Whatcha readin little lady?

Posted in Dudes, Mysognistic Bullshit by Dizzy on August 15, 2007

Me a few weeks ago:  Eating sourdough pancakes at the counter, reading the last pages of a thick Peggy Guggenheim biography. Guy: sits next to me, sees what I’m reading, and proceeds to tell me all about the life of Peggy Guggenheim as if I’d never heard of her.  Hello? I’m on the last fucking chapter of a 1,000 page biography. You really think you need to educate me on the topic? Who are you and why are you giving me a lecture while I’m trying to read?  Are you expecting me to take notes or some shit?

Tell me, what are men thinking when they approach a woman reading a book and attempt to teach her everything they think they know about the subject she’s reading about?  Are they thinking “Hey, it’s a girl! Maybe she’ll fuck me!” or is it “I’m totally smarter than her because I’m a dude. I better go make sure she knows it.” Or possibly “I hate women.” Perhaps a little of each?

Me a few days ago: At the bar reading a thoroughly entertaining book about TV (the ideal gift for any Gen-x’er who was raised by the nanny named television and who found themselves abnormally attached to TV’s rich California high school kids/vampire slayers/”start getting real” roommates long after they left home).   Guy: Sits next to me, sees what I’m reading, and tells me all about the kinds of books he reads, as if I was sitting there wondering about exactly that thing and not, in fact, reading a book. To make matters so much worse, the kind of book he’s damn proud of reading is Bukowski. This is seemingly intended to convince me that he’s WAY smarter and cooler than I am because I’m reading about television and he prefers the shitty prose of a drunken misogynist asshole.  Edgy!

Tell me, why do so many men think that a woman reading alone in a public place is the perfect listener? Is this because they believe they are smarter than any given woman near them and that women, especially the ones that are trying to look all smart by reading a book, are anxious to be subtly reminded of their supposed deficiencies? Do they see a woman reading and assume she’s only doing so in order to get a man to come talk to her; that she can’t possibly be just simply reading a book? Is it because she’s without a male companion and has therefore made herself open game – i.e. that she brought such attention on to herself by daring to venture out into the public realm without a man clearly claiming ownership over her?  

Me since I was old enough to read in public:  Asked “Whatcha readin?” by countless men who never attempted to engage in any sort of real dialogue about the book I was reading, who never asked me questions about what I thought about the author or the subject, who never did anything but spew paraphrased, hand-me-down facts and theories about whatever topic they felt like discussing regardless of whether or not I seemed even remotely interested, who never assumed I might actually know anything about anything.

Tell me, would the kind of men who shamelessly approach single reading women suggest that these women not read in public if they don’t wish to be approached by men pretending to be curious?  And if so, how unbelievably fucked up is it that?


34 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. baby221 said, on August 16, 2007 at 1:14 am

    Tell me, why do so many men think that a woman reading alone in a public place is the perfect listener?

    Possibly because they know that either Cosmo or Glamour or somebody has written an article on How To Meet Guys that has included the advice “Take a book with you the next time you go out. Books are great conversation-starters and have the added bonus of giving you the appearance of a brain!”

  2. vintagefan said, on August 16, 2007 at 3:27 am

    I haven’t been approached that way, the book usually formed a wall for me when I wanted to be left alone, but I have come across similar intellectual sexism, not always in the condescending manner that you described, but with them intent on embarassing you for how little you know, the one way stream monologue can’t get-a-word-in variety. I think they get off on it, since they can’t touch you physically. I’ve come across smart men who aren’t like that and are actually generous listeners, but so few by comparison!

  3. zenzele said, on August 16, 2007 at 7:10 am

    I don’t feel the need to answer every guy who walks up to me and asks me what I’m reading, so I really don’t have this problem. We don’t always have to be nice.

  4. jeffliveshere said, on August 16, 2007 at 7:21 am

    “To make matters so much worse, the kind of book he’s damn proud of reading is Bukowski. This is seemingly intended to convince me that he’s WAY smarter and cooler than I am because I’m reading about television and he prefers the shitty prose of a drunken misogynist asshole. Edgy!”
    Damn funny, and so very true…

    I think that, in some cases and to some degree, this sort of situation is another case of the blind spots of male privilege: “She’s reading. I read! Therefore, she must want to hear what I have to say about what she’s reading/what I read/what I had for breakfast.”–that’s the ‘logic’ of male privilege.

