August 30, 2012

I got a library card at the Waltham Public Library today.

While I was getting my library card, an older, white man walked up behind me in line.  He was probably in his 60’s.  He let me know he was there by loudly clearing his throat.  I looked back and he was standing not 2 feet away from me, directly behind me, with his hands clasped in front of him.

I said, sternly but neither loudly nor inappropriately “Don’t do that again.  And please back up.”

The white, female librarian who’s at least in her late 40’s said to me “You can’t talk to people like that here.  You need to be respectful of people who are in the library.  Everyone needs to be respectful of people in the library”

I said “That’s right; people do need to be respectful, and I don’t see you telling him to be respectful of me.”

She said “He wasn’t disrespectful of you; all he did was cough.”

She was still processing my library card, and I knew that I could not say another word to her about it or I was going to be asked to leave the library.

I looked behind me and saw that the man had backed up to be several feet away from me.  I said to him “Thank you for backing up.”  If he had not done that, I would have had more to say about it.

The librarian said “That was nice of you to say to him.”

Even though he had been the one to harass me, and the librarian had supported him in doing so, he respected me and realized that he had not been reasonable, and he did that in response to my saying to him exactly what I should have said, and did say.

I started this essay in a rage, ready to talk about the sickening ignorance of that librarian that causes her to participate in the oppression of women, including herself, whether she realizes it or not.  Now that I’ve written about the incident, I feel sorry for her; of the two people in that situation, the man who harassed me and the woman who supported him and tried to punish me for defending myself, the man was the one who realized first that he was in the wrong, and maybe her reaction to me was part of what helped him to realize that he was wrong.  It doesn’t seem to me that the librarian realized that either of them had been wrong.

If you live your entire life with blinders on, the people who put the blinders on you may still be ready, at first, to punish anyone who won’t wear them, but maybe some of them can also see and understand more, and sooner, than you can.


Copyright L. Kochman, August 30, 2012 @ 10:03 a.m.