Mallory Ortberg mostly makes jokes. She's made a career out this. She co-edits The Toast, a site geared towards (mostly) women with a very particular sense of humor, and just came out with a new book, Texts from Jane Eyre, which you can read more about in our paper that comes out today.

But when I interviewed her last week, we talked about some serious things, too—namely, allegations of sexual assault within the alt lit community that came out in October. I ended up having to cut that discussion from the interview you'll see in print for a couple reasons: Ortberg had a lot to say, and I wanted to give that conversation its own space. I also wanted to link to the essay Ortberg wrote around the time those allegations came out.

The allegations—against Tao Lin and Stephen Tully Dierks—are only the most recent examples of alleged gender-based violence within the alt lit community, or, for that matter, of publishing's much larger, systemic problem with women, which runs the stunning, awful gamut from the limiting way books by women are marketed to the incredibly lopsided byline gender breakdown to these allegations. Admittedly, the alt lit scene is small and insular and Brooklyn/web-based, so why should we care in Portland? Well, earlier this year, similar allegations against the author Gregory Sherl came out, prompting our own Future Tense books to pull one of his books, which they'd previously published, from their catalog. Publisher Kevin Sampsell wrote in a February 4 Facebook post, "In light of recent of recent allegations of abuse, we've decided to remove Gregory Sherl's book, Monogamy Songs, from our catalog. We hope that all people involved can heal and find peace."

This is an ongoing problem, and anyone who cares about independent publishing should be paying attention.

In the case of Lin and Dierks, people did: there was widespread outrage on social media, and, in some cases, backlash against the alleged victims. Among these was a piece by the writer Elizabeth Ellen (who, for the record, also has a book out with Future Tense, but is perhaps best known as an editor at Hobart), which in essence read as an attempt to nullify another woman's claim of sexual assault. Mallory Ortberg usually tells jokes, but she felt like she had to respond to this essay, because, she says, "It was being presented as, 'Well, this has some painful, thoughtful truths that we really need to talk about.' And I thought that was a mistaken way of looking at things... these were very old, pernicious ideas about sexual assault and about redemption and about making amends sort of dressed up as a new idea."

The resulting essay was shared on Facebook 3,500 times. It is... surprisingly respectful. Any ill-advised piece of writing would be lucky to get this treatment:

And yet, I think that anyone who is willing to publicly Monday-morning-quarterback the details of another woman’s rape must be prepared to face criticism, and to be brave about it. Gird your loins! I can assure you that you will survive a bit — or even a great deal — of Internet yelling, as it is not a fatal condition.

It is one thing to wish to have a public conversation about passive and active forms of consent, about how to deal with regrettable sex after one has had it, about how to best take care of oneself after being sexually assaulted; it is another to publicly pick apart the details of someone else’s rape. One can do it, of course! But it is thorny and painful territory. Best to go prepared.

When we talked about why she decided on this particular essay, Ortberg said it had simply stayed with her, adding, "If I wanted to just talk about unhelpful attitudes toward sexual assault, I could do that all day. I could make that my job. And I don’t do that, because I don’t want to do that, and it would be exhausting."

And it is exhausting to write about misogyny. It is exhausting to read about misogyny. Sometimes I just want to turn off my Twitter feed, because it is full of depressing reminders of the myriad ways in which publishing devalues marginalized writers, including but in no way limited to women. Every year without fail, the results of the VIDA Count of women in publishing make me want a good cry and a stiff drink, not necessarily in that order. For those of us who make publishing our home, and who also happen to care about gender equality, it's both very easy and very hard to focus our time and energy and attention on these things. It can be difficult to know when responding is necessary, and when preserving your sanity takes priority.

As Ortberg put it, she could make it her job. But then again, in a sense, maybe it is. Of her essay in response to Ellen, Ortberg also said: "I think it’s important to talk about how you work on making amends to people, how you become a different kind of person, how you start a conversation about sexual assault, how you qualify your own experience, and how to listen to people well. I think it’s really important to not be defensive about these things, and I think a lot of times, our first instinct is to say, how can I make sure that I come off in the right light, or make it clear that I’m doing the right thing, and that’s not always what’s important."

If 3,500 Facebook posts is any indication, it was something no one else was saying. She was right to speak up.