Reading women

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.