Why I Am Not Interested in Books on Women

Anna Leinberger Posted by Anna Leinberger, Editorial Manager, Acqusitions, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Anna is a writer and editor for Berrett-Koehler in Oakland, CA. More on killer book proposals and writing can be found on her BK Blog.

Why I Am Not Interested in Books on Women

Women Leaders! Women’s skills!  Women’s special ways of navigating the male dominated field!  Books for women….because we need special books just for us. Many  books in the marketplace cater directly to women, yet somehow these well meaning books so frequently end up patronizing the audience, rather than  addressing an unmet need. Despite, and in fact because, I am a passionate feminist I do not want books that “deal with women’s issues;” I do not want books about women.

Why do we write books for women?

Well, I am going to have to dive a bit deep here.  Many books are supposedly written for people, in general, without specifying gender or race.  These books that purport to be written as general advice unfortunately are not that at all.  They are traditionally written with the unconscious assumption that the white male experience is the default experience, i.e. the experience that everyone has, or at least can apply to anyone else equally. Much of the advice in such books is actually not applicable to the experience of anyone else.  Once we (circa 1970s) realized this, many people decided that there needed to be books for women.  Unfortunately all this context gets lost very easily. Without the context that most books are already written to be most helpful to men, it becomes harder to see why books need to be written for women.  Instead, a strange thing happens.  The need for books on woman begins to suggest that women are a special category whose special needs cannot be met by the current “comprehensive” body of literature. The topics, tone, and reception of these books become patronizing or they claim to be empowering, but in a way that ultimately infantilizes the target audience.

Wait, so what is the problem?

I would hope that the problem of books that patronizingly write to women as if we are in some way defective (when held up against the male default paradigm) would be obvious.  Why not write about how the prevailing paradigm is fundamentally flawed and needs correction? Women have been doing immense amounts of unpaid labor, and succeeding brilliantly in professional contexts for decades. The system assumes that the male experience is the norm, and all systems are built around that one single human experience.  Telling women how they can change is not going to change the system, in the absence of anything else. 

What DO I want?

I want books by women.  I want books written by voices that are not given the same airtime in other places- board rooms, expert panels, in policy decisions. These women’s voices might reference issues that apply to women, and this is good. It will start to address the imbalance in the marketplace, but I want women's voices to be particiapting in the conversations that will shape our world. When women are writing the books that determine how we run our companies, how we view organizational culture, and how we manage our own time in the workplace, then I think we have a chance of upending our current norms and building a new culture where the default is not so infinitesimally narrow.