Reading As a Woman


 “Meh, too short.”

 “Too long.”

“Not long enough.”

A few years ago, my work buddies and I were shopping for our corporate holiday party dresses at a major department store. We combed through their collection determined to find the perfect party dress, nothing too revealing but just smart enough to warrant approving stares.

“What do you think of this one?”

One of them held up the perfect black dress. It was short, covered in lace but there was a strange beige sheath underneath the lace. I offered up my opinion.

“It’s nice except for that sheath thingy, what color is that suppose to be?”

“It’s supposed to be skin tone,” she replied quickly.

I didn’t get it.

 “Who’s skin?” I said shrugging my shoulders deeply.

Their eyes widened as they stared in my direction. “Good question,” one said. “GREAT question,” said the other.

My question was a legitimate one. Either of them could have easily worn the dress. I, on the other hand, could not – the sheath clearly did not reflect my chocolate skin tone.

Jonathan Culler, a scholar, wrote about the philosophical position of “reading as a woman.” He wrote an essay on deconstruction in the early 1980s that challenged traditional ways of thinking by asserting that women in reviewing literary texts are taught to identify and see the world as men do – against their own personal beliefs, interests and paradigms. I think this could be applied to a broader context.

We are conditioned to see the world as the masses do. In something as ordinary as buying a dress, I was expected to identify with mainstream experiences and perspectives.

Sometimes I do. Sometimes  I do not.

And in “reading as a woman” or “reading as a Canadian” or “reading as a disabled Vet” or “reading as a brunette”  or whatever your paradigm may be, it’s necessary to bring those perspectives to the table when we interact.

Why? Well the result could be as powerful as a . . . pause. Yes, that’s right. That “pause” is a powerful tool. In my conversation with my work buddies, we couldn’t change the dress, it was what it was. However, in having that type of dialogue we stopped for just a brief moment, and they saw the world through my eyes.

Keep reading everybody.

3 thoughts on “Reading As a Woman

  1. Interesting post Cynthia. Just this week I started wondering for the first time if men and women read poetry differently; I think they probably do, for their basic life experiences are different.

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