    On a related note, men are socialized less to be good listeners. This doesn’t mean that some men aren’t good listeners, of course, but it may mean that the majority of men who one meets throughout the day will be more likely to press their opinions than listen/want to listen to the opinions of others.

    One caveat: I haven’t experienced the same thing, exactly, but I’m always amazed at people who talk to me on the train or a restaurant when I’m reading, especially after I give off the “can’t you see I’m freakin’ reading?” signals, which for me ain’t so subtle. Yet people persist. In some of these cases, I think people are just trying to connect to each other…though of course the situation you’ve described isn’t just that.

  5. jeffliveshere said, on August 16, 2007 at 7:22 am

    Dammit. Forgot to close my tag. Apologies.

  6. profeministmale said, on August 16, 2007 at 7:47 am

    Hahaha! Bukowski is not something a guy should be proud of telling women that he’s reading. It’s one of the most misogynistic texts (Love Is Like a Dog From Hell) I’d ever laid hands on.

    But I suppose when a guy is trying to start a conversation with you about a book, it’s a way to seem as though he’s of the intelligent type, and that you’d jump his bone the moment he discusses books with you.

    But then he goes on and lectures your ass, so then he doesn’t seem cool anymore.

    I do that sometimes, actually. If I am engaging a woman in a conversation already and notice she has a book, I’d ask what it is and proceed to discuss books or what not with her. But, of course, I’d do that with anyone else, too.

    But if one just walks up and asks a woman about a book she’s reading, while she is cleary engaged with the book, it’s kind of fucking creepy.

    I don’t just, just my two cents.

  7. Juke said, on August 16, 2007 at 8:43 am

    I’m going to write a book on how to successfully pick up a feminist.

    These jackasses are just not going about it the right way at all.

  8. Jamie said, on August 16, 2007 at 8:50 am

    You really wanna blow their minds? Write in a journal in public. Even worse? Do it in a bar. Like bees to honey.

    Maybe only lonely, angsty women dare take pen to paper outside of their own homes, so my writing is Man Code for “Please, someone, anyone, come talk to me and put me out of my inky, papery misery!”?

    Whatever it is, I can’t do it anymore, because instead of thinking and writing, what I really end up doing is hearing, “Whatcha writing?” over and over and over and over until I give up and leave.

  9. zenzele said, on August 16, 2007 at 9:19 am

    Well, if I were writing in a journal, and someone looked over my shoulder, I would just start writing something like “and the next time someone eavesdrops on my writing, I’m throwing my drink in his lap” or something to that effect.

  10. wheresroxy said, on August 16, 2007 at 11:29 am

    Once again – laughing…
    Especially since my reading material frequently includes the typical “guy” topic – firearms (as I’m oft found with articles in various stages of proofing).
    Try bringing out the laptop and writing something… It can get really interesting then as that same type feels the need to rattle off their wealth of “knowledge” on the subject in some strange belief that you A) actually care and B) might include their “insight” in your article.

    I am routinely met by dumbfounded men wondering how a “girl” is writing about guns, knives, hunting, etc.

  11. Dizzy said, on August 16, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Heh. Just the other day I was writing in a bar and I got the Whatcha Writin from random dude. I told him I was drafting a feminist essay about men who approach women who are reading in public. He said something snide and went away.

    The thing is, in that case, I wasn’t even necessarily trying to get rid of him. At that moment I would have welcomed some male perspective on the issue, to understand what he was looking for when he approached me. He must have thought I was just being a smart ass.

    To be clear here, I realize that lots of people, men and women, bring books and writing supplies out with them so that they’re not just sitting there doing nothing, and that they actually do want to talk to someone. Hell, of course I’ve done it. Like most people, I often have a desire to connect to the people around me. (Although certainly not always, and in those times, I hate that anyone is coming up to me at all, regardless of intent)

    My beef here is with the men who take the woman-reading-alone scenario as an opportunity to try and prove an advanced intelligence and understanding of literature, of people, of history, of politics, of whatever, but not as an opportunity to engage in any kind of meaningful two-way dialogue. This behavior is not about connecting or getting to know someone. It’s kind of like masturbating, really.

  12. vintagefan said, on August 16, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    “It’s kind of like masturbating, really.”

    Bang on. I wrote a post about it.

    should I supply the url or would that be shameless advertising?

