Cry Me a (White Male) River

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:

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 7.14.50 PM.png

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.




  1. Anonymous Tardigrade · March 29, 2016

    Thank you for your voice, passion, and intellect, April.

    I hope it’s okay to be anonymous here—I’m very early career, and while I wanted to bring this up on #ThatList, I didn’t feel comfortable due to the personal nature of it.

    If I had felt more comfortable, I might have talked about how men silence and intimidate women in our profession all the time. I might have brought up examples of more “benign” sexism (men talking over me, being constantly interrupted), eye-rolling-and-almost-laughably-retro sexism (a man expecting my POC female friend to pour him coffee while they were at a coffee break at a conference). I might even have talked about the times I’ve been cornered in elevators during conferences and asked where my room was, or how friends were sent harassing emails after conferences begging for dates.

    These interactions color the way I think, understand, and yes, feel about the profession. Everything I mention above happened in formal settings with conduct codes. If this is how we’re treated in formal contexts, why in the world would I expect better treatment in an unprotected informal setting like a listserv?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Chris Bourg · March 29, 2016

    There are not enough like buttons in the whole world for this.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. Monica McCormick · March 29, 2016

    Beautifully done. Thank you, April.


  4. jessamyn · March 29, 2016

    Thanks for taking the time (and the risk) to write this all down April.


  5. Christina Pikas · March 30, 2016

    I’m not a regular reader of #ThatList but I did see this thread. I loved your response there and here. FWIW, On Code4Lib there was a post requesting research participants on silencing – mostly tech self efficacy type? And the list filled with “oh not here” responses. I do think that researcher should also look at #ThatList.


  6. Melissa A. Hubbard · March 30, 2016

    Nothing insightful to add–I just wanted to thank you for your voice and your courage and efforts to build a more inclusive library profession.


  7. eayates · March 30, 2016

    Hi April,
    Many thanks for this post and for speaking up on the ScholComm list so insightfully and eloquently.
    I’m just not sure why you used the phrase “white feminists” in this post. Why qualify the word feminist? Is being a white person who is a feminist a bad thing? Sorry I didn’t get that memo – should I stop speaking up for women of all colours, shapes and sizes and orientations now since I’m white?
    Maybe I’m misreading your thoughts, but I don’t find it helpful for you on one hand to – very accurately – point out problems with male privilege in the scholarly communication world while at the same time insulting your female colleagues who happen to be white.
    To me, that looks like the exactly the same kind of divisive, oppressive behaviour you are protesting against.
    Thanks for the opportunity to comment,


    • April Hathcock · March 30, 2016

      Yes, Elizabeth, you did miss the memo. And the entire history of feminism in North America and around the world. Start by reading Jessie Daniels’s great overview. Continue by taking a look at the work by black feminists and other feminists of color (I’ve got some listed on my Recommended Reading page). Ther term “white feminist” means something specific, something perfectly embodied by your comment here.

      Do your research before approaching a person of color with accusations of “oppressive, divisive behavior.”


      Liked by 8 people

      • Meghan Ecclestone · March 30, 2016

        Your response to this painfully ill-informed, [quasi?}-racist faux-feminist comment is perfection April, thank you for having the wherewithal to even bother responding. ❤

        Liked by 2 people

      • eayates · March 31, 2016

        Thanks April. I’m quite aware that I have privilege as a white, middle-class, educated woman.
        Your contempt for white feminists is clear.
        I’m just not sure how it is helpful to attack us when the central tenet for all feminists – regardless of their colour – is equality. The kind of equality and inclusiveness that is being discussed on the schol comm list right now.
        You’ve missed my point, which is: why use your platform to condemn a group that actually is an ally in the struggle against male privilege? How is that helpful?
        It weakens your stance promoting inclusiveness when you denigrate women because of their colour. I find your attitude hypocritical and damaging.
        Also – how do you even know that the women on the scholcomm list who “clutched their pearls in horror” — which I guess means dared to express an opinion you didn’t like — are actually white feminists? Did you look each of them up and ask them?
        Assigning stereotypical characteristics to people who don’t agree with you is, as I said earlier, divisive and oppressive. In your efforts to decry male privilege, You’ve made me feel that, as a white feminist, my thoughts and comments are not welcome. If that’s what you were after, you’ve won.


