Naughty Librarian for Halloween?

October 13, 2006 at 11:20 am 25 comments

If anyone doubted that the stereotype of the librarian is alive and well, check out this costume being offered this Halloween for $56 (ouch!) from costumesinc.com. This item was brought to my attention by a student posting to a listserv at Rutgers SCILS. I don’t know if you can make it out, but the costume features a button that says “Naughty Librarian.” That is, I guess, what you pay the 56 bucks for since the rest is just a short skirt and phony glasses, low-cut top and push-up bra which most women could scrounge up cheap (or indeed may already have in their closets).

When we get done laughing at the ridiculousness of the get-up, marveling at the idea that numerous women will pay 56 dollars for the outfit, or grinding our teeth at yet another portrayal of the (harmless) librarian stereotype, I invite all of us to think again.

As one who has deeply studied the librarian stereotype I have come to view these media representations as far from harmless, with serious, anti-intellectual, and anti-feminist messages. Gary Radford and I wrote an article in The Library Quarterly that used Foucauldian and feminist thought to analyze the stereotype. Our analysis led us to ask a number of fundamental questions such as:

“Who is speaking through the stereotype of the female librarian, and to what ends? What interests does the stereotype serve (certainly not those of women)? How can the image of subservience and powerlessness that it affords to women be challenged and changed? It is not enough to cry out that the stereotype is ‘wrong,’ ‘inaccurate,’ or ‘unfair.’ Such responses are expected, common and futile. It is time to dig deeper, to describe the conditions from which the stereotype is made possible, and to analyze the systems of power/knowledge that go to the very heart of what it means to be male and female, powerful and marginalized, valued and devalued” ( p. 263).

The stereotype of the male librarian, although less prominent, is also unflattering to the profession. Usually portrayed as prissy with the ubiquitous horn rimmed glasses and bow tie, he is distinctly feminine and also therefore is accorded the low status of the female librarian.

So, the “Naughty Librarian” costume we may see at Halloween parties this year. Harmless? Humorous? What do you think?

Cited reference: Radford, M. L. & Radford, G. P. (July, 1997). Power, knowledge, and fear: Feminism, Foucault and the stereotype of the female librarian. The Library Quarterly, 67(3), 250-266.

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25 Comments

  • 1. Jill  |  October 13, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    I got a good laugh from this and am thinking about purchasing this to wear on Halloween when I work at the reference desk. Maybe we should be glad that a librarian is worth making into a Halloweeen costume. Or maybe we should all invent our idea of what it really should be. How about a cape (ala Superman)? Just a thought! Thanks for sharing.

  • 2. Emily  |  October 13, 2006 at 1:53 pm

    I guess because this is the naught version of the stereotypical conservative (in dress) and frigid librarian, that it does inadvertently reinforce the stereotype, but I don’t expect many librarians to actually wear it. I think the buyers of this item will be non-librarians looking for a slutty costume to parade around in for an audience that probably won’t notice if she’s a naughty librarian or a sadistic secretary.

    In my opinion the “image of subservience and powerlessness” that is attributed to the traditional librarian probably won’t change until the library environment evolves over time into something else (less books more computers etc.).

    But as it stands now, and in our culture, I think the image of the librarian is doomed. When trying try to trace the history of the traditional stereotype, I thought, “why has she been portrayed as mean and rude” (glaring at and shhhing patrons etc.) and maybe it’s because the library is the only public place she has had any domain over, and her ‘shhhing’ is an attempt to exert this rare power. You could say that this power was symbolically usurped from her (presumably by a man) through the portrayal of the female librarian as a cold and nasty woman, the image to which she is now confined.

    And from there the Halloween costume can be viewed in two ways: either a) she’s rebelling against this imprisonment by parading her sexual power over men or b) the librarian is being recast (presumably by a man) into an equally subservient and powerless librarian image for the purpose of satisfying his naughty desires.

    Take your pick. I don’t know how relevant this is, but last year for Halloween, I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing (literally). Just thought I’d post..

  • 3. Peter Bromberg  |  October 13, 2006 at 2:44 pm

    Marie,

    As a male librarian I hesitate to weigh in on gender-related issues for fear of the smack-down that cometh; but what the heck it’s Friday the 13th. What could possibly go wrong?

    Personally, I don’t see this costume as having much to do with the librarian stereotype at all. If it was glasses on a chain, hair in a bun, and a frumpy outfit, maybe. The fact is, this is just one of many “sexy______” costumes. Fill in the blank, there’s a ‘sexy’ costume for just about every profession: firefighter, sheriff, FBI agent, referee, judge, sailor, warden, doctor, etc., etc. I don’t think any of these costumes are commenting on, nor have any affect upon, those occupational stereotypes either.

