As a part of the post I added up all the reviews that I’d done since I started this website to check the gender breakdown. It turned out it was roughly equal (16 female authors compared to 14 male authors). I was pretty happy with that too.
That’s the part I’ve been thinking about over the last week. While I remain satisfied with the ratio, there was one aspect of my own reaction that has started to bug me.
I feel like I’ve been reading mostly women authors over the last 6 months or so. I sought out books written by women in the genres I’m interested in and made a point of prioritising women authors in my to-be-read list. I didn’t feel like I was reading many male authors at all and that my reading was “dominated” by female authors.
And it still came out 50/50.
It was a stark reminder of the power of unconscious biases. Admittedly my sample was pretty small, but somehow I’d “made an effort” reading 16 books by female authors, while reading 14 books by male authors had somehow happened without me noticing.
I consider myself a firm believer in equality. I don’t think I engage in any conscious sexist behaviour and I believe in judging individuals on their merits, not based on a stereotype or cliche. I knew I’d been guilty of letting my reading circle shrink over the years, but the fact that pre-challenge I was reading mainly male authors I put down to being time poor and perhaps a little conventional in sticking with authors I’d discovered in my youth.
Thinking about my reaction and listening to some of the discussion in the last couple of episodes of The Writer and the Critic podcast (episodes 18 and 19) when Ian and Kirstyn spoke at length about some of the default male centric settings in modern Australian society has left me a bit shell shocked. It’s triggered a lot of self reflection. I blame the bloody objective data. Self delusion would be a lot easier without it.
I look forward to the day when maintaining a more diverse reading pattern doesn’t seem like an effort. But in the mean time I’ll continue on with the AWWC, listening to excellent podcasts like The Writer and the Critic when they intelligently discuss these kinds of issues and hope like hell I’m able to evolve!
8 thoughts on “In which I become less impressed with my AWWC achievements”
It is hard work. You are constantly enjoined to read the latest Franzen, Murakami, Mieville, whatever male author. The media review them, people discuss them, the bestseller lists list them. To act against that message takes constant work. You not only have to decide, but have to face the feeling that you're missing out on something that everyone else is raving about. Not to mention the fact that you've been trained to value men's work since you were born (see Cordelia Fine for more on this).
But I don't think you can truly take responsibility for your actions until you admit how many of your actions are unconscious and unintentional. I say, good on you for doing the hard work.
There's an experiment where men are quickly shown a photograph and asked to judge the gender balance. Photos with a few women are judged to have parity, while photos with parity are judged to be dominated by women. Joanna Russ was talking about this experiment in the 1970s. Progress is slow.
Thanks David – some valuable food for thought there. I've just had a read through your AWWC reviews – really interesting and varied reading you've been undertaking for the challenge.
At least you made the effort Mark, which is no small thing. I feel like I have read nothing but women Australian authors so far this year but of the 121 books i have read only 55 or so. I think its simply because those choices were much more deliberate than my other chosen reading that they feel more dominant than they actually are
Thanks Shelleyrae – you're right, the AWWC reading has resulted in more deliberate reading choices for me as well. Perhaps that contributed to the feeling of dominance!
I am not sure that it will ever feel like its not an effort, we are fighting against the tide.. And in some ways I think that's a good thing. Awareness and all that.
Thanks Sean – awareness is exhausting though!
Wow! :) Yeah, there's a lot to those unconscious assumptions we make (I'm guilty of this myself!).
Brave post – I applaud you, sir!