This week, Penguin (the publisher, not everyone’s favourite vertically challenged bird) issued a new directive that stated that the publisher wanted their repertoire to more accurately represent society in terms of gender, race, class and disability. Surely at a base level this makes a great deal of sense. Imagine if all the books we read were by white, middle aged men? A nightmare I hope to never experience.
Lionel Shriver wasn’t on board with this idea, which shocked me a little, as she is a woman. As Maya Angelou said, ‘I’m a feminist. I’ve been female for a long time now. It’d be stupid to not be on my own side’. But maybe Shriver was feeling more white than woman that day and decided that diversity is very scary indeed. She argued that increasing diversity would decrease quality and that the oppression would just get flipped on its head, so white men would be discriminated against and marginalised in the world of publishing.
To argue that diversity and quality cannot coexist peacefully is to basically suggest that they are the antithesis of each other. As the Penguin WriteNow mentees pointed out, things can be diverse and good. Variety is, as they say, the spice of life. But white people and spices have never gone that well together, so here we are.
Positive discrimination really pisses people off and I’ve always got the sense that this anger is rooted in fear. Positive discrimination exists in order to create an equal society in which no one is held back by factors outside of their control, such as gender. The argument that positive discrimination is unfair on groups like white men relies upon a false economy of equality that doesn’t reflect reality. If men and women were equal, then yes, positive discrimination would be unfair. But what we’re trying to do is level the playing field.
At the pub on St Paddy’s Day, my friends and I snuck into the boy’s bathroom because the queue for the girl’s genuinely struck fear into my heart. We got into trouble with a bouncer who argued that it wasn’t fair, because if boys went into our bathroom, there would be uproar. We almost got kicked out because my friend was shouting ‘GENDER IS A CONSTRUCT’ at said bouncer, but this serves as a good metaphor for positive discrimination.
To argue that its unfair to skip an unfair queue assumes an equality of situation that doesn’t exist. If I’m going up for a promotion against a man, and we have exactly the same qualifications, and I get the job over him because I’m a woman, I can see why that seems unjust. But why doesn’t it upset people if he gets the job? People are used to boardrooms full of men. When there are as many women getting promoted for senior positions as men, then by all means, get upset.
The best person should get the job, but we are operating in a loaded meritocracy, not a utopian one. Frankly, if you’re that worried about being overlooked, maybe it’s because you know that without any privileges, you wouldn’t be getting that promotion in the first place.