booknotes: fic

Because the Brookline Public Library is awesome (they even have an awesome box ... shaped like a TARDIS!) someone on the staff ordered a copy of acafan Anne Jamison's Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World (Smart Pop, 2013). And there I found it, sitting innocently upon the new books shelves (have I mentioned how much I adore public libraries' new books shelves? it's like browsing in a bookstore except you can take everything home for free!). I've found so much eclectic good stuff on the new books wall at Brookline over the past few years, and Fic is no exception. Jamison is a literature professor with a background in English literature and culture, 18th century to the present. As an academic whose scholarly interest is in participatory literary culture, it is no surprise that fanworks captured her interest. This volume is one part narrative history of fanfiction from its "prehistory" in the 1800s to the present, and one part riotous celebration of various fan cultures through both Jamison's own analysis as well as the contributions of fanfic and "profic" writers (at times one and the same!) and other acafen as well. Not quite an anthology, as Jamison's narrative is the "spine" of the text, the contributions by others dodge and weave within the volume providing alternative perspectives, counternarratives, "missing scenes," and many a reading recommendation for the fic-hungry fan.

Jamison uses the lens of several major fandoms to organize her work in roughly chronological order. After a brief sketch of fannish readers of the Romantic period, she begins with the worlds of Sherlock Holmes (19th century to the present), what many believe is the first modern -- and certainly one of the most enduring -- fandoms. She then turns to Star Trek as a way to explore pre-Internet fandom cultures, reaching back into Science Fiction magazines of the mid-twentieth century and forward into the increasing visibility of overtly sexual fanfiction, particularly Kirk/Spock slash as the ground zero couple of queering mainstream narratives through fic. X-Files and Buffy provide fertile ground for exploring how the 1990s expansion of public access to the Internet changed the social dynamics and dissemination of fan creations (as well as their more immediate access to the creators of the original shows around which the fans engaged). Harry Potter and Twilight offer two divergent perspectives on mega fandoms, one much more conscious of its roots in geek/nerd and fandom culture (HP) than the other (Twilight). Finally, sections on the relationship between fanwriting and publishing and current (circa 2012) trends in fanfiction creation bring our rollicking narrative to a close.

As Hanna is fond of pointing out, intellectualizing is an erotic activity for me -- which probably means I'm an acafan even though I don't actually study fandom in academic (would this make me an #altacafan?). If someone can give me a new set of conceptual questions to ponder about a given activity or body of work, I'll be pleased beyond words -- and that's more or less what Jamison provided with Fic. Hers is a thoroughly readable exploration of fandom from the perspective of an insider, yes, but not (I don't think; though I'm an insider myself) accessible only to those familiar with the landscape described therein. She also provides no pat answers to the thorny questions of, to take an example, copyright in the age of "pull to publish," or socioeconomic inequalities shot through our culture that are (unsurprisingly) replicated within fandom even as some fans use their fanworks to create counternarratives and "talk back" to the powers that be, whether the original creators, rape culture, the military in the era of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, or the whitewashed, able-bodied landscape of many mainstream, futuristic worlds (and, yes, sometimes fannish ones as well -- we, too, are hardly free from sin).

If I had any big, new insights while reading Jamison, I think it would be how much the fannish orientation toward one's favorite stories that ends in the production of fanworks is a deeply ingrained one. Most of the contributors to the volume articulated in some fashion having been a fanfic writer before they knew what that was or knew that others, too, did what these individuals felt the impulse to do. I, myself, have a similar "origin story," of responding to narratives in childhood with the instinctive reaction to create more or better or crossover or alternate universe. The altacafan in me is curious whether fan creators could be profiled in certain sociological or psychological ways in relation to the narratives we produce fanworks around. In other words, what is the impetus for us in "talking back" to the stories our culture provides us? What personality characteristics or other factors push us to talk back versus those who don't? There's a project I hope someone in fan studies is already hard at work sorting out. I look forward to reading their book when it's published and available on the new book wall at the Brookline Public Library.

In the meantime, go read Fic. And let it lead you to all the delicious fic that's out there to be discovered. (I have an annotated list.)


taking time for empathy

I spent today away from the computer, writing a letter to a friend and annotating another friend's book manuscript by hand and reading a book and taking a walk around Columbia Point with Hanna. It was a good day. I also spent a lot of time thinking about some of the interactions I've had, and continue to witness, in professional arenas, that evidence a really strong element of dismissal or erasure of the basic fact of life that (as adults) most of us should have grasped by now: Our lived experience is not identical to other peoples' lived experience.

I've seen a LOT of interactions lately -- on the A&A listserv, around the SAA Code of Conduct, in some offline professional conversations, and in some blogging contexts -- where the exchange comes down to Person A ignoring, questioning, dismissing, denying the experience of Person B because Person A has not experienced the same thing in exactly the same way.

There are variations, of course, but the basic theme is always roughly the same:

Person B: I propose that the group do X.

Person A: I don't like that idea! Why would we do X? We don't need to do X. We've always done Y. I'm perfectly happy with Y. Why aren't you happy with Y? If only you understood / were more mature / more professional / acted more like me you would also appreciate the value of Y!

Person B (response 1): I wasn't saying that Y is a bad option, but maybe we could try X also?


Person B (response 2): Since you asked, here are the problems I see with Y. [lists them.] Maybe Y is comfortable for you, but it is causing the problems I just articulated for other people in this group / at this blog / in the world and I find that troubling. With the changes I have proposed in scenario X some if not all of these problems would be alleviated and more people would experience less stress / marginalization / suffering than currently do in scenario Y.

Person A: You are hysterical / delusional / idealistic / young and X would be impossible to implement / isn't needed anyway / would silence people like me / make me feel uncomfortable.

