April 2007

Listening to: Twisted – Joni Mitchell

Eek. So there I am on librariesinteract.info. I hope that’s okay; I hope I’m not going to get myself dooced. (The internet is public! Who knew?) Anyway, just in case, I’d just like to reiterate how much I love my job and what we do and the people I work with, on both sides of the desk, and the library itself. And how much I love that we even had that debate, and the diversity within feminism. (Also, thank you to Morgan for highlighting my post.)

Anyway, I am writing an assignment. But I am curious to hear whether anyone does have any thoughts about women-only spaces, because besides being a Serious Student this weekend, I must admit that I have been boning up on my bell hooks in case the subject ever comes up again.

On reflection, maybe that last post was unfair. The resource centre is what it is, and makes some people really happy, and what I’m really frustrated about is that I don’t have the money to set up another library that follows my own politics exactly. And of course, if people need women-only space to feel comfortable, then it should be available to them.

I just feel frustrated that any talk of gender equity seems to get relegated to these little nooks and crannies like our library, when I want it to be out there, in the world, all the time. Like, we have these great non-sexist kids’ books from the ’70s, and no one ever borrows them. There is nothing remotely like them in my public library – I didn’t even know such things existed until I came to the resource centre – and that’s really sad.

I still think essentialism is stupid.

I stayed behind at the resource centre* for an extra hour this evening while C and I debated the merits of women-only spaces. Our library is not strictly a women-only space, in that we allow men to become members and borrow, but we don’t have male staff members or volunteers. Someone questioned the validity of this recently, and I’m not sure I disagree with him – which has left me feeling kind of weird about things at work.

So anyway, it came up this evening, and C and I had an incredibly lengthy debate about it. It was kind of great, and kind of awful. I mean, I have never had so heated a debate with someone I consider a good friend before, so that was the great part (in that I vehemently disagree with her, but we’ll be okay outside of the confines of our disagreement and I felt comfortable arguing with her). But it was really intense, and my hands and voice had started to shake by the end just from all the pent-up energy.

It’s not so much that I can’t see myself ever being persuaded of the benefits of women-only spaces – I can see why you might want a women-only rape crisis centre, and there’s a local swimming pool that holds a women-only afternoon once a week so that Muslim (and other) women can swim, which I think is kind of brilliant, and I’m intrigued by our tiny selection of lesbian separatist literature – but C took this bizarrely essentialist line that really got my back up. Where I was arguing “feminists”, she was arguing “women”, i.e. things are the way they are because of vaginas and penises, not because of political structures. I was arguing that we should be trying to change the world (we are a library full of information on gender and discrimination; we should be doing everything we can to spread that information far and wide, and it doesn’t matter who’s behind the desk), and she was arguing that the world is so full of hostile forces that we, as women, should just retreat to our own spaces, because they are the only safe spaces. She kept saying that if we ever employed a man, he would end up taking over the place and subverting the good work we do, and our library would become just like any other library.

My argument is that, as a feminist library, we are guided by feminist principles and, like any organisation, we have all sorts of screening processes when hiring new employees (job interviews, reference checks). These things should be protection enough. By suggesting that we shouldn’t exclude men as a rule from our staff or volunteer pool, I’m not saying that we should invite the cast of The Footy Show to rewrite our mission statement, I’m just saying that people with penises are as capable of advocating and supporting feminism as we are. I don’t see the point of a society where there is no way forward; where we sit around doing our own thing and having our consciousnesses raised, but have to forever buck against the same system because we don’t want to risk sharing that consciousness and changing the system. The suggestion that gender (or class, or ethnic) barriers are so hard and fast that no identity group will ever really understand another is so limiting – if we could only understand people whose life experiences were exactly like our own, where would we be? And we’re talking about political ideology, not biology. Education can only be a positive thing; and you have to be able to do something with that education, right? I am upset that there are misogynists in the world, but isn’t the ideal solution to change their minds? As far as I can tell, C thinks that some level of misogyny is the inevitable consequence of being male.

I guess the real argument against my position is that we are a potential source of information for women looking to get out of situations of domestic violence, or for women who are survivors of sexual abuse or assault, who might feel uncomfortable asking for help from a male librarian. And I’m not sure where I stand on that. On the one hand, I would hate for anything to make life more difficult for those women. But on the other hand, they do not make up the bulk of our patrons, most of whom are are Women’s Studies students or people looking for lesbian resources. And we are not a counselling service. There are a number of women’s crisis and counselling services around town, to whom we refer clients when necessary. The other issue is that we get very few patrons at all these days, because schools are discontinuing their Women’s Studies programs and we are becoming something of an anachronism because our collection is not very up-to-date. We have to really grovel for funding. I kind of feel that if we shifted our focus to “gender” rather than “women”, we might become more relevant again.

