On International Women's Day...and reading

2014.

It was the year Emma Watson delivered an address at the UN Headquarters in New York City, launching the UN Women campaign HeForShe, and received a standing ovation heard around the world. It was the year we lost Malaysian Airlines flight 370, Ebola threatened to take us all, Kimye became official (as did Brad and Ange…), Li Na won the Women's Australian Open final, Gangnam Style was inescapable, Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize, and a survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights reported that about 1/3 of women in the European Union had experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

It was also the year I set myself my first reading challenge as an adult (because like most Aussie kids, I was a staunch MS Read-a-Thon challenge participant throughout my primary school career).

In 2014, I decided to only read books written by women. Cue. Gasps.

So magnanimous, I even included a male author in this pic


I can’t say there was a moment of blinding clarity when I made this decision. It was just an idea I had one day and it seemed right. And as I gave it more thought, and surveyed my bookshelves at home, I realised that, actually, while I thought I did read my fair share of books written by female authors, I was woefully mistaken. It appeared that not since my 1994 Maeve Binchy obsession had I really dedicated myself to female prose. It seemed my love for articulate, witty, nerdy-looking male authors (mostly named Jonathan) had clouded my vision to the point that their female counterparts were left languishing far down the list of my TBR pile (that’s To Be Read pile for the non-book nerds among my blog readership).

So I set about writing (reading?) this wrong. I said a fond farewell to Franzen, and a warm hello to Atkinson. And as I transitioned pretty smoothly into my 2014 reading challenge, I had to admit I felt pretty good about myself, like I was doing something important, noteworthy. This, naturally, lead me to tell anyone who would listen about what I was up to. With a smug twitch of my lips, I’d use my most reverent tone as I imparted upon friends, family, colleagues, strangers, that I was ahem only ready female authors this year. Je.Zus. And as I’d wait to be lavished with praise and begrudging respect, I’d try desperately to remember the name of the book I was reading at the time, simultaneously praying I wouldn’t be asked for the author’s name as well. I could have slapped myself, really.

Once I’d told those closest to me of my 2014 challenge, the net widened to include telling those I knew less well. And this is where it all got a bit interesting. I began hearing questions that left me, well, speechless (read: rageful). Here’s an example: ‘But don’t you miss men?’

Excuse me?

‘Are you being challenged?’ ‘Can you find many books written by women?’ ‘Aren’t they all the same?’ ‘Well, women write more, but men write better.’ (Not a question, but something someone has actually said to me!!!)

EXCUSE. ME?

Now, I’m not going to waste time, energy, and my rage quota by going back over the full, shouty answers I gave these sub-humans, because I know all you wonderful people out there reading this, know the answers. (Spoiler: No. Yes. Of course. You’re a moron.) Nevertheless, I was confronted by the ignorance of these questions and the need people had to ask them. So I went about setting the record straight and through this process, I realised why I was doing, what I was doing.

International Women’s Day celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women and by reading books written by women in 2014, I was doing exactly that. I was celebrating women. I was celebrating their achievement of having written a book and sent it out into the world. I was celebrating how challenging, entertaining, bewildering, sometimes boring, mostly amusing, and always inspiring, these works were. I was celebrating the fact that even when women are up against it (and by ‘it’ I mean everything), they are still generous enough to put their heart on their sleeve, write their guts out and never give up.

And so on this International Women’s Day, let’s continue to celebrate women and everything they do. We’re totally worth it. Now, go buy a book by a female author, you should be able to find one somewhere…

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