Emer O’Toole relates the misadventures of David Gilmour and her reactions to same to, first, her struggles with devising a new curriculum for an introduction to Irish theatre, and, second, internet dating.
Yes, internet dating. I’m new in town, and I’ve joined a site for the first time. Having indulged in outrageous fanfaronade on my profile page and started shopping for mates, I noticed that hardly any of the other singletons on sale – male or female – listed fiction by women in their “favourite books” section. Were they afraid they’d catch pregnancy or menopause from female writers or something? I changed my profile to stipulate that I only wanted to hear from people who read books by women.
Then something weird happened. People started messaging me about their relationships with gender and literature. Like, lots of people. The messages ranged from good (the person who wrote to say that they’d changed their profile to honour female authors), to bad (the person who listed six male writers on their page, but explained they didn’t define themselves around literature), to ugly (the person who said “I like motorcycles, but I don’t expect you to like motorcycles – why do I have to like books by women?” Answer: because motorcycles are not one half of the human race).
Hmm. That’s not a good answer.
A lot of things follow from the fact that women are half the human race, but having to like books by them isn’t one of them, at least not directly. There’s a case that can be made, and O’Toole goes on to make a case, but that answer doesn’t make it, and it echoes the dopy stereotype of what’s meant by affirmative action. (She could have said, for instance, “I didn’t say you had to like them, I stipulated people who read them, and the reason for that is that no one should systematically ignore all books by half the human race.”)
People wrote to tell me that, in spite of their all male book lists, they didn’t discriminate when assessing literature. These were just the books that they, personally, liked best. Ergo, I was being judgmental. I could have ignored them, but my pedagogical urges are just too strong. I found myself explaining that, of course, I didn’t imagine anyone was thinking “screw those silly scribbling bitches, they can’t teach me nothing, yo” when filling out online dating profiles. 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.
That’s more the kind of thing.
It’s funny how people (I’m sure I do it too) assume the sifting process somehow magically chooses only the genuinely actually factually Best. Everybody should be much more sharply aware of what happened when orchestras started doing blind auditions. OMG would you believe it suddenly women started being hired! It turned out that when you couldn’t see that they were women they were just as good as the not-women. It’s almost as if the sifting process sifts for gender first instead of for quality first.