There’s been a whole lot of hubbub about those crazy articles on Forbes.com about wives being compared to whores and the appeal to Forbes’ male readers to not marry a career woman. Honestly, how they allowed this insecure misogynist to publish this garbage, much less to become an editor at their magazine, is beyond me. It’s sometimes hard to believe that such ridiculous sexism still exists, much less with men in their 30’s, but there are still plenty of creeps out there. However, I do truly believe that most men today are happy to be equal partners in marriage and my husband was happy to take over a lot of the household chores while I was writing my book. And I have tried to pick up the slack for the past few months when he has been travelling a lot for work. That’s what marriage is all about. While the fact that it was published by a supposedly reputable magazine left me dumbfounded, I am not super-concerned about such obvious and ridiculously 1950’s-vintage sexism. Anyone with a brain will realize that what he wrote was absurd and anyone who is a sexist probably wouldn’t have their mind changed for anything anyways.
What really concerns me is the subtle sexism. The stuff you see happening and are not even sure that it is sexism. Like why do people always go straight to the men in the library when they have a tech question? Why do the guys in IT treat me like an idiot? Why do the male tech support guys at the database providers talk to me like I’m in second grade? Why do so few women speak at tech conferences? Why do the guys at some libraries move up the management ladder so much more quickly? When a Library Director at a University I was interviewing at last year told me that MY HUSBAND designed a nice Web site for me (umm… yeah… actually, I designed it) I knew that he was a sexist pig. But it’s the subtle sexism that worries me. That’s the stuff that undermines your confidence in yourself. It’s not anything explicit; just the feeling that you’re in a space where you don’t belong. I have felt that in many male-dominated spaces before, and I don’t think I ever really identified it as sexism. I usually just blamed myself for my discomfort. But perhaps there was something more. I just don’t know.
Why did I go from a very outgoing young girl who was always building stuff, excelling in school and auditioning for every school play to a teenager who wouldn’t even raise her hand in class to give an answer I knew was right? Why did I feel so uncomfortable talking in my college History classes that were dominated by men and yet found it very easy to express myself in my Women and the American Experience class (which was unsurprisingly almost entirely made up of women)? What subtle things went on in my formative years to make me this way? Maybe it was because I grew up in a house with an angry dad who yelled a lot and a mom who never had a career and yet was very intelligent and always excelled in school. Maybe it was the subtle (and not-so-subtle) comments she made growing up about the need for me to find a man to support me. I can remember certain small incidents in school that I hardly thought twice about growing up. The physics teacher who only paid attention to the things the guys were building who seemed shocked when I was the first person in my class to get a major project done (heck, I love working with capacitors, diodes and soldering irons!). Or my fourth grade teacher who always picked on the girls in the class and was so nice to the boys. There were some teachers who seemed to have much lower expectations of females. And yet, I always did well, so why did I feel this way? There was nothing so obvious in my childhood that I can point to and say “that was it! That’s why!” And that’s why I have always blamed myself for my lack of confidence, even though there clearly is something gender-related in it since I felt so much more confident in a group of women than in a group of men. I’ve slowly grown out of that lack of confidence, but I keep trying to figure out where it came from and keep hitting brick walls.
Where I work now, there are no other women in the library who are tech savvy. And most of them are un-tech savvy in the extreme. This puts them at a severe disadvantage because they have to let other people control the technological destiny of the library. And they have to depend on other people all the time, even when the solution to their problem is as simple as rebooting their computer. I would hate that. Before I started working there, the only people who knew anything about technology at the library were the two male librarians. I guess I just don’t understand why the women wouldn’t want to learn more about this stuff. And I have a hard time believing that it’s just because women raise children and don’t have time to learn this stuff. Rachel has a son and her brain hasn’t totally turned to mush, as is evidenced by her most recent terrific book and her always interesting columns. I can understand how being a woman and having kids would keep you from being on the conference circuit as much as, say, Michael Stephens is, but I can’t see why it would make you not want to learn about things important to serving patrons in libraries like social software, link resolvers, Web design, online courseware, etc.
