It’s Halloween, so I’m going to post about something that’s scary. Harassment and stalking. This post is stimulated by a recent event, at a recent speaking engagement, where I dealt with a particularly aggressive person…and fought back. This is another form of fighting back. Words are my strength, so here you go.
There is a bit of a pestilence on female public figures, including those of us in the library world. Certain men, and on occasion women, behave rather inappropriately toward us. For years I thought it was something that only I was experiencing. Then I started talking with my female colleagues—others who speak, write, or are otherwise in the bibliosphere’s public eye. I have been surprised to learn how many women experience this inappropriate craziness from fellow librarians.
I Don’t Want Your Underwear
The following are all examples of things that have happened to me, and in every case the perpetrator is another librarian. I know—hard to believe. But a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science does not necessarily mean that you are sane.
I provide these examples in the hopes that others experiencing similar situations will speak up in the comments about what’s happened to them, and that potential future idiots will take this as a big “NO” sign:
- Small inappropriate touches (e.g. sliding your hand around my waist and squeezing, kissing me on the lips to say hello instead of shaking my hand like a normal person, caressing my cheek during a conversation, etc.).
- Going home after a long day at work and finding a stranger on my doorstep with flowers and a box with lingerie, blocking access to my front door and asking me to marry him. I beat a hasty retreat to my car, locked it, and called the police.
- Receiving notes at the hotel desk during a conference with sexual propositions, questions about what I was wearing under my dress that day, etc.
- Getting my ass grabbed during a hug. First time that happened, I was so shocked I just walked away. Second, third, and fourth times the guys got slapped.
- Standing in line for the open bar at an exhibits opening gala and having someone recite chapter and verse what I did the previous weekend, my cat’s name, my latest project at work, and my hometown’s recent stormy weather.
- Gifts of various kinds…from benign (coffee) to extra creepy (fuzzy handcuffs and a whip). General rule: If I don’t know you, don’t send me presents. Period.
- Having someone favorite just about every photo I’ve posted of me on Flickr. We do get notifications when that happens, guys…instant stalker indicator.
- Having someone come up behind me, press some choice bits into my body, and put his arms around my waist. This was just offstage after I spoke—dozens of other people around. This guy got cold-cocked in the face by yours truly and walked away bloody, escorted by security. There is only one person I will let touch me in that manner. And guess what? It’s not you.
- Hearing a whisper in my ear at a speaker’s reception: “I want to **** you until you cry.” My response included another few choice **** words.
- Receiving a marriage proposal as a series of poster-boards displayed from the audience to me while I was speaking. Points for cleverness, but disruptive to my talk…and if we’ve never been on a date, I can offer a 100% guarantee that I will turn your proposal down.
- Receiving a package in the mail sent to my library containing a pair of men’s underwear with a note reading “You can put these on me and then take them off the next time I see you” (from someone I did not know at all). I have been sent two pairs of men’s underwear from strangers. Note to guys: not sexy.
I have heard of many other similar experiences from many other female speakers. Touching, come-ons, proposals…we’ve had it all. It’s almost all harassment and some is actual stalking.
The Effect of Being Accosted by Creepy Dudes
These experiences used to create a great deal of fear for me. Several years ago, I became afraid of these individuals, but also afraid to go out in public without a friend or family member present. I would (sometimes literally) cling to guybrarian friends at conferences…hoping to keep the creeps at bay. Big thanks go out to those guybrarian saviors—you know who you are.
Now the fear is gone and has been replaced with disgust and irritation. And anger…let’s not forget the anger. Now if you mess with me, I will mess with you right back—either through the law enforcement system, punching or kicking you, or by informing your employer. If you’re on work time and harassing a fellow librarian, guess what buster? You just risked a lawsuit for your city/county/company/university.
If you want to brand yourself as a creep forever in my mind, by all means be a jackass and do one of the above. You may even get touched by me for your trouble—of course that touch will take the form of an uppercut to your chin (a move which my massage therapist, of all people, recently taught me to perform quite well…thanks Adam).
I’m Available, But Not to You
Let’s be clear. Just because I am a single woman under 40, a public figure, kind to strangers, and dress a little differently, does not give you permission, nor is it an invitation, to touch me, send me innuendo-laden Twitter messages, or say inappropriate things in my ear. Don’t be overly familiar with me. And if you touch me, you just invited a motherfucking throwdown. I’m little but I’m scrappy. I will hurt you.
I unfortunately have more than my fair share of bona fide stalkers. I’d categorize four different “problem people” as stalkers at present. Two stalker-types from past years have gone incommunicado after being slapped with restraining orders (thankfully). And really, guys, something in your brain has to click and tell you you’ve gone too far if a woman even threatens a restraining order. That should be enough. But, yes, I know…we’re not dealing with logical thought here.
Is It Librarians?
We are a somewhat more socially inept group than you average population. I know, I’m generalizing. But you know it’s true. It’s also true of other fields, like the tech world – another place where publicly-visible women get an especially lovely sampling of crazy stalker dudes. Is it that we are just so shy, so inexperienced in the romantic world, that some of us just don’t know where the “appropriate line” is? Maybe. Is it a higher incidence of mental illness, especially Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Maybe. I don’t know. Most of us are sane and nice, and I try to remember that when stuff like this happens.
Is It Me?
I’ve been writing and speaking for libraries and non-profits for close to a decade now. I put myself out there – personally and professionally – and I don’t try to delineate between the two whatsoever. My “librarian self” is so interwoven with my “writer/hiking/neo-goth/everything-else self” that I can’t draw some neat line down the middle of my consciousness.
I also consciously “live out loud” by posting copiously to social networks, sometimes with stuff that would make me unelectable if I were ever crazy enough to want to run for political office. Things like photos of me in a Catwoman costume, about drinking absinthe at 2am, which songs I find romantic, etc. I get it—I’m not conservative in the sharing of my brain’s inner workings or what my life is like. However, that is absolutely not an invitation to tell me what you want to do to me when I’m out of my Catwoman costume, or what beverages you want to drink off of my stomach, or to tell me what song you listen to when you think about me and…err…find pleasure in your own company.
I’ve been told by friends and family members concerned for my safety to just start wear longer skirts (and no stiletto heels), not smile as much, stop posting to Twitter and Facebook, and even to bring a policeman as my bodyguard to future events (I kinda like that last idea, actually…but only if he’ll have a nice glass of Zinfandel with me afterward). But in general, I refuse to give in to fear. The idiots will keep coming. Now I just know how to deal with them better.
Tips for the (Would-Be) Accosters
Just don’t do it. Simple. If you have a crush on someone, recognize it for what it is—a crush. You can tell the person how smart you think (s)he is, how cool you think (s)he is, and then invite the person out for coffee. That’s the appropriate social action…nothing involving flowers, underwear, or marriage proposals. And you know…you are a librarian. You do know how to do research. So research social mores and figure out some appropriate ways to show someone you like her or him.
Tips for the Accosted
- Don’t be quiet. Tell the offender immediately what (s)he did wrong.
- Tell the person what the consequences will be the next time something similar happens.
- Keep records of who did what when.
- Block offenders on the social networks if necessary and don’t feel bad for a second for doing so.
- Inform the police if things even begin to bleed over into stalker territory. If it even occurs to you that maybe it’s stalking, it probably is. Act immediately.
If you have had similar bad “creepy person” experiences, or success with coping with these experiences, please comment. Share your story. Tell it loud.