food for thought: boundaries and setting them

Two pieces this week, tackling the vexed question of boundaries and setting them.

The always-articulate s.e. smith offers up some thoughts over at this ain’t livin on how hard it is to set boundaries with people you expect to violate them:

One of the things I found most fascinating about the panel, which was populated entirely by people who had been socialised as women, was the difference between our experience and that of some of the people in the audience. At one point, we started talking about deescalating: How, as a person who may be smaller, who may have a higher voice, and who, critically, may have a body that is read as public property and an object, you get out of a situation that is potentially dangerous.

When I have an interaction with someone who is aggressive and larger than me — usually a man — who is trying to exert power over me, it is stressful. It’s stressful not just because I’m upset that someone is trying to control me, is trying to act like he owns me, is trying to push me around, but because I find it threatening and scary. I never know if a verbal confrontation is going to turn physical, and men often don’t respect this — it doesn’t occur to them that while they may think they’re being playful or ‘arguing for argument’s sake’ that what they are doing is actually frightening and intimidating.

So I, like many other people with bodies like mine, have learned a variety of tactics for coping with perceived threats, and for getting out of such conversations. Which often means swallowing shit, because the alternative is confronting it and then finding ourselves in danger. It means that when someone says something we find upsetting, or gets pushy with us, that we back down, because we aren’t prepared to deal with conflict that might turn dangerous.

And in light of the events which precipitated this group — questions about boundaries regarding acceptable community behavior and speech — this piece by Kate Harding at Dame Magazine against anti-moderation “free speech” rhetoric strikes me as topical:

To many of us who write online for a living, the Jezebel staff post felt like a watershed moment: the constant harassment of female writers finally being treated as the workplace safety issue it is. For too long, employers have held fast to the myth that unmoderated or lightly moderated comment sections encourage free and open dialogue that creates a sense of community. Maybe that works on low-traffic sites with no controversial content—I doubt it—but it has exactly the opposite effect on popular websites featuring work by opinionated women. Trolls and haters drive away people who care about the site and sincerely want to respond to the work there, or to other reasonable commenters.

It’s not always rape gifs, but there is a constant stream of sexist nastiness directed at women writers, whose bosses too often respond with some version of “Grow a thicker skin.” I was told almost exactly that by a previous boss (a woman, no less) who kept pushing writers to “engage” with these commenters, in hopes that our charm would mellow them out. Based on no evidence—and contra to everything we reported about the reality of venturing into comments—we were told time and again that making ourselves more visible in these shitstorms would probably solve the problem, and if not, so what? They were just words.

Imagine this going on in a bricks-and-mortar workspace: a couple dozen (on a good day) men running through the office, stopping to shout obscenities at female employees. A crowd of them forming around a single woman, calling her a dumb bitch who’s terrible at her job, every time she turns in a new project. Strangers who do not work for the company hovering over all of the women in the office, waiting to react with anger every time those women speak.

(via Geek Feminism’s linkspam (which in my opinion is some of the best linkspam around!))

read-along invitation: uprooting racism

Cover art for 3rd edition of Paul Kivel's Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial JusticeI’m taking a break from the links list this week to issue an invitation to participate in a read-along with me, beginning the week of September 15th, of Paul Kivel’s Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice (New Society Publishers, 2011; revised and expanded 3rd edition).  Given the events in Ferguson, Missouri, among other places in the past few weeks this seems like a timely moment to reflect on everyday ways that all of us — including those who experience the social privilege of being white, or read as white, — can intervene for a less violent and more equitable world.

This is a read-along because I myself have not read this book, although I have read and appreciated Kivel’s Helping Teens Stop Violence (Hunter House, 2011), co-authored with Allen Creighton.

I will be reading the book one chapter per week and posting short reflections / discussion questions here at the blog each Friday until the book is complete. If others in the group are interested in reading along with me and would like to take a turn posting the opening reflections, please speak up now or along the way!

I look forward to our conversation(s).

question time: staff favorites

Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Many of us work in special collections environments, where we hold hundreds of thousands of unique materials.

What’s something you are proud of holding in your repository, and which might surprise people to know you had (no “greatest hits” please!)?

