Caitlin Moran, the feminist author of How to Be a Woman, is now insisting that girls eschew reading books by male authors until the girls have become women.
Moran, writing an International Women’s Day article written for the publishing house Penguin, first innocuously lauds feminist icon Gloria Steinem for saying Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women was the book that most changed her life. Then she gets down to feminist business:
Oh man, she’s right – so right I yelped when I read it. Because if I had one piece of advice for young girls, and women, it would be this: girls, don’t read any books by men. Don’t read them. Stay away from them. Or, at least, don’t read them until you’re older, and fully-formed, and battle-ready, and are able to counter someone being rude to you, in conversation, not with silent embarrassment, or internalised, mute fury, but a calm, “Fuck you very much, and goodbye.”
Because if there’s one thing that has made me, perhaps, happier in myself, and more confident about writing the truth, and less apt to run myself down for my appearance, weight, loudness and unusualness than many, many other women, it’s that I never read books by men when I was younger.
Moran discusses her childhood reading, which included no male authors, as she was home-schooled. She notes, “What I instinctively gravitated towards was stories about girls, and women. Stories about their lives – struggling with money, wondering what their careers would be, reading books, learning skills, finding clothes that made them happy, learning how to have relationships with siblings, friends and parents, chafing against societal restrictions, getting angry about the injustices of a wider world. Grieving. Hoping. Carrying on.”
Sure enough, by the time she was older, and reading books by male authors, she realized how evil the patriarchy was:
It was only years later – quite recently, really – that I started reading all the books you’re supposed to read: the books by the Great White Males. Faulkner, Chandler, Hemingway, Roth. The canonically brilliant. The men in them are brilliant, clever, awkward, compelling, complex – their stories drag you in, their voices are unstoppable. The dazzle and flair is undeniable. As both a writer, and a reader, I bow down to them. But as a woman? What I noticed, straight away, was how unwelcome these books made me feel. How uncomfortable. As someone reading a book with my heart open, waiting to find out how the author would see me; talk to me; evaluate me, as a girl who might be in these books – as I was in the others I read – my heart was broken in the first few pages. Or else, slowly, creepingly chilled, until I had to stop, two chapters in: all love quietly crushed.
Moaning about Raymond Chandler’s deathless line, “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window,” Moran continues:
Now I know, if I’d read that when was I was a teenage girl – 13 or 14 – those words would have gone into me in a bone-deep way. I would have thought, “Raymond Chandler is a by-word for cool, so I must, clearly, become the kind of woman who makes bishops want to kick in windows, also. I don’t know how I will do this – I must lose weight, and wear heels, and put on lipstick, and find some manner of intoxicating walk, and look sultry at all times, and never run into the room screaming ‘OH MY GOD HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEW MUPPET MOVIE? KERMIT RIDES A BICYCLE WITH HIS TINY FROG LEGS!’ That is what I must do, now. Because everyone knows the best people are made by books – and so I will be made by this book, too. Because it is a classic. Because it is written by a genius. Because these are the books you are supposed to love.
Moran concludes, “No. They are not the right books to read, if you are a young girl. They are not the voices you should allow in your head. Until you are grown – until you can argue, with confidence, with a narrator; with a genius; with a world-view – girls, do not read books by old men. They live in another century, and you are the future. You, and all those brilliant, beautiful girls, writing in the past.”
Apparently Moran blithely dismisses books such as The Wizard of Oz, The Scarlet Letter, Alice in Wonderland and plays such as Much Ado About Nothing.
But don’t tell her there were male authors who viewed women sympathetically. It might trigger another Muppet Movie attack.