Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gender, Emotional Labor, and Anger: Some Unfocused Thoughts About Librarianship

I've tried to start this post a number of times, and it's kind of stumped me. I want to talk to you about the confluence of thinking about anger, gender, librarianship, emotional labor, and forward progression. As is often the case with topics that are important to me, my thinking is still kind of muddled and I've come to my blog with some solid ideas about questions to ask and some vague ideas about answers. I hope you'll bear with me as I work through this.

Idea #1: Gender
I've been reading and thinking and writing about gender, specifically the expression of gender in librarianship, lately. I'm co-writing an article about the role of gender in library leadership and all that research I'm consuming is making me think even more deeply about a topic that is close to my heart. I have plenty of personality traits that are seen as "female" but almost as many that are deemed "male," so it's been an interesting research project as I see things on the page that are or are not born out in my own leadership style.

Idea #2: Emotional Labor
If you're unfamiliar with the concept, let me introduce you to an idea that exploded in my mind when I first encountered it. This idea suddenly made sense of how tired I am at the end of a day when I mostly sat down. "Emotional labor" describes how we who work in service industries have to display a certain range of emotions during the course of our work life, how those emotions are part of the performance of our jobs. I'm not complaining here: I know I need to turn it on for our students, our faculty, and our staff. I want and need them to feel welcome and comfortable in the library. Some days it's easy, but some days it is hard work.

Idea #3: Anger
I've also recently been thinking about the ouvre of my writing in librarianship thus far, and how shouty I can be at times. There is so much good stuff in this field/industry, but there is also so much wrong and I - like most people I know - focus more on the negative. In the past, I might have seen that as a problem, but I'm starting to recognize that my anger can be useful because I do something with it. One of my favorite quotes about anger comes from a Buddhist philosopher/writer, Thích Nhất Hạnh, and I've been coming back to it in my mind almost daily. He says: "And if you have no compost, you have nothing to nourish the flower in you. You need the suffering, the afflictions in you." In my mind, that means, "it's okay to get angry or sad or whatever, just so long as you do something with it."

As I said above, these ideas are swirling around my head and I'm still trying to make sense of them. What I've been able to figure so far is that we are all going to have a range of emotions, and that we should expect and allow them. I've also concluded that people who work in libraries, especially people who work on the front lines, need down time - away from the front lines - on a regular basis. My other answer to the questions swirling around in my head is that this is true no matter your gender (or lack thereof). Women are going to get angry, drained, etc.  just as much as men (if you'll forgive my use of the false dichotomy of gender). I need to remember this as I work with my staff and I need to remember this as I manage myself.

How about you? How do you allow for the mess of human emotions in your working life?

1 comment:

  1. I've been working through these things very recently at my own job, although it has been about a rather specific topic - the inflexibility of (not) working night shifts at the reference desk for a short period of time = one semester.

    I know this isn't quite what you've asked for, but it has been interesting to be male and request no night-time reference shifts in order to be available at home to a newborn and a 2 year old. My request was denied.

    I've had a lot of questions (and emails and conversations with supervisors). And many of those questions remain unanswered or answered in a completely unsatisfactory way. So yeah, considerations of gender, emotional labor, and anger have all been present for a little while.

    I've been trying really hard to place myself in the other person's position and trying to keep in mind that "they are doing and saying this because of a real reason - what is that reason?"

    I'm still struggling and working through this whole thing of messy human emotions and working life. But something I'm starting to work with is the false impression of "work life." I'm certainly a different version of myself at home and at work but I'm still myself - with the same types of needs, desires, insecurities, etc.

    Thanks for working through this in the blog post and allowing me to work through it in the comments.