Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A 2014 Reading Experiment

I myself am contemplating reading books only by female authors in 2014.

I thought about posting that experiment on Facebook, but envisioned a tedious conversation with mansplainers telling me how sexist and misandrist such an experiment would be and why was I trying to ban all books written by men ever!

Perhaps that imaginative scenario appears to have escalated quickly, but really.

I've been doing gender blogging for a long time. I know how it goes.  You make one comment about how making a sexist joke in the midst of a tense conversation about gender isn't the best timing and suddenly, some dudes are all, "Why are you trying to ban comedy from the whole entire world?!?!"

Anyway, last week a male friend posted a list of the 10 books that have had the greatest influence on him.  9 of them were written by men.  His friends followed suit and a similar pattern emerged.  None of them seem to have noticed or cared that 90% of their fave books ever were written by men.

So, I argue.

If I consciously choose to read books only by female authors in 2014, in recognition of the fact that women's writing has long been undervalued and suppressed compared to men's, doing so is not "reverse sexism."  It's certainly no worse than what these men, who aren't even aware of their preferences, are doing. In fact, it's not even sexism.

It would be a choice I'm making for me because the list of books in my to-read queue is damn long and I reckon I have a lot of making up to do given that at least 80% of the books I read growing up, thanks to the educational system I traversed, were written by men.

Oh yes, I have heard from a lot of men.

I also know that the rebuttal to anyone noting that, say, 90% of the books on any given "best of" list are written by men is that "we" should "just read whatever we like" and "so what if that just so happens to be books written entirely by men, maybe their writing is just the best."  Like, there's rarely any acknowledgement of the extent to which being socialized to overvalue men's writing and opinions might maybe influence people's reading choices throughout their lives.

Just as many white people claim they "don't even see race" when in reality that often means they don't see racism, it's as though these "gender blind" book fans' privilege of not thinking regularly about gender issues somehow insulates them from being influenced by living in a sexist society.  It's also as though people think that evaluating the quality of a book is a simple, objective matter that can be determined by, perhaps, a computer program that will give them a binary answer as to whether or not a book is good and that therefore the Official Judges Of Books are not also influenced by sexism.

See, it also turns out, 9/10 Book Guy is a member of the clergy in a religion that doesn't ordain women and from which he primarily reads male voices purporting to be moral and spiritual authorities. It would seem almost willful for us to collectively pretend that the book choices he makes are 100% due to men being better writers than women and that he's not at all influenced by the constant drumbeat he hears everyday about the spiritual superiority of men compared to women.

My point here isn't to tell people what books they should read or what books they should or shouldn't like. Clearly, books written by men resonate more with 9/10 Book Guy. My point here is that it would be a mistake to think that that which resonates with men is objectively better than that which resonates with women.

That seems obvious to state, but it also seems like it bears stating.

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