I have been asked to give more talks in the past few months than I could possibly do without quitting my job (and in some cases, being in two places at the same time). I don’t feel like my gender has held me back in the least in terms of what I have been able to achieve in libraryland. But then again, I’m not in the really heavy tech worlds that Dorothea and Karen work in, so I’m quite willing to believe it’s different for them. But then again, when Roy was lining up people to write for TechEssence, he asked more women than men, and yet more men said yes (and thank you, Roy, for writing a terrific LJ column on trying to rectify the gender imbalance). Why is that? And Paul Miller also said that he had asked women to take part in Talking With Talis podcasts in the past and they had refused. Maybe it’s just the people they asked, but when I look at the list of presenters for the library track in HigherEd BlogCon, which anyone could submit a proposal for, there were definitely a lot more male participants than female (by a factor of 2 to 1). It’s just not something I understand, because I also hear women complaining that there aren’t enough women speaking about tech, and yet when there are opportunities like these that wouldn’t even take women with kids away from their kids, there are way more male participants than female. Which makes me wonder if some women are holding themselves back? And that may go back to how we have been conditioned growing up. I have no idea. On the other hand, when I was thinking about this Five Weeks to a Social Library project, the first people who contacted me and offered to lend a hand were women. It’s cool that we have an all-female group organizing this project, but honestly, it was only because they were the smartest and most willing people, not because they were women.
As you can see, I have very mixed feelings on this whole gender issue thing and I don’t quite know what to think. I’ve been hesitant to write anything about gender issues, because I don’t really feel like I fully understand it all myself and I certainly don’t know how to make things better. But I thought maybe a confused post might just be the best kind, because it raises questions. Sexism isn’t what it was in the 50’s. It’s not so overt and it doesn’t limit our opportunities as much as it did before. But it does still exist in many subtle forms that are much more difficult to identify and eradicate. But is it really the reason that there are fewer women participating in tech conferences? I don’t know. Has it kept me from succeeding in this field and getting speaking gigs? Definitely not. I’ve gotten much more recognition in the past year than I rightly deserve. And I only really know from my own experiences. But, like I said before, maybe it’s because I’m more on the idea side of tech than on the coding side. Maybe there still is an old boys network in the world of digital librarianship. Dorothea and Karen would certainly know better than I. But how do we fix it? I think it takes a lot more than putting more women in speaker roles at the Code4Lib and Access conferences, though that is a start. How do we change attitudes? How do we change the subtle messages girls get in schools that leads them away from tech and self-promotion in the first place? It’s not something I have any answers to.
Maybe you do?
An interesting post.
Sexism–well, maybe. It isn’t anything like it was back when I was a kid, though, so I’m not sure. Besides, I’m currently not working in a library. However, when I worked at a school district, I felt the most affinity with the tech guys. We had mutual respect because I created web pages for teachers and otherwise took some of the load off of them. I didn’t waste their time with silly questions, and by the end of the two years, they’d entrusted me with a lot of responsibility. It was fun.
When I worked as an un-uniformed seasonal one summer at a national park, I was annoyed when a visitor would ask me a question (I was manning the visitor center desk), but when someone in a Smokey Bear hat walked in, they’d turn to them and ask them the same question (and receive the same reply). The uniform lent them an authority that I, in street clothes with a name tag, didn’t have. Perhaps if a patron has made a technical inquiry of one of those uneducated library females that you mention and was referred to a male, that female trained them to seek out males for tech help. Or maybe it’s the uniform. Who knows?
Only one of my college professors could ever get me to talk in class, and that had less to do with the co-ed nature of classes than with the fact that I hate recognition. I dislike letting people know that I’m intelligent. I was raised with two brothers and a frequently hysterical mother, so consequently, I feel more comfortable around men than women. Sitting in a classroom of women would make me feel so uncomfortable that I would never talk. Perhaps other women are more comfortable in same-sex classrooms, but I wouldn’t be. That’s speaking from *my* own experiences.
Quite honestly, I can’t get worked up about this gender thing. Maybe that’s because I’m older, have spent my share of time on the “bleeding edge” of tech in this profession and have now reached a point in my career where I am just not as enthralled by this stuff. I’m no so much burned out as I am “over it.” I’m perfectly content to let younger/newer (not necessarily the same thing) LIS types push the envelope a bit, and I just don’t think in terms of “male” or “female.” I adopt what I need, and I sit back and watch with interest as others with more enthusiasm explore technologies that are interesting but not all that relevant to my professional life.
