Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Don't read women? You're sexist.

In an article for the Guardian, Jessica Valenti suggests passive bias in limiting one's cultural exposure to work made men or mostly men:
But passive bias is still bias - and it has ripple effects into the broader culture. Is it really so much to ask that we pay attention to what shapes our tastes?
No, it isn't, but I'd caution against politicizing everything, especially one's taste which is highly subjective and personal. I've known men who read plenty of books by women, or listened to female fronted bands,  and not one did I think was particularly enlightened. She adds:
[...] when your worldview is solely shaped by men, you are missing out. And like it or not, your taste in music, books, television or art says something about you: it sends a message about what you think is worth your time, what you think is interesting and who you think is smart. So if the only culture you pay attention to is created by men, or created by white people, you are making an explicit statement about who and what is important.
I think this is better viewed as a larger problem, instead of demonizing individuals because they don't meet quotas. It's a little "paint-by-numbers" feminism to think that simply adding women to your bookshelf or your iPhone makes one a smarter or more sensitive person. What about women whose cultural influences have largely been men? I include myself among them, and I think I my worldview is pretty expansive. I have the same reservations when it comes to "read everything but straight, white men" projects. Unless you're going outside of your own ideology, you're not being challenged. The people who promote these kinds of things tend to be on the activist left, but no one I know suggests reading, say, Thomas Sowell, a black conservative, or Bruce Bawer, a gay critic with some pretty controversial opinions on gay rights. I've read both, and while I don't agree much with either, I'm glad I have.

This I happened to agree with:
[...] while art or books that white men put out is portrayed as universally appealing, culture produced by women or people of color is seen as specific to their gender or racial identity.
I'm no fan of identity politics, but as feminism itself relies heavily on it, it's bit hypocritical to say that women's writing should be seen as universal and not specific to the "female experience," whatever that is. (Truth: there is no universal female experience.) This is a big part of why men don't read women writers, or why white people don't read books written by people of color -- they don't think it's for them. Maybe it's naive of me, but I don't think there's, at least, this overt sexist conspiracy among men that less manly to read women's writing -- I actually think most are open to it --  but labeling women's writing as such is a huge deterrent.