Wherein I dream of having a complex, nuanced experience at LTGSummit…

Now that the summit is only a few days away, I’ve been seriously thinking about why I’m going and what I’d like to accomplish at the LTGSummit.

I mainly wanted to go because I really care about the three topics at hand: libraries, technology, and gender. I also really care about doing this conversation right. For whatever reason, the discussion on technology and gender, in general, seems to be an emergent phenomenon. Even more nascent is the discussion about technology and gender within librarianship. Because this discussion is rather new and there are many new people getting involved (this includes me, btw), there tends to be a habit of treating all aspects of the conversation as new.

As many are aware, the discourse on gender-based oppression isn’t new and has a reasonably long history (even if we are just talking about the modern US-based feminisms). And while I’m not expecting anyone to show up as an expert on not only the history of gender-based oppression but up-to-date on the bleeding edge of the discourse today (as it occurs in various, non-academic spaces like Twitter or Tumblr), it is my hope that in these nascent stages of trying to figure out how to address gender based oppression within libtech we bring in the hard learned wisdom of the various movements for gender liberation.

One might note that I’m being careful about my language here. Using ‘gender-based oppression’ instead of just sexism or misogyny. Using ‘gender liberation’ instead of just feminism. The various strains of feminism are not the only movements aimed at dismantling gender-based oppression. At present there are also the trans movements. As well as Womanism. I’m just naming a few not necessarily feminist movements (both the trans movements and Womanism can and do overlap with feminism but they are not the same thing). You do not have to be a feminist to care about or work for gender liberation.

Other things that we should avoid in this discussion to save a lot of grief and to stop from retreading old ground: gender essentialism, the shared experience myth, and the yellow brick road to liberation.

The last item I partially address in the previous paragraph. Undoubtedly we will be a diverse group at the summit (perhaps not as diverse as some might wish… but there is usually more diversity than people realize). As the above paragraph notes: there is more than one path towards liberation. Or, to switch the perspective, we could argue that liberation requires a pluralistic and diverse approach so that no one is left behind. The key, here, is avoiding the belief that you are on the One True Path. Basically, there is no yellow brick road that we can all skip along to liberation. Oppression is tough, complex, and multi-pronged. Our solutions must be similar.

Gender essentialism is something that tends to creep into many discussions, like mold. You think you are doing okay and then you check back and suddenly it is growing something green and fuzzy and you have to toss it out. You do not necessarily need to a social constructivist to oppose essentialist notions of gender. Gender essentialism, is (in brief) the belief that there are qualities inherent to any gender (a relevant one is the notion that girls are bad at math). One does not need to be social constructivist to understand that ‘girls are bad at math’ is a factually incorrect statement especially if you are attributing this quality to the gender. Now, I doubt many people attending the summit will be arriving with beliefs like this, but many may (and probably will) arrive with subtle essentialist conceptions of gender (and sex). To make it easy: everything you think about the bodies of men and women is wrong.

The myth of shared experience is particularly important as it applies to the plural approach to liberation. One thing that feminism has long been criticized for is its insistence that the white, middle-class, cis, hetero experience of women is universal. It is not. For this discussion, why I think this matters is to remember that even though this is a Library + Technology + Gender summit, we must understand that having this discussion without any thought or addressing issues of class, race, ability, sexuality, and so on, will mean that we (and the summit) will fail to do anything substantive or productive with our time.

With these caveats, thoughts, whatever, in mind, I’m hoping we can all benefit from those who’ve struggled with these issues in the past. That we can bring in all of our different experiences and knowledge and share it in a productive and safe(ish) environment. That we can all learn together, from each other, and find concrete ways to turn theory into praxis (and also ways to turn praxis into theory). That we can all do this with humility and an open mind.

I’ll leave off with a few links to some trans resources:

  1. Not You Mom’s Trans 101
  2. Beyond Trans 101
  3. Introduction to Transness

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