Friday, November 17, 2023

An interview with Mona Chalabi

I've been so busy this year with The Art of Insight that I hadn't heard that Mona Chalabi had won a Pulitzer Prize for illustrated reporting. Well deserved. Here's a recent interview with her that I strongly recommend; this quote is key, I believe:

“When I first started doing this, everyone was just like: what a load of bullshit. [...] Everyone else was building these really complicated data interactives and that was seen as the cutting edge and the fact that I was drawing it was seen as feminine. It was seen as innocuous.”

In the Epilogue of The Art of Insight I included a similar quote from a sobering essay by Federica Fragapane:

“I’ve started noticing a phenomenon: projects of mine about women rights/women rights violations are more likely to attract technical — and sometimes unkind — remarks from men. That’s an interesting pattern.

What strikes me the most is how such comments completely ignore the topic to jump directly to technical considerations: data on rights violations take second place to the fact that “it should have been a bar chart”. I’m convinced it’s possible to do both: constructively criticizing and being respectful. But I also think that this is part of a broader issue that finds its roots in a common practice: delegitimisation.

Delegitimisation of a subject, delegitimisation of an approach, delegitimisation of a voice: I think it can be a more or less conscious attitude. I like to observe phenomena and to find patterns — it’s part of my job — and I also like to point them out and to discuss them: because those comments don’t particularly bother me, but they could bother others. They could intimidate other people who are trying to find their voice, they could shut them up. And of course I’m not only talking about women, I’m aware of how variegated are the obstacles that people stumble across only for their identity, the walls they find.”

I've been the type of person that Federica describes. We must strive to do better.