Naughty Librarian for Halloween?
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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