Sexism In The Blogosphere, Redux

I emailed Meryl, just to tweak her, noting that I had seen her pop up in the comments section of a couple of sites mentioning that two women did make the “Worst Americans” list, while none made the “Greatest Americans” list. I accused her, tongue in cheek, of stirring up trouble in a mild way. Not any more.

There could very well be some sexism when it comes to choosing these lists but it could also be a function of the arbitrary nature of the lists. We’re limited to twenty choices. For instance, when I decided to come up with a “Top 50” list of my favorite movies it had 128 entries. Why? Because there are too many good movies to chop the list off at fifty.

Limiting the list to twenty also causes the person making the list to do all sorts of contortions. I included industrialists and one writer because I thought the list should reflect a cross-section of American history. I also looked at my first pass at the list and noted that no women were present. To rectify that I included Rose Wilder Lane and avoided the obvious choice of Susan B. Anthony, abolitionist and suffragette. Why would I do that? My own values and because Rose Wilder Lane is under-appreciated, in my opinion.

Without that tight cap and an ordering scheme I would have probably placed Susan B. Anthony high on the list as long as I would have been able to recognize Rose Wilder Lane at some point later on. Instead, I chose to include Rose Wilder Lane precisely because she is under-appreciated. End result: Susan B. Anthony got the boot.

If we really wanted to make these lists meaningful we would either remove the cap or extend it significantly and force the participants to assign order to the selections. That would help avoid the obvious idiocy of having Bill Clinton listed ahead of Charles Manson on a list of the twenty worst Americans. Another thing we might do is define the criteria a little more narrowly by limiting it to political figures or those who have had a lasting impact on life in this country with regard to freedom.

All lists are subjective by nature, but that doesn’t mean that some lists aren’t objectively better than others. With broad, largely undefined, criteria and a low cap, the lists we’ve created aren’t as useful as they might be. They spark debate, but not intelligent debate.

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