I spend a lot of time in technical meetings. This is no one's fault but my own since these activities are purely voluntary. At the end of many meetings, though, I vow to never attend one again. This story is about one.
There was no ill-preparedness or bad faith on the part of either the organizers or the participants at this meeting. There is, however, reality, and no amount of good will changes that.
This took place at a working meeting that was not a library meeting but at which some librarians were present. At lunch one day, three librarians, myself and two others, all female, were sitting together. I can say that we are all well-known and well seasoned in library systems and standards. You would recognize our names. As lunch was winding down, the person across from us opened a conversation with this (all below paraphrased):
P: Libraries should get involved with the Open Access movement; they are in a position to have an effect.
us: Libraries *are* heavily involved in the OA movement, and have been for at least a decade.
P: (Going on.) If you'd join together you could fight for OA against the big publishers.
us: Libraries *have* joined together and are fighting for OA. (Beginning to get annoyed at this point.)
P: What you need to do is... [various iterations here]
us: (Visibly annoyed now) We have done that. In some cases, we have started an effort that is going forward. We have organizations dedicated to that, we hold whole conferences on these topics. You are preaching to the choir here - these aren't new ideas for us, we know all of this. You don't need to tell us.
P: (Going on, no response to what we have said.) You should set a deadline, like 2017, after which you should drop all journals that are not OA.
us: [various statements about a) setting up university-wide rules for depositing articles; b) the difference in how publishing matters in different disciplines: c) the role of tenure, etc.]
P: (Insisting) If libraries would support OA, publishers like Elsevier could not survive.
me: You are sitting here with three professionals with a combined experience in this field of well over 50 years, but you won't listen to us or believe what we say. Why not?
P: (Ignoring the question.) I'm convinced that if libraries would join in, we could win this one. You should...
At this point, I lost it. I literally head-desked and groaned out "Please stop with the mansplaining!" That was a mistake, but it wasn't wrong. This was a classic case of mansplaining. P hopped up and stalked out of the room. Twenty minutes later I am told that I have violated the "civility code" of the conference. I have become the perpetrator of abuse because I "accused him" of being sexist.
I don't know what else we could have done to stop what was going on. In spite of a good ten minutes of us replying that libraries are "on it" not one of our statements was acknowledged. Not one of P's statements was in response to what we said. At no point did P acknowledge that we know more about what libraries are doing than he does, and perhaps he could learn by listening to us or asking us questions. And we actually told him, in so many words, he wasn't listening, and that we are knowledgeable. He still didn't get it.
This, too, is a classic: Catch-22. A person who is clueless will not get the "hints" but you cannot clue them or you are in the wrong.
Thanks to the men's rights movement, standing up against sexism has become abuse of men, who are then the victims of what is almost always characterized as "false accusations". Not only did this person tell me, in the "chat" we had at his request, "I know I am not sexist" he also said, "You know that false accusations destroy men's lives." It never occurred to him that deciding true or false wasn't de facto his decision. He didn't react when I said that all three of us had experienced the encounter in the same way. The various explanations P gave were ones most women have heard before: "If I didn't listen, that's just how I am with everybody." "Did I say I wasn't listening because you are women? so how could it be sexist?" And "I have listened to you in our meetings, so how can you say I am sexist?" (Again, his experience, his decision.) During all of this I was spoken to, but no interest was shown in my experience, and I said almost nothing. I didn't even try to explain it. I was drubbed.
The only positive thing that I can say about this is that in spite of heavy pressure over 20 minutes, one on one, I did not agree to deny my experience. He wanted me to tell him that he hadn't been sexist. I just could't do that. I said that we would have to agree to disagree, but apologized for my outburst.
When I look around meeting rooms, I often think that I shouldn't be there. I often vow that the next time I walk into a meeting room and it isn't at least 50% female, I'm walking out. Unfortunately, that meeting room does not exist in the projects that I find myself in.
Not all of the experience at the meeting was bad. Much of it was quite good. But the good doesn't remove the damage of the bad. I think about the fact that in Pakistan today men are arguing that it is their right to physically abuse the women in their home and I am utterly speechless. I don't face anything like that. But the wounds from these experiences take a long time to heal. Days afterward, I'm still anxious and depressed. I know that the next time I walk into a meeting room I will feel fear; fear of further damage. I really do seriously think about hanging it all up, never going to another meeting where I try to advocate for libraries.
I'm now off to join friends and hopefully put this behind me. I wish I could know that it would never happen again. But I get that gut punch just thinking about my next meeting.