This issue of PEN Transmissions has been a long time coming. It takes its name from the #MujeresJuntasMarabunta movement in Mexico, a group of women working in publishing who, in the wake of #metoo, are pushing for specific changes, from harassment-free spaces to workplace protocols against sexual and emotional violence and equal representation and pay.
In the UK, a 2017 Bookseller survey found that over half of the respondents had experienced harassment. A code of conduct for the book industry, as promised by trade bodies, was slow to materialise and finally published in December 2018.
Over the past few years, I’ve had many, many conversations with women who experienced harassment in the workplace: there was the translator who sent harassing emails, or the other translator who wouldn’t stop calling your office number; the men who kiss you against your will at work dinners, the men who ‘take advantage’. And so I am left with questions. Will a code of conduct be enough to support freelancers, who are not protected by HR departments or even a network of office colleagues, and are at the same time dependent on others for employment opportunities? Will a code of conduct published by and for the trade bodies for publishers, agents, booksellers and authors be taken on by other organisations working in the literary sphere, such as charities or events spaces? Is a code of conduct enough? Who enforces it?
I don’t have any answers, but I do have regrets. There is always more to be done, there are always missed opportunities. At last year’s conference of the American Literary Translator’s Association, Corine Tachtiris and Susan Bernofsky organised and moderated a panel entitled Us Too: Sexism and Sexual Harassment in the Translation Profession. There is enormous value in building solidarity and community in a public space, especially for freelancers.
As I was working on this issue, I realised that what all the pieces had in common was not only #metoo: all the writers featured are part of a community that aims to amplify the voices of those not heard by wider society. They call out power structures, whether they be sexist, racist, imperialist or – all of those things. Nina Leger, Yandani Mlilo and Gabriela Jauregui discuss how writers, filmmakers and other artists have responded to #metoo in France, Zimbabwe and Mexico: by building community, giving voice to victims, and challenging traditional gender roles.
In this month’s interview, Meena Kandasamy, feminist activist and author of When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife, points out how translation can be a means of challenging Western notions of feminism, assumptions that ‘all of us [Indian women] are in need of rescuing’. Her recent work on Desires Become Demons, a chapbook showcasing poetry and essays by four Tamil writers, showcases voices – and feminisms – that are ‘not amplified or picked up easily within the Anglophone discourse’.
I hope you find this issue of PEN Transmissions thought-provoking.
– Theodora Danek, editor