Or how Facebook is the root of all evil. Or how female librarians are constantly asked to be Miss Congeniality, whether we like it or not.
Welcome to a long and convoluted post in which I try to say what I mean without naming-names or getting too personal (even though people were more than happy to get personal with me).
I’m sure a lot of you go-getter librarians are aware of a group on Facebook in which we all bounce ideas off of each other. It has a name, but I’m going to refer to it as Librarian Facebook Group. I had been a member of that group for a while and I’ve, for the most part, kind of liked it. Sometimes it seemed little more than a contest to see who was the most hard-working/innovative/busy/well-recognized/etc., but otherwise it was a place where I could touch base with the people I’ve met at ALA conferences. On Librarian Facebook Group, you could ask for advice or feedback and get actual help. I enjoyed the little support system in this group.
That was until I mentioned that I would never do the Harlem Shake in my neck of the woods: It would seem way too cheezy for my NYC teens (who already think I’m ancient and out of touch) and I really do think the new-fangled version of the Harlem Shake is a form of cultural appropriation (lots of libraries have been posting their own versions of the Harlem Shake, but you might notice that it’s a white-washed version of the original dance). Cultural appropriation is a real buzz-term this year and it’s really pushing lots of people’s buttons (kind of like how the term “political correctness” pushed everyone’s button in the 90s). Nevertheless, cultural appropriation is a relevant topic in today’s America. I’m not going to go too much into it here, but you should totally check out some articles on the Harlem Shake and cultural appropriation here, here, and here (this last one’s a bit long, but definitely worth the read).
There was a definite line drawn down the center of the Librarian Facebook Group and the discussion about cultural appropriation was getting pretty heated. I, and others, was on the side that the Harlem Shake and cultural appropriation were, to put it very simply, bad. Others seemed to think the Harlem Shake was OK, but one person in particular was getting pretty nasty. Let’s call him…Sanderson. Sanderson’s kind of a rockstar, big-wig librarian. Sanderson was making bad jokes and just being out and out rude. Here’s the thing, though. The moderators of the group never called Sanderson out. Sanderson was not asked to behave. And, other than the people that Sanderson was belittling and dismissing, no one told Sanderson that he was being mean.
It finally seemed that the whole Harlem Shake/Cultural Appropriation debacle had blown over on Librarian Facebook Group. That was fine by me. It had potential to be a real debate, but it had just blown itself up into an all-out flame/troll war. No one was listening and feelings were being hurt. Fine. End the discussion. Kill it with fire. Let’s never talk about it again.
Except that someone did bring it up again (and surprise, in a totally condescending manner). And hey, that’s their prerogative. But people on the internet always seem so offended and surprised that when they say something to get a reaction, THEY GET ACTUALLY GET A REACTION. And I reacted. And others reacted.
And then a Facebook Librarian Group moderator told us to “get along”. Mind you, Sanderson was never told to get along. Sanderson was never told to be nice. But a bunch of female librarians? Oh. We have to be nice. That got me thinking about Kelly J.’s post in the Stacked Books blog, “To Be a Woman and Speak Your Mind” in which she says:
People who want to silence you don’t do so by wielding an ax. They do it by asking you to “keep quiet” so you don’t “cause trouble.” Code for, if you don’t say what’s on your mind, there won’t be any incident. Except, if you decode it, that actually means that the person maintains their authority. That they don’t need to defend themselves. That things can remain status quo.
Likewise, women are told to “be nice” all. the. time. “Being nice” is code for keeping your mouth shut, not sharing your opinion, and following along with what people want you to say and do. It’s pejorative. It’s degrading. It’s a phrase that is absolutely coded in gender politics — women should be nice.
Men do not get asked or told to “be nice.”
Nice is a way of downplaying opinion. It’s a way of telling someone that what they think isn’t pretty or kind and therefore, it doesn’t matter. Being told to be nice is one of the most condescending things you can say to another person or have said to you. It makes the person being told to be nice feel small. It achieves precisely what the person saying it hopes to achieve: power.
