Reading women in 2014

Eight months or so ago, I was reading a book that had been recommended by a friend. It had been written by a white American male, likely in his mid- to late-forties, and was seriously depressing me. It was whiny, narcissistic, vain, boring, and even more frustratingly, almost entirely the same voice, character, and even plot lines as a book I’d just finished.

I don’t even remember what it was, but I put it down and didn’t pick up a book again for a few months. I had a few subsequent conversations with friends about how I wanted to read more women writers, but it didn’t go very far until I happened to read two novels by women while on vacation and came home from Zimbabwe to the #readwomen2014 discussion on twitter.

I found the idea immensely refreshing, and after a few days of thinking, decided to make 2014 my year of reading women. A chat on Saturday with Alyssa Pelish (who occasionally writes for Slate’s Lexicon Valley, among her many other talents) only reinforced my resolve to participate. As a scholar who spends a lot of time focused on gender and women and how to reduce violence and discrimination against women and girls, it felt kind of incredible that I would let such a large part of my leisure time be dominated by male voices. I realize I can’t entirely eliminate male voices from my reading list. One, I’d never get any work done, and two, I’d know very little about what’s going on in the world.

Maybe the latter wouldn’t be so bad…

The #readwomen2014 conversation has produced several fascinating viewpoints both for and against such an exercise. I have a short list of reasons why I’m choosing to engage. For me, it’s about adding new voices, new experiences, new perspectives, and specifically female ones. I could probably embark on a similar experiment to only read writers of color–and perhaps next year I will–but right now, I want female voices and perspectives. On a larger, grander scale, I hope that buying books by women means that I talk about them more, that they get read more, and thus published more, and thus talked about more. I recognize some of the futility of that stance, and that choosing to ignore both other underrepresented groups and men might mean that I miss some good things, but I’m okay with it. A year is not that long and I’m confident I’ll find lots of good books. I have a great list of novels and authors going, mostly thanks to Alyssa and Katina Rogers, but ideas and suggestions are most welcome.

Wish me luck! I’m starting February with Doc: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell.

Also, if you have a minute, take Alyssa’s survey on prepositions.

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Reading to girls

An Atlantic piece today outlines some current research that is very much in line with my own.

The researchers found a gender difference in what they call “teaching activities” that build cognitive skills in children as young as nine months old. Girls, not boys, in all three countries received more time from parents on three activities: reading, storytelling, and teaching letters and numbers. Baker and Milligan scrutinized data for first-born children, to control for differences arising when parents slack off after baby number two or three arrives. They also examined parents’ time spent with boy-girl twins and again found boys receiving less time than girls on the three teaching activities.

I’ve found a small, but statistically significant difference in the amount of time parents spend reading to girls at ages one, three, and five as part of a paper focused on relationship quality and investments in children.

They’ve got a very economist-y explanation for the behavior: “It is just more costly to provide a unit of reading to a boy than to a girl because the boy doesn’t sit still, you know, doesn’t pay attention,” Michael Baker told NPR (on his research with Kevin Milligan).

Costs are not just about money, people.