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Dad, no, women are not trendy
Why I choose to read more books written by women
Over the winter break, I spent time with my family in Spain. One night, something came up on TV where they praised female representation, I don’t fully remember what it was about. What made me jump from my chair was my dad’s comment “here we go again, of course, women are trendy now”. I told him that he didn’t know what it was like to be a woman, all the additional hurdles we need to surpass to make it. He didn’t know what it was like to start a job and have your boss tell you that he had witnessed how tenure committees demanded more productivity from women than from men to be granted tenure. He didn’t know what it was like to walk on the street and have people call you names or whistle at you as if you were a dog. But I find my angry answer insufficient. So here’s my attempt to better explain why I get so mad.
Most of the people who reached out to tell me they enjoy reading my posts are women. It makes sense, right? I’m a junior female professor and what I write resonates with other people who look like me. What I write about is not revolutionary, most ideas are just echoes of what I read and listen to. However, I find the echo worth it. For instance, I was 30 years old the first time I heard that you can cry because you are angry. It was while listening to the podcast The Effort Report, where Elizabeth Matsui, an accomplished senior professor, shared this experience. I looked back and understood why I was so confused about crying sometimes (I cry a lot). Society tells you that crying is a female reaction to express sadness or pain. Period. Well, it turns out there a bunch of other situations where I, among many other people, cry. Like when I’m furious, or when I’m happy. I cry every time my students give a speech during graduation. And I’m done hiding it. Next time we have an in person graduation, I’ll bring a giant box of tissues. So, dad, I know you cry too. And that’s fine, even though society tells you it is not. You have feelings like everyone else, let them flow (I’m obviously crying while writing this). I felt relieved when I found out about this, and also deceived, I hope you do too.
I’ve also felt robbed. Robbed from a multiplicity of perspectives that would allow me to better understand mylself. In my last post, I talked about creativity and academia. Two of the books I mentioned there are written by women (Big Magic and The Artist Way) and one by a man (The Practice), and it shows. From all the books I've read on these issues (call them whatever you want: self-development, self-help, non-fiction), books written by men tend to emphasize disciple (e.g., "just sit and write" was my takeaway from How to Write a Lot, like a butt kick). Those written by women feel very different. I stumbled upon The Writing Workshop towards the end of my Ph.D. program. I actually read it after defending my dissertation. And it felt like a hug (i.e., "I know this is hard, but here is how you can do it"). Just listen to Liz Gilbert talk about Big Magic, even if you don’t understand English, how does her voice tone make you feel? The balance between the two (butt kick and hug) is important to me. And probably in that ratio one butt kick every two hugs. The problem is that finding the women voices takes some digging. If you google productivity, you’ll find a plethora of young guys butchering stoicism and telling you how to control your emotions. Top search results on these issues are written by men. I have a hard time believing that women are not interested in this topic. What I do believe is that women (or at least the ones I’ve been following) have a different way of tackling the problem. And it’s backed up science.
So, dad, I love you, but this is why I get mad when you say women are trendy. In the last few years, I’ve realized that the world is designed for men. The safety dummy mannequins for cars are based on the average height for men, hence, cars are safer for men; medical research does not take into account women’s bodies, so going to the doctor is safer for men; what’s considered a professional behaviour at work are traits associated to men, making work spaces also safer for men. I guess it can feel threatening to see things change. But it’s only fair, don’t you think?