  13. vintagefan said, on August 16, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    That was silly, apologies all around. People can go there if they want to, obviously.

    Dizzy, please delete this if I’m being a pain.

  14. wheresroxy said, on August 16, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    Dizzy – well said…. it’s not a bother at all when someone wants to engage in genuine conversation. If I’m truly not in the mood to discuss, it’s easy to send those types packing. And if I am open for some interaction, heck, it’s great to get another viewpoint…
    My issue comes when certain types want not to strike up a conversation, but demonstrate their “superior” knowledge of a topic (because we all know that no woman could ever know as much as a man on subjects like knives, guns, cars, etc.)
    I frequently seek out male opinion so that I can understand their viewpoint.

  15. edith said, on August 17, 2007 at 2:44 am

    I think you are brilliant. Not only can you read, but you can write about it too! Women like you make me proud to be intelligent instead of crippling my brain with four inch heels. Kudos.

  16. Jodie said, on August 17, 2007 at 12:03 pm

    It always seemed to me that men annoyed me while I was reading because I was supposed to be entertaining them, not entertaining myself.

    Then again, when I’m reading, that’s all I really want to be doing, and I don’t want anyone annoying me while I read.

    Women might ask the title, but that’s typically it; I’ve never seen a man pester another man while he was trying to read; but many men think it’s OK for women to drop everything they are doing and pay attention to THEM.

  17. Genevieve said, on August 17, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    I’ve been the ‘reading in public type’ since I learned to read–it’s always annoyed me when people ask me what I’m reading like it’s their business–my response is usually to show them the front cover, then go back to the words. Luckily for me none of these people so far have been the sort you encounter–possibly because when I’m hunched over with my face two inches from a book I don’t look like ideal ‘pick-up’ material.

  18. Notorious Ph.D. said, on August 19, 2007 at 7:38 pm

    First, a disclaimer: I’ve been known to ask strangers in coffee shops what they were reading. It can be a nice way to plant a seed for a possible future acquaintance. But I made sure to keep the exchange brief (under 30 seconds), and to pay attention to “go away” signals that might force me to cut it short. And never presume to lecture someone I’ve just met. That’s just plain rude, regardless of sex. But we women do get the little-lady lecturers more often — perhaps because we are more likely to believe that both men and women have a right to their personal space.

    My favorite “whatcha reading” moment came when I wordlessly lifted the book that I was reading so the cover was clearly visible, displaying several rats and the title “The Black Death.” Books in foreign languages are good, too. Even better: cloak all your reading-in-public materials in the jacket of a hardcover edition (if such a thing exists?) of the S.C.U.M. Manifesto.

  19. mythago said, on August 19, 2007 at 10:45 pm

    Jodie got it in one, and yes, it is a lot like masturbation. They want your attention, and the fact that you don’t want theirs is not relevant in their pinheaded little worlds.

    I generally respond because ignoring them just makes them louder and ass-holier, but a blank stare and “Uh….a book,” followed by returning to one’s book, occasionally works.

  20. Valkyrie said, on August 20, 2007 at 5:28 pm

    Ah, a bright new star in the feminist blogosphere. Love ya Dizzy!

  21. Valerie said, on August 21, 2007 at 3:45 am

    Found you thru Twisty.
    I’m very much enjoying your blog.
    Thank you for articulating the things I can’t.

  22. theunrelentingrevolutionaryoptimist said, on August 21, 2007 at 6:07 am

    You can avoid this by reading books like Real Rape and Against Our Will or my personal favorite, Cunt by Inga Muscio, in public places. This apparently terrifies anyone who might try to engage.

    Great blog, also trailed over here from IBTP.

  23. slownews said, on August 21, 2007 at 7:40 am

    You see, these boys have actually been socialized, I think by their adoring mamas, to believe that the way to win friends and influence people is to *share their vast store of knowledge for the listener’s enlightenment.* Their incorrect assumption being that anyone actually cares what they think, and that listening to others is a fruitless waste of time. You know who I blame? Whoever in these dimwits’ lives who failed to teach them good manners, that’s who. Brilliant post.

  24. Ollie said, on August 21, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Found you through IBTP as well. Thanks for your awesome posts! It says a lot about your effectiveness as a writer (and the scariness of a feminist space!) that you’re already getting wimpy threats from doods. A community is much more difficult to silence than an individual.

