Don't Judge a Story by the Gender of Its Author

Equality is about treating others the same way we want to be treated, not to get even

Written by Anonymous

For the second time this week I've read a "Letter to the Editor" where a female reader complained that a magazine in question had too much man in it.

In the first case, a long-time reader of The New Yorker had a problem that the last two issues had too few women in it:

The January 3rd, 2011 issue features only a Shouts & Murmurs (Patricia Marx) and a poem (Kimberly Johnson). Every other major piece -- the fiction, the profile, and all the main nonfiction pieces -- is written by a man. Every single critic is a male writer.

She was so outraged that she sent the issue back demanding a refund. Elsewhere, another reader completely dismissed all of the articles in the previous issue of a club's newsletter because all but one were written by men. She summarised the entire thing as a "testosterone overload". I agree that, despite some improvements, gender inequality issues are still alive and well. I also agree that magazines need to present a balance of voices that reflect their audience. As a Social Worker, I also think that if we're all going to preach the importance of equality among gender (among other things), we're not helping the problem by discarding something just because it was written by a man.

It's a shame that some women do this because if they knew what happened behind the doors of a publisher putting out their next issue, they would discover that no crusade against them is taking place. As a former Assistant Editor and Editor-in-Chief for a couple of minor magazines, I can tell you that the first thing the editor looks for in an article is not whether the author has a penis or a vagina; it's whether it is a well written, relevant and stimulating story readers will find interesting. Even more important is whether it has been submitted on time so that publishing deadlines can be met. Sometimes editors are so desperate for content that they will take it from anybody, as long as it reflects the magazine's interests.

As a reader, you should ask yourself this question: if the editor left out the author's name and the article gave no indication of their gender until after you read it, would your respect for their opinion change? If you only value the quality of a publication based on a vaginas-per-page quota, then there are greater issues inside of you at play: anger, bitterness, frustration, negative life experiences, probably caused by a man who probably deserves your anger; but not all men do. These women's approach to gender issues does not fuel the concept of equality; instead, it further opens the divide and creates a definite US vs. THEM.

Here's a thought: maybe some of those men that outnumbered women satisfied other criteria. Maybe some were black, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, gay or HIV positive. It's true that I don't know for sure, but neither do you. Some things, unlike gender, can't be guessed from a writer's name alone. Here's something else: if you, as a woman, are going to complain, are you also writing articles and submitting them?

Ironically, the magazine printing those letters does indicate a willingness to hear from women.

Although I am hopeful that these women are not choosing the value of literature simply by the levels of oestrogen or testosterone present in an author, it does sound like judgement is being passed over the features a person is born with, features they have no control over. This is no different from judging the worth of a person from their skin colour. By the same logic, a transsexual author going from male to female must suddenly be worth reading; meanwhile, a story penned by a hermaphrodite will only ever be half as good.

I'm a member of an LGBT-oriented club that helps its members develop leadership skills, give speeches in front of large crowds and teaches quick thinking on the spot. Although not on the curriculum, the club emphasises that the value of a person's opinion is not determined by whether a member is gay or straight, male or female, black or white, how they look, who they love or what gender they feel they belong to. Instead we value each other's opinion by respecting and acknowledging our respective differences. No one's opinion is ever dismissed just because of who they are.

The whole point of equality is to treat others the same way we want to be treated. Yes, there's a history of gender inequality, male on female power-over, and statistics clearly indicate men are mostly responsible for family violence. It does not however give anyone the right, no matter what they've been through, to treat others poorly: this includes dismissing their thoughts, views and opinions. Having an eye-for-an-eye attitude only hurts those that are on your side, further alienates those that have yet to understand your struggle and makes you no different than those who actually deserve your criticism.