Here’s an item I highlighted back in 2011 on the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website that helps document the history of anti-feminism and anti-communism in the United States:

In May of 1923, conservative evangelical minister, author, and lecturer Thomas M. C. Birmingham saw a brief announcement in an Omaha newspaper, describing a lecture given by Margaret C. Robinson, president of the Massachusetts Public Interests League, on the “radical propaganda” Robinson and her fellow activists believed was being disseminated in women’s colleges.

Professors at women’s colleges such as Bryn Mawr, Smith, and Wellesley, Robinson argued, were turning “wholesome American girl[s]” away from patriotism and the Constitution, preaching “Communist sex standards,” calling the literal truth of the Bible into question, and exposing young women to the theories of Freud and Marx. As a result, unsuspecting parents sent their daughters off to college and watched in horror as their child was transformed into “an undesirable type of citizen.”

This message resonated with Birmingham, who wrote to Robinson, suggesting that the two activists might find “mutual helpfulness” in an alliance to “stamp out radicalism.”

What do you have in your collections that highlights under-documented histories or surprising connections? Share one of your favorites this week (pictures welcome!).

food for thought: dis/abilities and labor

Last week I collected a number of insightful pieces on the intersection of dis/abilities and public (or work) spaces. The extent to which our work lives are governed by the concept of an idealized, able-bodied worker-citizen has become increasingly apparent to me over the past decade as I and my peers navigate employment with a range of health challenges that limit our ability to live up to that (inevitably impossible) ideal. In an overarching way, I think it is helpful when we consider the role dis/ableism — discrimination and social policing based on particular cultural expectations of physical and mental normativity — to remember an observation once made by historian Gerda Lerner: “All of us, ultimately, will join one of the most despised and abused groups in our society–the old and the sick.” Whether or not we now consider ourselves as individuals with non-normative bodies or brains, one day we will experience these things. It is a universal part of the human condition. Therefore, understanding dis/ableism as it operates within society is ultimately not an exercise in insider/outside politics. It is, and should be understood as, an exercise in humanity (we infirm creatures) versus the inhuman expectations to which we’ve decided to hold ourselves and one another within our socioeconomic system.


Tenured Radical @ The Chronicle of Higher Education amends an earlier piece she wrote featuring advice to entering college students and their families by discussing at length the way in which inflexible policies can discriminate against people with disabilities. She’s discussing attendance in the context of higher education, but we might also should consider how expectations of attendance (and workplace sick leave policies) are shaped by assumptions about able-bodiedness and what constitutes meaningful workplace participation:

Students need to be fully engaged with their own education, but when disability accommodation comes down to a struggle over policy between a student and a member of the faculty (which it never should and often does), this is an outcome of perhaps unintentional, but certainly structural, discrimination against disabled students.

(The comment thread on the above post is also extremely valuable, so don’t stop reading with the end of the OP.)

Dis/ability is, like any other facet of our lives, intersectional — inseparable from all of the other categories into which society sorts us. Katie Rose Guest Pryal @ Curriculum Vitae offers some tips on how not to alienate your colleagues with invisible disabilities and about the ways gender, race, and disability intersect:

When we talk about psychiatric disability in the academy, we cannot ignore how race, gender, socioeconomic, and other kinds of privilege affect how people with disabilities live and work. It’s a lot easier to deal with the stigma of mental illness if your colleagues aren’t already questioning your competency on the job—overtly or not—because of which boxes you check on census forms.

(via Feminist Law Professors)

It’s always good to have a week where you learn something, and for me that was the term “disability binarism” and its meaning. Cara Liebowitz @ That Crazy Crippled Chick writes about the consequences of disability binarism:

It’s easier to let people believe that I can’t stand or walk on my own.  I get tired of being called lazy, or having a bus driver tell me I “tricked” him.  Can I walk? Absolutely and for sheer convenience I plan to keep it that way, even if I like rolling a lot better and it allows me to do more things. But my chair allows me to go places without worrying about my energy levels. I can zip from there to here to there without so much as a second thought and I never realized how much energy I expended walking and calculating how much of that energy I could expend before I HAD. TO. SIT. DOWN until I started using a chair. Able-bodied people just throw out “walking distance” so flippantly, because they don’t know what it’s like to expend so much energy into just staying upright and putting one foot in front of the other and not falling in the middle of a busy city street.

(Linked within the above post is The Spoon Theory with which all of you should become familiar. So useful.)

