Monday, 27 October 2014

Identity, gender and libraries

Today, my French blog turns 3 years old! To celebrate, I decided to translate one of my most popular (and personal favourite) blogpost (original version here). I wrote it after attending my first ever librarian conference at Paris Book Fair in 2012.
Two and a half years later, I own up my librarian identity with more strength, but I'm still churned up by all those questions...

I didn't count how many of us were there, that Monday, pressed against each other to be reassured by our governing body on the future of our profession. So, I didn't count, but it was absolutely obvious. There were only women. Well, there was a handful of men, including two on stage, but the feminine mass was unbearable. And I felt a powerful uneasiness yelling in my head that I wasn't supposed to be here. I should have known, though. I know the numbers. But it was the very first time that I was witnessing an actual librarian gathering, and I was shocked.

I'm really annoyed to admit it, but I'm deeply ashamed to have a girl's job. It might go back to my science studies during which, each year, the proportion of female students diminished. I felt at home amongst my male peers, I was happy to be on my way to a man's job (I don't have any numbers, but let me assure you that Earth sciences researchers are mostly male), to show them all, to corrupt the system, to indulge my pride. But I finally understood that muddy outdoors research wasn't for me and a part-time job as a library assistant led me to Higher Education libraries.

Higher Education, that wasn't that bad. Research libraries were even better. Anything not to become a "kid's librarian". I'm not maternal, I'm not girly, I don't like pink. I don't identify with female professions, and children librarian seems to be in the top three of girls' jobs, amongst kindergarten teacher and nurse. And housewife. So, when I got a new job in Higher Education and was asked to take on the "youth literature" collection, it hit me hard.

But why? That's so stupid! I'm ashamed of a job I love! I'm ashamed when I think of turning towards public libraries so as to move back to my mountains more easily. Ah! I was good in school, I should have gone for a man's job, opening the way, thwarting the glass ceiling, rather than going for lower female tasks! I'm ashamed, when I introduce myself, to say what my job is. It sounds like a failure. I'm "only" a librarian. So, very fast, I add: I work for a university! I work with students and professors! I'm not that librarian, the one who reads to inattentive classes, who shush children from behind her desk! No, that's not me! No! No?

But why do I have, engraved in my brain, all of those idiotic prejudices? I do rationally know that public librarian is a great and indispensable job, made of communication and popularisation, and I'm sure I'd love to do it, to make it mine. It actually was one of my ambitions, when I began thinking about going towards information sciences: how great would it be to popularise the sciences I love so dearly in a public library! How I would like to promote reading and culture in my town!

So why are those sexist pictures pinned on the walls of my brain? Why "youth librarian" stays a female noun in our mental dictionaries? Where are the men? Show them to me! They should give themselves up! They should promote themselves! They should tell us of their joy and pride to do this wonderful "girl's" job in those numerous public libraries around the country! They should reinvest those professions from which they had withdrawn, taking with them the value, the prestige, the big names and the high salaries. Let us have some real equality, a world where caring or meticulous jobs are really welcoming all genders, where little boys can look after dolls and dress in pink without being pointed out by the rest of their community.

In the end, I feel guilty to think that much about it. As Caitlin Moran, I'm asking: "are the boys doing it?". Are the boys worried about the gender balance of their professions, do they spend hours banging their heads against walls to try and decide if, by choosing the job they chose, the lifestyle they live, the shoes they wear, they aren't deserting their gender, they aren't letting their comrades down? No, do they seem to say, too preoccupied behind their computers, behind rows of cots, behind the wheel of their lorry, crouching in front of the 305.42, looking for a missing book.
"Then, we can use the technical term, and call it bullshit."
They don't care. So we shouldn't care either. And move forward, rather that staying there pondering over and over. Let's just hope that our daughters may never feel this stupid failure feeling when choosing a job that is neither male nor female. Just a human's job. And, what's more, a really cool one.

Licence Creative CommonsPicture taken myself at the Père Lachaise, Paris, in March 2012.
Both text and pictures are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic License.

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