Who We Are OL

This weekend I’m going backpacking with a guy who works in river conservation, a woman is a social justice librarian who regularly advocates for the poor, and a woman who used to work as a pro-choice lobbyist. I cannot wait to go into the backcountry with these people. They are interesting, smart, and they like to party in the woods. A trifecta of happiness for me, really. I’ve seen Mr. River and Ms. Librarian quite a bit in the last year, but I haven’t seen Ms. Pro-Choice in quite a while. The last time she and I hung out a lot, I was a complete and utter coward. I plan to express my remorse this weekend, and I thought I’d draft it here because this confession/apology is connected a bit to something I recently posted to the interwebs.

Alan Levine, or Mr. CogDog, as I call him in my head, put out a call for True Stories of Open Sharing. This weekend I was going through the digital file cabinet, so to speak, trying to see what kind of digital portfolio I could create to enhance my chances in the jobby job seeking. LinkedIn seems to just bring me spam emails from folks who want to sell me products as Director. My blog isn’t always “professional” and I don’t have a website. What’s the best thing to create if you’re on the job hunt in EdTech? Clearly, I don’t know. I mean, really, if somebody wants to know about me they can put my name in their search engine of choice and go from there.

This is a waste of time…if my CV doesn’t do it…maybe I should make a website…whatever, I gave up. I thought, what the heck, I’ll tell my story to Mr. CogDog and at least help him with his future preso. I didn’t follow his instructions (he wanted 2-3 minutes); I was a total wind bag. When I set up for my video, my dog dug his claws into my thighs and tried to escape so I didn’t say the introduction he wanted. Chalk it up to my regular MO as a student who gets excited about the start of an assignment so I don’t read the whole thing. I just jump in without thinking. There’s a larger metaphor for how I live my life here, but I want to stay on the topic of what I’ll say to Ms. Pro-Choice.

First, I want to thank her for teaching me to say Anti-Choice instead of Pro-Life. That small semantic shift is important to their cause. We want to point out that we are for life–we just also believe that a woman’s choice to terminate  or prevent a pregnancy is her decision. Pro-lifers, she taught me, see themselves as having the moral ground and that’s not true. We’re mainly supporting low-income women who don’t have health insurance, which is really most of what Planned Parenthood does.

Second, she asked me to be a part of a lawsuit and I turned her down. I agonized over this because I believe in the cause. This was the ill-fated Bush era of teaching abstinence in schools and there were numerous attacks on Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. My reason for turning her down was plain and simple cowardice. I was scared of judgmental people. Back then, I was very intimidated by people who had strong negative opinions about this new-ish thing gaining ground called social media.

I overheard one powerful faculty member admit that she would not hire somebody who did not share her politics. That was me, but she had no idea, and I’d listen to her rant. I thought she was a right-wing hawk who was more of sexist pig than any card carrying NRA member with a penis. She liked me, and she could have decided my fate, so I was patient. Years of working in restaurants taught me to listen before you speak. I took pride in people not being able to guess my politics. And nothing, my friends, divides people more than abortion.

I went to fundraisers, 5k runs/walks, and talks all to support her organization, NARAL. Right-wing warriors would spit on the ground when we walked by, they had bullhorns to yell their hate, and some guy got in my face and yelled.

He told me that, and I quote, “love fucking more than my soul.” I didn’t say a word because we had been told to not engage with them. They had a right to protest. And let me tell you, it was an awesome inside joke between me and my friends for years. (Down with my soul, let’s get it on! I’m sorry, I wasn’t praying, I was thinking about what you look like without any clothes on. Is that a sin?–it devolves from here, so I’ll stop). That guy’s hatred, however, made me think about the real danger of one’s feminist political views. I rarely spend time with men who would be called “anti-feminist” or “woman hater” but I’ve never forgotten that guy.

Out of all the women that day, he chose my face to express his hatred for women.

He yelled after me as I walked away, “You have sex with the Devil, woman!”

How astute! I’ve been keeping the Devil for my friend for as far back as I can remember.

Ms. Librarian, who grew up Mormon with parents who still practice the faith (she does not), joined the lawsuit, and for that, I love her dearly. Back then, I was an adjunct who was absorbing all of the advice–good and bad–on how to survive and make it in academia.