Person B: Um, what? Look at these situations L, M, N, O, and P where the problems I have described occurred and are well documented. Can you not see that situation Y -- while it may not be causing you any immediate problems -- is, in fact, damaging a large number of people in ways Q, R, S, T, U, and V? Couldn't we talk about solutions that would meet the needs of people like you and the needs of people like me in more equitable measure?


Person B: Um, I -- what? Look, we may not be on exactly equal footing here, but it's more that you're older / higher-ranking / socially privileged / TALKING IN ALL CAPS here and I'm trying to accommodate a broader range of voices. I'm trying to remain calm and reasonable here, but you're pissing me off acting like a jerk. I find your aggressiveness pretty much the opposite of awesome here. Look. NO ONE IS TRYING TO TAKE YOUR TOYS. We'd just like to play to. SHARING IS THE DECENT THING TO DO.

Person A: Wow, you have a completely unhelpful attitude. Seriously. You should get some professional help because I don't think we (I) should have to listen to you complain and abuse us (me).

I just keep turning these exchanges around and around in my head and feeling like I'm Finn, in the clip above, doing a little jig in front of Person A in a desperate plea for them to slow down and consider that regardless of whether they believe -- and they may have a legitimate case to make -- that Person B is asking for the impossible or the problematic, the request is coming from a legitimate real-life experience equally valid to the experience of Person A.

Person A doesn't magically get to be the arbiter of what is Most True in the world. (Neither does Person B, but honestly? Most Person Bs in these situations have never labored under that particular illusion.) Both Person A and Person B matter. Equally. As human beings.

And Person A would, frankly, get a lot more empathy from me (and probably other people as well) if they showed any evidence of actually believing that Person B was a) a human being whose b) experience of the world mattered.

And, you know, might have ideas and suggestions and unique perspectives of value to Person A ... if Person A would just take an effing moment to listen instead of shouting and shaming.

Is all I'm saying.

Now go have a restorative, empathy-filled weekend.


booknotes: hollowing out the middle

Footnote mining from Paying for the Party, I ordered Patrick Carr and Maria Kefelas' Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What it Means for America (Beacon Press, 2009) through ILL and read it last week. This slim volume is based on an ethnographic study Carr and Kefelas of three hundred high school graduates from a small, rural town in Iowa they call "Ellis." With a population of about two thousand, Ellis' economy is primarily agriculture and industrial; high school graduates who go on to college rarely return. Those who remain struggle with social isolation and financial solvency. Carr and Kefelas surveyed over three hundred Ellis high school graduates from the 1990s (who at the time of their study were about ten years out from the end of twelfth grade) and conducted approximately one hundred interviews of young adults who had either stayed in, left, or returned to their hometown. Hollowing Out attempts to describe the motivations and experiences of each group of individuals, and ends with some reflections on the role that social policy can (and cannot) play in supporting and reinvesting in rural life nationwide.

What Carr and Kefelas found was that high school graduates were tracked / self-sorted into a handful of broad categories: the Achievers and Seekers, the Stayers and Returners. Achievers were tracked from a very young age by their parents, school system, and socioeconomic status, to leave Ellis and attend a four-year college and possibly graduate school. Most will never return to live in their hometown, having built lives elsewhere with career opportunities and social connections. Seekers don't have the resources to attend a four-year college, even a good state school, and so often join the military; they will leave to explore the world, but have limited socioeconomic mobility and often struggle to find a place in the world beyond the armed forces. Stayers have dropped out of high school or obtained limited qualifications, usually struggle with un- or underemployment, wed and/or become parents much earlier than those who leave. They, and the Returners, often have negative perceptions of the world beyond their small town community -- either because they tried and failed to find a foothold there, or because they have no desire to leave the familiar. Returners are usually "Boomerang" individuals (often women) who may have relocated for an associates degree or attempted a four-year college education but never established connections that made them feel comfortable beyond Ellis. They can also sometimes be Achievers who, for a variety of individual reasons, return home (familial responsibilities, political ambitions, occasionally the right job at the right time). However, these "High Flyers" -- the ones so desperately sought by states with struggling economies -- are few and far between.

In the end, Carr and Kefelas encourage policy-makers to focus less on trying to lure these "High Flyers" back to their states, since individual motivations usually have little to do with initiatives to woo the Achievers into returning, and instead focus their resources on the Stayers and Returners who are already the backbones of their communities and remain an un- and undertapped social and economic resource.

The authors do, eventually, touch upon some of the non-economic reasons that Achievers and others who leave Ellis may resist returning -- reasons such as prioritizing racial diversity or acceptance of queer identity and relationships -- that I think should have been foregrounded a bit more. Granted, interesting work is currently being done to highlight the lives of queer folk in rural America. Rural Americans are not inherently more or less prejudiced toward Othered groups than urban or suburban Americans. However, smaller communities are often self-selecting and more homogeneous; they're also often extremely isolating for those who are somehow different, even if they (we) don't experience overt prejudice or violence. Simply put, it was harder for me, as a bi woman, to find potential female partners (and even potential male partners!) in a medium-sized Midwestern town than it is.

And now, as a married lesbian, I have structural as well as cultural reasons not to return to Michigan: our marriage would not be honored by the state government. So whenever I read about state campaigns for professional Michiganders to return and invest in the state where I grew up -- and which I continue to love in many respects -- I admit I'm not exactly feeling the love. Many of us Leavers have left precisely because our communities scarred us, deeply, and returning to live there would open old wounds.

