Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

There are only a few days left in our critical Mid-Year Campaign and we truly might not make it without your help.
Please join us. If you rely on independent media, support Common Dreams today. This is crunch time. We need you now.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.


"In the last few years, I've made it a point to add the likes of Jodi Picoult, Angie Thomas, Sally Field, Carol Anderson, Jesmyn Ward, and Tara Westover to my reading list." (Photo: Stewart Butterfield/flickr/cc)

I Am Reading More Books by Women—Intentionally

Sexism isn't just about what you consciously do or believe. It is about the assumptions you make without realizing you've made them, the attitudes you hold without realizing you hold them

A few words about my sexism.

Nerd that I am, I keep a book diary, i.e., a list of the 40 or 50 books I read and listen to each year. In 2016, while perusing said list, I made a discovery that startled me: There were almost no women on it.

That year, I plowed through 46 books by the likes of Stephen King, Walter Mosley, Bruce Springsteen, and Carl Hiaasen. But the only woman was Tananarive Due—and she's a friend.

Intrigued, I checked my diaries for other years and most showed a similar result: 40 to 50 books, one to three of them by women. This bugged me, so I began talking to women in the book world about it. A few pointed out that female authors are less likely to be reviewed or publicized, meaning that I, as a reader, was less likely to even be aware of them.

Maybe that explains some of it. But I still believe that at some subconscious level, I was also choosing not to read women. Understand: I feel no obligation to peruse novels about sexy vampires, kinky businessmen, or any of the other stuff traditionally considered "chick lit." But when women write in fields that interest me—history, historical fiction, spy novels, biography, etc.—I should be reading them.

And I was not.

Yes, there is a point here larger than my personal reading habits. Call it an argument for intentionality.

I never considered myself a sexist. I support equal pay, the ERA and reproductive freedom. I stand with the #MeToo movement. I took my granddaughters to see Wonder Woman, Hidden Figures, and Captain Marvel. And yes, some of my best friends are women.

But sexism—like racism, like homophobia—isn't just about what you consciously do or believe. It is also about—maybe even mostly about—what happens down in the substrata of self. It is about the assumptions you make without realizing you've made them, the attitudes you hold without realizing you hold them.

People tend to resist that idea. That's how you get a racist saying, "I'm not a racist" after doing or saying some completely racist thing. By his lights, he's telling the truth. He has no Klan robe in his closet, no Confederate flag on his car, and he listens to Jay-Z. But what he fails to understand, what we all too often fail to understand, is that it is possible to say the right things, feel the right things, do the right things, and still be wrong.

Like me, an inveterate reader (and avowed feminist) who didn't read women. I closed myself off from their stories, their perspectives, their voices, without even realizing I had done so.

You didn't know that until I told you, and I suppose I could've kept it to myself. But I wanted to hold myself accountable. In confronting one's sexism—or, again, one's racism or homophobia—it is not enough simply to think good thoughts. No, there is a need to be intentional.

That's why, in the last few years, I've made it a point to add the likes of Jodi Picoult, Angie Thomas, Sally Field, Carol Anderson, Jesmyn Ward, and Tara Westover to my reading list. It's up to about 25 percent women and I'd like to bump it a little higher (yes, recommendations are welcome).

Maybe it seems stilted and artificial to you to deliberately seek out women authors. Maybe it is. But the alternative is to trust my good intentions, and my book diary proves I can't. Indeed, the untrustworthiness of good intentions is a big part of the reason affirmative action remains a regrettable necessity all these years later.

Because good intentions don't change things. Purposeful people do.

Sometimes, they do it one book at a time.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2004. His latest book is The Last Thing You Surrender: A Novel of World War II. His column runs every Sunday and Wednesday in the Miami Herald. Forward From This Moment, a collection of his columns, was published in 2009.

Just a few days left in our crucial Mid-Year Campaign and we might not make it without your help.
Who funds our independent journalism? Readers like you who believe in our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. No corporate advertisers. No billionaire founder. Our non-partisan, nonprofit media model has only one source of revenue: The people who read and value this work and our mission. That's it.
And the model is simple: If everyone just gives whatever amount they can afford and think is reasonable—$3, $9, $29, or more—we can continue. If not enough do, we go dark.

All the small gifts add up to something otherwise impossible. Please join us today. Donate to Common Dreams. This is crunch time. We need you now.

'Now We're Talking!' Says AOC as Biden Backs Filibuster Carveout for Abortion Rights

"Time for people to see a real, forceful push for it," said the New York Democrat. "Use the bully pulpit. We need more."

Jake Johnson ·

Supreme Court Says Biden Can End 'Shameful' Remain in Mexico Asylum Policy

"Now is the turn for Congress to get rid of Title 42, and provide a solution to the weakened asylum system in place, to provide a humane and fair alternative to vulnerable children, families, and individuals fleeing unsafe conditions and persecution."

Brett Wilkins ·

Democrats Lose Senate Majority as 82-Year-Old Leahy Heads for Hip Surgery

"It could be over for the Senate Dems now," said one policy expert in response. "This could mean they effectively lost their majority."

Jon Queally ·

Beijing Slams NATO for 'Maliciously... Smearing' China as a Security Threat

"Who's challenging global security and undermining world peace?" Chinese officials asked. "Are there any wars or conflicts over the years where NATO is not involved?"

Kenny Stancil ·

US Supreme Court Drops Carbon Bomb on the Planet

One Democratic senator warned the right-wing majority's ruling "could unleash a new era of reckless deregulation that will gut protections for all Americans and the environment."

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo