Are Women Being Ignored? Is it Idiotic to Even Ask This?

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Unless, by Carol ShieldsCarol Shields's 2001 novel Unless is worth reading simply because it's a first class work by a first class writer at the peak of her literary abilities. I highly recommend it. I recently reread it and it got me thinking about a few things.


The protagonist, Reta Winters, is a writer, wife and mother from the fictional Orangetown, Ontario. Her eldest daughter has taken to sitting outside of a Toronto subway station, head bent down, holding a hand-lettered sign that says "Goodness." She doesn't solicit passers-by any more than this. She gives away the money she gathers to other street people. She refuses to speak to her parents or sisters, much less explain why she dropped out of university to live like this. So Reta tries to live her life - working on a new novel, visiting friends, making dinner, having sex with her husband, feeding the dog, and has to deal with the constant knowledge that there's something very wrong with her daughter which she can't understand, much less solve. 


Reta takes to composing letters to various authors, telling them how much she enjoyed an article of theirs, and then politely points out that in their list of literary influences, in their survey of great thinkers, they left women out of the picture. She wonders if this kind of unthinking exclusion contributed to whatever made her daughter slip into the state she's in (as Reta's mentor surmises, women have been denied greatness, and so opt for goodness instead). Reta signs her letters with false names, and never mails them, undercutting her own meagre protests.


So if Reta were to read my stuff, would she compose one of those letters to me? Do I contribute to the problem she keeps noticing?


Maybe not. I wrote an article recommending that men ask women questions. Another advising that guys read to their girlfriends or wives. Another about female relational aggression, as exemplified in an 80s cartoon. I've based multiple articles on the books of Barbara Ehrenreich and Sandra Maitri. I wrote and toured a one man show about how women get the short end of the stick in pretty much every possible way


But women form a tiny minority in my book collection - easily less than ten percent. Same with my music library. My main career is in theatre, and the plays I write are more often about men. Most of my collaborations are with guys. And without counting, I'd say that in the articles I've written for this site I've referenced men more often than women. Sometimes exclusively. 


If you're contributing to a problem through ignorance, inaction or passive acquiescence, you're still contributing to that problem. 


Once you become aware of what's happening and of your complicity in it, what do you do?


This act of self-examination on my part could be dismissed as the trappings of a postmodern point of view. Is it more emblematic of a post-postmodern, or Integral consciousness to have transcended and included this kind of postmodern striving for a politically correct equality, and to explore topics and reference writers as desired, unless, stage adaptationregardless of their gender, even if doing so results in the research, work and experience of women being left unmentioned and unconsidered, far more often than not?


I certainly can't steer this massive cultural trend in another direction, and would never mean to imply that I could. I sincerely hope that even asking these questions doesn't imply an arrogant sense of grandiosity that my writings for a modestly read website don't warrant. But it also won't do to let myself off the hook because I write on a scale that's too small to influence the masses. The masses are made up of each of us. 


So I can make a concerted effort to keep an eye on my own inner processes, where, as a white guy, this bias very likely plays itself out as I take in art and non-fiction from the world, and create stuff of my own to send back out into the world. Maybe, in keeping my awareness attuned to this possibility, I can strengthen the atrophied impulse to shine the light on the experiences and thoughts of the ignored fifty percent of the population, say, fifty percent of the time or so. 








I reread Unless in July/August. I've been working on implementing its ideas since then, in what I'm writing, reading and listening to. Here's what I discovered: it's not that hard. It's actually really enjoyable.



A few highlights:


-State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett

-Cold Specks' album I Predict a Graceful Explosion (and seeing them in concert)

-Food and the City, by Jennifer Cockrall-King

-The Winter Vault, by Anne Michaels

-the HBO series Girls, created by and starring Lena Dunham

-seeing Metric in concert (fronted by Emily Haines)

-Phantogram's EP Nightlife

-Nina Simone Sings the Blues

-discussion resulting from a post looking at seemingly anti-woman songs by women (Florence and the Machine and Lykke Li)

-the deluxe edition of Sharon Van Etten's album Tramp

-Boys and Girls by Alabama Shakes

-Lisa Gerrard's a capella rendition of The Wind That Shakes the Barley

-Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain


Editors: Chela Davison, Chris Dierkes

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  • Comment Link Jane Doe Wednesday, 05 December 2012 19:01 posted by Jane Doe

    If I say: "a kid was walking down the street" you think "boy." If I say "a man was sitting in a chair" you picture a white man. White males are the norm, everyone else is an "other". White males enjoy 100 percent identification as the leading role in life 100 percent of the time. In the early 90s, when the BC government was implementing affirmative action policy to try to address the gender and racial imbalances in civil service, the outcry from white males was deafening: "It's not fair! We are being denied access to what we want because of our race and gender!" Of course it's not fair, but it is how everyone else is treated as a basic part of life. One tiny dose of unfairness was met with a giant collective whine. I appreciate your willingness to see this, but feminists have been screaming this idea forever. Which is why feminism has been turned into a term of contempt. Why would men support the theory that someone else might deserve preferential treatment?