      • April Hathcock · March 31, 2016

        No, Elizabeth, you’re clearly not aware. And that’s the problem. We’re done here.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Angela Pashia · March 31, 2016

        Elizabeth, as a white woman who is a feminist, but is not a white feminist, I would like to share this link with you: As you will learn if you read, April is not attacking me. She is attacking a particular form of feminism.

        If you’re unwilling to follow links to educate yourself, the short version is that white feminism is not actually the ally to non-white women that you seem to think it is. That’s what the whole critique boils down to – pointing out the ways that self-righteous privileged white women have actually harmed women of color by allowing racism and classism and transphobia and all kinds of other ills to fester in their movement.

        Shifting from my lens as WW who is a feminist to my lens as a librarian, I’m kind of appalled that you responded again without seeming to have read and thought about the resource April shared with you… And that you had to ask April to explain in the first place instead of googling it to check your own knowledge before jumping in and getting offended…

        Liked by 1 person

    • Dustin · March 31, 2016

      A simple Google search would resolve your obvious misunderstanding. The term “white feminist” does not mean “feminists who happen to be white people.” Wake up.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Melissa Hubbard · March 31, 2016

      Hi Elizabeth,

      Like you, I was confused the first time I heard the term “white feminism.” I had never thought about how my whiteness might interact with my commitment to challenging patriarchy and supporting women. I started reading about what people mean when they use the term “white feminism,” and I read some things that were hard for me to process. At first, I felt a bit defensive. As you say, feminists are committed to equality. Am I not a real feminist just because I’m white? But, the more I read and listened and learned, I realized that of course I can’t separate my whiteness from my feminism. I have been both a white person and a woman my entire life, and those things shape my identity and how the world interacts with me on a fundamental level. Being a white person means that I can be oppressive without even trying. I have to work to recognize situations where that might be happening. I’m sure we can all relate to situations in which well-meaning men exhibit misogynist behaviors without realizing it. White women can do the same thing to women of color if we don’t actively work to avoid it.

      While thinking about these things, I started seeing other intersectional dimensions to feminism. Just a very simple example: I am fairly young in the profession. People tend to assume that I am very good with technology. People also tend to assume that most men are very good with technology. But, I have seen many people dismiss older women in conversations about technical issues. So, I see that older women experience a form of sexist discrimination that I usually don’t experience. If my feminism were entirely focused on the forms of discrimination and oppression that I experience as a young woman, I would not be supporting all women.

      Unfortunately, there been a long and ugly history of white women oppressing women of color. It will take awareness and intention and time to overcome the legacy of that history. We all have to grapple with the burden created by that legacy, as much as we might like to lay it down. But what can we do that isn’t “divisive”? As a white woman, I can remind myself that white privilege creates many advantages in my life that are not available to women of color. I can listen to women of color, and seek to understand, and recognize that a commitment to supporting all women means recognizing that all women don’t move through the world on equal footing. When a woman of color says or writes something that makes me feel uncomfortable as a white woman (which happens all the time), I remind myself that my hurt feelings aren’t all that important. Supporting women means listening even when it makes me uncomfortable, and recognizing that if I were to prioritize and center my own feelings in dialogue with women of color about these issues, I would be re-enacting that long legacy of racist oppression.

      I have one reading recommendation for you: “Holding My Sister’s Hand” from *Teaching to Transgress* by bell hooks. It offers a concise summary of this longstanding problem within the feminist community, and it can hard to read as a white woman, but it is also ultimately uplifting and empowering for all women.

      [**I tried to post this comment once and something went wrong. My apologies to the moderator if it comes through twice.**]

      Liked by 2 people

    • Meghan Ecclestone · March 31, 2016

      Elizabeth, it is so disheartening to read your comments.

