear issues.
1) I think there are few communities as passionate about issues around free speech as either scholarly publishers or library communities, even when that means defending vulgar or offensive speech. I think most people engaging with the thread can see the nuance between a powerful person humiliating a person without power and the restriction of speech. No one is denying that certain situations may have complexities. The problem being identified is the community being silent when at times aware of clearly bad behavior. The need is for dialogue and speech by those who have been professionally forced into silence and their allies.
2) I suspect most people in this discussion do not think the behaviors being discussed are analogous to a brief professional-but-unwanted-hug. (Though friendly huggy types like myself as a rule should think first before latching onto colleagues like a spider monkey.)
3) I wish we were a more culturally diverse community where those cultural issues were more coming into play. As they do, we should treat them with the nuance and thoughtfulness both parties deserve. But I’d be floored to find out that that is a major factor in the examples being discussed and shared. And, in any case, given the choice between the person-who-wants-to-touch versus the person-not-wanting-to-be-touched, we must err on the side of human dignity, equality, and allowing us all the agency to have boundaries, especially around our own body.
4) While standards certainly do change over time, even the most old fashioned of us must remember that there has always been the concept of being a gentleman or being a cad. A gentleman treats all women with respect, be they a lady or a flower girl. A gentleman doesn’t grab a lady’s backside, doesn’t email a colleague about their underpants, or kiss and tell, much less engage in locker room talk in the office. I also submit that the book touting the golden rule was actually the first thing we put into moveable type so treating others with kindness and respect isn’t exactly an Obama-era revelation. If the #MeToo movement causes some men to look back at their behavior and realize that their behavior may have hurt others, then we are all the better for it.

Thank you Alison – great posting. I undertook some fantastic Impostor Syndrome training recently ( We talked a lot about courage and the frequent “mediating” behaviour that women adopt (as folks have said above – we’ve learned that “not rocking the boat” is a positive behaviour). When in fact it’s often a lack of courage. It has made me more courageous and proactive in calling out behaviours that I find unacceptable: and doing so professionally, calmly, constructively, assuming unconscious bias rather than a wilful desire to discriminate or harm; not making accusations or threats, simply opening a discussion about how a behaviour comes across to me. It’s taken me 20 years in the workplace to reach this point. By talking about all these issues more openly, and sharing experiences / ideas for best practice, I hope we can equip and empower those at early career stages to reach more actively for equality. Thank you for taking a strong, public, constructive stance!

Thanks for pointing to this, Charlie – that looks like a great development opportunity and speaks to the need raised by others in comments here to think more broadly about “training”. Because most US states have a legal requirement to conduct anti-harassment training on a regular basis, much of this training just checks the box to avoid legal liability. There’s a need to think much more broadly about how to at least be aware of our implicit biases and how to prepare and support our staff in situations they may encounter.

Thank you Alison, this is certainly an eye opener. I have only recently arrived in publishing from the public sector where i believe the problem of harassment/bullying has a much higher profile but still not uncommon. The one area i can identify as being the cornerstone for all employees/managers, is a strong policy document that gives clear explanations to all personnel that harassment/bullying is not acceptable and the possible repercussions of such events.
This allows managers to approach individuals who may be close to ‘crossing the line’ with a legal/ethical document.

Actually, I don’t feel like we’ve come all that far since the days of Anita Hill. Some distance, yes, but I just don’t feel like it’s all that far. I have worked in both a male-dominated profession (IT) and a female-dominated one (librarianship). Even in the latter, which is about 84% female, the heads of the largest research libraries are male about half of the time, in a profession heavily dominated by women. No, it’s not because women don’t want to be directors of research libraries. I have seen men fly through the ranks, while more qualified, more talented women move slowly and painfully along. In both professions, I have held senior management roles, and I have found sexual harassment to be depressingly common. I have been harassed myself, and have had many, many staff who were harassed. I honestly do not know one single woman who has not encountered harassment at work, in both of my professions – and I mean way beyond off-color comments. I mean being repeatedly asked on “dates” after turning the person down multiple times. I mean being grabbed by the breasts in a public space. I mean being told you’d look better on your knees. I mean being stalked and followed home from work. I mean being forcibly kissed by a colleague. I mean being asked if you performed specific sexual acts. And yes, I deal with these sorts of actions swiftly and decisively. But I have to wonder if this will ever end.

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