September 18, 2013

Trashing contempt for women with contempt for men.

I tried to read this WaPo column by Alexandria Petri called "Why Bustle.com doesn’t work for women." It's about how the male founder of a website for women has "ample contempt for the very market he was aiming at." I think Petri, aiming for the market he has contempt for, aims contempt at him. But she quickly dives into generic contempt for men, on the theory that men don't read "books," and by "books," Petri means novels, and somehow the general failure of men generally to read novels feeds back into the topic of why Bryan Goldberg's Bustle sucks.

Excerpt:
Reading is one of the few sure-fire ways to become better at being human. So it’s a problem when anyone doesn’t do it — and an especial problem recently, when boys are increasingly slipping behind, at least compared to their female counterparts.
As of 2009, boys lagged 39 points behind girls, according to the Programme for International Student Assessment. One of the suggested reasons that boys aren’t reading is that unlike girls, who are somehow fonts of empathy capable of leaping from one perspective to another at a single bound, reading books from male or female perspectives with equal vigor and ease, boys can only be summoned to respond to the stories of other boys.
Who suggested this reason? No one's name is stuck to that stereotype, it's just a "suggested reason." Boys can't read because "books" are those fictional stories told from a perspective that can only be understood if one possesses empathy and that's something boys lack or Goldberg lacks or who the hell knows? It's just a theory out there, not a theory Petri herself admits to embracing as she wanders about trying to aim at that man who takes aim at women.

17 comments:

Bob R said...

Ms. Petri must have been really bad at being human before she started reading.

Larry J said...

Most boys don't read books by the likes of Toni Morrison. Let boys read about things they're interested in and they'll read. Unfortunately, in the view of the females who dominate education, boys are just defective girls so why bother doing anything for them.

Matthew Sablan said...

Maybe women should try writing more science fiction, fantasy and adventure stories -- stories that are universally more read by boys?

I know this is crazy talk, but, boys tend to read certain kinds of stories more. Women shy away from them, in general [hey, if Petri could say things in broad, ill-defined strokes, so can I!]

Honestly, in middle school, myself and two or three other guys in our class were trading Assimov's Foundation books with each other. Most women, when I explain the book [a mathematician predicts the future to unite the galaxy against an unfolding evil!] just roll their eyes, some even stating "that's not real literature."

That's a good way to convince boys to keep reading. I think George Bernard Shaw was quoted, when asked what little girls should read, "Whatever they can get their hands on." The same should be true for boys, but most literature boys want to read [especially comic books] are looked down on with scorn.

Matthew Sablan said...

Sidenote: This makes me think of the episode in Cheers where Frasier tries to convince the bar patrons to like Charles Dickens by sexing up the novels.

Also, men are huge consumers of magazine literature (like Wired and Pop Sci), along with other works that debate-ably literature (comic books, video games.) I wonder if we included things like Sin City and The Walking Dead, along with maybe some pulp fiction, if the numbers were the same. If we're talking purely fiction novels, then we're missing a huge area where reading happens.

Note: It isn't just women's t-shirts that men read. That's kind of insulting, actually [usually, men have funnier t-shirts anyway.]

MadisonMan said...

This is the kind of althousian commentary that I really enjoy.

A quote from the Article: At least this is what I have gleaned, anthropologically, from a close study of numerous CBS sitcoms, the occasional subreddit, and the recent public presence of Bustle founder Bryan Goldberg.

But not, I note, from reading books.

Ralph Hyatt said...

Reading is one of the few sure-fire ways to become better at being human.

Her premise is incorrect. While reading may make some people better at being human, it certainly won't do so for all people at all times.

Moreover, when she uses the phrase "better at being human" she means, "more like me."

EDH said...

Maybe men should be raised in a Petri dish?

Henry said...

Reading is one of the few sure-fire ways to become better at being human.

Does this work for all species or just homo sapiens? Alas the Neanderthal.

Alexandria Petri reminds me of this.

Kelly said...

My husband is inhuman. Good to know. Our next argument I'm going to call him a non reader. Take that!