      Not only are you hijacking language of feminism and ally-ship to ignore and erase the importance of intersectionality represented in April’s post, but you are using that same language to attack her stance and her validity as a “true” feminist. This is a *classic* White Feminist move: co-opting feminist language to belittle and undermine women of colour. White Feminists have been doing this for ages, forcing women of colour to fight not only against the systemic inequalities they face from a patriarchal, white supremacist society, but also from the erasure and false equivocation of white feminists claiming to want to “help” them. What April is doing in this post is speaking her truth: What you’re doing is attempting to deny her that truth. Again: Classic White Feminist move.

      Stand back and look at the logical extension of your arguments: A white women claiming that a woman of colour has made her feel oppressed is frighteningly close in it’s logic to the batshittery of “reverse racism” claims we see among the right wing/white supremacist ideologies coursing through politics today. Is that really the ideological company you want to keep?

      What is so ironic, so incredibly rich, is that in your efforts to rebuke April’s claim that white women have often been poor allies to women of colour, you manage to embody those same damaging patterns to a TEE. In your rejection of April’s critique of White Feminism (an accurate, well-documented phenomenon), you become that very person you seem to deny exists… a White Feminist claiming to speak for “women of all colours, shapes and sizes and orientations”, but in reality simply weaponising that language to silent, shame, and deny the words of a women of colour, who just wants to speak her truth (and who is doing so from a place that is far better informed than yours, frankly).

      I truly, truly hope that you read the materials our colleagues have shared with you here, and that one day you look back on these comments and feel embarrassed at how ignorant and harmful you words are. I’ve been there, it sucks, and I feel really dumb for things I’ve said in the past. I have learned a lot from people like April, and I am humbled by the continued willingness of women of colour (and others) to continue sharing and educating feminists like us, women who still benefit from incredible privilege, and continue to operate in blissful ignorance of our impact on other marginalised women. I’m always learning, and always correcting my views, and I hope you undertake the intellectual and emotional labour to do the same.

      Liked by 4 people

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  9. Laurie Bridges · March 30, 2016

    Quite recently, several articles were written about Meryl Steep and “White Feminism.” As a feminist who is white, I seek to listen to understand, knowing that my white privilege means I have a different experience and relationship with feminism than women of color. Is oppression intersectional and connected, yes. And, when white women are represented in a group, it does not mean that ALL women are represented. Far from it. They are not.


  10. Foxma · March 31, 2016

    I hope you’ll consider including the actual arguments of the (alleged) aggressors in your blog post. Given the support of your commentators, I assume that most of them are on the ScholComm listserv and witnessed the exchange firsthand. Unfortunately, I’m not.


    • April Hathcock · March 31, 2016

      You make several incorrect assumptions here, so let me correct you:

      1) Not all the commenters are on the listserv or have read the emails. But this kind of behavior is pervasive, so most have encountered it somewhere.

      2) My blog is not here to be a summary of the discussions on that list. I’m pointing out specific, important issues. If you want to know what’s being said by those who lack an understanding of these issues and insist on perpetuating oppression, then sign up for the list and read the emails yourself. It’s not my job to fill you in. Do your own reading.


      Liked by 2 people

      • Foxma · April 10, 2016

        I promise I will not hope for informative context here, again. This was my first visit, and I assumed you were after informed discussion.

        My assumption of your readers’ informed status was generously intended, but it will also not be repeated.

        I am not chagrined, however, for failing to outsource my critical evaluation and consequent reactions on an important topic to someone else, no matter how sociopolitically similar we may be.

        Good luck with your journey. I’m continuing mine now.


    • Angela Pashia · March 31, 2016

      You don’t have to subscribe to view the archives. It takes a little digging to find, but not that much. On Tuesday, at least, I (non-subscriber) was able to find and read as many of the messages leading up to this as I could stand to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Foxma · March 31, 2016

        Thank you for the helpful reply! My experience with listservs is pretty limited and I didn’t realize archives were accessible with or without subscription. I will see what I can turn up.


  11. cbecker53 · March 31, 2016

    Yeah! And, you’ve just gained another follower.


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