According to popular media, academics were/are a hive of liberalism and left-wing fascists trained to indoctrinate the youth. During the Bush years, this was particular fun fodder for those of us who were ashamed of our our country’s policies. Somehow my use of Susan Sontag’s work in my English Composition courses was a conspiracy to turn your daughters into man-haters who would grow up to vote for policies to take away your guns. I had meetings with deans at least twice a year to defend my choice of reading material for students. Luckily, I had administrators who supported my academic freedom. But it made me suspicious about what was in my file, what was said about me in hiring committees, and who had which political views and why. I kept quiet on and off line.

So when I was asked to join this lawsuit, I declined because I was fearful about the exposure on the web. How it would affect my chances for a job. My career. My family. My friends. My spouse. My presence OL.

I used to use Elroy Strongjaws, my dog’s unofficial full-name, as my “identity” on the Internet. Doing that video for Mr. CogDog made me remember that I used to not use my name on the web. I totally forgot I used to do that, and now it seems so ridiculous. What was I thinking? Why was I so intimidated?

Had I chance to do it all over again, I’d give those depositions for NARAL. Those interviews. My time. My story as it connects to others. I’d put it out there on the Internet that I support birth control and woman’s right to choose. I missed an opportunity.

And that I regret. And I’m so honored that she asked me. Told me I was perfect for this cause. Begged me to say yes. And I regret saying no.

Because now I know, it doesn’t matter. People will think what they want, do what they want, and label you with or without a carefully curated “personae” online. Other people have written extensively about this idea, and I think it’s interesting. And I really didn’t think too much about an “online presence” outside of teaching until I attended a conference workshop on Twitter circa 2010.

I sauntered into the session because everything else during that hour bored me. Turns out, I was attending a preso for people who tweet on behalf of others. Folks, for instance, who have been hired to tweet on behalf of college presidents or other leaders at their institutions. Wow, I thought, is this for real? How to describe my utter shock that people got paid to do this–I was still pretty naive about the evils of the Internet at that time–maybe I still am. Maybe I should think more about my soul and less about hopping into the sack with Beelzebub).

When students would give me their email addresses, for instance, I used to help DopeSmokah247@yahooooey.calm understand that’s not the best email handle for scholarships and college applications. Oh, but that’s a joke, the student would say. Think about the message you’re sending with that handle, young grasshopper. But I haven’t smoked weed in long time, Ms. Indrunas, the student said blushing. Who cares, I said, that’s not the point.

Years later, I’m now wondering about that point between professionalism and who we really are. Most of us spend hours on the clock being somebody we’re not. We call this professionalism sometimes. Sometimes that’s cool. Sometimes it’s not. What is the point to honor this divide? Why? How does this divide affect people’s perception of themselves as leaders? Workers? Citizens? Part of a network?

It can be very scary to be who you really are at work, and this is nothing compared to a friend of mine who hides her sexuality at work. During the day, she’s this amazingly feminine make-up wearing professional. One the weekend, she’s this tomboyish lesbian sans make-up who slips out of her high-heels and suit for a pair of Vans and cargo shorts. Just like that. She clocks out and she’s herself. It’s her “work drag” as I recently learned to call it (Thanks, Tom Gibbons). How we look on the job versus how we dress off the clock.

For her, she works among homophobic folks so it’s easier to wear lipstick and high heels and “look straight” than it is to teach them about micro-aggressions about same sex couples. For some of us, how we look at work versus how we dress off the clock is akin to this online/offline personality. Who we are OL is like an outfit we can change. Or is it?

For some folks, it’s one and the same. For others, it’s not. And I worry for women the most, especially young women who are trying to please so many people’s visions for their future. I’ve been writing more for the Shrink It & Pink It idea, but I need to let it rest. Some ideas aren’t worth exploring when you’re too close to the moment. Back when Ms. Pro-Choice asked me to be a part of that lawsuit, I was too close to the conversation. Things could get ugly for us online, they told us. People could write things. Say things. Suggest things. I thought about the guy who got into my face, and I knew I could be teaching his daughters or sons that fall. I cared a great deal then about what students thought of me, my colleagues, and future employers. So much so, that I silenced my beliefs by not championing a cause I believe–and I regret that.

This is, in part, why I’ve never claimed these “tweets are my own” or any other separation of my soul–as damned as it may be–as an employee, scholar, writer, thinker, or as a person. At least I hope I’m smarter now.

The Devil, so to speak, is all in the details if you search hard enough.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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9 Responses to Who We Are OL

  1. CogDog says:

    Mr CogDog gives 2 paws up for just being oneself, rolling around in mud, barking at trucks, and hanging your head full out the window at 60 mph.

