Here I am…. You get the parts of me you like and also the parts that make you uncomfortable. You have to understand that other people’s comfort is no longer my job. I am no longer a flight attendant.
In the first chapter of Intuition Pumps, the philosopher Daniel Dennett makes the point that making, acknowledging and exploring mistakes is “the key to making progress”. In Dennett’s view a good mistake is one that can “light the way for everybody”.
So, in that spirit I want to acknowledge and explore one of my recent mistakes. A few days ago, Florentina Taylor tweeted this:
Just in case you didn’t know, I have a new book out and the picture on the right is a list of those whose contributions I have acknowledged. Florentina’s point was that I had only acknowledged the contributions of two women amongst a sea of men. This was, to her mind, the publishing equivalent of an all male panel at a conference. My first reaction was to feel a bit defensive. I mean, was it really my fault that fewer women had directly contributed to the book? Ought I to have evened up the gender balance as an act of positive discrimination?
This provoked a bit of soul-searching. In my mind, I am a feminist. I’ve read the Female Eunuch; I’ve even read Caitlin Moran. No mere patriarchal apparatchik, me. When I read Summer Turner’s post on being a ‘feminist and a teacher I wanted to stand up and applaud: this, I said to myself, is exactly the sort of point which needs making. So why have I never said it?
I asked my wife whether she thought I was at fault. She suggested that possibly my online persona is offputtingly ‘male’ and as such I tend to default to interactions with other men. Maybe my gender generates its own echo chamber?
Di Leed provided a response to my question about balance:
She’s right. And the fact that I’d omitted so many women who might potentially have appeared in my acknowledgements wasn’t due to an overtly sexist decision to marginalise or exclude female voices, it was the product of my limited viewpoint; I hadn’t even had the conversations which might have enriched and extended my thinking. Mea culpa. The irony that I’ve written a book about the need to challenge one’s biases does not escape me.
A much valued female colleague wrote to me to say how saddened she felt by the status quo and my place within it. She ended with these words: “I simply value you too much to let this one go because I would like you to think about your daughters. They will live in this world we build every day with our biases.”
I don’t want them to live in a world where they have to work twice as hard and be twice as clever to be acknowledged. I want to be part of the solution rather than building a wall around my thoughts and pulling up the drawbridge behind me, which is why I’m writing this. I need to listen a little a lot harder to the voices I struggle to hear.