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 us 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.