Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Read for ideas, not identity.

Attending a conference by The Libertia Society, "Write-Hers for Liberty," last weekend got me thinking about why it's good to read more female authors. I don't think it's because they're women. Nothing about women, or the way they think or experience the world, is fundamentally different. Their work should be judged on its merits, not by its source.

Someone looking for a balanced understanding may feel they ought to read something written from "a woman's perspective" because women are more likely to have had certain experiences. But experiential knowledge is important because of the experience, not because the person writing about it falls into the right category.

The reason to seek out women in the liberal tradition is that they are poorly represented in the popular canon in spite of having made valuable contributions. Those who haven't read Rose Wilder Lane's Credo miss the insights of an intellectual journey from communism to liberalism. Failing to read Voltairine de Cleyre's Anarchism means missing a passionate, rather than analytical, defense of radical individualism. And those who don't read passages like this one from Isabel Paterson's The Golden Vanity might neglect the importance of choosing one's own way in life as a search for truth and meaning. The Libertia Society is helping to correct one deficiency in the material that liberals read, not basing its mission on a belief about the value of female authors as female authors.

People interested in ideas should resist the urge to read someone because they are a woman or a man, because they are trans, gay, bisexual, monogamous, polyamorous, Jewish, Buddhist, black, white, Burmese, or anything else. To do so comes uncomfortably close to not reading them because they fall into any particular category.

Read about things you don't understand until you do. Find good work. Think about it. Share and support it. Don't worry about where it comes from.

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