Missing: the Token Women

I miss her, I really do.  Whenever there was a feature or a panel of more than three people, there was always a token woman.  She was invariably irritating because everyone knew she was there because she was a woman and not because she was highly rated or regarded in whatever specialist subject she represented.  But at least she was there.

Last weekend The Guardian (who are generally expected to know better) did a big feature, “Gods of Science”.  It promised interviews with four of “Britain’s most celebrated scientists”.  The interviews have been posted individually on The Guardian’s website under the title “Titans of Science” so maybe Richard Dawkins complained about the original headline.  The others were David Attenborough, Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking.  No British female scientist was considered celebrated enough to be included.  The token woman was missing.

We’ve been here before.  New York Times reviewers feel entitled to ignore books by women, The Leeds Salon felt entitled to exclude women from their panel discussed the censorship of a poem written by a woman at the request of a woman and then tried to argue that women weren’t relevant to the debate, the British Fantasy Society published a book of interviews with writers but failed to include any women and Mslexia’s survey of reviews uncovered the fact the editor of Poetry Review (who happens to be a woman) believes that generally women don’t write reviews.

The usual response is to ask which women should have been included.  This response is not only patronising (why should I do your work for you?) but underlines the complaint. 

Ultimately does it matter?  An all male panel clearly shows women they are not invited and not welcome thus adding to the sense of exclusion.  Failing to review books by women suggests that women might as well get on with enjoying commercial success and forget about every being feted as the novelist to read.  Failing to interview women writers suggests their opinions, thoughts and experience in writing and getting published are not important enough to be included.  Moreover, in excluding women, half the potential audience is being ignored, half the potential readership is being lost and lost audience and lost readers mean fewer sales.

My daughter’s interested in science.  Since she was a toddler David Attenborough’s documentaries have taught her almost everything she knows about animals.  He was one of her first heroes.  Normally she would read a feature about him.  But she saw this particular article and tossed it aside.  It was irrelevant because it didn’t feature anyone who looked like she might when she’s adult and immersed in a career.  Perhaps it’s not important to The Guardian that someone who was a natural reader of their feature found it a turn off.

I miss the token women, let’s bring her back.


One Response to “Missing: the Token Women”

  1. aroomofheroine Says:

    Ah, but then where would we seat the token man? And the other token man? And the token man who joined the first two so they wouldn’t feel left out?

    Ever since that fiesty, hungry little sheila Eve bit into that tasty apple in the Garden of Eveden[sic], Adam and his descendent ilk have been doing their darndest to avoid being the T.M.

    Let them have their panels and forums and quorums and men’s sheds. Let them discuss other until the bulls come home.

    We had first bite of the apple.

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