Over a year ago, one of my favorite social media friends, Joel Turner, began a project he called the Ladyist Experiment. For one year, he would listen to, read and watch only works by female artists. His project has made me think a lot about my own media diet. Although I am a minority and a woman, most of the works I consume and revere have been created by white men. That’s not accidental because our worldwide culture is dominated by works written by white men. Our definition of what constitutes good art, which works belong in the classics “canon” has been decided for us by the preferences of upper class white men through the ages and therefore, unsurprisingly reflects the interests, politics and priorities of our patriarchal society. When I look back on my literary education, precious few works by women made it into my curriculum. In fact, I can count them on one hand – in high school, only Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome made it into my curriculum. We read multiple works by Charles Dickens but no George Eliot,Elizabeth Gaskell, Brontë sisters or Jane Austen. We studied multiple works by Steinbeck and Hemingway but no Gertrude Stein. I recall one work by a person of color in the entire four years of my high school education. Although we covered the civil war and the civil rights movement, it was primarily from the perspective of the white male leaders such as Lincoln and Kennedy.
This educational indoctrination for what is considered worthy has had far-reaching consequences for what we, as a culture, take seriously. Any work written about a woman which focuses on topics that interest women is immediately and rather sniffily dismissed. More than once, I have heard Jane Austen’s literature described as nothing more than “wedding porn”. (A truly condescending phrase to apply to a woman who write so forthrightly about how utterly trapped even upper middle-class women were in the 19th century, how completely dependent they were on the whims of men for their well-being.) I recently revisited Shirley Conran’s novel Lace, a book I often hear described as ‘trashy’. Reading it, I was impressed by just how much the book is about the experience of rape culture in the forties through the seventies, by the frustrations of living, working, and conducting relationships with the glaring gender-based double standards. Like Jane Austen before her, Conran has found her literary work dismissed for focusing on female characters and their priorities (friendship, love, marriage, career, children, an enjoyable sex life – not necessarily in that order). Yet I found her book to be cannily written and sharply observed portrait her upper middle class female characters. Were they privileged? Yes, of course they were. (Just as Jane Austen’s characters were privileged.) Yet for all that each of the women suffered as a result of living in a culture that privileges the priorities of men over women. Each of them bore the stamp of rape culture. This book reflected the concerns of millions of women and yet somehow is considered trash. Meanwhile, as a culture, we bend over backwards to embrace genre works written by white men despite their obvious sexism, racism or classism. Witness the recent renaissance of iconic Sherlock Holmes, the epitome of the superior upper class white man, superior by virtue of his race, class, education and gender, a character who is never wrong and therefore stands as an argument FOR colonialism in his embodiment of superiority. Or, for that matter, Batman, for goodness sake, a 1 percenter if there ever was one, a rich white man who believes he knows better than the electorate what is good for the city, who works outside the boundaries of law or the judicial system.
I could probably only consume cultural products by women and people of color for the rest of my life and still not address the imbalance created by my media diet up until now. So I’m giving myself a year from September 1st 2015 to August 31st 2016 to ONLY read/watch/listen to works that have at least one woman or person of color credit as creator. So with bands, I want one band member to be a woman or person of color, with television shows one showrunner, and so on.
I’ll be blogging my experiences here under the hashtag #minorityreport. It should be an interesting year!