But in the end, I was uneasy with the way in which the authors' solution seems to encourage a "circling the wagons" approach to social policy, where the parochial reasons that people leave certain communities are glossed over rather than challenged. I wanted them to dig more into the ways, for example, racial prejudice, the gendered division of labor in working class communities, or anti-gay sentiment not only drives Achievers away but harms those who stay behind. Not every person who embodies a marginalized identity (queer, physically disabled, non-white, Muslim, etc.) has the resources to "get out of Dodge" even though we may have strong push-pull factors to do so. While I'm comfortable with studies of rural America that ask us to reconsider our prejudices toward "hicks" living in "flyover" states, the fact that homogeneity was a fact of small town life the authors' touched on but never developed is something I found troubling.

Still, I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in how education and social policy reproduce class and cultural divides here in America. The personal narratives woven throughout the sociological analysis will resonate with many readers who grew up in rural or quasi-rural Midwestern communities (raises hand), and provoke reflection beyond personal experience toward broader social trends.


booknotes: paying for the party

Amanda Hess at Slate recently reminded me that I had meant to read Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton's longitudinal, ethnographic study of a cohort of undergraduate women, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality (Harvard Univ. Press, 2013). Armstrong and Hamilton's research team spent a year in residence at "Midwest University" living with a group of first-year women assigned to one of the school's party dorms; they continued to follow the cohort on their floor for five years -- the typical four years to degree and one year after. What began as a study of young women's sexual agency at a large public university quickly turned into a study of class, and how strongly pre-existing socioeconomic conditions in the lives of each student determined her trajectory through college and into her immediate post-college circumstances. Hess' article at Slate highlights some of what the research team did discover about the sexualization of college women during their work; Paying for the Party delves into the class issues that define many young women's path through university.

The central thesis of Party is that undergraduates at large state universities (the researchers hesitate to generalize from a single case study) are constrained by the available cultures of their schools -- and often the specific dorms to which they are assigned -- in ways that limit the ability of less privileged students to utilize college as a tool for class mobility.

What the researchers found was that the majority of students entered MU on course to take one of three readily-available "pathways" through the college years: the party pathway, the professional pathway, and the mobility pathway. The researchers acknowledge that other pathways exist, both at MU and elsewhere, but for the cohort they studied, these were the three dominant ways of approaching college. The dominant pathway was the "party" pathway; the elite and upper-middle-class women of the cohort arrived on campus with plans to strengthen their already-privileged social networks through the Greek system, tracked to areas of study that facilitated this way of life, and left college with low GPAs and degrees that would have been useless without their high-powered family connections and financial resources. Less privileged women who attempted to access the party pathway typically suffered a high loss of resources and low return. The party pathway also ruthlessly policed the performance of femininity according to a very specific set of elite standards which required money and time to cultivate and maintain.

In addition to the struggles of women on the party pathway who were unable to compete with the elite partiers in terms of time, resources, social connections, and conventional beauty, Paying for the Party also chronicles the way the party pathway culture encroaches on those beyond its borders. Even women who tried to follow the professional or mobility pathway found their efforts stymied by the dominant party cohort. The researchers argue that non-elite students need more robust support for non-party alternatives in order for college to be both cost effective and life enhancing.

There are limitations to the study. For example, I couldn't help but feel that even taking broad social categories into account, the party/professional/mobility pathways schema left out crucial segments of the undergrad population. Perhaps because the research team chose a "party" dorm, or perhaps because they were at a land grant research university instead of a liberal arts college, they failed to identify the pathway that I and many of my closest friends were on: What I might call the "how to live" pathway. This is the pathway that treats learning as a goal in and of itself, and self-knowledge -- as well as wider horizons -- as a valuable part of the college experience on par with skill acquisition/job training. And it's not a pathway exclusively available to the rich; I know students across the economic spectrum who used college as a step-stone to a meaningful life (not necessarily a well-heeled one). Armstrong and Hamilton hint at such rewards toward the end of the book when they profile a student who had limited economic resources, struggled in school, and yet one year after graduating is building a meaningful life for herself working as a ski instructor and living with her partner in the wilderness setting that drew them together.

They also suggest throughout the book that MU has other subcultures of students whose subcultures provide a robust alternative to the party pathway and help students succeed: the arts students, the African-American learning community, the LGBT group. But it seems that none of their cohort originally assigned to the party dorm found their way to these rich subcultures, a telling finding in and of itself that shows how segregated a campus can be, and how the crap shoot of first-year campus housing may make or break students. Particularly the most vulnerable ones whose families have little or no experience navigating higher education.

Despite the study's necessarily narrow focus on its original cohort, I highly recommend Paying for the Party to anyone interested in higher education, economic inequality, and the ways in which gender plays out in specific ways in both social class and college contexts.


on gaining weight

Photograph by Laura Wulf
I had my annual physical last week, and for the first time in a couple of years I actually looked at the reading on the scale when they did all the usual readings. Typically, I stand on the scale facing away from the screen and the nurses at our awesome community health center don't offer the information unless I ask.

I'd gained about ten pounds since the last time I'd bothered to check.

I was (surprising even myself) pretty unconcerned about this state of affairs.

I'm not going to share the exact number or the number(s) I'm comparing it to. The minute I did so virtually every woman reading this post would do the calculation and contrast and compare. Either I'd be smaller, and some part of them would feel jealous, or I'd be larger, and some part of them would feel virtuous. They might judge themselves for feeling that way (I do when I catch myself doing it), but for most of us it's an involuntary reflex.

There's a reason I don't own a scale, and weigh myself at the doctor's office blind.

As photographs on this blog demonstrate, I'm a 5' 10" woman who falls within the median weight range for American women -- which is to say that my clothing sizes are usually available in many styles in most stores. This is a form of privilege, one I've become even more acutely aware of married to a woman whose body is actively marginalized by our fatphobic, sizest culture.

