After my last post on TeamHarpy, a friend contacted me to ask why I’d written, noting that the post itself was bland and opining that it seemed like I’d wanted to write more, but for some reason didn’t. That seemed a fair assessment. The post was bland. Its purpose was merely to publicize the fact that Joe Murphy was suing a couple of librarians and that they were requesting support from the librarian community.
As I wrote before, I don’t have any first-hand knowledge of Joe Murphy or any other alleged sexual predators. None of them have ever preyed on me. Like the librarians in the lawsuit, and apparently other librarians, I’ve heard many things about Murphy over the years from numerous people who know him, but these weren’t tales of his alleged sexual hijinks. As it happens, I’ve never heard anything positive, only negative. However bright a star Murphy might think he is in the librarian firmament, there are clearly a lot of people who don’t like him. Then again, I’m sure there are plenty of librarians who don’t like me, although I doubt for the same reasons. For his own sake, I hope Murphy drops the lawsuit, because the more publicity this gets the worse he’s going to look.
I wrote because I don’t like sleazebags. I have no proof that Murphy is a sleazebag, and I’m not accusing him or talking about him here, but I know for a fact they exist in the profession and that this existence is generally whispered, not broadcast. Sleazebags in this case are those men who frequently make sexual propositions to uninterested women, or worse yet start handling them. Sleazebags are the ones who will tell any lie in order to have sex with a woman.They view women as objects to be taken or “conquered,” not human beings to relate to. They also might brag that they’ve had sex with women at conferences. (Seriously, how insecure do you have to be to do something like that? What’s the thinking here? “I know I seem like a smarmy toad, but real women have had sex with me!”) They’re the cads, the mashers, the “pickup artists,” and other varieties of sleaze. I don’t like them and I never have.
I wrote because of a conversation I was in recently. I was the only man there, and the conversation somehow turned to sleazy sexual predators at ALA, I think by someone who had been aggressively hit on by one at a conference function. At that point I mostly just sat back quietly and listened. I realized, even at the time, that I was privy to the kind of conversation that generally occurs only among women. And, frankly, what I heard was appalling. Some of the behavior mentioned was unprofessional, rude, and just plain creepy.
That sleazebaggery happens didn’t surprise me. Sleazebags are everywhere. But I was surprised by how frequently it seems to happen at conferences of librarians. There might be only a few sleazebags in the profession, but they really go out of their way to offend. Thinking about it more, I believe the reason I hadn’t seen any of this behavior was that such sleazebags are similar to child molesters and other predators. They have a sense for who they think they can target and who will remain quiet. They’re not going to harass people while other grownups are around.
It’s possible there are some unwitting sleazebags out there who really are well meaning and don’t know they’re sleazebags. They just don’t understand appropriate boundaries. Here’s a rule of thumb for men like that. Imagine me for a moment. I’m 6’2″ tall, big, and kinda hairy. Imagine we’re at a social event at a conference, perhaps at a bar. If there’s anything you’d feel uncomfortable me doing to you, then you probably shouldn’t do it to a woman. Would you feel comfortable if I fondled your buttocks, or came up behind you really close and started massaging your shoulders or put my arms around your waist, or leaned in and whispered sultrily in your ear, or reached out and squeezed your thigh, or kept asking if you’d like to go back to my room and have sex? No? Then don’t do it to a woman.
This reminded me of a unpleasant experience I had. A few years ago I was part of a pub crawl in a small college town, one of those evenings that starts out well and then devolves as the hours pass, and I was trapped. So I ended up at a college bar sitting alone being generally annoyed by the whole situation when a young man came up to a table of young women sitting near me. Despite their apparent lack of interest in him, he proceeded to lay on the smarmiest, sleaziest schtick I’d ever heard. At first I had trouble believing that someone would have the nerve to even say the bullshit he was saying. Being annoyed and perhaps a bit tipsy, I started making fun of him, giving a running commentary of every statement he was making, exposing the motivations behind his seemingly casual conversation and causing the women to laugh. (And yes, I realize I can be guilty of my own inappropriate behavior.)
Seeing how he was alone and I was a lot bigger than him, his main response was to tell me repeatedly to shut up and mind my own business. And that’s the final thing I don’t like about sleazebags. They count on silence. They count on women being afraid to speak out and on other men to “mind their own business.” He counted on the silence of men who disapproved of him, just like if he’d ended up date-raping one of those women he’d have counted on her silence.
The defendants are done being silent. Are they right? Are they wrong? That’s not for me to decide. But I believe that women should be more outspoken about stuff like this and that men should mostly shut up and listen and not try to defend inappropriate behavior as if it’s somehow innocent, and if in the end they disagree, then they can disagree and move on. My default position is also that if there’s smoke, there’s probably fire. Most men, or at least most male librarians, would likely be as appalled by this sort of behavior as I was, only they aren’t aware it exists. I want to know so that I’m aware of sleazebags in professional clothing and can act towards them appropriately. I believe the more information out there, and the more everyone, men and women, talks about it openly, the less likely such behavior will be. Well, maybe not believe, but at least I hope so.
[I took a while drafting this post, unsure of the form it should take. While I was doing it, Barbara Fister also wrote about the situation. While I wasn’t thinking about “whistleblowers” as such, I pretty much agree with everything she says here.]