“Gender, Blah, Blah, Blah”

That’s the title of a new essay by writer Katherine Angel just published in the LA Review of Books, wherein Angel takes to task some of the weak arguments (especially those advanced by the London Review of Books) against taking steps to achieve greater inclusion of women in the field of literature.

There’s a lot of insightful commentary here. And many of Angel’s points carry across pretty straightforwardly to the world of academic philosophy.

For example:

The LRB states that it is

“not a pathetic excuse to say that the world is still sexist and that the feminist revolution is hopelessly incomplete. You can see evidence of this everywhere from the pay gap to rape conviction rates and a thousand things that are more important than the proportion of women who write book reviews.”

Those are my italics; it’s a highly charged sentence. Simultaneously plaintive and hand-waving, it dismisses the effect that who we see around us can have on the formulation of our own desires, ambitions, and confidence, as well as its effect on how we perceive individual women … And the plot thickens when the statement appeals to the greater importance of the pay gap. The statement invokes feminism, but invokes it in order to move the problem along elsewhere …

This is a curious strategy. For a start, it relies on an implicit framing of literary culture as a frivolous luxury. … It’s odd, not to say disingenuous, to insist on yourself as the magazine for literature, culture, and politics, and then proclaim your irrelevance when under criticism. Secondly, the shunting along elsewhere of the pressing issues of inequality sits oddly with the magazine’s left-leaning, progressive politics. … But the statement suggests that inequality matters enough to the magazine to make it inform some of its content — though not enough to let that affect its editorial or commissioning practice.

Inequality in literary magazines and inequality in pay are both important, and in connected ways. The visibility and status of women’s writing is important precisely because of a web of marginalization across all areas of life. If women’s voices are always peripheral to male voices intoning from the center of culture, then their voices are peripheral on all issues: the pay gap, consent, harassment, rape, domestic violence, reproductive freedom, the glass ceiling, childcare. The obscuring of women’s voices in media platforms, however elite, however niche, is part of the obscuring of their voices in general; and a lack of commitment to, or an inability to hear, their voices in literary culture is related to the same lacks and inabilities in relation to their voices in harassment, in sex, in courtrooms, and in the workplace.

What is clear is that proclaiming concern and invoking feminism while casting oneself as immune to criticism is an approach that is neither admirable nor strategic.