But, like virtually every women and many a man will tell you, being a body of normative size in a culture "at war" against fat (and people we judge for their size) is no proof against a disordered relationship with one's physical self. While never diagnosed with a formal eating disorder, I spent most of my teens obsessing over food and weight, counting calories, bingeing, eating until my stomach hurt and falling asleep each night (yes: every night for nearly a decade) wishing I could just purge and have done with it.

I ended every day -- every day -- from age sixteen to twenty-four feeling some measure of failure for what I had eaten, and what I had done, with my body.

My own struggle with disordered eating was complicated by the fact that my thyroid condition, managed with medication until age twenty-five, meant I was almost always hungry. My appetite was not a reliable measure of what my body actually needed as fuel -- my hormones were telling me I was hungry. I could (and did) eat gallons of ice cream at a sitting and my body would still tell me I was hungry.

When I finally received medical treatment that treated my condition more effectively, I got my libido back and learned what it was like to have an appetite: to eat and feel full. And not think about food every waking moment of every day.

While I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder, I was at my thinnest -- received the most praise from acquaintances for having "lost weight!" -- when my hyperactive thyroid was raging out of control. Did I glow with "pride" at the praise? Some part of me did. The other part of me recognized how fucked up our culture is congratulating a young woman for thinness -- as if body size is some sort of merit metric. When instead, in my case, it was actually a pathological symptom.

One I knew even at the time part of me would miss, because being "effortlessly" thin (while, as I said above, obsessing about my weight and food intake on an hourly basis) was something society rewarded me for.

I was scared, when I chose the treatment that would help me heal -- that would give me my sex drive back (though no doctors thought to mention this as a perk) -- that would allow me to experience appetites and satisfaction -- when I chose the treatment that would give me these things, I was scared that I'd just become "fat."

Because of course, that's what we're taught to fear most of all.

So it was remarkable to me, last week, when I walked into the doctor's office and discovered that I now weigh about thirty pounds more than I weighed at the point when I was the sickest (and most obsessive -- and most frequently praised). It was remarkable that I didn't much care.

I'm growing into myself. That's what I thought. I'm growing older. And my mind meant that in a positive way. I'm thirty-three now; nearly ten years older than I was then. Bodies change. As I grow into my middle age, I may continue to gain weight slowly, incrementally. If family size and shape is any guide, I've likely settled more or less at the point where I will probably stay as I grow older.

And even if I grow larger, become more, I resist the notion that this is something I should categorically fear, manically avoid, judge myself in relation to. I've got other things to focus on, thank you very much. I refuse to spend my energy struggling to control my body size when there's overwhelming evidence to suggest that such efforts are both futile and unrelated to one's overall health outcomes.

I refuse to fear in myself what I embrace in others: embodiment in the selves we have.

I'm grateful for how little the number mattered. It's been a long journey to this point, but well worth the climb.


once again upon a listserv: some follow-up thoughts about #thatdarnlist

Note to non-archivist/librarian readers: this blog post is largely professional insider discussion and, while it may be interesting to some of you it will likely be tl;dr for many others. You have been warned!
a radical feminist cabal (via)
In the three weeks since I published my post about professionalism, privilege, and power, discussing the Archives & Archivists listserv, I’ve had further interesting adventures -- both inspiring and dispiriting -- around what I wrote, how I wrote it, and the manner in which it was shared. Having (mostly) weathered that storm, I offer a few further thoughts about what went down, and how, and the manner in which I’ve chosen to participate in this conversation moving forward.

My last substantive listserv email on this subject went out to the listserv on June 5th and can be read here. The two listserv threads to which that message refer can be read in their entirety here and here. What I would like to share in this post are two items of gratitude, four items of critical reflection, and finally an invitation.

For those wishing to skip straight to the invitation, please see my sounding of interest.

1) I am grateful to connect with so many likewise-minded and open-minded librarians and archivists since writing my initial post.

A huge big thank you to every individual who linked to, retweeted, liked, commented, emailed, and otherwise showed support and understanding for my arguments around these issues. I tried to thank as many of you as I could directly and personally. As I remarked to one man who spoke up in support, I may not “need” defenders but it is awfully nice not to feel alone in my perceptions or isolated in speaking up. Those who could not speak in public spaces, but did so in private, also counted in this way.

The outpouring of thanks I received from people (a majority women, but also men) who have experienced or witnessed professional bullying and marginalization in our field confirms my own perceptions that this is not an isolated “bad apple” situation. Instead, it is a community-wide, cultural problem that requires a collective response. I have been thinking about ways to continue the conversation with all of you (more below), hopefully calibrated to give particular support to those with the fewest emotional or professional “spoons” to give.

2) I am grateful for my co-workers and supervisors who value my attitude, approach, and contributions.

I want to particularly thank the individuals at my workplace, including people to whom I report as an employee, who have supported me and affirmed my right to speak up. It was a sweet victory, I’ll admit, to be explicitly thanked for the professional manner in which I conducted myself. Some of my detractors have suggested my employer should be ashamed of my behavior; instead, I am proud to work at an institution where challenging my profession to do a better job at being inclusive and social justice oriented is valued. As a supervisor, I have tried to foster a workplace culture of engaged professionalism and passionate advocacy. I also demand that all of my staff, regardless of their age or professional status, be treated with respect as human beings and archivists/librarians. I thank my mentors for modeling and making this possible.

3) “Benign neglect” is not benign. It’s just neglect.

Moving on to more critical points, I’m going to begin by reiterating that abdication of responsibility for a situation is, in fact, an active decision for which a person or group bears responsibility. When individuals are being bullied, harassed, condescended to, discounted, or otherwise marginalized, “benign neglect” is not benign. It’s just neglect.

