I’ve gotta be honest: I’ve enjoyed books by Tim Ferris, Ryan Holiday and all these other modern day “self help gurus” or “lifehackers”, which is what they’re being called by the Internet. I mainly enjoyed reading them because they fit into my way of living and so it was reaffirming, since the general tone of the books celebrated the type of life I’ve always lived.
But I noticed something while looking at a list of “reading recommendations” suggested by a CrossFit coach. This reading list was more of a spiritual reading list from a well known Track and Field coach, Stu McMillan. On this list he gives his “best books of 2016“, in which he starts by going into painstaking details of the four different types of reading. Then he lists a grand total of 31 books and it doesn’t take long to notice a pattern:
Every single one of these books was written by men
On the top of this page McMillan is shown with three of his athletes, all of whom are women, and many of the athletes he trains are women. Yet somehow of the 31 books he recommends, he can’t find a single book in 2016 that’s worth reading that was written by a woman. Think about how crazy that is: 31 to 0! These are not books about some kind of athletic endeavor that is heavily filled with men, they are mostly spiritual self help books. Apparently only men are capable of giving good spiritual advice.
After noticing this I wondered how common this was, so now I specifically check the male/female ratio on any of these lists. After seeing enough of them it’s become clear to me that whenever one of these “self help gurus” gives you one of these giant reading lists, I can tell you before looking at it that it’s going to be approximately 90% of stuff written by men.
Let’s start with Tim Ferris. This guy is a genius at self marketing and definitely has a lot of interesting things to say. But somehow on his podcast, he managed to have 27 male guests in a row? Admittedly he’s doing a better job of including women lately, but 27 in a row is pretty blatantly informing your audience that “men are just more interesting than women”.
Then if you take a look at his massive reading list, tell me how long it takes you to find five books written by women. Honestly I’m not even sure that there are five out of the hundreds of books on the list, but I gave up at some point.
Then you can check Ryan Holiday, who has written a best selling book on “stoicism”. I felt pretty confident before I looked that 90% of his recommendations would be books written by men, and of course I wasn’t surprised. When I did finally find books that he recommended which were written by women, here’s what he said:
“It was wonderful to read these two provocative books of essays by two incredibly wise and compassionate women.”
Try to find a description of any of his 95%+ book recommendations that were written by men, where he feels the need to immediately point out that the authors were men.
Let’s take a look at it the other way around. What about Oprah Winfrey? Oprah has a much larger fan base of women who follow her compared to someone like Ferris and Holiday. Does that mean she will present nearly all female authors? In her 51 recommended books in 2017, 27 were written by women, 24 were written by men, a fairly even distribution.
Do I think Tim Ferris and Ryan Holiday are terrible people? Of course not. In fact I can imagine myself mindlessly doing the same things in their situation, without even realizing it.
What does all of this mean? While this is something that struck me as incredible, it may be just a normal part of everyday life for women, one in which I never noticed until recently because it doesn’t affect me. I hope that the people I mentioned above, and anyone else who has interest in inspiring women, working with women, or simply demonstrating to men that they believe women have valuable things to contribute, works harder to fix these disparities in the future.