    I think there’s room enough in our world for those who want to enjoy Halloween in a gorilla suit, and those that want to wear a “sexy” librarian outfit. For those that find it distasteful, don’t wear it. As to whether the outfit is slutty, well, I suppose slutty is in the eye of the beholder. I’m reminded of Marlene Dietrich’s quote, “In America sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it is a fact.”

    Happy Halloween!

  • 4. Anonymous  |  October 13, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    I cannot imagine how this costume is a stereotype. In order to constitute a stereotype, the “sexy librarian” would have to actually exist in libraries across America. The so-called “sexy librarian,” with her prevalence in popular culture and pulp novels, is a figment of the popular imagination. I have yet to meet her or work with her in all the libraries I have seen and spent extensive time in around the world.

    I hate making broad stereotypes about an entire profession, especially one I’m a part of. I work in a particularly toxic environment where the negative stereotypes of our prefession get thrown in my face daily, to the point that, less than a year out of grad school I’m contemplating a career change.

    Is there was a “Moody Librarian” or “Bitter Librarian” costume? That seems to fit the stereotype I’m experiencing.

  • 5. Peter Bromberg  |  October 13, 2006 at 3:40 pm

    Off topic—responding to the anonymous comment.

    I know that working in a toxic work environment is a stressful and frustrating experience. But please don’t decide whether or not you want to remain in the profession based on your current toxic environment. Toxic work environments exist everywhere, across all professions. There are good places to work and bad ones.

    If you’re in a toxic workplace, decide whether there is an opportunity for you to affect a positive change or whether you need to take care of yourself and get out. But please know that there are many wonderful environments (library workplaces and otherwise–consortia and vendors also offer stimulating work opportunities) where you can put your library degree to good use :-)

    Email me off-blog if you want to discuss further. -Pete

  • 6. Anonymous  |  October 13, 2006 at 3:42 pm

    hi,

    i wonder…do you protest the “super librarian” image that’s been circulated throughout nj on bookmarks and as a traveling life-size cardboard figure?

    what’s offensive is that some librarians in the state of nj approved that image and marketing campaign. what’s even more offensive is that those librarians are leaders in the profession.

  • 7. K.G. Schneider  |  October 13, 2006 at 4:11 pm

    Ditto on Pete’s comments about not judging your career by this position you’re in. Find a better job and then one day you’ll look at that toxic job and be glad you got out.

    I admit I so prefer “hot sexy librarian” to the image of the librarian in a dowdy long dress… even though I am wont to wear dowdy long dresses on occasion. I’m afraid I have no pushup bra in the back of my closet, let alone a skirt up to my fanny or the legs to go with such a skirt, but I’d sure like to THINK that’s what I could have looked like at least in someone’s imagination, a few years and carbs ago.

  • 8. Anonymous  |  October 13, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    I would like to second Peter Bromberg’s original comment and say Thank You to him for posting it. :-) And no, I’m not another male librarian, and am glad none of my fellow females have given him the “smack-down” he was afraid of. ;-)

    I would also like to say that I’ve never understood those who find the NJ State Library-sponsored “Super Librarian” image offensive, when its intention is to TRY to make the librarian field “cool”. Sure, it may not actually succeed in that, but at least someone’s trying.
    It seems to me that much of this is a matter of people looking more deeply into things than perhaps they should be looked into. I say, if you can’t laugh at it, then just get over it.

    I do feel sorry for the unfortunate soul stuck in the “toxic environment”. Though there are slightly unpleasant elements in my own workplace, I rejoice in the ability to work in a field I love and I realize that all jobs — by definition — are not always completely enjoyable. To the unfortunate soul: unless you have truly discovered this is not the field for you, I hope you can find a better place to explore this wonderful field of librarianship. Please do not base your entire impression of it on one bad experience.

    One last thing: though she didn’t wear anything like the costume this blog was all about, I indeed have met and worked with a very sexy librarian, and am extremely grateful to have known her. I believe she is one of many within the new generation of librarians who I feel will take effective steps towards turning the typical librarian stereotype around. And that’s what I think is more important to focus on: overcoming the stereotype, rather than belaboring it.

  • 9. Anonymous  |  October 13, 2006 at 5:35 pm

    let me just give big shout out to my anonymous cohort who believes “super librarian” is offensive and inane.

    as for sexy librarian, i love the cute little book skirt. hilarious.

  • 10. Marie L. Radford  |  October 13, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks to all who have commented. I find all of your thoughts very interesting and am also intrigued that some have written about “sexy librarians” a slightly different spin than “naughty librarians.”

