Codes of Conduct, Freedom of Speech, and Male Privilege: Writing the kind of blog post I hate writing

I didn’t want to write another blog post this year. It’s been a bad year, to put it mildly, and I wanted some time to regroup before I started writing again. It was going to be a new blog in a new year, full of good, positive things.

I despise the kind of blog that is simply a series of reactions to the ideas of others rather than a place where at least I’m pretending to possess an ounce of original thought. I do not want to be the kind of writer that participates in an endless whirlpool of reactions and debates regarding other librarians.

But then.

My Twitter feed was all in an uproar this morning regarding a blog post by Will Manley, a librarian that I’m not familiar with, but that’s not saying much as I tend to haunt the blogs of youth services or LGBTQ-friendly librarians. In any case, librarians were livid. I was trying to not read it, instead attempting to sort of read around the outrage. I know, I know. I could have gotten off of Twitter and learned to basket weave or something, but I didn’t. I read this post by Mr. Manley. And then, like a real jerk who should absolutely know better, I read the comments.


Mr. Manley feels that ALA’s Code of Conduct will inhibit free speech and free thought at ALA conferences. Yet, I find ALA’s expectations of us as librarians to be pretty much predictable:

We recognize a shared
responsibility to create and hold that environment for the benefit of all.
 Some behaviors are, therefore, specifically prohibited:

  • Harassment or intimidation based on race, religion, language, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, appearance,  or other group status.

  • Sexual harassment or intimidation, including unwelcome sexual attention, stalking (physical or virtual), or unsolicited physical contact.

  • Yelling at or threatening speakers (verbally or physically).

This is just a portion of the CoC, but you get the point: Don’t be a dick. Don’t sexually harass people. Don’t touch people unless they make it explicit that they want to be touched. Don’t use racial slurs. Don’t intimidate people. Don’t be a jerk.

I find myself offended by authority figures pretty much on the regs, yet nothing about what ALA is asking of us is beyond what I’d expect. Yet, Mr. Manley is very concerned. He’s afraid that this will stunt intellectual and creative conversation. He’s afraid someone will call him out for saying bad things about Neo-Nazis. He’s afraid that the ALA is going to put Sarah Silverman, Chris Rock, and Howard Stern behind bars.

Now, look, I’m a Jewish girl with a foul mouth, so I love Sarah Silverman. Give the Jew Girl Toys is my favorite holiday song, hands down. If she read from her book at ALA, it would be amazing and I’d be totally down for it. Otherwise, do I really want a Silverman-wannabe on the exhibition floor hurling racial slurs at librarians? Do I want Howard Stern making pointed comments about women’s body parts? I don’t. Call me an enemy of free speech. I don’t care. I am not down with harassment based on race. I am not down with sexual harassment. Going to ALA conferences is part of my job. My place of work pays me for my work day and I’d like to go to work without being harassed or bullied. I don’t want to be called racially charged names at my job. I don’t want to be intimidated or touched or stalked at my job. OK, I don’t want these things happening to me, period, but if they occur during work hours, you best believe I’m reporting you. And you best believe I am going to make sure you face the consequences. I want the freedom to remain unharassed and unmolested. This trumps your desire to make edgy jokes. Trust me, though, Manley supporters, you’re not as revolutionary as you think are. You’re not pushing the envelope. You are no Sarah Silverman.

If people are so terribly worried that rules concerning harassment and stalking will curb their ability to express themselves, I’m concerned about what exactly they’re trying to express.

I’m not saying that white men can’t get harassed or bullied, but I’m curious if it’s as widespread as it is with People of Color, the LGBTQ community, and women. Has Mr. Manley been afraid of going to his job? Interacting with certain co-workers? Opening his email? Walking alone at a conference? Has he regularly feared for his safety? I have. And I’m more concerned for my safety and well-being than I am about whether or not I can bust out with homophobic slurs at a panel.

The comments got considerably ugly, with one man named Messina calling everyone a pussy. At first Mr. Manley applauded this show of bravado and supposed edginess, but eventually withdrew his enthusiasm.