Don’t want to be that jerk of a bus driver described above? Check out Erin Tatum @ Everyday Feminism who brings us five tips for avoiding awkward as an able-bodied person interacting with someone who has a visible disability:

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to sit there with a smile plastered on my face as some middle-aged stranger babbles at me in a singsong voice about how I’m impressive for going to school and wanting to do something with my life. By deciding how much we’re capable of understanding and then limiting that depth to an elementary school level, you immediately undercut any potential for genuine connection in the conversation.

(via @MagpieLibrarian)

On the vector of gender rather than dis/ableism a recent study finds women in the non-profit sector continue to do more work for less pay than their male counterparts (via @StepheStellar).

Meanwhile, Amanda Hess @ Slate report that targets of online harassment (not surprisingly, disproportionately individuals from socially  marginalized groups) are finding crowd-sourced solutions to what should be considered a social problem:

What this approach fails to recognize is that online harassment is a social problem (one that disproportionately affects the same folks who are marginalized offline, like minority groups, LGBT people, and women), and making the Internet a safe and equitable place to communicate requires a social solution. So now, some Twitter users are stepping up to provide ad-hoc fixes where Twitter itself has declined to dabble.

And finally, congratulations to the Society of American Archivists for formally adopting a Code of Conduct governing behavior at “conferences, events, [ in] meetings, formal mentoring relationships, and online spaces.” I’m particularly stoked that the model for the SAA’s CoC was based on work done by the community at Geek Feminism Wiki. While we’re all aware that Codes of Conduct are only the beginning — words must be backed up by deeds! — it is definitely an important step to have a code in place and a stated mechanism for enforcement. I hope that this Code is widely advertised and actively incorporated throughout the annual meeting being held this week in Washington, D.C.

question time: saa 2014 (or not)

Logo for SAA 2014: Archives*Records: Ensuring Access (August 10-16, 2014, Washington, D.C.)

Logo for SAA 2014: Archives*Records: Ensuring Access (August 10-16, 2014, Washington, D.C.)

Since many of us are archivists or in archivist-aware professions (is that even a term? if it hasn’t been, it is now), I thought this week’s question time could be about the Society for American Archivists’ annual conference, Archives * Records: Ensuring Access, taking place in Washington, D.C. this week, August 10-16th.

If you’re attending SAA, what are you looking forward to? What are your goals for the conference? If you’re already there when you respond, what have you learned or enjoyed?
If you’re not attending SAA, are you feeling left out? What influenced your decision to not attend? Is it the last place on earth your crowd-averse soul would like to be? What will you be doing instead?
Share your thoughts with the group via our listserv.
If you are interested in participating in the Amiable Archivists Salon, please read our community ground rules and submit a brief application for membership and we will be pleased to welcome you aboard!

food for thought: mix and match

This week we have a grab-bag of links, so take what you like and leave what you don’t … or dare to check out the unfamiliar and/or the uncomfortable!

Link-hopping early in the week I stumbled back across this blog post by my friend Fannie @ Fannie’s Room about the risk of using humor in mixed-company conversations (“mixed company conversations” is, in fact, a term I got from her!). She’s discussing a specific incident that happened on the now-defunct Family Scholar’s Blog, but the overall pattern will be familiar to many:

Within conversations where the goal is for civil dialogue to occur, I think we especially need to be mindful of attempts to use humor and facetiousness. Although it can be tempting to use humor to diffuse tensions, if it is not done with an awareness of the experiences of “the other side” it can come off as hostile. It can, and often does, actually escalate tensions with the very people one purports to want to engage in a civil manner.

If you aren’t following Dr. Adrienne Keene @ Native Appropriations you should be. This past week she wrote about the good and the bad of national exposure via an NPR interview about navigating college as a Native person:

Native identity isn’t just a racialized identity. Native identity is political. We are citizens of tribal nations. So we can’t just talk about our identities purely in racial terminology. Thinking about our identity as purely race-based is another tool to wipe us out. Cause you can “breed out” this notion of “blood” but you can’t “breed out” citizenship. There’s also a deep power issue here–who has the “right,” especially as an outsider, to determine someone’s identity for them?

