The Judgment of Solomon

Rhetoric is simply inexhaustibly interesting. One never does come to the end of it. One thing that’s interesting about it is how easily it can slip past us. I’ve just noticed a bit that slipped past me the other day, when the publishers explained why they had sent a copy to one author but not the other, the other being your humble. They only had two advance copies, you see, and had to keep one in the office, but my copies were ordered from the warehouse on the same day that Jeremy’s was sent out. There it is – I didn’t catch that. It’s interesting. They had one advance copy to send out – and that was Jeremy’s. It belonged to him, already, before they even sent it. It was his property. Because – ? Who knows. Because he’s a man, because they think I’m his stenographer, because he’s an academic and I’m gutter trash; who knows. But I think it’s fascinating. Irritating, needless to say, but also fascinating. Mindless unconscious automatic discrimination and favouritism always is fascinating, especially in people who probably think they’re incapable of such a thing. (I don’t think I’m incapable of it, I should add. I’m pretty sure I’m quite capable of it. An uneasy thought.) And mindless automatic discrimination coupled with language that reveals the unconsciousness is even more fascinating.

I should give belated credit to Souvenir Press, who published the Fashionable Dictionary. I didn’t realize how special this was at the time, but they managed to send out two advance copies, one for each author. Not one copy, for one author out of two, which might possibly cause resentment on the part of the non-recipient author, but two copies, for two authors, one for each. What a sterling, admirable, ethical way to behave. And to think that in October 2004 I simply took it for granted! How little did I imagine that I was being given a special treat, being included in the publication of a book I had had a hand in writing. I know better now. Well done, Souvenir.

Petty, isn’t it. Sure; but women get like that, you know. It has to do with years and years of noticing the way in any random set of woman and man, the man is seen by others as the authoritative one to talk to. (One reader of B&W a couple of years ago took this so far as to urge JS to tell me to shut up. He really did think I was the stenographer, apparently.) Yes, we get prickly, and we resent being treated like the help; but I don’t in fact think that is unreasonable or irrational. Just for one thing, that reaction can be an engine of social change for the better. (Or it can be an engine of social change for the much worse, as we’ve been seeing for the past two weeks. There are no guarantees.) At any rate it may prompt some thought about unconscious bias and how it shows up when we don’t even realize it – a useful thing to think about.

Happy Darwin Day!

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