Traversing the #libtechgender landscape

Dear Internet,
In the weeks since ALA midwinter, and the #LibTechGender panel, conversations have shifted all over the place. Much, I believe for the good. I have been attempting to be mindful and listen, read and listen more. Becky Yoose’s post, Gatekeeping the table full of cookies, and recent conversations with others have prompted me to put out there what I have been thinking for discussion.
(This is being fueled by vegan White Russians, so be forewarned.)

    1. The conflict over the use of “storytelling”
      Becky, and Julia, make clear, concise arguments on why storytelling is often not a Good Thing. I wrestled with this a lot. I do a lot of storytelling here on the blog on a variety of topics that can, and are often, painful to read, let alone write. It is mentally and emotionally taxing to keep pulling at the same scab over and over, but it is something I often feel needs to be done because there are too many variations on how people learn. So how do you approach this with grace and be mindful of other people’s needs? Hard question, but my buddy Liz put it rather succinctly, “Some need to feel comfortable with their own story before they’ll ever feel comfortable at the table.” This seems like a great way to start those conversations.
    2. The conversation is going to be messy, whether we like it or not
      I am at heart an observer and a commentator on what I observe. I’ve seen people talk around each other. I have had people tell me that they or someone they know are afraid to speak up. I’ve seen people ignore other points of view because for whatever reason. I’ve seen people dominate the conversation for their own gain, personally and professionally. I’ve seen people get into the conversation to cause a ruckus and then leave, never to be heard from again. I have had people say they don’t want to talk about this or any related topic publicly because of potential ramifications, privately or publicly. And when I mean people, I’m talking about anyone who describes themselves as human and has opposable thumbs. What we’re not doing is talking to each other. I don’t have the perfect answer for this, but I do know we need to put aside our egos and personal interests (myself included here) and move beyond the personal to start working towards the common good. If we don’t, nothing is going to get changed.
    3. We are all human
      I am going to eff up. You are going to eff up. They are going to eff up. I’m not conjugating verbs here, I’m pointing out that no one, no matter who they are, is going to eff up. We’re human. We pick ourselves up, we apologize, and we move on. I have long been cognizant my own diseases1 warp some of my social interactions and have said this many times to people privately and publicly, so this is ripe for repetition: If I somehow offend / piss you off / am an asshole or any other combination on anything, please let me know what and how so I can fix it / apologize / clarify. I’m being sincere here. One of the biggest growth things I’ve been working on is swallowing my own pride and listening to people when they are critical of something I did and or said that has upset them and not taking it as an outright attack against my person. It’s hard to shut up and listen, but if I truly want to be a good ally, hell a good human, I (we) have to let the ego go.
    4. Gender 101 vs Academic/Structural Breakdown
      I’ve seen arguments fly for both sides and both opinions are equally valid. I do not believe this should be an either/or thing. There are a lot of people who need the Gender 101/Social Justice intro and those who want to tackle the higher level stuff. As we’re not all at the same level, we should be but we’re not, dismissing one over the other is counter-productive and in the end, makes the conversation much messier. There is definitely room for both sides, and everything in between, to exist until we get it right.
    5. This is not the Lisa Rabey show
      After Internet Librarian happened, I was approached about the following things:

      • Editorial in a major professional magazine on library/technology/gender
      • Potential to edit/write a book on library/technology/gender
      • Quoted in various places
      • Requested to be on numerous panels at various conferences on library/technology/gender
      • Requested/finagled to do an interview panel for Circulating Ideas on library/technology/gender

      I am not an expert on anything other than my own life. But what I am is brassy personality who is a bull in a china shop who asks the right questions, sometimes the hard questions, at the right time. I am not the only one talking about this and I am not presenting myself as being the authority on the topic. But I think because I’ve been writing about my own experiences for nearly two years on sexism/gender inequality in library land and I was vocal on the panel at IL AND after as well as I keep tweeting to keep the conversations going, I’ve been approached because I’m accessible. I’ve turned down / requested others to be at the table other than me but many decline, due to some variation of my second point, so then I’m being touted as the voice. I also get no matter how much I make clear my intentions, there are people who are going to wildly disagree with whatever I’m doing. There is room for critique but I do not take kindly to willful misreading of situations to suit someone’s agenda. This whole situation becomes circular at times and trying to navigate this is tricky and hard in any attempt to be mindful, so if anyone has suggestions on how to better navigate this AND make the conversation go forward, please pass those along.