Being told to be nice is something I am utterly sick of. It’s like, so let me get this straight, even though female librarians dominate the profession, I still have to work twice as hard to be seen as smart, clever, funny, innovative, recognized, and creative. Wait, and on top of all this, I have to be nice? And nice doesn’t mean what you’d think it does. At least not for a woman. It doesn’t matter that the kids and babies at the library adore me, or that I work super hard to go the extra distance for my patrons, or that I have written proof that I’m nice, or that I’m a volunteer, or that I’d like to think I’m a good friend/girlfriend/daughter/librarian (Seriously. This is what my life has come to. Giving you a laundry list of why I think you should think I’m nice). It means that I have to be absolutely just darling on the internet all the time. Being nice for a woman means not arguing or debating or speaking your mind. Being nice means not calling out people when they’re wrong or you’re being stepped on. Being nice as a woman means knowing when to be quiet and when to bow out and when not to rock the boat. Because, while you may be intelligent and hard-working, you’re a woman. And you need to be nice and sweet, above all else. I just haven’t seen the same demanded of men.
And because being nice is the best that you can accomplish as a female librarian, one of the moderators of the Librarian Facebook Group (I’m calling him Sean, here. That’s not his real name, but he’s another rockstar librarian) sent me this email, just to knock me down a couple of pegs and show me just how not nice he thinks I am:
Offline, I’m calling bullshit on your whole persona. Seriously? Suddenly the girl who posts pictures comparing people in the LGBT community to ostriches and dinosaurs is real serious. No patience for this. As someone who grew up in an LGBT household let me tell you, you need to check yourself about being culturally sensitive. I guess I should just sit back and smile while you mock the community. Don’t cast the first stone Ingrid.
Wow, guy. My whole persona? So, you’re calling my entire being “bullshit.” Cool, so that’s like pretty much everything about me. Sean was reacting to these photos I had posted on my Facebook wall:
If you don’t know what this, that’s OK. The person pictured is Alyssa Edwards, a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Alyssa is known for making totally whacked out faces in the mirror while she does her makeup (and probably equally known for what looks like a lot of plastic surgery, which totally sends her “looks” to a whole new level). I adore her in a weird way as she vibrates on this totally strange plane of existence. She’s a reality show personality whom I find pretty entertaining. But yeah, I think she makes crazy faces. This is my crime. I found these Tumblr pictures comparing her to a dinosaur and an ostrich. This does not mean I am mocking the gay community as a whole.
I asked him why he was going after me, and Sean said, and this is a quote: “Because your posts are as much hurtful as the Harlem shake posts.” Oh. I get it. This is retaliation for how I spoke my mind about the Harlem Shake and cultural appropriation. This is, “Don’t act like you’re so great. You’re not and I can prove it. You’ve misstepped.”
Sean’s email definitely made me cry (I hate to admit this, as I’d rather be seen as a total hard-ass, but it’s the truth). For reasons I won’t get into, it’s important for me to be supportive of the LGBTQ community. I volunteer, I’m on the Rainbow List, and I’m always trying to educate myself. I’m not asking for a pat on the back for this, like, “Oh, congratulations, you’re putting forth the bare minimum towards being decent human being. Here’s your ‘straight person who’s not a total ass’ medal.” What I’m trying to make clear is that having some big-deal librarian calling me a bad ally, apropos of nothing, is very hurtful. It’s hurtful because I strive to be a good ally every day of my life. But this doesn’t mean I have to absolutely enjoy Alyssa Edwards’ orangey make-up job. I also make fun of Ramona Singer’s crazy eyes on Real Housewives, but no one has called me a misogynist. At least not to my face.
All I’ve ever wanted from ALA is to be an Emerging Leader (check), to be on the Rainbow List (check), and to be on the Stonewall Book Awards Committee (maybe someday?). Other than that, I’m not quite sure where I want my career to go. I realize that part of getting ahead in ALA is schmoozing with the rockstar librarians and being nice and being visible. Is having the moderator of Librarian Facebook Group essentially calling me a homophobe going to hurt my reputation? Is he going to pass around what an awful person he thinks I am? Will this prevent me from doing what I need to do in my career? Is bowing out of Librarian Facebook Group going to hurt my visibility? Will people forget who I am? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I’m not the only one this has happened to on Librarian Facebook Group. I hope others will speak out.
That said, I’m not going to fork over my banana slicer quite yet.* I need a break from the group until things calm down. I might decide to come back if things evolve into something more civil.
(Not to fall into the females-must-be-nice trap, but I want to say that there are TONS of people in Facebook Librarian Group that I adore and admire and look up to. The majority, in fact. My feelings about one or two librarians don’t make me like the others any less. And no, as I have already answered on Twitter, I do not hate men. Seriously, I can’t believe I am addressing that. Some of my best friends are male librarians. I even live with one. And he thinks I’m kind of OK, sometimes.)
~Love and Libraries, Ingrid
*Obnoxious inside reference. I apologize.