  • Comment Link Kevin Thursday, 06 December 2012 01:30 posted by Kevin

    It's not idiotic to ask the question this article poses, but the typo in the title of the story isn't so smart. Not meaning to criticize, just want to point it out.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 07 December 2012 03:50 posted by TJ Dawe

    Jane - you're absolutely right.

    To answer your question: "why would men support the theory that someone else might deserve preferential treatment?" - for the same reason that white men came to repudiate slavery. It slowly dawned on some of them that this was a massive injustice which needed to be addressed. It took time, and there was much resistance. But it happened. I believe that unless our civilization collapses, this long period of transition toward equality between the sexes will be seen in a similar light. And you're right that feminists have been screaming this idea for what seems like forever. But prejudices which go back thousands of years are stubborn. And even worse: often invisible.

    But I do see little spots of progress here and there. I can't remember the last time I read a non-fiction book that didn't use "she" or "her" as default pronouns. (when I read a non-fiction book from the 80s or before that doesn't do this, it's actually kind of jarring)

    The genre of music I listen to most is indie rock, where I see far more gender equality than in any other branch of rock. Many bands are mixed gender. Hard to say if it's the norm. But it's not even worth noting. Women are commonly instrumentalists as well as singers. Appearance is less important than musical ability.

    My main career is in theatre, and has been primarily in unjuried fringe festivals. Women seem to be on a much more even footing there than in the world of subscription theatre.

    Tiny steps, but steps nonetheless.

    Kevin - my brain must be doing the auto-correct thing that prevents a person from seeing their own typos, but I can't spot the typo you're referring to. What can I not see?

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Friday, 07 December 2012 17:09 posted by TJ Dawe

    Kevin, Br. Trevor came to my rescue and pointed out the typo. My eyes were indeed going over it again and again without seeing it. Which is oddly appropriate to the subject of the article, I suppose. Although easier to remedy.

  • Comment Link Sebastian Stark Tuesday, 11 December 2012 09:26 posted by Sebastian Stark

    HM, what does this article contribute the discussion, and how does it add an integral perspective?

    Youve described above, how a post-green point of view is gender equal by by being genderissue, ideology free. That may be partly right, and to s a certain extent, there may be pseudo integralism involved, which under the flag of progress justifies regress.

    But some how the new ness lacks. And there a re so many possible ways.

    Take this for example, I was just after the article chatting and reflecting something quite simple which waits for exploration: feminine and masculine value sets must stick together to build a new , integrated set f values in which integral feminine and masculine can be at the same moment.

    Thus it would be absolutely crucial to evaluate stuff women do in a vertical fashion, fEx.

    Because masculine types evaluate vertically(with different ideas of sequence, depending on their worldview).

    This is why we dont just accept women trying to get into the middle of the action. If we would just accept, the vertical value thing would go down hill, and so would civilisation, every man feels that in is guts and thinks that in the back of his mind.

    And expand that. If I have 20 girls, and lets say 2 to 3 of them are on the brink to integral consciousness, and I give all of them the same chance to be someone in society, the other 17 girls will be honored equal to the first 2 or 3, and so these wont be acknoledged for giving more effort than the other 17, and if there is a competition between these 20 girls, the larger group of those giving less effort(lets assume that class, ethnic privilege or lack there of and so on are all equal) will probably want to make the small group of those on the verge to a new consciousness(fueled by dedication, depth and effort) shut up.

    Thus general equality will result in a lack of verticality between women, thus the stronger ones will never make it to the top, and thus women will stay unequal to man simply because you wanted them equal...

    I am simply making this point , which is one in a million points(most important one is probably: the problem is not who pulls stronger on the string, the problem is the idea of separation and difference of us being stronger than the insight into the fact that we are the same at core, children of one universe, under one unpacking law and love and will, which is our own eye and mind)

    to show that this whole issue needs many new twists and turns unthought of previously. maybe, we need to go beyond the gender divide, and we have to differenciate between denying realities into flatland on the one side and transcending the divide, including them and transcending them at the same time.

    So much NEW stuff to think about

    Also I can see, how there is in men(just as in women, and this definitely goes beyond the hetero line) a tendency of the ego that wants a controlable partner, and an evolutionary self that wants a great partner to live a legendary life with.

    And there are expectation expectations(dont know how that is said in english). Thus women think that we want the dumb version of them to please our egos, and they are also afraid if tha would be different. Thus men would have change and show how they like that other side of women. But tat only makes sense with differenciating narcissism and and developed female human beings, otherwise it returns to the hailing of the princess and the surpression of the developed woman, which will want to be like the princess in order to be loved or dislikes being a woman in the first place and is just neutral .

    So many new things to think about , far beyond just being correct. We need to think nd feel and see down and dirty just as much as looking around in celestial heights and wonder in dark forests and watch the flies ad the people performing everday things on the market places, riddles in plain sunlight.

  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Thursday, 13 December 2012 19:20 posted by TJ Dawe

    Sebastien, I must confess to being one of the least well versed writers on this site in terms of Integral terminology, so I'm having a devil of time figuring out a response to your comment. Is there any chance you explain your idea in a simpler way? Maybe start with "masculine types evaluate vertically"?

  • Comment Link Joe-Perez1 Sunday, 20 January 2013 17:18 posted by Joe-Perez1

    Sebastian - I learned from your comment some new angles on an old, important topic. Thank you!

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