Your silence is protection that they do not deserve

If she had lived, my mother would be turning 66 on March 2nd, 2013. She died in 2007 of an enlarged heart, which, to me, has a poetic justice to it. My mother did not give love easily, but she gave it fiercely.

My mother spent much of her life married to a man who despised her. A man who would beat her, and then turn to his youngest daughter and say, “Why are you crying? I’m doing this so you can do what you want.” A man who routinely called her stupid in front of her children. A man who, on the day the family portrait was to be taken, told her to stay home because she was too ugly to be in the picture.

His cruelty made my mother cruel for the longest time. She couldn’t beat her husband, so she beat me, instead (I was his favorite, you see). Then, in 1994, the OJ Simpson trial happened. My mother drew the parallels. She watched the trial obsessively. She drew strength from this public discussion of male power over female powerlessness. Only a few months after the trial ended, my parents divorced, my father’s attempted rape of my mother being the last straw.

It wasn’t so long ago that a husband forcing his wife to have sex would not have even been called rape. It wasn’t so long ago that women couldn’t open credit card accounts without their husband’s signature. It wasn’t so long ago that a man in a bar bought me a drink, and when I said goodnight, I was going home, he said, “I bought you drinks and that’s all I get?” (That really wasn’t very long ago; less than a year.)

We live in a culture where women are destroyed every day. A world where a nine year old black girl is called a cunt, and people laugh. A world where if we don’t laugh along with the rape jokes and the inappropriate advances, we’re called bitches, or frigid. Where if we get visibly upset, we must be “on the rag.” A man speaking loudly and emphatically about what he believes in is a man to be admired. A woman doing the same is a crazy shrew.

After the divorce, my mother was able to be kind again. She was the most polite person to those among usĀ  whom we often look right through–waitresses, bus boys, cashiers at the grocery store. My mother had a kind word for all of them. She was a staunch advocate for her disabled son. She was the biggest fan of an awkward, chubby girl who had big dreams of making music, writing beautiful plays, and being a person of value one day. My mother loved her kids more than anything, and she loved her small group of friends, and she loved the elderly men and women she cooked for at the town nursing home. So much of her life, her love had been stymied; no wonder, in the end, she died of an enlarged heart. So full of love.

I learned from my mother how to escape. How to stand up for myself. How to believe, without outside validation, that I have worth. I deserve happiness. I deserve to have my voice heard. I deserve to have opinions.

I am a songwriter as well as a librarian. I can’t tell you how many times men have said to me, “Why don’t you write songs about something other than relationships?” Meaning, Your experiences as a woman have no value. They don’t interest me. You don’t matter.

In my work as a librarian, I am told the same thing. No one wants to hear from children’s librarians unless we’re talking about technology. You know what? I don’t care. Children don’t need technology programming. Sure, it’s nice. It’s fun. But do they need it? No. They need love. They need me to see them, and recognize them, and validate that they matter. They don’t need me to shove an iPad in their face and show them an app. They need to hear me tell them fairy tales, and nursery rhymes, and show them the way to being creative and happy human beings. There will be time enough for tech. They don’t need me to lead them to it. They will find that on their own.

But storytime, and crafts, and simply listening–this is women’s work, and therefore, has no value. And if a woman gets too big for her britches, she is harassed until she shrinks back into the shadows. Back in her place. Silenced. While men who sexually harass women are given awards. Accolades. Pats on the back.

This is larger than librarianship. This is a huge cultural problem with no easy solution. But change happens one step at a time. So I am beginning with my circles–one of those being the world of librarianship.

If you’re harassed by someone, don’t stay silent. Your silence is protection that they do not deserve. When you see misogyny and sexism running rampant, speak up. It isn’t easy. It’s hard work. It’s women’s work.

If you need me, I’ll have your back. After all, I learned from the best. My heart can hold the entire world. There’s room enough in it for you to help you be strong.

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45 thoughts on “Your silence is protection that they do not deserve”

    1. Thanks, Marge. I’m glad the internet has allowed us to become virtual friends! I look forward to the day we finally get to chat in person.

  1. My mother was in a marriage much like yours. I remember seeing my father hit my mom way too often growing up. I think of all the pain women are living to this day and I cry. I’m so glad there are voices like yours Julie (and so many others) who are standing up, I mentally applaud. Thank you for this post, from the bottom of my heart.

    1. It really does inform every aspect of your life, whether you realize it or not. As hard as it is to speak up, I think in many ways it hurts more to stay silent. I’m sorry your mother had to live through that. You’re so very welcome.

  2. I don’t know if this was written in response to some recent events that have taken place in certain library circles, but if it was – thank you.

    1. It absolutely was. I didn’t link to posts because I wanted the story to stand on its own, but people can definitely put the pieces together. You’re welcome.

  3. Julie, thank you for sharing so much of yourself. It’s become clear to me that recognition comes to those who focus on one thing, while the kids and teens who need us are best served by those who can draw them in with a program, recommend the right book, hear about their day, fight for their place in the library and library budget, and yes even help them with their PowerPoint assignment or an app when they need it. The whole package matters, because they matter and we do too.

    1. You’re welcome. After my initial “ego” post, I realized what I was actually writing about–thanks to all of the powerful responses it generated–and I knew I had to follow up.

  4. I’ve had the reply box open since I read this. I don’t know what to say other than…thank you. Exactly. This is powerful, brave, and the sort of absolute honesty that needs to be said.

  5. Your post got me thinking. There is backlash against people who complain about prejudice and discrimination. Like we’re whiny. Can they understand what it’s like to always be keenly aware of your skin, your wrapper? It never goes away. It’s part of everything you do. It’s a heavy burden. I have empathy for people who live with this burden, and I don’t understand those who respond not with empathy but anger.

    1. Yep. Like we don’t get the joke, or we have no sense of humor, or we don’t know how to have fun. It’s not fun for us to be a package or a piece of meat. It’s not fun to be treated certain ways because of the way we look. It all sucks. And it’s real.

  6. Thank you, Julie, for writing this piece. I’m sitting at the reference desk with tears in my eyes because you were brave enough to write the truth. Though I’ve been lucky enough to not experience it in my professional life, this issue has invaded almost every aspect of my personal life, and I know that I’m not the only woman out there who’s sick of it.

    1. Thanks for reading. It’s an issue every woman faces, and until we all admit it and start speaking against it–and men who are allies need to speak out as well–things won’t change.

  7. Beautifully written, bravely shared. (Thank you also for defending the worth of children’s librarians – I needed that.)

  8. Bravo, Julie. Please keep speaking up. Your voice is necessary to our profession, and to anyone who is being silenced, marginalized, or otherwise made to feel less of a human being. It’s a real privilege to be your friend and colleague.

  9. It’s getting harder to get the school-age kids to even come to programming. You have to pry their fingers off the mouse or the tablet. I was 30 before I ever used a computer – and they were as small as a sofa at that time. I shake my fist at the technology I am now addicted to. But it’s crayons for kids!

  10. Oh, Miss Julie, I want to hug you for writing this!! Thank you for saying so many things that needed to be said. Stay strong. Our work matters!

  11. I don’t know what was the catalyst for this post, but I’m so grateful that you wrote it. I have three daughters, and this weekend, as I discussed my educational concerns for my oldest, my friends’ husband said, “But she’s pretty. So I wouldn’t worry about it.” It’s been grating on me ever since, and although I got after the guy, I wish I could have said what I was feeling as concisely and honestly as you have here.

  12. Wonderful, powerful post! This is a very, very late comment, but I couldn’t read this and not respond, to say thank you for writing so truly and honestly. I’ll be thinking about this post for a long time to come.

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