    For those who argue that this costume is not an instance of the stereotype, I note that the naughty librarian costume features many of the iconic components of the stereotype: e.g., glasses, shushing finger, hair pinned up. The stereotype also features a repressed sexuality (note the insufficient cape) here brought out of repression thus garnering the “naughty librarian” label. This costume could not exist without its dependance on our instant recognition of (and thus reconfirmation of) the stereotyped stodgy librarian.

    Note to Anonymous person, please do GET OUT of that toxic environment ASAP or you probably will never work in a library again. Pete and k.g. gave good advice.

    Re: the Super Librarian campaign, as you might expect, I am definitely not a fan of that image & cringe when I see it (although it is true that Batgirl was a librarian).

    Some might scoff at the importance of the profession’s image, but low salaries, low status, and low proportions of females (relative to their numbers in the profession) in administrative positions still prevail.

  • 11. Anonymous  |  October 14, 2006 at 7:30 am

    Thank you. I’ve seen this costume on several blogs, and no one that I’ve read except you seemed disturbed by it. I got that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach — “here we go again.” Thank you for recognizing how destructive this costume and all it represents is.

  • 12. Jill R.  |  October 14, 2006 at 9:33 am

    I’m going to throw in an idea that I may or may not agree with, but which I think is worth discussing. If we’re talking Foucault, where does the idea of “carnivalesque” fit in here? If I understand it correctly, it’s the idea that during a festival, the normal order of things is turned upside down (beggars become kings, etc), for the purpose of pointing out the normal order…for the purpose of (maybe?) changing it. Under that analysis, all the the sexy ______ costumes out there (naughty nurse, sexy librarian, etc), whether homemade or store-bought, are sending the message that for this one, unusual day, we’re making nurses naughty and librarians sexy…which is noteworthy exactly because they usually aren’t.

    I’m also wondering how much the shushing image – the one being turned around by the carnivalesque – comes from the reputed time when librarianship was considered a good path for an unmarried woman (= spinster). How accurate was that image?

  • 13. tammy  |  October 14, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Thanks to Peter for speaking up.

    Taken in the context of Halloween, the Naughty Librarian is just another costume. Having looked for a for a ready-made Halloween costume to wear to work as a children’s librarian, after I ruled out the too scary and too babyish, I found that 80-90% of the costumes involved “naughty” or “sexy”. One can choose from tawdry automechanics to vampy vampires including little girl costumes with lots of cleavage, pregnant nuns, and come hither angels. These are manufactured because for some it is just fun. Frankly, the Naughty Librarian costume made me chuckle and I was a little flattered that librarians made the list at all.

    As for the poor image that librarians have, “The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves…” If you don’t like being viewed as dowdy, dull, mean, or submissive, then go out there and be a different kind of librarian instead of fussing over a $56 costume. Stop worrying about what everyone thinks of librarians or whether one day in a short skirt and push-up bra is going to change that for better or for worse. Be a good librarian; provide answers; provide service. Be a professional. Make your library a worthwhile place. Whether you do so in spike heels or sensible shoes is really immaterial. I doubt whether Bill Gates cares if we think he’s a geek or not.

    And when you are finished fretting over the image of the librarian, consider some of the real problems with the profession such as low salaries, refusal to create full-time benefitted positions, and a society that doesn’t know the difference between a librarian and a clerk who checks out books. When was the last time you mistook the receptionist for your doctor? I’m guessing never.

    As for me, I’ve decided on a pirate costume for Halloween and there is a bevy of naughty/sexy outfits from which to choose. I’ve never met a lady pirate, but I imagine her blog might go something like this:

    “Blimey, mate, these sexist costume manufacturers really think that that we pillage, plunder and maraud in these teeny weeny skirts and suck-in-your-gut bustiers. Right, while the tough men are out yo ho hoing and a barrel of rumming it, we’re down below fixing our fishnet stockings and lipstick. I’d like to see them get around on deck in these shoes for a day.”

    I guess I’ll have to pull together some not so naughty swash buckling duds on my own. Either that or I’ll check out the men’s costumes which are not nearly as provocative — I wonder why. ARGH!

    Respectfully,
    A Pirate Librarian

  • 14. Anonymous  |  October 14, 2006 at 11:37 am

    Thanks for making me laugh Pirate Librarian. I loved your imaginary blog entry :-)

    Also, thanks Marie for providing the impetusus to discuss this in a serious fashion and to Pete for opening the discussion up on this on a wider level.

