Of late I find myself coming across articles and blog posts about why it is advantageous for men to date a woman who reads.
As an avid reader, on the surface these articles seem somewhat complimentary. However, they really serve as another vessel for the manic pixie dream girl trope that is so tiresome and one-dimensional.
To start, the manic pixie dream girl trope is a character that is frequently, though not always, written by men in books and movies. The term was coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2007. She is edgy, quirky, creative, and serves to enlighten, rescue, and inspire male characters who are depressed, creatively stuck, lost, etc. The manic pixie dream girl doesn’t have dreams or aspirations of her own and her only purpose in the story is to figuratively save the male character from himself or his woes.
She is a character, that if she begins to develop a life or personality outside the male character, is cast off. This is especially true when real life men start making manic pixie dream girls out of real life women (it happens, I swear).
When I first started seeing the “Date a Woman Who Reads” trend, I was somewhat pleased because as a reader it was nice to see reading portrayed as a good trait instead of an intimidating one. However, I was simultaneously anxious about these articles and after seeing more and more of them, I am closing in onto why that anxiety appeared in the first place.
These articles declaring that men should date women who read cast women who read into a one-dimensional trope. They declare that men should date women who read because women who read will expand men’s vocabulary, be better moms, and make life more magical and interesting. One even advises men to lie to and disappoint women who read, seemingly on purpose because women who read have great syntax so will understand men’s need to lie (can’t follow the logic on that one).
There is also an article floating around titled, “Don’t Date A Girl Who Reads,” as a kind of this-is-what-will-happen-if-you-don’t-date/marry-a-girl-who-reads. It depicts a life of squalor, dissatisfaction, resignation, and conversation that is lacking in depth but most definitely includes obscenities.
The problems with these articles are multi-fold but include forcing women who read into one definition and women who don’t read into another, most often one of shallow and brainless living. These articles, once again, pit one kind of woman against another, as if we don’t have enough of that already. They delineate women into two categories: smart, magical readers and shallow, sad shoppers (seriously, so many of these articles pit reading against shopping. I know plenty of women who love to read but also enjoy shopping. They aren’t mutually exclusive you know!).
These articles also make it seem that women who read do it for the benefit of men. As a reader, I might admit to reading for the enrichment of my own life. And I will argue tirelessly that reading is a very simple way to benefit the human race. But I don’t read fairy tales in order to provide magic to the opposite sex. I don’t read Thoreau so I can inadvertently expand the vocabulary of men I date. I don’t read Shakespeare so that men will look at me and say, “Yes. There. There is a woman who will make a perfect mother for my theoretical children.”
Reading can change the world, yes. But I don’t read for men. I read for me. And humanity at large.
These articles seem to include two facets I find interesting: At least one paragraph dedicated to how we women who read have a thing for syntax, and descriptions of women who read in ethereal, almost non-human terms.
I have to admit, I like syntax. However, my liking syntax (and I think other women will agree with me on this) does not make me an all-knowing sage or a human lie detector. I’m not sure why syntax, lies, and wisdom became synonymous.
These otherwordly descriptions also bother me. Women are so often dehumanized, even in ways that seem complimentary. That is why Stargirl was upset when Leo calls her a saint. That is why I was upset when a guy once called me a saint. That is why Tracy Lord was upset when three different men in her life called her goddess, queen, and bronze. Women are quite fond of being human, for the most part. But these articles make it sound as though women who read exist only to ensure the lives of men don’t totally suck. They make it seem as though we are the reason for some men feeling down on themselves because they can’t live up to the standards they think all women who read have. They make it seem like women who read are an uncatchable solution to all life’s problems in the form of a goddess.
They also make it seem that women who don’t read are to be avoided like the plague because women who don’t read will drain your energy and your bank account. This is completely ridiculous and unfair. Plenty of women who don’t read are bright, pleasant, caring, financially stable, adventurous, insert any quality you deem good. And plenty of women who read are boring, snobbish, mean, can’t create any original thought, insert any quality you deem negative.
I’m a great advocate for reading. But that does not mean I think reading is a recipe for perfection.
Women who read are not dream girls sent to this earth to save the lives of lost men everywhere. We are not responsible for dreams come true or dreams fell through. We are merely women, living our lives like everyone else. We just happen to frequently stick our noses into delicious smelling books.
So, if you see me engrossed in a book, or with a stack of books under my arms, or a huge bag full of books instead of odds and ends, be interested. I myself am more interested in dating men who read. But don’t think I am a dream girl shrouded in mystery who will one day make your life the picture of magical perfection. Because, chances are–as is the case when you put anyone on a pedestal for any reason–you will be disappointed.