I’ve always loved to bake. When I was in high school, I would make a dozen kinds of Christmas cookies every year, pack them up in colorful Tupperware and ribbons, and give them to friends, family, and teachers. In college, I’d bake drop cookies or cupcakes for the weekly newspaper copy editors meetings. I was always the friend who baked something for a party. At my first job in NYC, I’d bake sweets at home, tote them to Manhattan on the Q train, and set them out in the staff break room. I loved it so much, I started a blog. Baking was the way that I showed people that I appreciated them.
When I got to library school, I continued on my baking streak. Oatmeal raisin cookies to trivia night, chocolate chip cookie bars to my job, cupcakes for student ALA meetings. But then, one evening, I was attending a networking mixer (so: already terrible), and a classmate went around the group of library school students, introducing us to…someone I don’t even remember, but it seemed important at the time. But I *do* remember how the introductions went:
“This is X, she works in Special Collections and is going to be an archivist.”
“This is Y, he’s going to be an awesome instruction librarian.”
“This is Z, he’s a great storyteller and is going to be a children’s librarian.”
“This is Dani. She bakes cookies.”
…And that was the last time I baked cookies for anybody in a remotely work-related context.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think the person meant anything by it, and nobody seemed to notice the incongruity in the introductions. But I did, and what it told me that I was being read as less serious than the other people I stood in that circle with. It felt lousy, and distinctly gendered.
In the 2.5 years that I’ve been at my job now, I have never baked anything to take into work. When I want to show my appreciation for my co-workers through food, I stop and pick up donuts, cookies from Trader Joe’s, chocolates. But nothing that comes from my kitchen. And I don’t bring in food very often—more likely now, I’ll just tell someone that they’ve been awesome. I’ve been afraid that people will stop seeing me for my work, and start seeing me as…library mom?
One day, I picked up Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office, and, flipping through, something caught my eye. “Don’t feed people,” Frankel said. And especially, don’t bake cookies yourself. It will “sabotage” you in the workplace, and people will see you as Betty Crocker.
This plays out all over the Internet. Here’s an article from Forbes in 2012 about how most experts say that baking is self-sabotage for women.
Here’s Ask a Manager on the issue. tl;dr: she presents other “masculine” traits in the office, so baking isn’t going to undermine that. UM WHAT. So if I’m “blunt, assertive, kind of a hard-ass, and not a sugar-coater,” then I can make all the brownies I want; if not, not? And if I’m not a manager, can I bake without potentially sacrificing my climb up the library ladder?
All of which is to say: I’ve bought into this for a long time now. But I’ve been thinking a lot about librarianship and management and gender recently, and I think I’m about ready to call BS.
Baking is just one example, but what other parts of ourselves do we have to deny in order to be taken seriously in the workplace? Is it worth it? What does it mean to elide parts of yourself so that you aren’t just described as “the girl who bakes”? At what point does my work speak for itself and I don’t have to worry about this anymore?
It seems like it probably never ends, and giving into this way of thinking is letting traditional gender perceptions control us, even while we are explicitly trying to buck them.
So: can you be a kickass instruction librarian and respected by your colleagues and bring in the occasional pecan bar? Or whatever other traditionally gendered personality trait (some other fun ones from Frankel: needing to be liked, not needing to be liked, holding your tongue, decorating your office, HELPING) makes you feel like you, a human being? It’s not about the cookies, yo. And I’m over it, and it seems like the way to change this is not by giving into it.
Have you experienced this? How do you deal with it? I hope you’ll share in the comments!
EDIT: Many thanks to Keri Cascio, who let me know about the #libleadgender conversation going on–started by an excellent article by Jessica Olin and Michelle Millet at In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Looking forward to joining in future conversations!