Women’s bodies are mysterious and gross according to Western cultural taboos. You would think that in a female dominated profession such as librarianship, these topics would feel less threatening to discuss when necessary, but in the drive to act more like men in the workplace (a common mistake among well-meaning feminists) we’ve simply devised new devices to hide our biology: tampons, menstrual cups, breast pumps. I admit that I’m as guilty as anyone of trying to hide my biology most of the time, and I won’t argue against the freedom these devices give to women.
Sometimes, it’s impossible to hide your biology.
Story time: Getting to my son’s birth was hard. I was 37 by the time I became pregnant with him, and that was after multiple miscarriages. These miscarriages forced me to take sick time, more than I’d ever taken before. My boss, a man, knew what had happened. He knew how often it happened. At first, only a couple of other people knew, but I slowly opened up about my miscarriages as time went on. So there I was, I’d like to think a valuable asset to my library organization, completely vulnerable to biology. I was ashamed, even though a coworker had taken a lengthy medical leave recently with reassurance and sympathy. But this was shameful.
When I got pregnant with my son (with the aid of a fertility specialist) I felt ultra-delicate. I was not able to travel because I needed frequent monitoring. I was suffering from nausea exacerbated by the hormones I had to take. I was severely depressed, detached from my pregnancy, knowing that I could lose it at any time. Also, my first trimester coincided with my 12 week sabbatical. I had to divulge my condition once again to my boss, because my travel plans had to be cancelled.
But somehow, I made it through the first trimester and things looked up. Way up. Until the end of my second trimester, when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This meant a strict schedule of testing my blood sugar and a strict eating schedule, both of which are not very conducive to the fast paced workday of an academic librarian. I had to excuse myself from meetings, cut classes short, bring snacks to the reference desk. All because of biology.
This is a long winded way to say, women shouldn’t feel the need to cover up their biology, because it’s basically impossible. The men who dominate the working world (in and out of libraries) need to come to terms with these things. Luckily, my boss never made me feel uncomfortable about any of my pregnancy related issues, but I know it could have happened. Now that my son is here, I have other mom-problems I have to deal with: namely, the perception of being a mom in addition to an academic librarian. I’m not sure some of my colleagues can take me seriously now that I’ve had to take substantial time off from work in order to grow and nurture my family. Should I announce at the next staff meeting that I’m done having kids? My husband jokingly thinks so, but I’m tempted to do that. Why do women have to justify their bodily decisions, when no man would ever have to make such a reassurance.
Could the “mysterious grossness” of female biology perhaps contribute to the academic library’s glass ceiling? Perhaps! We’ve seen how our own president speaks about women without a shred of nuance or awareness of biology. How many other men think this way?