“Sympathizers are spectators; empathizers wear game shoes.” -John Eyberg
I have been so lucky in my professional life. From the tight band of women who were my grad school friends and are now librarians and archivists all over the US to the friends and connections I made through my work in YALSA to the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with in my day-to-day librarianship, I’ve found nothing but support and encouragement from my professional colleagues and it’s made me even more excited to do what I do.
And, of course, there’s the online world of connections, another place I’ve found a warm welcome. (waves to all my blog readers and twitter followers.)
Today, I wanted to start by talking specifically about a group of fantastic, inspirational colleagues (and friends!) I connected with at Midwinter this year, thanks to an amazing event organized by the dynamic and amazing Kelly. This group stayed in contact after Midwinter. Boy, did we ever stay in contact!
Kelly, Andrea, Katie, Sarah, Abby, and me formed an email chain after Midwinter and it took on a life of its own. I cannot even tell you how much inspiration and support this group has given me over the past three months. Booklists, summer reading strategies, dealing with our administration, plans for outreach, sharing our success to inspire each other, venting about bad days so we feel less alone – it’s a group of people ready with encouragement, ideas, humor, experience and always there to jump into the game. I’m so lucky to even be part of this group and to have these girls in the game with me. It makes me better and it makes me try harder.
For me, one of the most important parts, one of the best parts, of having empathizers there with you is for the moments of outrage: the moment when you find someone who has the same outrage as you, feels the same injustice and wants to raise their voice in the same way you do.
Just about a week ago, author Brendan Halpin posted some commentary on a Washington Post article about the “gender divide” in YA fic. (and, yes, that totally means “boys don’t read! there’s all these supernatural books for girls!” Which is a totally legit point, because we all know boys won’t/don’t/can’t read paranormal books and it’s not like 4 of the 7 children’s/YA titles that sold over 1,000,000 copies in 2010 had male protagonists and were written by men. )
First of all, the Washington Post article had good intentions, I guess, and was at least semi-researched and really wasn’t that bad. But, I swear to GOD it just made me want to pull my hair out. OH GOOD, LET’S HAVE THIS DISCUSSION AGAIN!
SO GLAD this issue is getting coverage and being brought up yet again because, WOW, there’s just not enough discussion about it. It’s not like there are numerous professional titles about engaging boys with libraries and literacy, blogs written by and centered on boys reading, or a monthly column in VOYA about books and programming for boys, or that over half the Printz winners have been written by men and feature teen boy lead characters. Oh, wait! It’s exactly like that.
So, yes, I had issues with the Washington Post article … but then came Halpin’s post which took things to a whole other level.
And that level is: Really?!
Let’s start with: “we’d better find more books for boys because boys need books that reflect their realities.” Which, you know, that’s an issue close to my heart. I am totally a person that speaks up for the importance of that, OK? But really? Really? There aren’t enough young adult/childrens books out there that reflect boy’s/men’s reality? Really? I know, what a stirring point, but honestly! If you can look around our culture, around every single part of our contemporary culture (and, yes, publishing is included as part of said culture) and still say to yourself: “Women are the machine and they are bringing an unconscious bias towards men to their gatekeeping!!” I honestly can’t say more to you than: Really?!
MUCH LESS than the unspoken end of that is “because boys can’t relate to girl’s experiences, you know the way girls can so easily relate to boys.” You know, there’s a real gender divide happening and that gender divide is: girls love books with boy protagonists because of course they can relate but no boy in his right mind would be caught dead reading a book with a girl protagonist. How’s he expected to relate???!
This is what we might think of as the Twilight/Harry Potter faux-dichotomy: Harry Potter sells well? Gee, that’s because it’s such a universal, magical, epic story we can all relate to and lose ourselves in! Twilight sells well? Teenage girls and middle age women are buying them all because NO boys or men are interested in stuff like vampires and werewolves and love stories. Gross-out! WOMEN: RUINING THINGS BY BUYING TWILIGHT, WAY TO GO.
While I read Halpin’s post, my mouth dangled open in disbelief. It wasn’t just about the Washington Post article, it wasn’t just about getting boys to read – it was about how “women of twitter” weren’t taking the issue seriously enough, about how further that in children’s publishing “women are the machine”, about how women, i.e. the machine, do not serve everyone equally. Halpin’s post was an exquisite experience in privilege, a perfect illustration of it, really, because it used privilege to deny privilege.
I knew I had to respond, to try to point out how problematic Halpin’s blog was. I knew I had to voice my outrage. And just as I started to wrestle with how I was going to do this: how I was going to approach the inherent privilege and straw man logic in his post, how I was going to address all of the coverage this issue consistently receives, so to approach it as if it were entirely novel was ridiculous. Believe me, I wasn’t relishing this. I didn’t want to start a “fight”, I didn’t want to be “unfun“, I have a thousand other blogs I need to write so I didn’t want to be writing this one. But … well, some things you just have to address.
It wasn’t just relief that now I didn’t “have” to write a response, it wasn’t just knowing that there was someone out there as outraged about a particular issue as I was: it was knowing that there was someone else in the game with me.
I am so grateful for all the empathizers in my life: the people like Kelly, the bloggers at Lady Business, and so many more people than I could possibly list, both within my professional field and just in my life: the people who share my outrage and speak out about it.
All of them make me so glad I’m in the game and I am eternally grateful for the reminders and the assists.
(who are some of your empathizers and inspirations?)