At the London Chapter of PLG, we’re late to the bandwagon. Many other library groups were quick to either condone or condemn the Joe Murphy/Team Harpy lawsuit. We’ve found it very difficult to publicly articulate a position before now. We have discussed it numerous times as a group in private, and we feel that the issues it raises – about workplace harassment in a gendered profession, freedom of speech, and white, male, privilege – are important, pressing issues that librarians need to tackle. Now that the lawsuit has finally settled, what we’ll take away from this case has become somewhat clearer.
There are three main reasons that we have not posted about this issue previously.
At first, we were reluctant to post a public statement about Team Harpy because it appeared clear to us, non-lawyers that we are, that Team Harpy was indeed guilty of libel. Their actions fit the bill. nina de jesus stated as a fact, rather than an opinion, that Joe Murphy is a “sexual predator.” Lisa Rabey based her assertions off of this statement. Since Team Harpy did not bring forward evidence to this effect, this claim is unsubstantiated. As a group, we waited to see what evidence would emerge, if any, and who would come forward as a witness or as a victim – and held off judgement until then.
Generally, we’re fans of passionate, loud opinions. We are not fans of censorship, but of debate and dialogue. We do not agree with how Joe Murphy used legal action to silence the accusations against him, even if he was legally to do so. In our opinion, Joe Murphy has ruined his own reputation through the Streisand effect. We’re happy to be able to voice our opinions, but do not claim that they are facts – and that’s an important distinction.
There are a number of supporters of Team Harpy who got carried away and forgot that this lawsuit was a libel case. Joe Murphy, as he has pointed out, has never been accused of any crime. It was nina de jesus and Lisa Rabey who were on trial for libel. Team Harpy supporters wrote about supporting victims of sexual harassment and standing up against oppression. Sign us up for such a cause: but supporting Team Harpy is not the same as supporting victims of harassment.
With that said, the London Chapter of PLG is an advocate of progressive librarianship. This includes supporting gender equality and women’s rights. We acknowledge the inequality that exists between genders and that there are many, many reasons that victims of sexual harassment may not come forward. We recognise that divisions of power create an unequal playing field, and that questioning authority is sometimes necessary and right when that authority is itself unjust, as patriarchy is. However, we don’t want to be blind and conflate our issues. It would be a mistake to overgeneralize and claim that a vote of confidence for Team Harpy is a vote of confidence for victims of sexual assault. It isn’t that clear-cut. And, it would be a mistake to believe libel about Joe Murphy simply because he is a white man who sometimes acts like an asshole around women (opinion substantiated by this video). In short, we cannot hold up this specific case as representative of the worthwhile cause of advocating for victim’s rights. This is not the case for that. Broad strokes, in this instance, would make us guilty of an injustice against Joe Murphy, and nothing else. We also fear that broad strokes also ultimately undermine efforts to support victims of sexual harassment.
nina de jesus’s blog post – the one that got her in all this trouble – was specifically about supporting and believing victims of sexual abuse pre-evidence and pre-conviction. She wrote phrases such as: “Don’t ask for ‘proof’” and “Don’t treat ‘both sides of the story’ as if they hold equal weight.” And we get it. It’s difficult to address the issue of sexual harassment when one side has all of the power. We believe, though, that change must ultimately be achieved within the auspices of the law, and not outside of it, if we’re to make real progress. Doing so prevents the kind of mayhem that can ruin a man’s life.
Finally, the reason that most held us back from posting before now is also what initially made us want to post in the first place. This case has impacted real people’s lives in drastic ways. At first, like so many others, we wanted to reach out to Team Harpy. We wanted to tell them that we believed they were well intentioned, that we sympathized with their plight, and that we, too, rankle at the thought of sexual harassment. Later, the fact that Joe Murphy is a real person really hit home when his step-father posted this emotional open letter detailing how his son’s reputation has been ruined. We wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
The last people to consider in this case are real, and ubiquitous, but often ignored and overlooked. They are the victims of sexual harassment. Despite the fact that they are the cause of Team Harpy’s initial statements, they are nowhere to be seen in this case. They hang about as phantasmagoria. It is important that we acknowledge the real threat of sexual harassment and the very real silence of victims, even if their presence in this case is insubstantial. We feel very strongly about supporting victims, and we sincerely hope that the Team Harpy debate has raised awareness that will lead to positive change, despite its failings.