While fatphobia and anti-fat bias are hardly the last acceptable form of discrimination, ours is a culture that has institutionalized fat-hatred (and thus discrimination against people whose bodies are read as fat). Ragen @ Dances With Fat recently responded to a reader who asked how to handle anti-fat bias in the workplace:

Being fat at work can be really difficult to navigate.  There is already evidence that fat people get hired less often and paid less money than our thin counterparts.  Once you do have a job it can be really scary to make waves – even when you are faced with things like getting worse benefits than your thin counterparts, being charged more for insurance, forced to attend company Weight Watchers meetings and more.

Jessica Grose @ Slate pointed us toward a new study on the reasons why mothers of young children leave the workplace (spoiler: it’s not because their hormones make them squishy):

American women are knocked out of the workforce when they have biological children: not because of some magical mind-meld between mother and child, but because having a baby is exhausting and requires a measure of physical recovery. A woman has to take a break when she has a baby, whether it’s paid or not, while a male partner can get by without time off unless he’s paid to take it. And when mothers are the primary caretakers from day one, that sets a precedent: If a family can’t afford child care, it’s generally the mother who will leave her job to pick up the slack.

… while Jane C. Hu @ Slate points out that maybe women fair worse in negotiations (workplace or otherwise) because people are more likely to lie to them:

“We found that in the role-play, people were significantly more likely to blatantly lie to women,” says Laura Kray, the lead author of the study. “To women, for instance, the buyer’s agents would say, ‘They will be luxury condos,’ but to men, they would say, ‘I can’t tell you.’ ” After the negotiation, students were asked to disclose whether they lied. Both men and women reported lying to women more often. Twenty-four percent of men said they lied to a female partner, while only 3 percent of men said they lied to a male partner. Women also lied to other women (17 percent), but they lied to men as well (11 percent). Perhaps even more telling: People were more likely to let men in on secrets. “Men were more likely to be given preferential treatment,” says Kray. In several instances, buyer’s agents revealed their client’s true intentions to men saying, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but … ” This sort of privileged information was never offered to women.

A new online group Reading Archivists will be reading and discussing the 2007 Society of American Archivists’ presidential address in August, titled “Our Journey Toward Diversity”:

Here’s your warning: compared to most of the pieces we’ve read, the Adkins piece is quite long. It’s an “expanded version” of her address (a director’s cut!!). I actually thought about using just that one piece for the August discussion, but decided not to break the rules quite so early in the group’s development. I think the Fleckner piece does a good job of summarizing where the archival profession was in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and the letters – particularly the third one – help demonstrate the path towards the diversity conversation Adkins is highlighting in her address.

(h/t to @badger5 and @Crowgirl42 for the link!)

Over at the National Journal, NPR’s Michel Martin reflects on how the “having it all” debate about middle- and upper-class women in the workplace has really been discussion about white women:

She told me she wouldn’t be interested in working for someone who wasn’t white, and when I told her I found her attitude bizarre in this day and age, she explained that she thought mine was. She had only ever worked for white people, she only wanted to work with white people, and what was wrong with that?

And in another entry on the list of “if you aren’t following this person already drop everything and do so now,” Jay Smooth @ Ill Doctrine asked 11 people for one-sentence responses to the question of why we still need to talk about race:

This has been your weekly installment of “food for thought.” As always, if you have links you would like us to include in our Wednesday round-up, please email the link to amiablearchivists [at] gmail [dot] com.


question time: struttin’ your stuff

Peter Capaldi in his costume for Doctor Who (BBC promotional shot). Capaldi stands in a fencing pose with his right hand extended toward the viewer, fingers pointing. The suit is black and finely tailored with a red satin lining.

Peter Capaldi in his costume for Doctor Who (BBC promo shot).

Last week we talked about being yourself at work (and the limits we sometimes feel imposed upon our self-expression). Since that struck a chord with so many of you, I thought I would continue in that vein this week and ask:

Do you have a strong sense of personal style? Do you have a colleague whose personal style you envy? If you had to characterize your / your colleague’s style with that of a fictional character, whom would you pick? Is there a particular item in this person’s wardrobe that you covet? A particular item in your own wardrobe you feel uniquely expresses your own style? 

As happened last week, visual depictions (fictional or factual) are welcome!

Folks seem to be sharing their responses to Question Time via email. If you would like to join the conversation please check out our community ground rules and complete the membership request form to be added to our most amiable email list.