Jessica Valenti writes a feminist column for The Guardian. The articles appear in a terrible spot on the website, which is why I suspect they try to attract attention with bold headlines. And while I try to avoid the temptations of click-bait, I am not immune to them, moving my mouse and clicking before I really think. It just works so well. And yet there is an upside: Just like the headline’s authors intended, you end up reading something you usually wouldn’t. In this case, feminist thinking – which I am generally enthusiastic about but don’t deliberately seek out.
One of those headlines read “You might not think you are a sexist – until you take a look at your bookshelf”. Before I could even furrow my brow about the mechanism of that headline, I was already reading it. In the column, Valenti makes a few interesting points about gender disparity in the culture we consume. I am not sure I agree with the title claim, but my own bookshelf is overwhelmingly dominated by male authors. Not because I deliberately picked books by male authors, but because of what Valenti calls “passive Sexism“, a bias towards male creators that, over the years, has resulted in a media landscape heavily geared towards male authors. It is an effect similar to one I mentioned a while ago, how photographic technology was designed to depict white skin.
I often pick out which books to read by recommendations based on the ones I am currently reading, by reviews I see, or authors I hear in interviews. It has lead me to greater and greater works, books I deeply enjoy and that influence the way I think and see the world. So it was puzzling to find that all that influence over my thoughts is being exerted by a subgroup representing just 50% of the world’s population.
Many arguments have been fought about affirmative action, whether is right or wrong, whether it leads to greater diversity and – most importantly – whether diversity is a value in and of itself and truly changes anything. I am not going to repeat all of that here, but suffice to say that I find the status quo not just discriminatory towards women, but also a huge waste of ideas of talents that go unheard or unnoticed.
Changing the bias starts with myself, so I am going to embark on an experiment to alter my discovery process, deliberately looking for female authors. The first book just came in the mail, a story by Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. Her style earned her the nickname “Hurricane Clarice” – if that doesn’t sound disruptive, I am not sure what will.