In this situation, we had a group of people, the Dissenter(s) and Supporters, explaining that situation Q wasn’t working for them -- for a variety of intertwined reasons. Then we had a group of people whose response could be summed up as “I like things the way they are,” or “The way things are works for me.” There is nothing wrong with that experience; it is yours. Yet it does nothing to address the issue, which is that the status quo isn’t working for other people. Yes, your experience is part of the picture. But it’s not the only, most important, or truest perspective on the situation. Even if situation Q is the most ideal world you can imagine for yourself, I believe the fact that it is not working for someone, perhaps actively injuring them, should be of concern. To you.

But it became clear over the course of the situation that the majority of those speaking up within the listserv forum do not feel that way. I hope (suspect) this is not true of the over six thousand subscribers, the majority of whom are lurkers.
IMPORTANT: If you’re one of those concerned individuals, please take the time to comment on the SAA draft Code of Conduct before comments close on June 22nd. This Code of Conduct is a formal statement that SAA does not condone, among other things, “abusive verbal comments,” “deliberate intimidation,” and “sustained disruption of talks or other events.” While not sufficient on its own, a Code of Conduct gives Dissenters and Supporters a framework for seeking redress. Even if you are not a dues-paying SAA member, you can email your comments and support for the CoC to saahq@archivists.org.
4) As I predicted in my original post, the dynamic of bullying and exclusion did repeat itself again … the following week, and again … the following week.

Following my post, which was eventually circulated to the listserv by X himself, we had an “on list” discussion that basically replicated the original discussion. Only with a few extra juicy contributions from “professionals” accusing me of gross impropriety and paranoid delusion. This time, I was cast in the role of Dissenter (with some excellent Supporters). Once again we had Fixers, Defenders, Concern Trolls, Drama Queens, and Shamers all piping up in the more or less predictable pattern.

As I prep this post to go live, I'm watching the cycle unfold all over again.

My central takeaway from the experience is therefore that I learned nothing new that I hadn’t learned from last time; the “discussion” only served to further reinforce my judgments regarding the collective will to change that I had made earlier. As I wrote on Twitter:
This dynamic also reinforces my point (perhaps not as clear as it should have been in the original post) that the individual I called X is not personally the core problem here. I have some issues with his attitude and actions, but his behavior causes problems not primarily because of how he behaves but because of how the community incorporates -- dare I say centers -- him and others with a similar M.O. Again, this is not a "bad apple" situation, but a community culture issue.

5) It is not my job to educate the (obviously reluctant) list community on the dynamics of social inequality. 

I've had some people encourage me to approach SAA about collaborating on a fix to this situation. I gotta say, my feels at this point are that I'm not feelin' it.

On the one hand, I’m an inveterate Meddler. As my wife can tell you, someone punches down and she glances at her watch to start counting down the seconds until I can no longer help myself. That’s how this whole kerfluffle started, after all. Last year, I subscribed to A&A after years of just skimming the archive because someone was being a bully and I couldn’t let that sort of nonsense stand. I waded in this time around because of more or less the same dynamic. And I know I’ll be wading in again (and again, and again) in future.

But ultimately, the suggestions that I “reach out” to SAA or otherwise labor in a more formal capacity to change the situation leave me pretty skeptical. There are people who do this sort of training for a living; I am not one of them. And, as the Code of Conduct demonstrates, we’re not reinventing the wheel here. I refuse to fall into the trap of what might be called “teaching up,” or buying into a framework that requires the oppressed to educate the oppressor before those in power consider the need for change. I shouldn’t have to “ask” or offer my labor in order for education and change to happen. It should be (and hopefully is) happening from within.

6) Which brings me to the point that all of this is, in fact, emotional/mental/physical labor. Professional labor.

I’m aware that throughout this debate I’ve chosen (and it’s been a conscious choice) to play according to the rules of a politics of respectability. There’s a reason my boss got praise for my professionalism from others in the field, and that’s because I exerted a powerful lot of will over my desire to compose emails that were more along the lines of “I can’t even with this effing entitlement,” or “You, sir, are a paranoid dipshit.” This was exhausting. It cost me several sleepless nights (and the subsequent price of excessive coffee). I sat at my computer shaking with adrenaline, poured over every obsessively-crafted email and comment before hitting “post” or “send,” and had to keep going back after my words went live to re-read them and reassure myself I had said what I meant to say, the way I meant to say it.

Taking a page from Melissa McEwan’s recent playbook, I’m acknowledging (and will continue to acknowledge) this labor, and its unequal distribution along a number of vectors including gender. I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that I spent more time considering how to discuss my detractors' (and in some cases accusers') arguments than at least two of the more vocal individuals spent thinking about me as a human being and as a colleague. I am extremely lucky (see #1-2 above) to have allies, among them supervisors, whose trust in my professionalism I have earned. If I were someone more vulnerable, the accusations that were leveled against me within this professional community could have had real consequences for my career.

I don’t get the sense the individuals who clicked “send” on those emails or “post” on those comments actually thought about that -- except perhaps in the hopeful "she ought to be put in her place!" sense.

This highlights the dynamics (gendered and otherwise) at play here that I outlined in my original post. I -- the younger, early-career librarian, queer female blogger -- understand that my (professional) reputation is contingent on those with more power in (my professional) world “allowing” me to speak. I write, I revise, I document, I supply evidence, I qualify. While at least one of the men who disliked what I had to say wrote emails calling me a “radical feminist” (intended to be insulting but, um, it’s kinda right there in the name?), demonstrating poor reading comprehension and research skills, and suggested to a forum of six thousand individuals in my field that I had leveled baseless accusations of “moral impropriety” against X -- a (deliberate?) distortion of my argument.

