In my formative years – I’m still quite young but starting a post with ‘in my formative years’ gives it an air of maturity and authority – my hormone riddled peers and I used to play a game called ‘Top Ten’. Like a quaint precursor to online dating, you would saddle up to a member of the opposite sex and muster all of your confidence before requesting the ten people they fancied, in strict order of fanciability.
Perhaps you played it too. You’ll remember the politics, the social intricacies, the unspoken rules. For example, if someone requests your list, you’re duty bound to include them. But not at number one. No. That would be too keen.
Of course by the time you’d finished with puberty, all of this childishness was forgotten. Or at least social hierarchies and cliques were well enough cemented that the exploratory list-inquests were unnecessary. Indeed, the very request for a top ten at sixth form would be met with initial pity, followed swiftly with ostricism.
Until last night, I’d forgotten all about top tens. Until Twitter went cray cray because someone had published a list of posts they fancied. And, in a calm and measured sort of reaction that I’ve come to expect from teachers on twitter, other people published their OWN lists, of posts they fancied, right back and you’re not even allowed on it so there.
The justification for the new list was that no girls had been included on the first list. In fact, all of the initial inclusions were ‘white males’.
Now, I’ve not been included on any lists even though, and I really can’t stress this enough, my writing is “elegant, groundbreaking, and spoken with a wisdom far beyond the author’s years” (I spoke that out loud so it does actually technically count as a quote). Not being included on any lists, I would be justified in feeling like I’m climbing an uphill battle trying to make it in this blog game, right? Why should I be excluded (or included) from a list not on merit but because of something I can’t control? The answers to these first question is “No” and the answer to the second question gives the reason why. Here it is.
I am a white male. I had no say in the matter, but because of that I enjoy a history of social dominance that had led to a plethora of unconsciously positive and advantageous psychological attitudes towards me. I receive unearned praise and recognition, expectations of me are high meaning the people will be more likely to take a risk on me despite relatively little experience. I’m more likely to be hired. I’ll earn more on average than any other group. I’m more likely to get promoted faster.
I won the gender lottery.
Conversely, minority groups (and women, who aren’t a minority group) have suffered the opposite historic fate. This has led to the deliberate and at times systematic exclusion from forums and debates. Very recently, we have started to understand our own idiocy and attempted to accept all, without thinking about their race, gender, sexuality, creed, whatever.
I’ve argued before that these superficial factors, over which an individual has no control, should be completely irrelevant. Or as relevant as someone being right or left handed. I feel really uncomfortably with positively discriminating, because I don’t want anything but merit and hard work to matter.
But, because of the history outlined, it may not be possible for those groups to join the debate. This may be because they have been made to feel like they are underqualified to comment, that they will be shouted down, like they have nothing to add. All of these are products of unfair historic treatment.
So we may have a responsibility to redress this imbalance by loading the dice in the other direction. It may be that, even if you are writing a list based purely on merit, and you don’t feel like anyone from group x or y deserves a place on that merit-based list, you should included them anyway.
Think of the inclusion as a necessary precursor to merit based work from individuals from that group in the future. We aspire to what we can see. If you didn’t see any blogs written by women any good, and you publish a list without women on it, all you are doing is making it less likely for women to blog in the future. And clearly the blogosphere would be a richer and wiser ether-verse with their contributions. By excluding based on a ‘meritocracy’, you may be contributing to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Don’t get me wrong, whenever I see someone has published a list of recommendations I giddily scroll through, hoping to find my name. I then literally go through the five stages of grief.
Denial: I scrolled too quickly. My name will be there somewhere. *Scrolls more slowly, panic setting in.*
Anger: How dare they? Do they not recognise my genius? Well I don’t think much of your last article either!
Bargaining: I’ll send the author a few tweets dropping some heavy hints. They obviously just aren’t aware of my work.
Depression: I might stop blogging. This is all pointless.
Acceptance: Not being included on a list isn’t a huge deal.
If all of this strikes you as rather pathetic, then what I have to say to you is this: quite.
I’ve been really impressed by the debate on twitter. I argued in a recent essay for the IoE that it’s been the most valuable CPD that I’ve undertaken this year. But it saddens me when I see name-calling, narrow-mindedness and entrenchment. I see cliques and alliances. I see toddler level squabbling.
So. Let’s try not to worry about lists. Let’s try and continue to engage with each other on a human, respectful level. Let’s not draw attention to each other’s gender, race, or whatever else.
In short, let’s conduct ourselves in the same way that we would expect of our children.