  • 15. Anonymous  |  October 17, 2006 at 1:45 pm

    Personally, I find myself a bit more baffled by the mini-cape than anything. What librarian ANYWHERE ever wears a cape, much less a Lilliputian one such as that? This whole costume is absurd. As someone said above, let’s focus on some more pressing issues in the library world–respect, professionalism, salaries, and trying to demonstrate to the laypersons of the world that we don’t just sit at our desks reading books all day long.

  • 16. Tracy  |  October 18, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    The super librarian could be a little scandalous too if it were a costume. So the naughty librarian costume isn’t too bad. If this costume could entice people in libraries and librarains maybe thats a good thing. I do not plan on wearing this costume, but my friend who is a nurse neither wears the naughty nurse costume. I did see a naughty Hermione, from Harry Potter, costume this year that was interesting, but the naughty librarian is so much better!

  • 17. Peter Bromberg  |  October 19, 2006 at 6:18 am

    In Today’s New York Times:
    Good Girls Go Bad, for a Day: Some use Halloween as a safe space to play with sexuality.
    If you’re interested in this thread, take a look. The article presents a number of perspectives and statistics regarding the “sexy” costume trend.

  • 18. pirate librarian  |  October 19, 2006 at 11:36 am

    While searching for an image of a librarian to use on a sign in the library where I work, I came across the following:

    * http://www.nakedlibrarians.com,
    * the pin-up calendar entitled “Librarians of NJ”, and
    * a blog featuring librarians who are into S&M.

    Not the type of images for which I was looking, but I verified all — they are real! Oops…there goes the profession!

  • 19. Almighty Christopher  |  October 19, 2006 at 11:06 pm

    You have to admit, that’s a pretty hot librarian. If indeed she is a librarian.

    What if she isn’t, though? That would be a bit of a falsehood, then.

  • 20. Maren  |  October 28, 2006 at 1:11 am

    I posted a link to the costume in the LJ group library_grrls a while back, and we came to the conclusion that that is not in fact a cape, but a teeny-tiny shawl.

  • 21. Anonymous  |  September 1, 2007 at 9:58 am

    lol i work in a library and im debating on buying it! One to get a laugh and two when i go out and someone asks me what i do and i tell them they cant believe it! So i think it would add to the laugh factor! Lighten up people its a costume, like the guy below said there is outfits that are “sexy” fire fighter, cop, ect. ITS HALLOWEEN, all in Good fun!!

  • 22. Clare  |  October 6, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    Your page came up as one of the top ten google searches for “sexy librarian costumes.” The only reason I felt the need to comment on your post was that I felt your commentary on the anti-intellectual or anti-feminist aspect of the costume was, in my opinion at least, inaccurate. I am currently a grad student at the University of Minnesota, and every year try to incorporate life events from the past year into my costumes (e.g. the year I went to Europe I was an explorer, the year I joined the Navy I was a hot little sailor girl, etc.), and this year I came up cold until I thought it would be only fitting to be a “naughty librarian” to speak to my love of books, and the fact that all I do these days is read. I think for you to suggest that anyone who buys this costume does not respect the profession is very misguided and a bit close-minded. Maybe it’s for all the nerds out there that wanna show off some skin for good old Hallow’s Eve. Just a thought.

  • 23. Anonymous  |  September 8, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    Although I am not a librarian, I want to become one. This costume is slutty, I will give you that, but I think that it helps to show that although you are a librarian, you can be sexy too. It shows that the ladies who sit behind the desk at the library and tell us all to be quiet are real women too. Women who have lives and are, in some cases, sexually active. The stereotype for a librarian now is so hard to defeat. All my friends think that I will grow up alone and have only my books to grow old with because I want to be a librarian and that isnt true. (Well, hopefully anyways.) But I think this costume makes a statment that says, Yes I am a librarian. I can be sexy too.

  • 24. Anonymous  |  October 26, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    I agree with the last post, and I’d like to add: smart is sexy, and MANY men and women think so. Many of the sexy stereotypes play on that smart, compassionate, stern, and in-power woman as very sexy. Also, these fantasies (because that’s what they are) play upon that which is concealed (or repressed) and revealed at the same time. You could use the same arguments here for the sexy male stereotypes, i.e.: sexy fireman, construction worker, business man, althlete, policeman… Let’s face it, there’s a whole lot of sexy out there and halloween is a time of indulging fantasy. We shouldn’t take this all so personally.

  • 25. jislsnhd  |  February 11, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    I always heard something from my neighbor that he sometimes goes to the internet bar to play the game which will use him some hero gold,he usually can win a lot of hero online gold

    ,then he let his friends all have some hero online money,his friends thank him very much for introducing them the hero money,they usually buy hero gold together.


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