Why Reading Is Bad for Women

Like a lot of parents, some of the best times I spend with my toddler is reading to her. It’s fascinating to watch children’s reactions to stories and seem them start to acquire pre-reading skills. Leave it to postmodernist feminists to argue that by encouraging my daughter’s interest in reading I’m committing an act of violence that inaugurates her into hierarchical patriarchal oppression.

Writing for Salon.Com, freelance writer Amy Halloran describes attending an academic conference where the University of Southern California’s Peggy Kamuf likened teaching children to read to a terrorist act. For those of you who don’t follow the wacky world of academic postmodernism, Kamuf is a scholar (and I use that word very loosely) noted for her translations of works by the godfather of deconstructionism Jacques Derrida. To sum up deconstruction very quickly, it holds that the words you are reading right now have absolutely no inherent meaning. If you think this is a description of a recent football game, your interpretation is just as valid as any other. No meaning, no truth — everything is just social constructs (even seemingly biological phenomenon such as pregnancy are just social constructs according to some postmodernists).

So what’s left if there is no meaning or truth? Politics. Rather then whether a statement is true or false, what the postmodernists care about is whether or not a statement is oppressive. This is the basis on which Kamuf attacks reading. Unfortunately, Halloran only paraphrases Kamuf, but here’s how she describes her paper,

She presented a paper (she read it aloud!) to a crowd of about 40 people, most of them academics, in which she insisted that teaching kids to read initiates them into the patriarchal construct of the family unit and society at large. This initiation is, according to her, a brutal and painful rite of passage. It is so painful, she added, that people don’t even recollect learning to read. The memory is repressed, said Kamuf, because the act is violent.

Halloran thinks she can paint Kamuf into a logical corner and confronts her after the reading of the paper by pointing out that if what she’s said is true, then the act of teaching/learning to speak would be the original locus of violent indoctrination. Rather than recoil at this idea, Kamuf simply replies, “Of course, of course. We all know that.” (And Halloran notices a common motif in radical feminist use of postmodernism — Kamuf reserves her attacks for mothers who teach children to read. This is not actually that odd, since a number of radical feminist attacks on things like the family tend to focus on imagined horrors passed on by mothers. A lot of these folks seem to have serious mother-daughter issues that come out in their approach.)

Of course the claim that learning to speak and/or read is oppressive is so absurd that one often wishes to avoid attacking it, which gives it far more weight and credence than it deserves. The main point I take from this report is that higher institutions of learning have largely become refuges for a growing number of morons passing off their ignorance as if it were knowledge. And these are the folks we’re counting on to teach coming generations of college students. Yikes.

Don’t think, by the way, that the attack on reading is isolated to Kamuf or even postmodernists. Surgery professor (!) Leonard Shlain has gotten a lot of publicity and support for his formulation of the reading-as-oppression thesis in his book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image. Shlain starts with a common feminist shibboleth — that men are inherently “left brain”, logical, abstract thinkers while women are inherently “right brain”, holistic, creative, visual thinkers — and takes it to its logical extremes.

Since reading is supposedly a left brain, linear, analytic activity, it follows, according to Shlain, that the rise of literacy and the alphabet was also the rise of misogyny and patriarchy. As his web site summarizes the book’s thesis,

Shlain argues that literacy reinforced the brain¹s linear, abstract, predominantly masculine left hemisphere at the expense of the holistic, iconic feminine right one. This shift upset the balance between men and women initiating the disappearance of goddesses, the abhorrence of images, and, in literacy’s early stages, the decline of women’s political status. Patriarchy and misogyny followed.

Ironically Shlain sees the rise of visual media such as television as restoring equity. I guess I should be encouraging my daughter to put down those books and watch more television. Actually to be fair to him, Shlain doesn’t exactly disparage literacy per se, but his claim that linear thinking (and hence reading) fundamentally disadvantages women vs. men is absurd.

It is interesting that after a couple hundred years we’ve come full circle from when traditionalist anti-feminists argued that teaching girls linear thinking skills was a waste of time, to contemporary radical feminists who argue that teaching girls linear thinking skills is inherently oppressive.

This is progress?


Is nothing sacred? Amy Halloran, Salon.Com, October 30, 2000.

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