    6. No matter what, someone is going to be mad
      LaToya Peterson, owner and editor of Racialicious, wrote transformatively on the value of work, mindfulness, and moving the work forward. While her conversation is directed as a response to the Jezebel / Toxic Feminism kerfuffles, I felt her wisdom was on par with what I was attempting to figure out and articulate my thoughts on lib/tech/gender and it has been my touchstone for me in the last few weeks. LaToya’s comments, coupled with a few other things I have been reading lately in the same vein make concrete an ugly truth: No matter how much you try to be civil, kind, and attack the evil, people are going to be assholes. People are going to attack you not because of what you’re doing, but because you’re being you. Because you’re not doing it right. Because you’re doing it too right. Because you farted in the wrong direction. In short, someone is going to get pissed over something no matter how hard you try to right the wrong. Someone is not going to be happy because you were not doing it their way.This book project weighs on me heavily – I do not want to be another cis/white woman eating all the cookies. I worry heavily about my writers and the ramifications of their bravery and courage. I worry my diverse group of writers will be criticized for not being diverse enough or too diverse. I worry that people will critique the call was not made at various spots thus we were ignoring other voices, regardless if the call was actually made or not. I worry that it will be seen too much as 101 and not adding to the conversation. I worry about these things because this is the behavior I’m seeing in conversation on Twitter, which is leading me to believe something in print will be amplified.What was drilled into my head is putting the book out there, acknowledging the book’s shortcomings AND its strengths, will go a long way to blocking the detractors. I also know if I am going to go forward with this, even with that caveat and being mindful of the content, there will be complaints. I had to decide if I can grow the skin to separate the personal complaints against the legitimate critiques, and I decided the answer was yes. There has to be a first book, to push others then to write/edit their own books to move the conversation along. To get voices that may not have been heard before out there. Yes. This needs to happen.
    7. Questionable need for conferences / panels / summits not held by those trained in the field could potentially do more harm than good
      This is a valid critique and one I’ve been musing on for a while. Using the Backup Ribbon project as an example, stopping to see if someone is okay is not the same as being a counselor / expert in the field and should not be touted as such. It is simply being human. The ribbon provides an entry way to let people know you are there when they need you and can pull them out of harms way if they need it and direct them to appropriate sources. It seems logical if someone is warning said ribbon at a conference, it should behoove them to be familiar with the conference’s particular Code of Conduct / anti-harassment policies to have that information on hand when it is needed. As for the panels, conferences, and so forth, my experience with IL was the panel did the following:

      1. Created a public venue for people to interact in often “elephant in the room” topic
      2. Created a public voice, even if lopsided, to “elephant in the room” topics
      3. It was a point of entry for those who may not have pathways to discussing the topic

      I may be wholly naive on this, but I think as long as it is made clear what people’s intentions are and what the outcomes may be, presenting/discussing 101 and working on pointing people in the right direction to get training, additional information, etc can’t necessarily be a bad thing. It has to be done mindfully and with skill, but getting folks moving in the right direction is how they will move and think for themselves and carry their own conversations forward.

I am thankful for a lot of people listening and talking to me on these discussions, primarily Coral, Cecily, Emily, and Kristin. I’ll keep reading, listening, and reading and listening some more.

1. I’m Bipolar 1/2, with ADHD married with general anxiety disorder. At times when I am unstable, my behaviors are considerably more abrasive and alienating. Reconciling that sometimes it is the disease and sometimes it is me is hard work. I have had people say, later, that telling them to tell me when I am acting out in a way that is not acceptable is too confrontational. I can’t fix / clarify / apologize if I don’t know what I said/did that was intrusive. I am okay with doing the heavy lifting, but often I need to ask for help. There is, to me, no shame in asking for help.