Are there some books that would be stronger if they'd be written by a woman instead of a man? There's one reviewer that thinks he's found an example. In Choire Sicha's New York Times Book Review writeup of Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed, Sicha writes that Ronson's newest title would have "been handled better by a woman."
While that might seem like a pretty big strike against the author, the fact is, women face online harassment in greater numbers than men. Whether it's Gamergate, an author facing droves of anonymous digital trolls, or systemic cultural abuse, women have an unfortunate wealth of knowledge about being public shaming.
In So You've Been Publicly Shamed , Ronson takes PR rep Justine Sacco to task over her tweet, "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white." While Sacco may have been aiming for a joke about racial and regional health care disparities, the message came off as mean-spirited, resulting in a cyber backlash that sent her reeling. Ronson hikes with New Yorker columnist-cum-plagiarist Jonah Lehrer, talking about his public scorn after facing a plagiarism scandal that has since torpedoed his career. And for good fun, Ronson even takes on his own shame at the mercy of a spambot, showing how even robots can get in on the public shaming game. Ronson's book provides levity to an otherwise-serious subject, trying to put a silver lining on a dark cloud within the age of Internet ubiquity for both public and private citizens. Sicha, however, makes the point that Internet shaming isn't all fun and jokes. Especially when it targets women. Sicha writes:
Like almost every other book, then, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed would probably have been handled better by a woman ... the actual problem with the Internet isn’t us hastily tweeting off about foolish people. The actual problem is that none of the men running those bazillion-dollar Internet companies can think of one single thing to do about all the men who send women death threats.
Sicha then brings up Adria Richards, the developer/blogger who shame-tweeted two guys at a tech conference for making jokes about "big dongles" and lost her job for it. When the rape threats that followed got too scary, she moved out of her home and found a therapist who specializes in PTSD. According to Sicha, women have a better understanding of cyber-shaming and cyber-bullying because they have more profound experiences with it. While everybody can be a victim of cyber-shaming, women are stalked, threatened, and sometimes destroyed. Therefore, a strong argument can be made for a woman's voice to enter the fray.
I'm pretty glad Ronson wrote the book, because he's a thorough reporter and a focused writer, but I get Sicha's point. There are some books I wish women had written. Not because the men who wrote them failed in some way, but because they could have benefitted from the female perspective. Sometimes a woman has more to say on a subject, or can provide an alternative narrative that enriches a story in a way a man cannot.
Here are eight books that could have benefited — like a pie, according to my grandma — from a woman's touch:
David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
This is another case of a book about a fascinating topic from a dedicated journalist. But Malcolm Gladwell tends to mansplain. Quite a bit. A woman might be less inclined to talk down to an audience about fairly commonplace and well-understood ideas — something Gladwell's writing has a strong tendency to do. Ahem.
The Divide: American Injustice In The Age Of The Wealth Gap By Matt Taibbi
Women experience income inequality from a unique perspective, making less than men in most fields. Being paid 80 cents on a man's dollar gives us a definite viewpoint of how much wage inequality can hurt, especially for women who suffer from financial inequality in two distinct ways.
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
Every time I spill tomato sauce on a white blouse at dinner, I wonder how having-it-all women manage to be good wives, mothers, bosses, and not look like tomato-sauce splotched lunatics. Where do they find the time? And keep the spare shirts? If this book was written by one of those go-getter women, I would probably be memorizing it right now (in a shirt splotched with tomato sauce). And, anyway, if you really want to learn how to be highly effective, look to your mother for an example. Have you called her yet, by the way? She misses you.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer
I like the idea of this book. If we want to understand America, we should take a look at individual Americans. But Packer's handling of Oprah Winfrey's story bothered me. Packer condescendingly encapsulated Winfrey's life motto as "doing or not doing," as though one simply willed herself into being successful. Packer's dismissal of Winfrey's success led him to dismiss an enormous swath of the Americans who value her (I'm one of them). A woman might have given her readers a little more nuance than that.
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
I just wish it had been a woman to take down the women-killing religious zealots. Thankfully, four women are training to become U.S. Marines at the moment. It would have been the sweetest revenge, but at least some women aren't too far off from giving ISIS a dose of justice in the future.
Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism And Wrecked The Middle Class By Ian Haney López
Any woman who's ever been called "bossy" understands how coded language works. Plus, the struggle against racism and sexism are, according to leading academics, not too dissimilar. Maybe this is the book that could have made intersectionality a household term?
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans
If a woman wrote it, we'd live in a world where you could call it Let Us Now Praise Famous People. OK, I know, it doesn't have the same ring to it. But this is about equality people.
Maybe if women had written it we wouldn't blame the world's problems on a lady who just wanted to eat a red apple. Or make them leave the house during their period. Or condone polygamy. Or, well, you get my point.
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