Today the ALA ScholComm listserv went beserk.
Well, more beserk than usual. Usually, it’s a bunch of predominantly white males whipping it out email-style over issues of open access and publishing and the like. All kinds of attacks and counter-attacks go into the debate. It gets brutal.
But today, one of these men (we’ll call him Dude #1), whom I know and like, decided to take a step back and reflect on the nature of what is supposed to be a professional email list group. He noted that many people have expressed hesitancy in participating in the group because it feels more like fight club than professional discussion. He also acknowledged that the conversation tends to be dominated by a select few (the above-mentioned white men). He then proceeded to do a quick and dirty quantitative analysis of the most recent discussions on the listserv. And in an act of really nice self-reflection, he included his own name and stats in the list, acknowledging that he himself had been accused of being one of the frequent listserv blabbers. (Interesting note: I’m pretty sure the person who made that accusation was yours truly.)
Right away, of course, came the usual response you get when someone tries to step back and point out power inequities and privilege within a group. Another one of these menfolk (Dude #2) jumped up to cry out that gender was not an issue in the listserv and that pointing out what was little more than an “anomaly” in the numbers of active participants was only playing up trump (pun intended) issues.
I usually stay out of these things and just delete the messages until I come across something useful for my work. But at this point, after a wonderful Easter weekend of rest and relaxation, I was ready to jump back into the Struggle. So, I wrote:
And then it was on.
Like, all of it showed up, y’all. There were the “not all men” responses. And the “Why should people be silenced?” responses, which interestingly, came on the heels of the “Silence! Don’t play the race/gender card!” responses. There was the “Let’s all just be nice” people and the “Everyone should maintain civility” people.
The white feminists clutched their pearls in horror: One, herself a frequent flyer in the usually all-male melee, even kindly took the time to”fact check” us all by stating that my thoughts made little different since she herself has been contributing to the list and leading the feminine charge all along. So, you know, bow down, b!tches.
The white men cried out in agony at their hurt feelings: Apparently, Dude #2’s feelings are “still smarting” from what was said in response to his email. He acknowledged that as a non-librarian, non-scholcomm specialist, he probably doesn’t belong on the listserv, but still. He “took a risk” to express his white male thoughts in this email group for a profession that is 80% female. Also, he has a nice, smart wife so he’s not sexist. So, you know, give him a cookie already!
And yet, here’s the deal: All this talk about civility and not silencing and all of it, ALL OF IT, is directed at those who for the first time in a long time are daring to speak up against the oppressive nature of this email list and say, “No more!” All the times the menfolk fairly eviscerated each other over open access or the merits/pitfalls of CC BY were fine. Making sexist remarks = fine. Racist commentary = fine. Homophobia/transphobia = sure. Ableism = why not?
But challenge the right of the privileged white male to speak his mind all over the place and you are rude and uncivil and “worthy of internet trolls.” (Yes, someone, one of the nice white ladies, said that about me.)
And you know what? None of this is anything new. We find this kind of bullsh!t all over the Struggle. But we keep on keeping on. Because it’s worthwhile work we do. Because we are not alone. Because being a troll is a-okay when you’re trolling oppression.
I hate the way people dominate that list and activate their privilege to take up way too much space. But I’m proud of all the wonderful and thoughtful people (yes, including many white males) who spoke up today in favor of less oppression and more true professionalism.
Looks like we’ll be alright to Struggle for another day.