At first Mr. Manley said this Eagles quote paired with a gendered insult made his day, but he later deleted his own comment. Before he did so, I wanted to talk to him about it:

Mr. Manley’s major concerns have nothing to do with providing a safe place for women, but more about whether we’d treat the Eagles well at ALA Midwinter.

The Eagles suck, just so you know. They’ve been irrelevant for a thousand years. So, I’d be against it, just for the record.

After my comments about the Eagles being irrelevant, their number one fan, commenter Messina expressed his outrage:

OK, I might have also hinted that out of touch librarians were irrelevant as well. I'm not sorry.
OK, I might have also hinted that out of touch librarians were irrelevant as well. I’m not sorry.

And the above screen capture really reflects what Manley’s post boils down to: Sharing privilege. Messina, and to an extent Manley, have had the privilege of being safe at conferences. The idea of letting the rest of us make a go at obtaining a similar environment is just infuriating. Their idea of harassment and bullying is the idea that they can’t say whatever they want without consequence. For many women, POC, and LGBTQ folks, harassment is more than experiencing annoyance when a pink-haired Jewish librarian calls you irrelevant. It’s fearing for your job, your safety, your physical autonomy, and your dignity. If me calling you a silly little name on the internet is the worst harassment you’ve seen in your life, consider yourself very lucky.

I didn’t want to write this blog post, but I’m sickened to tears with this kind of nonsense and I’m bored with the echo chamber that contains sentiments of misogyny. I expect so much more from librarians. We’re well-educated and many of us work with the public, so I’d hope we’d be more sensitive to the needs of different kinds of people. I thought we’d be more aware of the privilege we have (and believe me, as a white woman, I have plenty. I’m learning how to be responsible with it all the time. I know I screw up. We have to want to learn to be better, though). White male librarians: When it comes to issues of harassment and safe spaces, your first reaction should not be, “BUT WHAT ABOUT ME? WHAT ABOUT ME?Librarians are in the business of information. You have the ability to learn why a Code of Conduct can be so vital to the women, and others, in this profession.

For more on this topic, please refer to the Librarian in Black’s post (I’ve linked to this before. Still relevant) and Coral Hess’s post, found here.

Come on 2014, I swear! Only posts about flannel boards and the Rainbow List and my favorite kinds of glitter! From here on out! I promise!

Who am I kidding? Honestly.

Love and Libraries, Ingrid

P.S. At the time I wrote this, Mr. Manley’s blog still existed. He took it down, so this links to an EverNote version. Sorry for any confusion.

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31 thoughts on “Codes of Conduct, Freedom of Speech, and Male Privilege: Writing the kind of blog post I hate writing

  1. Thanks for writing this out even if you didn’t want to. Manley is more from my generation and sort of a professional rabble rouser, but I don’t think he was ready for his own comments, much less those of others. ALA tried in their slightly doofy way and I appreciate their efforts.

    1. I get the rabble-rouser thing, but I also totally agree that he was unprepared for what would come next. I’m obviously on one side of the fence, but it’s looking like he really can’t keep up. PLUS, he has a total whackjob on his side (this charming Messina guy), which is never good.

  2. I always take Will’s posts with several grains of salt. Sometimes, I find what he writes about to be interesting and other times, not. I agree that he didn’t seem prepared for what his post was going to open up …..
    I have to say, I always thought of librarians as being pretty nice, polite people, especially those who work in public libraries. I’ve been a librarian for over 7 years now, and haven’t ever encountered librarians or library staff acting like jerks at a convention. I. not sure what prompted the ALA’s move to come up with and promote this code of conduct, so it could be a “better do it just in case” kind of thing. Reading your post, then reading Will’s post (which I admit I had not read) and then coming back to your post ….. jeez…. I think I need to get myself a cupcake now.

    Happy new year, Miss Ingrid! I look forward to your blog in the new year. 🙂

    1. I have been touched at a conference when I didn’t want to. I have also been harassed and stalked at work (by coworkers, no less!). Yes, I’d love for all librarians to be always lovely. But sexual harassment in the workplace does happen (and conferences are the workplace).
      Happy New Year to you, too! I hope it brings you wonderful things.

