By Meredith Farkas | March 28, 2007
I’ve got a long list of things I’d like to post about, but I’m just feeling crabby and unable to focus on them right now. I’m not feeling down about my own life. Other than the folks in IT doing something horrendous to our proxy server, my life’s pretty good. It’s just the state of things… things that affect groups I’m a member of (librarians and women)… things that I have very little control over as an individual but that large numbers of people could do a lot about.
So here’s what has put me into a black mood:
- My good friend Michelle getting much less than she deserves for speaking at a conference
- this whole business with Kathy Sierra from Creating Passionate Users getting scary misogynistic death threats
So background on thing number 1. Michelle is giving a full-day workshop at the Texas Library Association. I have never done a full-day workshop at a conference, but after spending a full day teaching the folks at ALA about wikis (which was pretty casual and low-stress) I was completely worn out. It’s hard work to talk all day and answer questions and be charming, even if you’re enjoying what you’re doing. I got paid to speak with the folks from ALA and got to stay in a nice hotel room that had a flat screen TV (yes, I’m such a yokel… it was the first flat screen TV I’ve ever watched other than in the stores!). I also got to eat my favorite Edwardo’s pizza, which really, made the trip for me. It was a very positive experience. So the first problem is, Michelle is not getting paid to give this talk. And if she gets to sit in a hotel room with a flat screen TV, it will be on her own dime since she’s not getting reimbursed for travel. I think Michelle’s first mistake was saying yes to this. That’s a whole lot of work for no compensation. But I understand her position… she’s on the tenure track and that can make a librarian do things that go against their very sense of self-worth. If it wasn’t bad enough, if Michelle wants to go to other talks at the conference, she has to pay to attend them. Michelle is making thousands of dollars for their organization; the least they could do is show a little bit of appreciation.
On the other hand, my friend Dorothea, who does not live in Texas, is getting paid a good deal of money and is getting her travel expenses covered to speak for 45 minutes at the same conference. And she thinks this is just as completely unbalanced and unfair as I do. I’m just glad both Michelle and Dorothea are being so candid and are showing us how differently they are being treated by conference organizers.
I would like for one person to give me a good reason why a speaker from out-of-state should be treated so much better a speaker from in-state (who isn’t even a member of the organization). And then add to that the fact that the in-state speaker is actually making far more money for the conference and is giving a talk that is 5 or 6 hours longer. I constantly hear that this happens all the time. And I had it pulled on me by the New England Library Association Conference (which is why I won’t be speaking at their conference next October). What I’m wondering is why? Is there some really good reason for this that I am missing?
If I was considering getting involved in my state library association and they pulled that, I wouldn’t ever give them a dime. Really, it’s not a great move on the member recruitment end. I spoke at my state library conference last year and I got paid. I didn’t even ask for money; I just got a letter saying “you will be paid $200.” They also reimbursed me for my mileage, which was an additional $50. Plus, I attended the other talks all day without paying any money. I’m sure it didn’t bankrupt the conference to do any of this and it made me feel good about my involvement. How many Texas speakers who aren’t members of TLA might become members if they didn’t feel like they were already getting shafted?
I genuinely hope that Michelle quickly becomes a white-hot commodity in the speaking world so that she never again feels that she needs to do this. I’m sure as soon as people see her speak at our Computers in Libraries talk (which I’m told will involve ponies), word of her super-terrific-greatness will spread.
The second thing I am unhappy about involves petty blogosphere squabbles, Internet bullying, misogyny, death threats and mob mentality. I am definitely a fan of Kathy Sierra’s writing on her blog, and I was appalled to hear that she’d been getting death threats. The quick story is, some too-cool-for-school bloggers started these two sites devoted to bashing popular bloggers (at least that’s what I’ve gotten out of the commentary; the sites have been taken down). One of the people they went after is Kathy Sierra. Apparently, anonymous posters on the site starting posting really hateful, misogynistic and graphically violent things and there seem to have been some visual and text death threats aimed at Kathy. Whether these people would actually do anything or not, Kathy is rightly afraid and is now canceling speaking engagements and feels like she can’t leave her home. I really can’t imagine what she is going through and I am appalled that she has to go through it.
But it’s more than just death threats. It’s about the misogyny (often anonymous) that we all see spewed out on the Web from time to time. The best way to really hurt a smart successful woman who is successful because she is so smart is to demean her sexually or physically. No, don’t come up with a good argument about why their writing sucks or their arguments are weak. Talk about how ugly she is or how big or small her chest is. Make her feel less like an intellectual equal and more like a piece of meat. You don’t even have to make it graphic or violent like in Kathy’s case for it to sting. It hurts when someone goes after your looks or sexuality instead of after your thoughts and ideas. And it doesn’t matter if you’re gorgeous or not; when someone makes you feel like you’re not deserving of engaging on an intellectual level… it’s just cutting. I guess it’s a sore point for me because there were people in high school who thought I was a ditz because I was petite and had a big chest. I guess I missed the study that showed a correlation between IQ and chest size.
Look at what Robert Scoble said about this:
Whenever I post a video of a female technologist there invariably are snide remarks about body parts and other things that simply wouldn’t happen if the interviewee were a man.
I’m not one of those people who sees sexism everywhere. It takes a lot for me to call something sexism, but this has forced me to take off my rose-tinted glasses.
And it’s not just about people who hate or disrespect women… it’s about a blogging culture that delights in making other people look and feel bad. What is up with sites like Mean Kids and Bob’s Yer Uncle? Did they really only exist to bash and bully other bloggers? Are we still in middle school? What kind of cheap thrills can someone get from writing horrible things about other people? All of these big-time A-list bloggers are human beings with feelings and lives outside of the blogosphere. Each of them probably dedicates a great deal of time to providing us with useful, entertaining and/or thought-provoking content and most of them don’t get paid for it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with disagreeing with people or with disliking their blogs, but it just doesn’t have to get so personal, nasty and even threatening. I have only seen a few really nasty attacks in the library blogosphere (and almost always anomyous), and it’s even more perplexing to me why people who seem to be so full of rage and hate would choose to work in a helping profession such as ours.
Sorry for venting my spleen all over the place. I think I tend to be a bit naive and idealistic, so when I see really bad things going on in the Internet or library worlds, they affect me more than they should. I’ll get over it soon. By tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll be much more focused on why people on-campus are now being asked to log-in every time they click on a database. Oy veh…