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Britannica, Sirens, and Sexism

I’ve hinted at this before, but in watching the discussions unfold on the Britannica blog — discussions I have contributed to directly, in part because my blog post trackbacks don’t show up there — it struck me today, while reading Jane’s parody, that the only woman cited in the entire discussion is, as she puts it, a “watery tart” (and a fictional one, at that).

While danah boyd is on schedule to contribute, and she always rocks out, we haven’t seen her yet. One woman, Rebecca MacKinnon, didn’t get her due for work she had done until I mentioned it (How many more times in my life will I have to do that?) — and because the correction was in a comment, her name doesn’t show up in a search of the site, though Google nicely scoops up the citation with this tailored search.

(How fitting that the Britannica blog limits its search function to the “authoritative” posts rather than the comments from the peanut gallery — even when the peanut gallery is where the facts reside.)

I’m for scholarship; I’m for teaching students research methods; I’m for pushing people past the world of simple Google searching. I’m even — maybe especially — for making Wikipedia’s editorial process more transparent and accountable; as I commented on one post, Wikipedia in some ways duplicates the hidden pathways of accountability used to reinforce power structures in empires big and small.

But when I hear a group of straight white men huffing and puffing about “traditional epistemological and pedagogical practices” — on either side of the argument — I remember that those practices, and the walls they build, have also been used to demonstrate the seemingly innate supremacy of their own kind.

Keep digging, Britannica; that hole is almost big enough to swallow you up for good.

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  1. Susie Lorand wrote:

    “Jane’s parody” looks like an excerpt from Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” (a longer transcript is here). One of my favorite scenes.

    Thanks for calling the Br*tannica bloggers on their sexist language (the “generic” Man) – maybe some folks use it naively without sexist intent, but coming from professional writers I think it betrays a narrowness of thought. (Just in case the substance [?] of their arguments didn’t already do so.)

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007 at 8:58 pm | Permalink
  2. Nathan wrote:


    I’ve been following the posts to. I’m personally waiting for Thomas Mann to get in on the action (who you also noted in a past post is scheduled to contribute)- and of course, I’ll be very interested to see the woman you mentioned – Danah Boyd – post (most of these folks are new to me)

    I think most of the posts have been very thoughtful, down-to-earth, educational, well-argued, and… human – even if many of them are more cautious than yourself! :) Well, I have you to thank for pointing me there when Gorman arrived. In any case, I don’t see anything in these web 2.0 posts per se that should make a woman cringe (but then again, I am one of those straight white males – though I hardly think I’m superior).

    When you do find something that you think needs responding to, I hope that you will get in there, even if Britannica currently doesn’t index the “peanut gallery” (hopefully this will change) . Google will capture any of your comments Karen – so I hope that you will get in there and offer your perspective.


    Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 6:43 am | Permalink
  3. jennimi wrote:

    Karen, as a woman trying to “make it” in this profession (librarianship, academic librarianship, emerging technology – ah when we insert the term technology we think men, right?) I REALLY appreciate that you are always fighting the good fight. Seriously, one goal I have is to become less afraid to document, discuss, blog about my experiences as a woman in this world. Starting with the search committee who kept saying ever so innocently at lunch “we really want someone YOUNG.” Like me, right? Sigh. Anyway, I really do thank you for keeping the conversation moving.

    Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 7:23 am | Permalink
  4. kgs wrote:

    Thanks so much for saying that, Jennimi; sometimes I feel like The Last Surviving Feminist. I almost feel ridiculous in pointing out this stuff, since it goes so uncommented, like there she goes again whining about sexism. So your comment means a lot.

    Maybe we need an anonymous blog or wiki…

    Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 7:50 am | Permalink
  5. kgs wrote:

    Susie, thanks to you too (your comment got stuck in my blog’s pipeline). It’s careless male privilege.

    Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 8:48 am | Permalink
  6. You are never ridiculous for pointing this stuff out. I also appreciate you fighting the good fight. I’m obviously not a woman, but as long as some people are being excluded–or inclusion means “come into our clubhouse and play by our rules”–this is a crucial fight. Since I don’t have the education to really articulate a lot of what’s going on with this sexism, I really, really love that at least one person does and is willing to shout it out. (I personally try not to be careless, but having grown up a privileged white male, I’m sure it happens. I don’t mind being called on it. It’s part of how I learn.)

    Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  7. It may seem like you are The Last Surviving Feminist–but there will be a lot going on at ALA to carry on the cause.
    Here is the schedule.

    The Feminist Task Force meeting and program schedule includes meetings, programs and social events for FTF, ACRL Women’s Studies Section (WSS), the Committee on the Status of Women in Librarianship (COSWL), the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Round Table (GLBTRT) and the LAMA
    Women Administrators Discussion Group. The general SRRT & ALA governance
    meetings are also listed.