      1. Hey, I agree — conferences are our workplace. And I know that harassment happens …. the fact that it hasn’t happened to me doesn’t me that it doesn’t happen at all. I guess I was just saying that it’s unfortunate — I have always thought of librarians as being polite, so it’s a downer to hear that no, actually, some people at conferences are totally creepy. And come to think of it, I have encountered vendors who were a bit dodgy …..

        At any rate, I think it’s good to have a discussion, and bring this kind of thing up. And, for all of us to keep an eye on, and help out each other, when we’re at conventions. 🙂 And at work in the library, too!!

  3. Anna

    I’ll be honest; initially, I agreed with some of Manley’s points (vague language regarding “other groups” especially, and the whole “freedom of speech” hook), but in retrospect, I was just viewing the Code through his lens…which is what he wanted. I was also conflating his remarks with my on-again off-again frustration with ALA. It’s an embarrassing thing to admit that my stupidity got the better of me. I should’ve read the Code first, and familiarized myself with the reasons for its creation, rather than taking Will’s “free speech” bait. I’m really grateful to you and others in the profession who advocate for protecting everyone, especially women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and we deserve to be safe, and you ensure that happens.

    1. Through Manley’s lens the CoC *does* look preposterous. But when you read the CoC itself, or at least when I did, it’s a reasonable proposal. If anything, exactly what I’d hope from a policy in my workplace.
      Don’t feel stupid! You’re not stupid.

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  5. LN

    Easy to avoid white male privilege at ALA – stay out of the meetings of library directors and department heads – that is where they all are. I stopped going to ALA years ago, it is not a safe space!

    1. Oh jeez. Do you feel comfortable elaborating?
      I have been in contact w/male librarians w/no sense of personal space or appropriateness, but other than that, I’m a GLBT Round Table person, and we just haven’t had those issues there. Or I haven’t, I should say.

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  8. Craig Gable

    A generally thoughtful post, I think. However, I wish to add one comment. I cannot help but take exception to your curt dismissal of the Eagles. “The Eagles suck,” you say. “They’ve been irrelevant for a thousand years.” Very well, you don’t like the Eagles and you’ve made that point irrevocably clear. But your characteristic flippancy here, informed and infused by what I presume is your youthfulness, has led you to (I assume unwittingly) engage in the time-honored practice of ageism. In branding the band as you have (which you are certainly welcome to do) you have equated oldness with the irrelevance. The music (and by implication the musicians) of bygone eras are readily dismissed as having long since outlived their usefulness. So saith the younger generation! Shall we send packing off to oblivion all the folks who came of age in that generation as well? Are they not now irrelevant too because they have all committed the grand sin of being too aged to be longer endured? And what of our benighted antediluvian peers who [gasp!] listen to and enjoy music from decades or even centuries beforehand?

    Anyway, I don’t wish to make too fine a point about what is, essentially, a passing comment of yours. I would simply caution you, when next you cheerfully foam at the mouth about the need for cultural tolerance, to try to remember that a great many of your professional peers (at least those who are not already fossilized in their rockers) are at an age when they feel most keenly that their professional days are numbered and the incoming tide of ruddy-cheeked librarians are pining for their offices. The “privilege” of youth never extends to being dismissive, cheekily or otherwise, of those who are no longer thusly privileged…not even when it comes to the worst of our shushing librarians.

    1. Deranger Mouse

      It can’t be ageism on Ingrid’s part. She’s well into her 40s, very much old enough to have grown up with the Eagles. Go troll somewhere else!

      1. Starla

        Ingrid is in her late 30s, I verified. She does dress like she’s in her teens or 20s so I don’t blame Craig for assuming she’s younger than she is, though.

      2. Starla

        sorry! I was actually trying to defend you. I wasn’t judging you. You, to me, dress like that younger generation – hipster look. So Craig was wrong to assume you’re 20 just by how you dress!

      3. Casey

        Whoa whoa whoa. Hold on guys, I fact checked everything and your conclusions are illogical. Like not even close to logically sound. Talk about derailing a conversation. This is really unprofessional of you, and your names are here for all to see! Like anyone could Google you and find this. Anyone.

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