    I get asked what I’m reading by guys all the time, and it usually ends badly. Notorious Ph.D.’s suggestion to read stuff in foreign languages backfired when I was reading a book in German on the bus, and the guy next to me (this was before I figured out to only sit on the aisle seat to avoid entrapment) got all excited and showed me his swastika tattoo. When I indicated that I was not only not interested, but horrified by him, he proceeded to yell at me for “disrespecting my heritage.” What a gem.

    Another time was when I was waiting for my bf to pick up me and a huge load of laundry from the laundromat (it was my turn). Dude walks by, sees that I’m reading, stops, comes back and stands really close in front of me to get my attention. When I finally look up because he’s uncomfortably close, he proceeds to ask me to compare the author to ones he’s read. Hilarity ensued when, at that moment, my bf shows up and proceeds to perform the ever-present This-Woman-Is-Mine-And-You-Can’t-Have-Her dance. Sigh.

  25. RamblinRabbit said, on August 22, 2007 at 7:51 am

    ugh, I get a variation when someone say, “so, what do you do” and I say “I’m a teacher” and he says “oh, what do you teach” and I name my current course title and then said dimit goes off telling me about my topic. WTF!! I just said that I TEACH the course, that implies at least some sort of knowledge, correct? It is mental masturbation, and I don’t want to be a part of that.

  26. Fannie said, on August 22, 2007 at 11:48 am

    you’re awesome. keep up the great blogs!

  27. Orion's Hammer said, on August 23, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Nice post! Not to justify it, but men’s behavior often does make perfect sense to a man’s demented thought processes. I’m not sure men’s inner madness can truly be understood by non-men, but to get close imagine a billion years of evolution have implanted a Dalek inside your skull to do nothing but scream “IM-PREG-I-NATE! IM-PREG-I-NATE!!!!”. The dalek has been there so long you don’t even hear it anymore, but all your interactions with people are nearly drowned out by its screams.

    This is why men love one-night-stands, porn, phone sex lines, and prostitutes. This is why so many rapists actually honestly believe “she was askin’ for it!” or the equally hideous “but she liked it!”.

    A few men do realize how horrifying a condition this is. But don’t worry–we don’t want sympathy; we just want sex!

  28. Pai said, on August 23, 2007 at 11:22 pm

    A few men do realize how horrifying a condition this is. But don’t worry–we don’t want sympathy; we just want sex!

    Too bad you’re not automatically entitled to get something just because you happen to want it.

  29. nothip said, on August 27, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    Um no. Nothing is screaming at you but your giant ego. Little to do with evolution.

  30. tigtog said, on August 27, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    Back to ways to turn off book-askin’ buttinskies:

    I bought several zip-up bookcovers from a religious supply store, except they called them biblecovers. I got the plainest rip-stop nylon ones, no doves of peace or crosses or rainbows-plus-arks, but it works a treat.

    * books stay clean and covers don’t get dog-eared
    * most flirty buttinskies think I’m reading a Bible and stay a mile away
    * if a Christian buttinski comes up to discuss the Bible with me, I show them the cover of my SF novel, feminist tome or science essay collection, and they back off right quick.

  31. Aerolin said, on August 31, 2007 at 6:03 pm

    Found your blog through Foxchild – love it!

    Sorry, Orion’s hammer, but your evolutionary excuse is just that. An excuse. If you’re aware that you (as a man) are “trained” to follow your hormones and genitals wherever they take you and to let them dictate your behavior, then you’re at the jumping off point for becoming a normal human being. Congratulations. Take the leap.

    I’ve never had the book-coming-on problem, but I get the laptop problem all the time.

    Fabulous post. Looking forward to reading more 🙂

  32. Jim said, on September 21, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    He should have said, “Hello, I’m a frothing idiot, but I’m determined to prove that I’m smarter than you, silly womin!”

    God! Damn! Grown folks can’t even read in peace.

  33. Jim said, on September 22, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    I agree. People use biology as an excuse too damn much. What do we have willpower for, then. Is it really that uncontrollably tempting to be a condescending prick? Really?

    I don’t buy it and I’ve stop listening to my peers. All it takes is self-discipline.

  34. […] in the comment thread over here suggested reading such books as Cunt*, which seemed to scare people away. It’s tempting, but […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: