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and yet we are the 'heroes' you have

As discussion surrounding the lawsuit I’m involved with continues, the expected parade of respectability politics continues to claim that Lisa and me are not the ones who should be doing this. Or something. And, of course, there are many people who think we should have gone about this in a ‘professional’ manner, rather than how things are currently playing out.

This is a pretty puzzling position to take given that the ALA’s Code of Conduct only came into effect this year. And, of course, there are still many library conferences without CoCs. So, prior this at ALA conferences what, I beg of you, was the ‘professional’ and ‘respectable’ way to address sexual harassment?

Given that, since the details of the case went live, I’ve heard more than a few stories of women being harassed at work, reporting it in the ‘professionally’ accepted fashion, only to have nothing happen. And this is at work. Where things like sexual harassment are usually covered by some kind of law and often also covered by some kind of organizational policy. There are usually some kind of reporting procedure and ways to address incidents. All of which is meaningless unless said laws and policies are effectively enforced. In case anyone is wondering, “doing nothing” does not count as an effective method of enforcing anti-harassment policies or laws.

Given that, in the US, there are also 55 colleges under a Title IX probe for how they deal with sexual assault and harassment and that there are many many stories of victims/survivors attempting to go through the ‘proper’ channels only to be retraumatized by the police or the judicial system. Given all of this… please, what is the ‘professional’ way to handle incidents of sexual harassment at conferences?

The thing is, is that I truly do get why #teamharpy’s approach to the case and our frank and unapologetic stance is making a lot of people unhappy. This is a polarizing issue, even without our attitudes1. But let me ask you: if (and I hope that if you haven’t you never do) you ever experience sexual harassment would you want #teamharpy on your side?

I have vague recollections of being the one starting the whole #teamharpy thing a while back. It actually isn’t something that was created just for the case. If memory serves, I started using the hashtag after saying something about not doing respectability politics. Even changed my twitter avatar to a picture of the harpy from The Last Unicorn for a while. I’ve been thinking a lot about the harpy from The Last Unicorn. Here is a quotation:

But the unicorn walked on, following the light of her horn, until she stood before Celaeno, the Dark One. For an instant the icy wings hung silent in the air, like clouds, and the harpy’s old yellow eyes sank into the unicorn’s heart and drew her close. “I will kill you if you set me free,” the eyes said. “Set me free.” …

The unicorn heard herself cry out, not in terror but in wonder, “Oh, you are like me!” She reared joyously to meet the harpy’s stoop, and her horn leaped up into the wicked wind. The harpy struck once, missed, and swung away, her wings clanging and her breath warm and stinking. She burned overhead, and the unicorn saw herself reflected on the harpy’s bronze breast and felt the monster shining from her own body. So they circled one another like a double star, and under the shrunken sky there was nothing real but the two of them. The harpy laughed with delight, and her eyes turned the color of honey.

I love this part of the book and the interaction between the harpy and the unicorn. The harpy is clearly portrayed as ‘bad’ but not evil. The harpy simply exists as she is. And the unicorn can’t bear to leave her stuck in a cage, even with the threat in the harpy’s eyes.

In a metaphoric way, the harpy in this situation is actually the issue of sexual harassment at conferences. Or it is the festering feelings that sink deep inside as you try to minimize, ignore, and rationalize your own experiences of harassment. The part that festers deep inside as you keep silent about your experiences because you are too afraid.

The thing a lot of critics don’t seem to realize… we didn’t create this ugly mess. It has been here all along. Lifting a rock to expose all the bugs and dirt doesn’t mean that, prior to lifting or after you drop the rock in disgust, that all of those things cease to exist. This ugliness is and has been here. It exists: “Under the shruken sky there was nothing real but the two of them”.

One of the saddest things, to me, when this all began (and I’m talking about the actual beginning, when I was first served the notice of Mr. Murphy’s intent to sue if I didn’t take my post down, retract, and apologize) was the first chat conversation I had with Lisa. One of the first things I said to her was that I had zero interest in throwing her under the bus. Her relief was palpable. Likewise, I’m not sure I’d have had the confidence or will to do this with anyone other than Lisa, since she has been so resolute since the beginning (I had my moments of wavering, largely because of the anticipated cost of defending myself). This initial discussion was sad because… I know how many times I’ve needed support only for it to be conspicuously absent once shit hits the fan.

But again I ask: who would you want on your side? Because, let me assure you, I’d still stand for those who criticize, if the need ever should arise. We all make the decisions we can live with. Of my many regrets, standing up for myself and standing with Lisa isn’t one of them.

We might be the wrong ones to be doing this… but as far as I can tell, we are the only ones who are.2