    Life’s too short for spending time trying to project some fraction of self. Enjoy the time in the woods!


  2. francesbell says:

    Thanks Alyson, you have given me a lot to think about. I am really wondering whether being “true to yourself” (as it used to be called) is quite the same as openness. Social media can be like a limitless space so theoretically everyone can take up as much space as they want but sometimes it doesn’t feel like that and one person’s openness can crowd out other people (and sometimes it’s me doing the crowding out). Hmmm!!
    The other thing I thought about was what you said about speaking out and employment (bad when you felt constrained and good when you got the job). I thought about Equal Opportunity Laws in UK that (in theory at least) try to avoid discrimination in recruitment and employment. So in a university, anyone who interviews applicants for a job has to attend EO training and the shortlisting and interviewing follow a process. This is not perfect but I can think of several occasions where a less obvious applicant has shone through or where a ‘preferred’ candidate does not get the job.
    I have thought about this quite a lot recently when someone is sacked on the spot because of something that blows up a storm on social media eg Tim Hunt http://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/jun/13/tim-hunt-forced-to-resign I thought that he was a silly man and I certainly wouldn’t want him to recruit staff but it seemed liked the easy option for UCL as opposed to looking at sexism in their own institution. Maybe social media isn’t always helping us to deal with difference and complexity whilst we are feeling so free and open.


  3. Frances, that’s a really good point that I didn’t consider as I was drafting this post–“openness” versus “true to your self.” My initial thought is that I confused the two when the Plan B case was being formed. And you’re right, the openness can crowd other people out–like say, somebody who reads this post and does not believe in pro-choice or birth control. One thing that I did not express well is that I would have been representing “professional educated women who are choosing to not have children.” Planned Parenthood was my only access to healthcare for over a decade, and that access is what I want to protect. The contingent nature of my job made me feel like I couldn’t be true to myself. It’s really complicated, this story.

    Perhaps being on the job market again has made rethink some of my decisions in the past. I think the equal opportunity laws are a start but I wonder sometimes how a person’s OL presence may harm or help him/her. It depends on the committee and many other factors, I suppose. Tim Hunt’s story made me think about the power of a hashtag. I agree with you about his silliness and the institutional issues, but I remember my feed blowing up with that distractedly sexy hashtag, and it made me ill a bit. I didn’t know the context and the tweets made things even more confusing. By researching what that hashtag meant, I know I contributed to the data of clicks reading about it. And really, this is not a story I would normally seek to read–ho hum, some white guy says something stupid about women. This quote below, Frances, is one I think some more about:

    “Maybe social media isn’t always helping us to deal with difference and complexity whilst we are feeling so free and open.”


    • francesbell says:

      Since I posted my comment, I had a phone convo with a dear ex-colleague and we spoke about the Tim Hunt fiasco. We both loved #distractedlysexy as a humourous response to sexism in the workplace but felt that Tim Hunt had been treated badly. But that’s not the most significant aspect. Two things: first, by knee jerk forcing Tim Hunt to resign UCL missed opportunity to investigate (without blame) experience of women in labs ; and second I feel really uncomfortable about jury by socialmedia and polarisation. It seems a bit like the gladiators

      In the end, the press were characterising #distractinglysexy as a witch hunt (crap!) and there’s the rub – polarisation!


  4. I usually see the funny side of life but for some reason that hashtag didn’t do it for me at first. I think I was away from the Internet so I missed the context. Now I see there are some witty tweets that brilliant. That story just blow up so quickly and, yes, I think you’re right they missed an opportunity to look at the larger experience for women. The thumbs up/thumbs down is very gladiator-like–thanks for the link. That’s what scared me away back then from political action, and it’s even more frightening now.

    On another note, saw that you and Kate may brew up a mini-happening. Oh boy! I’d love to know what you two are thinking. Keep me posted:)

    Two more things: Ms. Pro-Choice is a knitter and the card you sent me is on the book shelf behind me in the video I made for Alan. So that’s another connection I could have pointed out. The card is right by my lamp and needles and it makes me smile!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. francesbell says:

    Alyson-you were already in my mind for a potential mini-happening so it’s GREAT that you are interested. Kate says she’ll email and Mike C. suggests a hangout so lets take it from there 🙂 Oooh!! excited


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