My brain did not turn to mush when I had children..but I never assumed that it would. And maybe I’ve been fortunate, because I’ve really never felt the direct sting of sexism.
My tech skills are almost entirely self-taught. When a grant became available in the early 90s to put all of the libraries in my part of the state onto the Internet, I was one of the few librarians who knew what the Internet was all about, and this was one of the most rewarding times in my entire career. I became a Unix administrator by default, with an O’Reilly book in one hand and a phone in the other, frantically calling anyone I knew who had technical smarts and could help me. Most of them were guys. None of them cared that I was a woman. I trained scores of librarians on how to use the Internet, how to set up Web servers, etc., etc. Most of them were women.
Not sure where I am headed with all of this. I guess I am much more concerned about the “digital divide” in our profession than I am about the gender issue. The ugly truth is that many of us — especially those who do not work in academic libraries — do not have the time/money/institutional support to pursue this kind of stuff. Many of us work for employers who do not subsidize conference attendance in any way, and we work for wages that make conference attendance a luxury. We work irrregular hours (e.g., lots of nights and weekends) that make it difficult to pursue continuing education.
And maybe, just maybe…some of us do not care that much. Our identities are not tightly bound to our careers. We don’t want to be LIS superstars or techno-wizards. We chose a certain career path because never wanted to be “go-getters”…or we would have found our way into more lucrative (and probably more stressful) professions. Maybe our hobbies or our family lives are more compelling to us. As for me, most of my effort these days is going into freelance writing and other professional work that I do on my own. My choice…and not a day goes by that I am not thankful for the options I have.
I don’t that think anyone should be made to feel guilty because he or she does not care all that much about “Library 2.0” or whatever the current LIS technology buzz phrase happens to be. I live a fairly high-tech existence, with a wireless network at home, a high-end laptop, one of the “cool” cell phones, a GPS in my truck, the obligatory iPod and a Bluetooth headset that enables me to make phone calls via Skype. (All of this, while I stubborly stick to vehicles that have a manual transmission.) And I have two sons who think this is entirely normal…and who seem to gravitate to clever young women who do interesting things.
Maybe I’m just naive…but, no. I’ve been around too long for that.
I definitely do not think that people should be made to feel guilty because they don’t care about Library or Web 2.0 either. It’s more about keeping up with your patrons and their changing needs and what they’re into and what technologies are available to serve our patrons. Keeping up should be a required part of every librarian’s job description in a library. And I worry about anyone (male, female, whatever) who has no knowledge about current technologies and no ability to even try and troubleshoot basic tech problems (to the point where they will call someone before trying to reboot their computer or thinking about what the problem might be).
\”And maybe, just maybe…some of us do not care that much. Our identities are not tightly bound to our careers… Maybe our hobbies or our family lives are more compelling to us.\”
Good point. But is that just a female thing? I would think many men would feel that way too, so I wonder if that is what has led to the lack of female representation in speaker positions at tech conferences.
It’s really interesting to see how much our experiences color our view of whether sexism exists in digital librarianship (or in any area of librarianship).
…and yes, I too am much more concerned about the digital divide… and the lack of access to continuing education for all librarians. That\\\’s why I, and my partners, are trying to make education more accessible by creating this free, online, grassroots-developed model for providing continuing education for librarians.
Hi Meredith, Thoughtful post. I’ve never felt direct or indirect sexism in my library career on the tech. side of things from men (or maybe I didn’t notice it) and I do a fair bit of coding and cabling pulling (as well as ILS administration) in my current job. I have felt sexism before though – both within and outside of libraries. My last job was as an Assistant Director and there were a number of men who didn’t like it that I could give them orders and fire them – and a number of women who simply didn’t expect me to be in charge. I used to wrestle competitively as a teenager as well as play football and almost no one liked the fact that I did (except my team mates, coaches and father).
I have, however, experienced homophobia (maybe an adjunct to sexism?) from some of the women who are “tradtitional” librarians at my current place of work. I have been “accused” frequently of being gay because I work in a “male” subfield of librarianship and I work mostly with males (and two male bosses). They seem to feel that it is not “normal” for me to be good at my job, if that job happens to be tech-oriented, or to get along with my colleagues as well as I seem to. Of course, I don’t help their comfort level any by asking what difference it makes if I’m gay or not (and what business it is of theirs) – but I’m not that concerned with their comfort at this point.