    The schedule may be found at . I am also
    making copies that will be available in the OLOS distribution boxes, near
    registration, at FTF, WSS and COSWL meetings and programs.

    Below are highlights of the FTF events:

    ALA Summer 2007

    The Feminist Task Force (FTF) has some great programs planned for the ALA 2007
    Conference. We hope that you will join us at the programs and our business

    Ms. Magazine: A Voice for a Movement
    Sunday, June 24, 2007
    8:00 – 10:00 p.m.
    Renaissance Washington DC
    Grand Ballroom North

    This year the Feminist Task Force has the honor of hosting a program with
    Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and Publisher of
    Ms. Magazine. Please join us for an exciting discussion about this premier
    feminist publication that, for 30 years, has been the voice for a movement.

    Ms. is developing a new Committee of Scholars, which is diverse in race,
    ethnicity, age, region, and academic discipline. She will discuss with us how
    the Committee works with Ms. to increase the reach of women’s studies
    scholarship to a wider audience. With this partnership, Ms. serves as the
    perfect vehicle to give feminist scholars and activists the voice that they
    deserve and to give Ms. readers the information that they need.

    Other Programs:

    Friday, June 22

    Feminists Night Out & WSS Social
    5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
    National Museum of Women in the Arts

    We are starting the Conference with a bit of fun. WSS Social & Feminists Night
    Out are being held at the National Museum of Women in the Arts from 5:30 – 7:30
    p.m on Friday, June 22. Everyone is invited to connect with colleagues and have
    some fun. The social is open to everyone, and non-members are always welcome!

    Saturday, June 23

    Introduction to Women’s Issues at ALA: “I’m not a feminist, but….”
    1:30 – 3:30 p.m.
    Renaissance Mayflower
    New York Room

    SRRT-Feminist Task Force: Introduction to Women’s Issues at ALA, “I’m not a
    feminist, but…: Have you ever thought or said, “I’m not a feminist, but..”? If
    so, how you finished that sentence could inform the development of agenda in
    SRRT Feminist Task Force (FTF), Committee on the Status of Women in
    Librarianship (COSWL), ACRL’s Women’s Studies Section (WSS) or the Gay, Lesbian,
    Bisexual, Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT). Representatives from these and
    other groups will be there to learn from you what the issues are and they will
    be able to tell you about the opportunities to participate in their current
    work. The first hour will be the program, the second hour will be set aside for
    networking and casual conversation. Co-sponsored by ACRL WSS and COSWL.

    Sunday, June 24

    Amelia Bloomer Project Breakfast: Who Needs Feminist Books?
    7:00 – 9:00 a.m.
    Renaissance Washington DC
    Room 12-14

    Join the Amelia Bloomer Project of the Feminist Task Force for a breakfast
    presentation looking at literature for children and teens through the lens of
    feminism. This event requires registration ($25). Please see the ALA
    registration information for details.

    Feminist Task Force Business Meetings:

    There are lots of interesting projects being headed up by the Feminist Task
    Force. Come join our meetings and learn what is happening. If you are looking
    for a project within ALA this is the place to start.

    Saturday, June 23

    Feminist Task Force Meeting
    8:00 – 10:00 a.m.
    Hotel Washington

    Sunday, June 24

    Feminist Task Force Meeting
    1:30 – 3:30
    J. W. Marriott

    Remember, go to for the
    complete schedule.

    Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  8. kgs wrote:

    These are great events (though I have conflicts for each one). I was very interested in the one by Ms. … But I’ve been wondering, how well has the FTF done in outreach to younger librarians? What feminist issues can and should be raised in ALA?

    Thursday, June 21, 2007 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  9. Rachel wrote:

    Definitely not ridiculous — you can keep company with MJ Rose who is tracking Oprah’s book picks (all 8 since 2005 by men):

    As far as FTF outreach, I think they do about as little as any other ALA subgroup…

    Friday, June 22, 2007 at 7:47 pm | Permalink
  10. Matthew Battles wrote:

    Dear KG, hold on! In the very same post where I omitted Rebecca MacKinnon’s name (and I’m grateful that you called me on that), I cite Susan Sontag as a rich and profound authority on the politics of knowledge. As long as you’re tallying citations by gender, I should get a *bit* of credit for that one.

    That said, I’m glad you’ve pointed out the many ways in which the britannica forum’s deck has been stacked, gender foremost among them.

    Wednesday, June 27, 2007 at 9:14 am | Permalink
  11. kgs wrote:

    Yes, you do indeed quote Sontag, Matthew, and that’s appreciated. Make it two women.

    Wednesday, June 27, 2007 at 9:20 am | Permalink

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