Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sex and Ideas

I've been brooding on something for a while, hesitant to write about it. But it's a quiet Sunday afternoon, so here goes.

Recently our magazine (more specifically, one of its most popular bloggers) was criticized for an anti-female bias. What sparked the criticism was the blogger's post listing the year's most "shocking" quotations about the future. What shocked some readers was the fact that all the individuals quoted were male. The inference from this omission was that the blogger--and hence the World Future Society--was telling women to shut up.

My response, from an editor's point of view, is that it's more appropriate to judge the content of a post than the gender of its author. I extend that courtesy to the author of the blog post, who was excited by the ideas of the people he quoted, all of whom happened to be male.

Yet, the truth is, most of our articles are written by men. (They're also mostly written by Americans. And by people over the age of 50.) Why? Women have the exact same opportunity to contribute to our publications and our conferences as men do. We demand three things:

1. The article must have something interesting, useful, and important to say about the future.

2. The article must be based on facts, even if it is largely an opinion piece. I have no interest in wasting readers' time with material submitted by the Dean of the Department of Making Stuff Up.

3. It must be written in English. Sadly, I have retained little of the Spanish and French I learned in college, and machine translation is yet unsatisfactory.

I'm going to speculate a little here. I think the differences in the way men and women think and communicate parallel our reproductive roles.

Men: Have a lot of ideas, send all of them out into the world, hope as many as possible take seed and grow to maturity, if not immortality.

Women: The gestation of the idea to its birth requires investment of time and emotion. Nurturing a brainchild to maturity needs a supportive environment.

This analogy is certainly oversimplified, but it might explain why fewer women actually submit articles to us. Maybe there is a greater need for reassurance that the outcome of a tenderly gestated idea will ultimately be accepted. Maybe the expectation is that we will provide more collaboration in the development process--an expectation that we don't always have time to meet.

I believe that our magazine's content is, if not "gender neutral," then at least equally of interest and importance to men and women. I find it interesting, anyway. (Pardon my anecdotal evidence.)

Take Lester Brown's article in the current issue, for example: "Food, Fuel, and the Global Land Grab," describing the trend of wealthier nations investing in agricultural production in poorer nations as a way to ensure future food supplies for their own populations.

The article, which is an excerpt from Brown's latest book, Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity (W. W. Norton and Company, 2012), certainly met our criteria of being future-oriented, interesting, and important. The gender of the author was immaterial to me as the editor who selected it to present to our readers.

And yet, I certainly recognize that the story Brown told could have been told differently, were it told by a female. And differently, again, if told by a non-American. My question then becomes, would these be stories that our readers would read? Or maybe a better question is, what stories would our future readers read? As we continue brooding on these questions, our doors remain as open as they can possibly be:

- Check out the Writers Guidelines for THE FUTURIST here.
- Editorial guidelines for World Future Review are here.
- WorldFuture 2013 Poster Session guidelines (final submission deadline March 1) here.
- WorldFuture 2013 video contest guidelines (deadline March 18) here.

Please let us hear your voice.

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