As for conferences, presentations, papers and the like…. I don’t do very much in that area at the moment. I go to the occasional conference and do in-house presentations when necessary – but nothing more. Why? My last job involved a lot of work being done at home, on weekends or while I was ostensibly on vacation… I’m not interested in doing that any more. I don’t have kids and my husband doesn’t care – I just choose to live life rather than work during my off hours.
Did my upbringing affect how I think? I expect so. My father explained what sexism was at a very early age but told me that I was free to do as a wished. He helped me deal with the comments of others when I did things that weren’t “typical” for women and exposed me to both traditionally feminine and traditionally masculine hobbies, subjects and activities. I don’t have any memories of teachers being sexist (subtly or otherwise) nor do I have such memories about any of my coaches. I am fortunate in that respect.
Great post, Meredith.
Sexism (and racism) are so much harder these days, because it’s mostly, as you say, on the subtle side of the scale. My brother has told me about young women who say they feel equal to men because they can get any job they want. “Maybe,” my brother argues, “but as long as your paid less for the same amount of work, and on average this is still true for women, you’re not really equal.”
I don’t really have any answers. I think it’s just a matter of always being conscious of what’s going on and speaking up about it–in this post, in Roy’s great column, wherever we can. Being conscious of it, speaking out about it, and doing what we can to fight it.
I wonder if other women do as I do, and tend to avoid technology conferences all together, reasoning that the cutting edge stuff will be pretty much out of date by the time it happens?
This is my internal logic for why I wouldn’t write about technology (for an article) and why I tend to avoid tech sessions at conferences. Most conferences do still run on a model of having the call for papers well over a year or more in advance of the event. If a technology is going to stick around for a while, I’d rather pick up the papers later, read an article. For the cutting-edge stuff, I go to blogs.
At any rate, I was fortunate to grow up with a dad who is a computer engineer, who didn’t get angry every time I messed up our computer by ‘experimenting’, let me borrow science books on his library card, and taught me to solder circuits, lightbulbs etc. And mum always let me play in the mud with Tonka Trucks. But I also learnt to sew and knit.
I don’t think it’s necessarily about whether you were comfortable with a particular technology, or about gender inherantly, but whether you grew up in a supportive atmosphere that encouraged experimentation with anything – paper, scissors, mud or computers.
I wonder if women are pootling along doing tech stuff in libraries, but just in different arenas. I know that much of my energy involves in-house bridge building, rather than off campus presenting/writing.
Like lots of women who are tech-savvy, I want to spend my time helping others who aren\’t there yet to gently accrete their skills. This involves informal, day-to-day contact based on building relationships at the same time as tech skills. \”Oh, you\’re interested in doing this with the first years, well I know that so-and-so-in-a-different-department was also interested in that..how about you talk to her, and maybe you could use tool x to do what you wanted to do?\”
My brother was given lego, meccano and old TV sets to pull apart. I was given Hobbytex (this is kind of colouring-in on cloth with ball point paint). It affected me by making me more determined to learn this techie type of stuff – and to do the girly stuff at the same time and to do it as well. That way, I\’d show them that I could do both – which my brother couldn\’t.
Lack of sleep, long term breastfeeding, the constant visceral demands of having kids (they were always on my body) actually did turn my brain to mush for a few years. Nice mush that I wanted, but certainly advanced coding was totally out of the question for that period. Everyone\’s mileage varies according to who they are and what type of kids pop out.
Here in Australia seven of us worked to set up a collaborative blog for Australian libraries (http://librariesinteract.info). Four of us in the team are women. For gender balance, this either is a good statistic (this is the type of project that is often male dominated), or a bad statistic (men are more represented in our group than in the profession). Take your pick!
Thanks for your wide ranging post.
I haven’t commented in a while but something about this topic caught my attention and pulled me out of my RSS reader and into the real site to leave my thoughts.
I am a tall white male. According to most sociological finding I am darn near the most likely demographic to be taken seriously. I am tall – people turn to tall people first. I am a man – historically we have been in charge. I am white – enough said. On the other hand I grew up relatively poor and overweight and without a strong family history of college. I didn’t have a computer I had regular access to until after high school. Compared to some I am the poster-child for privilege to others I am behind the curve.
