I’ve found that despite my efforts to be more inclusive in my day-to-day life, I still have some leftover male-centric tendencies. My abundant use of the term ‘dude’ to refer to a great many people is often a risky habit. My need to put the “woman” qualifier before an occupation betrays a deep-seated sense that women in different industries don’t belong. Even my bookshelf seems to be sexist!
For context, during the gap between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I decided I would try to read a book per week over the course of six weeks. With finals looming, this was an objectively bad idea, but I still did it somehow. However, in the middle of book number 4, I suddenly realized that it was the first and only book I had in my queue that was written by a woman. To make matters worse, I very quickly realized there were only two other books in my collection that were written by women.
Now at least some of you are probably thinking, “who cares what the gender of the people who wrote the books is? The important thing is you get the information you’re after.”
And you’d be correct, right?
In a world that was purely egalitarian, there would be no need to even check my bookshelf because it’d already be 50/50 men and women authors. So what’s the reason for this discrepancy? It’s not like I specifically go out of my way to buy books exclusively from white men. So why are almost all of my books written by that demographic?
Those of you who are well-versed in feminist theory already know the answer to this; in spite of the fact that women authors are abundant and have been so for decades, they still aren’t taken seriously outside of a few genres. When we think of a woman author, we instantly think of either a romance author or at least someone who deals with feminine concerns.
Of course, there’s no reason for this distinction to exist. An astronomy book that’s on my shelf was written by a woman, and I didn’t even know it before checking. There was no reason for me to know this as it’s not a relevant part of the book’s content. However, this unconscious bias also sets up an interesting conundrum.
In order for me to ever achieve equality on my bookshelf, I would have to spend at least the next two years buying and reading only books from women.
It’s almost comical, right? In order for my collection of books to achieve any resemblance of equality, I’ve got to be actively sexist towards men.
I think that’s why so many men feel betrayed by feminism. Seeing women, people of color and other historically marginalized groups being lifted up makes a lot of people feel like their own voices are being ignored. Of course, they’re not. They’re just feeling the same exclusion that so many people have experienced for hundreds of years; it’s just now it’s happening to them.
I hope that someday we won’t need to have programs supporting women in STEM or scholarships for people of color in coding. Right now, we need these kinds of programs to ensure that women, POC, and other minorities are given support in these overly male-dominated industries.
It may seem to some that, as a white male writer, I may be shooting myself in the foot, but I like to believe that I don’t need to put others down just to be successful. Personally, I want diversity among the authors of the books on my shelves because that means exposing myself to more perspectives. If that means making a conscious choice to counter my unconscious bias, that’s the price I’ll have to pay.
So go buy a few books by women or POC to add to your collection. You might find it gives you some fresh new insights you’d otherwise be missing out on!