Another thing C was saying was that, by employing a man, we would be taking a job away from a woman – is there some missing link in my thinking? Because that doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s not that I don’t believe in affirmative action – I do – but I just don’t see that the feminist thing to do is to only ever hire women, even as volunteers. Am I so set in my own side of the debate, after so forcefully trying to put forward my case for an hour, that I’m starting to contradict my own principles?

Anyway, after that little diatribe – what do you think about women-only spaces? Are they a good idea? Are they a necessary idea? Are they only a good idea in certain arenas (health services, for example)? Do they make you feel safer? If so, how do you feel outside of those spaces?

Thank you for letting me rant.

* A feminist special library, for anyone not clear on that.

Listening to: Fresher Than the Sweetness in Water – Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci

Has anyone else been watching Eco House Challenge on SBS? I’m finding it quite interesting, except that last night they gave one of the families an “eco-friendly” dryer as a reward. Wouldn’t it be eco-friendlier for them not to have a dryer at all? Who needs a dryer? Especially when both families have big houses, i.e. plenty of indoor hanging space.

Otherwise, it’s good (for a reality show); it’s encouraged me to try harder to cut my showers down to 2.5 minutes (I’d thought I was doing so well at 6 minutes!) and to pull plugs out of the wall.

Listening to: Improperly Dressed – The Slits

Oh, wow, blogging from Flickr is weird. There’s code all over the place!

The back is here.

It’s a bit creased, because I’ve been wearing it all day and sitting on the back, but – ta da! I’ve been on a big sewing kick lately, after spying Eithne Farry’s Yeah, I Made It Myself in a book shop a few weeks ago. I’m slowly making my way through my fabric stash, which is so exciting because I’ve been a bit precious about it in the past (you know, the “that fabric’s too good to use” syndrome). My next one is going to be made out of this fabulous fabric, which I scored at my favourite op shop about two years ago.

And about the patches – I’m probably coming off as some sort of Euromaniac lately, but I collected these from almost everywhere I went last time I travelled (couldn’t find any in Aachen, Trier or Manchester – obviously something seriously wrong with their tourism bureaus), and have been looking for the perfect naff-but-cool use for them ever since. And that will be the end of it, I promise.

ETA: I have taken photos of of the first skirt now, too. It’s made from a cool, almost hessian-like fabric which may or may not be linen. The cool thing about these skirts is that I can use all those little 1.5m lengths of fabric that people send to op shops because they can’t do anything with them! The red fabric, on the other hand, is something I have metres and metres of – I still don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of it (it’s verging on Christmas-y, so I’ve kind of avoided it until now).

Listening to: Face Like a Spider – Frente!

This Melbourne ad confuses me every time:

It’s quite pretty, but it doesn’t work very well, because I don’t associate it with Melbourne at all. In my head, it’s a car ad or something. They don’t tell you what they’re advertising until the end, and the song is by Joanna Newsom – because god knows there are no musicians in Melbourne whose music they could have used, right? Oh, it confounds me.

In other news, building websites is hard. A couple of months ago, after some encouragement from certain members of the resource centre’s collective, I was all, “Hey, buy us a copy of Dreamweaver and we’ll figure it out! The internet is The People’s Medium, DIY, grassroots, blah blah blah! Whoo!”. Now? Eh. I mean, it’s great – in between the long stretches of banging my head against the desk, I have risen very slightly above the level of complete ignorance of html, which is sure to come in handy one day if I ever need to italicise anything. If you would like to see my efforts (and if you have any suggestions! Any! Please!), it’s here: [I chickened out and removed it]. Just remove the spaces and stuff (I’m likely to whinge about the library again at some point, so I don’t want to link directly and out myself to my colleagues, who are really lovely – despite my whingeing, it is truly the greatest job I can imagine having). We kind of collaborated in the initial stages, but C has been all “Oh, you know so much more about computers” (which is fair enough, since she does six thousand times more work than I do in general), so I have ended up doing most of it myself, from a template that is apparently impossible to edit. Why does a cursor appear when you click on the headings? Why?! I probably need to take some sort of class.

Watching: Heroes (a repeat for me, because I have geekily downloaded all 18 episodes already)

We got a rainwater tank over the summer (oh, that optimism). It finally rained last week, and oh my god, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to be able to turn on a tap and fill a glass with decent-tasting water. So exciting that I felt I had to mention it in my blog. And ducking outside to get a drink? It’s so much fun! I can’t wait for it to rain again.

I just handed in the second of my first two assignments for the year, so I have a day or two of breathing room, which feels wonderful. I’ve just seen the trailer for Sunshine – it looks completely unappealing because it’s about space and stuff, but on the other hand, it’s a Danny Boyle/Alex Garland thing with decentish cast. Do you think it’s worth seeing? Are you planning to see it?

Finally, happy birthday for last week, Rad!