Emails to which he signed his own name, job title, and place of work.

My point is that while I was up sleepless at 2am wondering if my carefully worded emails or carefully personal blog posts were going to upset someone, somewhere, whose opinion I care about -- or whose opinion may have professional consequences for me -- or who might decide to take out his anger against me in more personal ways -- this individual felt comfortable writing a troll-worthy rant about my “Soviet” politics and sending it tied to his real-world identity to a listserv at least nominally administered by his national professional organization. With (apparently) little or no fear of the consequences.

If that isn’t evidence of structural, socialized entitlement I’m frankly not sure what is.

7) The Amiable Archivists' Salon

Which brings me to the seventh and final thought I would like to share with you. And that is something most of you reading this post already know. Working for a more just, kind, inclusive, world (or profession) is work. It’s emotional work, it’s political work, it’s physical work.It takes spoons. Sometimes we have ‘em, sometimes we don’t. And it’s important to know how and when to use the spoons you have to give. So I've been thinking about how I want to use the spoons I have for this particular situation.

After reflection and discussion, I’ve decided I would like to establish an Amiable Archivists’ Salon*, a discussion and support group for those experiencing marginalization within the profession. The listserv lurkers who’ve contacted me more often than not express feelings of intimidation and isolation -- not just on the list, but in their chosen feel more broadly. I would like to do what I can to address that, building ties among us that can hopefully lead to more effective profession-wide intervention and cultural change. I'm a meddler (see #5) and I know I'll keep wading into this situation and trying to make it better, but I'd really rather not do it alone -- or fearful of being "the only one."

If you are interested in participating in these discussions, please fill out this brief ten-question survey to let me know who you are, what issues you want to see addressed, and what your goals for the group would be. If I receive six or more responses by July 1st I will contact the potential participants by email and together we can decide next steps.

*h/t to my wife, Hanna, for what I feel is a suitably "tea time & teach-ins" nom de groupe.


booknotes: phyllis schlafly and grassroots conservatism

I'm back in encyclopedia entry writing mode this month, and one of the subjects I volunteered to tackle was the life and work of Phyllis Schlafly in 750 words. One of the things I have gathered from Donald Critchlow's excellent Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism: A Woman's Crusade (Princeton, 2005) is that Schlafly herself would likely approve of this creative discipline. She has, after all, built a career out of voraciously consuming and digesting the work of conservative intellectuals -- and then translating them into a form easily communicable to the grassroots: speeches, pamphlets, articles, press releases, and runaway bestsellers.

Plus, did you know she comes from a family of lady librarians?

It is a mark of Critchlow's excellence as a biographer that he is able to humanize his subject and make her interesting and compelling to even this lefty feminist who categorically disagrees with Schlafly on almost every political and social issue she has ever engaged on. Critchlow's is an intellectual-political biography, touching on Schlafly's personal details -- family background, class status, marriage, children -- as background for the larger points he wishes to make regarding her public career. Schlafly, he argues, is both a driving force behind -- and emblematic of -- the grassroots political organizing that flourished in America's postwar years of supposedly "liberal consensus." A voracious autodidact and driven student from a lower-middle-class background (she worked night to put herself through college), Schlafly completed a Master's degree at Radcliffe in 1945 and took herself to Washington D.C. just as the Second World War was ending, landing a job at the fledgling American Enterprise Association (now Institute). By all accounts she had (and still has) a talent for digesting densely-written works of conservative political theory and translating them into vernacular, politically-motivating works. During the 1950s and '60s her focus was on anti-communism, fiscal conservatism, and national defense; in the 1970s she discovered (anti)feminism and turned from international concerns to domestic policy and cultural issues -- earning the hatred of many a committed feminist through her successful STOP ERA campaign, which killed what many had assumed was a foregone Constitutional amendment explicitly outlawing discrimination on the basis of sex.

I am too young to remember first-hand the bitter disappointment of the ERA's defeat, or the shocked sense of betrayal I think many American feminist felt when she discovered that not all women believed in feminist goals. Perhaps because of this, I have the emotional distance to appreciate the way Critchlow is not overtly partisan -- either for or against -- the Schlafly perspective. Instead, he clearly articulates how her work connected, and continues to connect, to the concerns and goals of the resurgent political and cultural right during the latter half of the twentieth century. I cannot say I share those concerns or goals, but perhaps I understand where they came from and how they came to be articulated a bit better than I did before.

My only disappointment with Phyllis Schlafly and Grassroots Conservatism is perhaps an unfair one -- that Critchlow only glosses events following the defeat of the ERA and Reagan's rise to the presidency in the early 1980s. Since Schlafly and her Eagle Forum continue at a tireless pace today, a deeper analysis of Schlafly's enduring influence would have been welcome. Too, I would have been interested in a more substantial tour of her opponents' (often muddled) rebuttals and (often failed) strategies. One comes away from Critchlow's examination with the sense that Schlafly was always effectively on-message. Surely even the most charismatic of public figures has an off day.


one month later ... [#move2014]

It's been a month you guys!

We can still see the rug on our bedroom floor, and the only thing under the bed are dust bunnies and the occasional cat.

I don't have anything super-noteworthy to say, I just wanted to mark the day. It really is hard to believe we've been living a month in our new place. Some eclectic observations:

  • I don't miss our old neighborhood as much as I thought I would. Is that disloyal? I'm not sure yet. Part of the reason is that we still live in the same city and maybe 80% of our time is spent in the same spaces as before the move. Hanna and I both miss walking passed the brookline booksmith more days than not, and being near Trader Joe's, and 4A Coffee on Harvard Ave. but other than that ... I'm so actively happy to be where we are in so many ways, I don't have room to miss the old. I wonder if I ever will? Maybe I'm done with that chapter and ready to move on.
  • Maple trees have a distinctive presence and sound to them; I grew up in a house surrounded by old maples and hadn't realized until moving to JP that I missed them. Now when its windy or rains and I hear the trees outside I can relax. Sleeping has been a wonderful thing because the sounds are right again.
  • Having a porch expands the size of our apartment beyond its already wonderfully expansive 860 square feet.
  • A ceiling fan (in our living room) is amazing as a tool for cooling the space on hot days.
  • Kitchen counters! Kitchen counters! Kitchen counters!
  • For some reason, Hanna and I decided to start using the dishwasher when we moved here, despite the fact we never used the "adult box" that was in our old apartment. I am really surprised at how much it lowers the stress level of our evenings and makes cooking together a pleasurable activity. Sometimes, labor-saving devices are worth the hype.
  • We now live in a neighborhood with a much higher Latino/a population than Allston, and that's something else that feels like home (Michigan) to me in a way I hadn't noticed missing until we were passing neighbors on our way home with a much broader range of ethnic diversity than on our previous commute. Even the music from the car stereos that pass our front windows feels more familiar. (And yum! the Cuban restaurant up the road makes the best horchata!).
  • Gentrification. It's a thing, and I've been thinking about it. I have days where I'm like, "What's so elitist and destructive about wanting to live within walking distance of where you work?" That is, after all, the way most workers have gotten to work for centuries. But I'm also aware that as early-career professionals, Hanna and I fit a profile -- one of people who are actively courted and catered to. While our neighbors here are often invisible at best and actively erased at worst. According to the Boston Globe, only about 15% of market-rate housing in JP is "affordable" ... for families making $80k per year. There's a lot of upward pressure on this already impossible market. We're working to do what we can not to contribute to that, while embracing JP as a (hopefully long-term) home for us as well.
  • Did I mention how wonderful a back porch is to enjoy? 
  • And neighbors that invite you to their barbecues instead of engaging in intimate partner violence on a near-nightly basis?
In other news, how did it get to be June 12th already? I hope all of you are having a fruitful beginning to whatever the nature of your summer season will be.


booknotes: otherhood

It's been awhile, what with one thing and another, since I actually did a book review post. I'm hoping to get at least one per week posted during the summer, so to kick us off here's this week's title: Otherhood: Modern Women Finding a New Kind of Happiness by Melanie Notkin (Seal Press, 2014).

I ordered Otherhood through inter-library loan after seeing it mentioned in positive terms in a piece on how the media fuels women's panic and self-judgement around pregnancy and fertility. From the gloss in the essay, I expected a study of women who found themselves single and/or childless as they reached the end of their fertility, and how they made peace with that circumstance. Perhaps it was poor or wishful reading on my part, because this book is not that book. Instead, this book is a hybrid personal memoir longform journalism piece in which Notkin seeks to connect her personal experience, and the experiences of her single, childless (but child-wanting) friends, to broader social and cultural narratives and trends about this demographic.

Apart from it not being the book I expected (which is hardly grounds for critique of the book it actually is), I had three major problems with Otherhood: its solipsism, its heterocentrism, and the way it embraced notions of gender complementarity and retrograde gender roles. All of these problems interconnect, because when one is writing about personal experience as universal experience, then obviously one's own wants and needs eclipse the diversity of human desire. There's nothing particularly wrong with Notkin yearning for a man willing to treat her to lavish dates, for example, but there is something very wrong about her making the argument that "we women" want a man who knows what kind of high-priced alcohol to order for every occasion. In Notkin's world of high-powered New York businesswomen in their late thirties and early forties, all women are straight, looking for male booty, looking for a man interested in a long-term relationship and kids, expecting that man to fit a very specific type of masculinity, and unwilling to revisit those expectations when the world doesn't deliver.

It's not that I think Notkin and company are "too picky" or "desperate" and that's what makes them unappealing. As someone who didn't date at all for the first twenty-seven years of my life, because no one I met piqued my interest enough, I hardly have a leg to stand on. It's just that I find Notkin's list of priorities for a partner kind of obnoxious, and I find it even more obnoxious that she assumes we all (as "women") share them.

Otherhood is also at war with its own thesis, which is that older single women (like Notkin) aren't waiting around for Mr. Right but are instead focused on living otherwise fulfilling lives, even in the absence of the partner and/or children they have always desired. Most of the narrative is, in fact, taken up with stories about she and her friends working their asses off dating one guy after another -- each of whom proves a disappointment -- and obsessing about their decreasing fertility. I finished the book feeling more than a little whip-lashed.

At its best Otherhood argues that, in the fullness of any single life situation, sometimes the price just isn't worth it. Even if you always imagined, and continue to desire, having children of your own. Notkin is trying to push back against the cultural narrative (of her elite circle) that single women nearing the end of their fertile years should just go it alone and get pregnant solo -- or else they're somehow less dedicated to their vocation as women than the ladies who freeze their eggs at twenty-five and start IVF at thirty-five whether they have a partner or not. There's some really interesting stuff to unpack there, in the cultural pressure of women to become mothers at any cost because somehow it is our ladylike destiny. But Notkin doesn't push her inquiry to the level where I would find it most interesting or pertinent -- the level where the gendered framework of dating and parenthood is, itself, called into critical question.

