Personal preference isn't sexist

I read an article on the Guardian this morning titled: 'Why snubbing books by women is not the same as snubbing motorbikes'. And it made me a little bit angry. 

The article begins by talking about Canadian lecturer David Gilmour, whose mouth has gotten him into a spot of bother. He said in an interview: "I don't love women writers enough to teach them. If you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys." 

I agree with the article on the fact that what he said was wrong, but little else, unfortunately. The author of the article, Emer O'Toole, then says that she's recently taken up a university post and is devising a new curriculum:

'I'm struggling to include women's voices on the contemporary Irish theatre course I'm devising for next year, because the vast majority of celebrated living Irish playwrights are male. Speaking to colleagues in other disciplines, similar pictures emerge.'

This is fair, and I can see why the struggle to find female Irish playwrights is frustrating. But then Emer goes off on a tangent about how she started internet dating. She says she noticed that on the dating website, not many of the singletons listed any females in the 'favourite authors' section. But an internet dating site is not a reliable source, nor is it an accurate portrayal of the rest of the public. 

'Were they afraid they'd catch pregnancy or menopause from female writers or something?', she asksPerhaps they just picked their top authors, who happened to all be male.

'I explained that we live in a society that teaches people to value male thought, art, and leadership above female thought, art and leadership. I explained the difference between active and passive discrimination.'

Adding 'passive' in front of 'discrimination' doesn't mean that someone quietly sitting down and reading a book by a male author and enjoying it is discriminatory. If that's the case then I'm a raging passive sexist. 

'The canons of our time are not going to represent diverse voices unless we consciously intervene...we need to be brave enough to call this what it is: not personal preference or taste, but sexism. Whether active or passive, it is discrimination.We need to educate: to honour the female writers that we love, and share their work.'

I'd love to write a book one day, but if people don't read it because I'm female, I think I'd be more offended if someone 'intervened' and shared my work because I'm a woman. Saying women need extra help, in this circumstance, is patronising. Successful female authors are so because of their talent. If a woman is talented, she'll get the success she deserves. And if not, that's unfortunately how life goes sometimes - for men and women. 

We need to pick our battles. We need to make sure we don't sound patronising. We can't tell people to prefer women authors, it's up to the individual to make that decision. And if we don't, it's not harming anyone else. Gilmour is an exception to that, but he made the news precisely because it was a rare case and it was out of order, and, as a society, we recognise that.

I see men and women as equals, but my favourite authors are all male. In fact, so are most of my favourite journalists. I seem to prefer women bloggers, but none of these preferences are a matter of sex. They're a matter of personal taste and nothing else. 

Sometimes women will request to see a female doctor. Is that sexist, or is it down to taste and preference? 
Women and men have differences, no-one can argue with that. They can sometimes offer us different things, but that's not to say one is the lesser sex. 

My favourite genre of music is blues, and I listen to mostly men. It's never occurred to me that I should intervene and force women musicians on others. 

The world of literature might be biased towards men, that I don't know. But forcing people to read books by women is not the answer. If someone tells me I need to change my reading habits and buy some female books for the sake of equality, I'm likely to do the opposite, because that's how humans work sometimes. 


  1. I'm worried this comment isn't going to be very coherent. Eh, we'll manage.

    I think sometimes the issue with the divide in male/female content, art, entertainment whathaveyou is that often, male-created things can be seen to be more generally appealing, whereas a lot of female created content is considered specifically for women.

    If we take hobbies as an example, a girl getting involved with what would typically be considered male orientated activities: Video games, watching sports etc, is not a particularly big deal, in fact men often like a girl that takes interest in those sorts of things. It makes them more attractive and, as a result some girls will, either consciously or not, develop an interest in these things, even if it's not entirely genuine, to 'get in with the guys' a little bit. Not every woman of course, I myself have spent many a day in dirty pyjamas playing Fable III alone with a bowl of wotsits, not something that would make me attractive to anyone, but it does happen.

    Conversely a man taking an interest in stereotypically feminine past times such as watching romantic comedies, recreational shopping, makeup etc is not only often considered less appealing by women, but may have to face his entire identity being questioned by his male counterparts. He may be teased for not being 'manly' enough, even by women. Men are supposed to be dragged round bored while shopping, and be confused by makeup.

    I think what I'm trying to contribute with this ramble is that, yes, personal preferences are not sexist in the slightest. I love a lot of male authors and male orientated things, but I also enjoy a lot of girl orientated stuff too, the difference is I am free to choose what and how much I want of each, whereas men have less freedom in choosing. I actually don't like 'women's literature' particularly and would far sooner enjoy a good Terry Pratchett, Graham Greene or George R R Martin, but that's my preference and I'm free to decide that. Often a male, never gets to try and see if he likes Muriel Sparks or Evelyn Waugh or because they are perceived as being writers for women, however untrue that is or however good they are, and therefore his only experiences are of male orientated writers, causing this large gap between 'celebrated' male and female creators.

    It's not fair, both on female creators and male consumers, in fact it's pretty stupid but it could be one explanation to consider.

    Yeah I wish that was more articulate but hopefully I got the gist across.

    Bella . BELLAETC

  2. Oh, I totally agree with you. Unfortunately the article in question said that both women and men listed only male authors on their dating profiles. She then addressed people, rather than men in the rest of the article.

    I completely agree that some men might find it emasculating to read a female author, unfortunately that's just how things are. But the article didn't address this as a possible cause, and even if it is, it's still unfair to label that as 'sexist', it's more of an insecure behaviour towards 'feminine' activities, one that some men have been conditioned to believe growing up!

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, definitely the longest one I've ever had on my blog!

    P.S. Now I want some Wotsits

  3. The first thing I thought of was actually along the lines of what Bella Marie said. Typically, if I see a book written by a woman, it's about a woman related topic. It's a love story. Or a drama without a lot of action. Or it's one of those young adult/teen books. Etc. I probably wouldn't read their book, not because they're a woman, but because that doesn't appeal to me. Most of my favorite authors, like you, are men, but that's because the stories they write are stories that appeal to me - either politically incorrect humor, or action, or dark fantasy, etc. I'd totally read that same kind of story if it was written by a woman. Unfortunately that's not usually the case. Both of us are members of a local writer's organization with hundreds of members, and the women in this group write romance novels, or YA/teeny bop things (Twilight), etc, and out of all of them I honestly can only think of one who writes dark, gritty fantasy (and I love her work).

    1. Yes, definitely! I love political satire, but how many satirists are women? And that's not our fault, you'd just have to be very dedicated to feminism to go out of your way to find women in certain genres, and then the extra effort you put in makes it feel patronising in countries where women have the same opportunities as men.

      It'd be interesting to look at J. K. Rowling's latest book on this topic, because she did write a crime novel and I wonder if she published it under a male name for this very reason.