Saturday, January 2, 2016

Reading sexist writers is good for you

So says Sigal Samuel this article in Electric Literarture.

As a vagina-owning fan of Philip Roth and Jonathan Franzen, this makes me very happy. I personally don't care if I have to cash in my feminist chips for taste, but it's disappointing that admitting to a love of The Corrections or The Human Stain is somehow anathema to feminism:
We’ve created a literary climate where women are scared to admit that they enjoy a male writer’s work, because some other women have accused him of sexism.
Outside gender theory class is this really true, though? I haven't set foot inside a classroom in twenty years.  I don't remember ever feeling as though I was failing feminism for reading Hemingway. I do, however, remember my first class in 20th century lit course -- taught by a male professor -- when the sole male student walked in and said, "I didn't know this was a 'chick' course." I didn't either, until that moment. I didn't grow up with a houseful of books, so the vagaries of feminism and literature weren't something I had been exposed to; I was just happy to talk books with other people.

Crossing anything off one's reading list because of gender, race, or sexual orientation makes me nervous. For one, being able to say something is morally wrong requires a huge sense of moral entitlement, and -- here it goes -- privilege to make those judgements. Plus it suggests that there's something so inherently vulnerable about women that need protection from words:
It’s pretty insulting to women’s intelligence to imply that we’re incapable of separating out the good from the bad in these works. I’ve read Bukowski and Miller and have had no trouble taking the wheat and leaving the chaff. I suspect most women are the same way. We almost can’t help but become experts in this sort of literary winnowing, precisely because 99% of the books humanity has thrown at us contain that chaff.