Edgehopper said...

"Reading is one of the few sure-fire ways to become better at being human."

Especially if you read Mein Kampf, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and various screeds by Nazi and Islamist demagogues. The Protocols even count as fiction!

"unlike girls, who are somehow fonts of empathy capable of leaping from one perspective to another at a single bound, reading books from male or female perspectives with equal vigor and ease, boys can only be summoned to respond to the stories of other boys."

Yes, as we know, there are tons of girls reading military and sci-fi. Ann, didn't any of those book clubs you stopped going to read Starship Troopers or Old Man's War?

Doesn't even have to be by men--I'd bet the audience for the Vorkosigan Saga novels, written by a woman (Lois McMaster Bujold), is predominantly male.

Xmas said...

Yes, books.

I was reading the select works of Karl Marx. A wonderful book. It made me realize that there are certain type of people that are really the cause of all the world's troubles. Those non-ham eating people are terrible people. I can't believe certain 19th century, German city-states actually let those people live their lives as they wanted to, instead of punishing them until the submitted to becoming ideal Calvinist citizens, like Mr. Marx wanted them to be.

That book certainly made me a better person, and I have all sorts of empathy towards people oppressed by those other, certain type of people.

(For a guy who hated religion, it's amazing how much of Marx's ideal society relied upon a strong Protestant Work Ethic.)

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

The article quotes Goldberg as saying that he's very interested in history. History is ordinarily learned by ... reading books. And IIRC most readers of such books (for fun, not for coursework) are men.

There are areas of fiction that are read mostly by men as well -- "hard" sci-fi comes to mind.

Matthew Sablan: Asimov's "Foundation" books aren't self-consciously literary, but they are damned good stories with serious points wrapped up in them. The same definitely goes for Heinlein, for Larry Niven, for Jerry Pournelle. Philip Dick, definitely. Neal Stephenson? Now we're in "self-consciously literary" territory. But still, read mostly by men.

Now me, I'll read just about anything except the kind of book this lady thinks is necessary to being human. Borges, Wodehouse, Chesterton, Montaigne, Elmore Leonard, Mark Twain, the great English mystery novelists (mostly women, oddly) ... sorry, just reading titles looking at the bookcase next to my desk. Gotta put some order into that sucker one of these days ...

Kirk Parker said...

I'm with Ralph.

For example--all those MB types in Egypt who are reading The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and thinking it's an accurate historical work? NOT becoming better at being human, at least not in my book.

William said...

I don't think reading a lot makes you a better person. However, with a good vocabulary and knowledge of narrative technique, you can become a more articulate liar and convince people that you're a better person.

Sam L. said...

Petri has no/insufficient empathy herownself.

I like the hed, "ComPost". Totally accurate!

Goldberg says men don't read? Doesn't get out much, does he?

Yes, we're all aware of how accurately sitcoms, especially CBS sitcoms, reflect reality.

Tom said...

As a kid, I read Tom Sawyer and Where the Red Fern Grows and lots of comics. Don't tell me boys don't read. They just don't read stupid stuff!

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Tom,

As a kid, I read Tom Sawyer and Where the Red Fern Grows and lots of comics.

Me too, minus the comics. I didn't exactly *like* Where the Red Fern Grows -- I'm not keen on hunting, let alone on the sort of trapping that often ends in an animal desperately gnawing its own limb off to get free -- but I do remember it. Old Dan and Little Ann are more real to me than most characters in "young adult" fiction, and I haven't so much as seen that book in 35 years or so.

Don't tell me boys don't read. They just don't read stupid stuff!

You mean that they don't go out of their way to read, say, novelizations of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Or even of "Sex and the City." Quite right. But we want strong female protagonists! Where as many sidekicks as possible are male and dorky, apart from the seductive, romantic ones with the fangs or the natty stock portfolios.

Bleh. The Merchant of Venice has one of the best female protagonists even in Shakespeare, which is saying a lot, and it was required reading in my 9th-grade English class. The boys enjoyed the play as much as the girls did.