Friday, August 23, 2013

Sexism in the Workplace, Experience #1

Because I was born in 1980, because I am a solid Gen Y citizen, because I am a beneficiary of a hell of a lot of work and sacrifice on the part of many woman and men who were fed up with the status quo, in my work life I've not been the recipient of a lot of sexist language or behavior or sexual harassment. Oh, sure, there's the usual learned timidity that I've acquired (you know, mitigating my speech with "I think", "what about," "it seems to me...") and maybe, just maybe a glass ceiling. (Actually, yes, there is a ceiling, but it's not glass, and it's got nothing to do with my gender, and everything to do with the fact that leadership does not come naturally to me.) And yes, all of the sexist bullshit does exist. I'm just saying that I've not been the recipient of it.

Or so I thought.

And then I had to go and read Gail Collins' When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present. It was an infuriating read, on a lot of levels, and a frustrating read, too. I literally lost count of all of the injustices, little and big, that were (yes, and are) heaped upon women--many times by their male civil rights counterparts. One telling passage that stuck out to me was the recounting of one female politician (naturally, one of the first of Second-Wave Feminism), who was about to go into session with one of her female colleagues. Up strolls one of their male politician counterparts, who gives them a blithe, cheerful, "Hello, girls!"

A lot of people wouldn't read anything into it. Sometimes, I think that I don't read anything into it. But then,  I am of a generation of females that are by and large respected and treated as equals in the workplace. Still, I can see where an accomplished woman with a solid career would  resent being referred to as a "girl." Actually, no, scratch that, I can see why any woman, accomplished or not, career woman or housewife or college student or college dropout or whatever--would resent being referred to as a girl, particularly by one's professional equal.

Why do I bring this up? Well. Since you asked.

About a week after I finished reading When Everything Changed, I was working the Reference Desk with Papa Bear. A patron-dude steps up to the desk and says, "Hey smart guy and red-headed girl. I need some information."

What. The. Fuck.

Mustering all the dignity--if not much presence of mind--I turned to him and said, "That's red-headed lady to you."

Afterwards, though, I began to think--his address was insulting on any number of levels. Completely aside from not saying something as simply courteous as, "Excuse me, may I ask you a question?" or "Hi, I need some help," he chose to go with the rather more informal "Hey smart guy and red-headed girl." And now let's address the whole thing about referring to the male as the "smart" guy while distinguishing his (obviously equal) female counterpart not by the presumed-hefty intellectual capacity needed to be a librarian but rather a physical trait.  And then of course, there's the whole "girl" reference. All of a sudden, I began to appreciate a lot more where those female politicians were coming from.

Here's the funny thing: the patron-dude was probably in my age range.Probably grew up with a lot of the same PC/equality stuff hitting him from all sides, same as me. And I choose to really, really doubt that he was intentionally trying to slight, denigrate, belittle, or discriminate against me. He did slight  me, but I am fairly certain that his condescension, his automatic discounting my professional persona, was on a completely unconscious level.  And this makes me wonder--I doubt I would have noticed it had the Collins book not been fresh on my mind. But the book was on my mind, and wouldn't you know, there it was. A fairly harmless incident that shows that sexism and patriarchal attitudes still abound--often in ways that neither perpetrator nor victim are aware of.

We've come a long way...but we've got a long way yet to go.

Balls to the Wall

And then, just like that, things change again.

Yesterday, our Senior Librarian called the "underling" (non-management) full-timers into her office. She was about bursting the news: at the end of September, she's leaving for a new job, with lots of responsibilities and potential. So, soon we'll be down another person.

It's hard not to be pleased for her, when I saw how excited she was by the prospect of new work, new colleagues, new potential. And I am pleased for her. But dismayed, too--immediately I began thinking of all the work our Senior Librarian does, and how the Powers That Be probably won't replace her, but will rather simply re-distribute all of her work and responsibilities. I began thinking of the events and Saturdays and closing duties that will  need to be distributed among only three librarians. And I began thinking about, how, once more, I am the one still here. Staying put.

Silly, I know. My Senior Librarian leaves, and I have some sort of existential angsty fit of questioning myself and my life choices. It's not about me. But then, I think it's good for me to take time to assess my own career and work from time to time, and what better time to do it than when others in my workplace move upwards and onwards? I did it when the Boss Lady retired last year, and after a little adjusting and a lot of Prozac, I managed. I kicked my own ass into gear. So maybe I'll do the same thing this time around, too.

The last 24 hours, I've spent thinking, thinking, thinking. And the only conclusion I can come to is this: for now, and for the foreseeable future, I am here at this job, in this position-- the same job and position I have held for 6 years. I've no prospects for upwards advancement, I don't have much of a voice in the planning and administration of the Library, and I've hit my maximum pay. But I haven't hit the maximum of the work I can do, the talents I can cultivate, the ways I can support my bosses, and the help I can give to the public.

There are going to be some stressful, probably frustrating months ahead. But I have it within myself to tap into more productivity, more cheer, more patience; I have it within me to be the worker my bosses and community need as we start through this transitory time. I have it within me to refuse to think of myself and my non-traditional career track as not a disappointment, but rather a dedication of the strengths I know I have in abundance.

It's a challenge, sure, but somehow, I think careers are built up from challenges. Opportunities, too. So that's how I am gonna look at it. There's just no other way.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Overheard on the Reference Desk, Summer 2013

"They're coming for you, Snowden!"

(This was said to my colleague "Papa Bear", uttered by one of our more colorful patrons. In Snowden's Papa Bear's defense, he does maybe bear the tiniest resemblance to Snowden. In that they are both geeky white males under 40. Otherwise, it's a stretch. But amusing, at least if you're me. Alarming, if you are Papa Bear.)