In the end, I felt sorry for Notkin and her circle of friends for the way in which their narrow view of "male" and "female" gender performance seemed to be limiting their ability to build authentic relationships that went beyond judging themselves and their partners in relation to socialized gender expectations. The dating dance they describe is one I never participated in with men -- or women for that matter -- and it doesn't sound like a very fun way to get to know someone. Notkin and her friends deride some of their potential dates for wanting casual hang-out time, or an evening in enjoying sex and a pizza -- the sort of get-togethers that sound pretty awesome to me. I finished the book wishing I could just get all the people therein (women and men alike) to just relax around one another a little more.

Reading Otherhood I felt a flood of gratitude for queer visibility. For all the talk of a "gayby boom," and the increasing normality of same-sex parenting, queer couples have a long and storied history of not parenting. Perhaps because our sexual intimacy doesn't bring with it the expectation of pregnancy -- because parenting must be deliberately pursued, often at a high price, and with legal and social roadblocks in our way -- queer culture doesn't demand that we make the pursuit of children a primary objective in life. Even before I felt able to identify as queer, I drifted toward lesbian and queer spaces for the alternate visions of family they offer up for consideration. These are visions I found world-expanding and life-affirming when I was "straight," and I wish that more women like Notkin (and perhaps the men she is struggling to connect with) would turn to these examples for a renewed sense of possibility.

In short? If you're interested in thinking about a life unpartnered and/or not parenting, ditch Notkin's side-swipes at "spinsters" and women who don't "keep up appearances" and go read some queer history instead. There's lots of inspiration out there, if you know where to look.


cats + porch [#move2014]

We continue to feel so lucky in finding this apartment, particularly on sunny Sundays in June, when our back balcony is a breezy, cozy sanctuary; a liminality between in and out, private home and neighborhood society.

We enjoyed brunch together last weekend, along with a little light reading.

Repotted some happy plants...

... and got creative drying the week's laundry in the fine weather.

The porch is a new experience for the cats, who are practicing giving their mother attacks of the nerves by exploring the top of the (second floor! far from the ground!) railing without a net. We feel they should could equipped with safety tethers.

Geraldine seems largely content to chill in the shade or sun and survey her surroundings.

The clean laundry is obviously the best place for a black cat to settle in for a nap.

Meanwhile, our next door neighbors M and J have gotten a head start over us in the gardening department, with lots of promising seedlings that spent the weekend drinking up the sun and water they were afforded.

Hope y'all are finding ways of being in this early-summer moment. Happy June.


ownership and choice [#move2014]

Annotated street map, Hyde Square, Jamaica Plain (Boston, Mass.)
Photo by author.
I started this blog post last week and somehow it failed to save automatically, erasing several full paragraphs of text. Damn you Google, the way you lull us into complacency with your automatic back-ups! Still, I've continued to think about the themes of this post in the intervening week and will write a different post now than I would have last Sunday. And I think I'm mostly okay with that.

Ownership, and choice.

Last weekend, Hanna and I had a conversation about buying furniture. Our household is currently composed of some odds and ends, a few really awesome, we've picked up through the street-side equivalent of dumpster diving and IKEA purchases, again some quite excellent. Hanna moved here following an escape from an abusive relationship and a string of insecure housing situations, neither of which lent themselves to long-lasting furniture investment; I moved here from the Midwest with everything I needed for grad school packed into the back of an "economy" car rented from Enterprise. We've been constructing our household from the ground up.

The discussion we had was about buying some non-IKEA furniture, specifically a coffee table and a couple of bedside tables (perhaps matching!) for lamps and the inevitable stack of books-to-be-read we both accumulate. It would be nice, we feel, to have bedside tables with little drawers so Teazle won't spend the hour between 2-3am every night trying to wake us up by swiping our spectacles onto the floor.

We've been thinking about L.L. Bean this time around, specifically their "Mission" or "Rustic" lines, which for us means maybe a piece or two per year depending on the size of the vet bills and how much we care about traveling to England in the next decade.

Then last weekend I got thinking, if we're going to spend $500 on a coffee table or $250/piece on a pair of end tables, maybe we could do better than give that money to Bean's. They've a good reputation as an employer, and are regional, sure. Their pieces are made here in the U.S. But what if we went a step further down this path and actually hired a local woodcrafter to do the job?

"I dunno, I guess I'm just not used to having the money to make that kind of choice," Hanna observed. "It makes me anxious. I mean, it's always the way I wanted to spend money, but Evil Ex always fought me on it. And then when I moved down to Boston I was worried about feeding myself and paying rent."

See, despite the fact that we're still renting (and yes, as we prepared to move everyone kept asking us if we were buying; there's a whole separate post in me about the unexpected pressure I feel as a married person in my thirties to buy into the real estate market -- it's seriously more pressure than we're feeling about the babies thing, maybe because we've made that decision in the negative already) this feels like our first home as a married couple. Our first purpose-"bought" space. We made our grad student digs work for eight years -- eight years? the management company rep kept repeating when I handed him the keys, eight years? whoa. that's gotta be a record. -- and while we made the move because we needed a bigger space, it was also a move that consolidated our commitment to Boston. Despite the fact we're tenants, not owners, of this lovely new home, we already have a sense of ownership.

Because we've chosen to live here -- this city, this neighborhood, this building, this space. So even though we're still writing that check every month to the landlord, not the bank, we're putting down roots. Hanna bought a sage plant. We've introduced ourselves to our next-door neighbors. We do our part wheeling the trash to the curb on Monday mornings.

We talk about hiring a local artisan to build our furniture, even if it means we'll have to wait for a year to get those matching end tables with the drawers where we can keep our eyeglasses safe from questing paws.

Jamaica Pond, May 2014
Photo by author.
Because we can afford to wait a year. We're thinking in those terms, now, more than we used to.

And it's definitely a good place to be.