Friday, February 27, 2015

On Actions and Perceptions

On Wednesday, Erin's wrote that Words Can Get Weird while friend of the blog @winelibrarian wrote a post that is not so unrelated, It's My Library and I'll Cry If I Want To. Taken together, we get a conversation about effective leadership and perceptions, which seems to be impossible to divorce from a conversation about gender. It's true that especially in positions of leadership, perceptions of actions are highly colored by conceptions of gender. It's also true that the entire profession has been in a highly gendered position in regards to the nature of our work and professionalism. I want to complicate a tiny bit more with my thoughts on pragmatic actions.

Now, on a personal level, I operate along these lines where in my head I am also navigating space as a queer queer (as opposed to a queer man or a queer woman.) I say in my head, because it I can't speak to how people perceive me negotiating the space. I can make some assumptions about how people see me and I can try to influence how people view me as a person and a professional, but, frankly, I don't have the time or energy to engage in what is often a fruitless and frustrating effort. So I operate on the premise that we have very little control about how people perceive us.

What we do control are our actions. Now, surely we modulate our actions depending on the environment and people we are interacting with. For instance, I am wearing a sweatshirt today, because I have no meetings. This is something I might not do if I had a different job or for any number of other reasons. My perceptions of my role as well as my understanding of how others may be perceiving me plays a key role in my choices in what I wear (and in everything else).

So the question is "how willing am I to modulate my behavior in order to alter perceptions of me?" and the answer is "exactly the minimum amount necessary in order to accomplish my goals." The question of how I am perceived in a highly gendered culture and what I do to alter that culture is a separate (often concurrent, but separate) struggle. What determines the minimum amount is a consideration of whether some kind of behavior would actually change perceptions of me in a way that makes it easier for me to accomplish my goals. It is harmful and pointless to change my behavior, probably in ways that affect my self-perception, if the end result does not create a changed environment. However, if changed perceptions do help accomplish personal and organizational goals, we have a different story. This is a path much narrower for women and other marginalized groups.

I think we'll leave it at that for a Friday Musing.

Keep rockin'

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