I think the milieu of possible sexism (or with a slightly larger view; racism, agism, or any other -ism) you are highlighting the difference between equal opportunity and equal outcome. It seem to me that the latter cannot exist without the former; but also will not equal the former without time passing. Even then, natural predispositions and other soft factors will affect the equality of outcome.
What I mean is this: Years ago women, blacks, the poor, and other marginalized groups had a much harder road to hoe if they were to try to open a business, go to college, or pursue a degree in a field dominated by the majority. This is simply not the case today. I work for a black man, a woman dean, a chaldean; I employ every ethnic group it seems, EXCEPT white. In my capacity as a grant writer, I see the grants that are available in education and a LARGE portion of them are formed to benefit exclusively (or at least predominantly) minority groups.
I think that as much of the world turns to the net to arbitrate relationships – academic, social, business, avocational – the physical indicators of status (height, weight, race etc.) will prove to be a lot less accessible and a lot less important. Who wrote the wikipedia article on diodes? Were they black? Who manages msn.com? Is it a woman? Who knows. Who cares. Meredith, you are the only librarian I have in my RSS reader – not because you are “cute” or white or tall or have good teeth (I have no idea apart from what you divulge); but rather, because you know a hell of a lot more about social software and the writing industry than I do and you write with such authority and lucidity. This is true now and will only become more true with time.
What I am describing is admittedly a macro view – and as such will not stand up to every individual instance of sexism that I am sure still occur here and there; but overall, I think that things are improving quickly and at a quickening pace.
A Perspective on Sexism…
Here is a reply I wrote to the following post on a Librarian blog I frequent. The last paragraph of her post:As you can see, I have very mixed feelings on this whole gender issue thing and I don’t quite…
>”Why do the guys at some libraries move up the management ladder so much more quickly?”
I’ve been browsing a sociology 101 textbook getting ready for the upcoming semester — turns out that this is a well known phenomenon called the “glass escalator” (compare to glass ceiling). The original article is: CL Williams (1992) “The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the ‘Female’ Professions” Social Problems v39 n3, 253-67 — it actually specifically looked at male librarians. You might have it f/t like we do through JSTOR.
In MPOW, the library used to be run by a pretty famous physicist librarian who was very well respected. I think she must have broken down a lot of barriers. I really have no problems here.
In the public library, the males all learned to ask me for help for car repair or science questions — even though they were always approached first 🙂
Great post. Here’s a gross generalization. I think most IT folk treat EVERYBODY poorly, no matter the gender. I hate to say it, but this has less to do with technical ability and mroe to do with social interaction. My first careers after my MLS were in cataloging and “Tech Services”, but becasue of my good demeanor and I “worked well with people” I ended up on the reference/public service side of things. Now I’m a corporate solo, so it’s a bit of everything, which is the best experience you can have. Most IT folks have this concept that NOBODY could possibly know what they do and treat everyone accordingly.
And now for gross generalization #2: Women tend to be better at social interaction. Perhaps that’s why tech-minded women don’t stay as solely IT types as they are needed elsewhere in their job function. In past jobs, as well as my present one, the women developers and programmers were usually the ones who ended up handling training, vendor negotiation, web/intranet management and the like. They could talk to people and not just snort and say “I mean, you don’t know J2EE?”.
These are very broad swipes, I know, but I think it may hold some merit. People who can handle other things aside from one topic tend to move out of that topic. People who can ONLY do one topic…stay there.
Taking a Stand for What You Believe In . . ….
isn’t always the easiest thing to do. It is fairly easy to read something like Michael Noer’s recent article in Forbes magazine, be highly offended and feel the need to speak out. It was overtly sexist, since the author tried to make reader…
I’m as nauseated by Michael Noer as you are. Whoever let that frathouse escapee into journalism should be shot.
But as for the larger issue, I’m concerned about women shortchanging themselves when it comes to their careers, talents, and overall self-worth. The only thing that I can see as any sort of solution is to empower female colleagues and proteges by working collaboratively with them and valuing the things they bring to the campus environment. I work with a lot of powerful, intelligent, and capable women at UNLV, so this is not a problem amongst my colleagues, but I do worry about the female students I see in the library who speak intelligently with their friends but dumb themselves down in front of males (including when they ask me questions at the reference desk).
All of the good posts above nevertheless might warrant an innoculation of “real world” discussion: http://ask.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=06/08/31/1755259
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