Reading women

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Everything is neglected in my life, including my meal intakes and sleep. But also, this blog, making phone calls to my grandparents, and just the general ‘bits’ of life that make your life more than work and actually bearable. I won’t complain, this year was never going to be easy. But I am annoyed that one of my ‘side projects’, the Women Writers Reading Group, is so neglected by me in particular.

I was reminded this week of the emotions that sparked this ‘project’ (or, whatever the hell it is now – a big flop?). I was talking to someone about how hard it is to get guys, especially young guys, to read women’s books. I guess one of the commonest complaints we both hear is that they feel they can’t ‘relate’ to women’s books, and there’s nothing in it for them. The question is though, how many more books by white men do you want? Is literature all about ‘relating’ rather than learning something new, seeing the world from another person’s perspective? I.e., is it always all about you?

I don’t blame guys entirely for this. The rigid model of masculinity they are still required to enact does not allow much room for them to see the world differently; it does not leave much scope for the idea that perhaps the world isn’t created for you, by you, to service you, and that art and literature by extension, should be all about you. How they are supposed to react to women’s literature and fiction has already been coded for them from birth, and shoved down their throat as ‘masculinity’.

But on the other hand, I do expect more from most human beings, just as I expect more from myself.

So the question is again, how many more books by white men do you want to reflect the world to you as you know it? Why is it so difficult to view women as people, rather than as a niche group you can’t empathise with? Why is it perfectly okay for women to read books by white men as emblems of their own humanity, but not okay for a white man to read a book by any woman of any class, race, or nationality as part of their own humanity too, but instead assume: ‘I can’t relate’.

One of the things about fictional worlds is that they produce all sorts of responses. Not all of them should be comforting. Some of them will require you to stretch what you have been told about yourself and to move beyond yourself and your own ego.

But really, reading women shouldn’t be such a stretch by now – we are, after all, despite what you may have been told, people too.


becka said...

The not being able to relate comment is so infuriating to me. I mean I of course would like there to be more options for books written by women and with women characters for me to read and relate to, but it is entirely possible to relate to male writers and male characters. Can men really not do this? Are they really admitting that they can't relate to half the population. What incredible self-centeredness. Thanks for bringing this make to my attention though, I've been really trying to bring more diversity into my classroom reading program. It's not a flop, people will come in and out of it perhaps and you're busy!

Hila said...

I think that by extension, the criticism levelled against white feminists about lack of diversity in what they consider 'women's writing' (i.e. mainly books by white middle-class women) is valid too. It's a criticism I take to heart myself as I'm guilty of this, and I aim, over time, to make my classroom texts more inclusive. And also just to make myself stretch out of my comfort zone with books.

Rambling Tart said...

This boggles my mind. How can we possibly judge the quality of a book by the gender of its author??? This makes no sense to me. At. All. So glad you're speaking out and shining a light on such utter nonsense.

Amelia said...

When I hear/read the comments 'I can't relate' I sort of feel like women are aliens, like we speak a different language and have a different culture and by some irony of universe, two different species inhabit the same planet. But it's not true, I don't think they can't relate, I think they're afraid to relate.

I think many men have to have this man's man attitude and are afraid admitting that they enjoy literature written by women would detract from being male--- which is beyond stupid imo.

I wish when I was growing up I had professors who would have introduced me to more women writers (Romanian or not). I think that would have helped me a lot growing up.