When Responding to a Book Review

Hopefully, nobody on my friends list needs to hear this, but just in case:

If you are a man, and you read a book review by a woman that says “this book’s treatment of female characters really bothered me,” and the first three comments are by people with female names and female-presenting photos, agreeing they similarly had trouble finishing the book for the same reasons, and you settle in to write the fourth comment and it starts “we must have been reading totally different books, because…” —you can stop right there.

Your because is because you are a man and you are not sensitive to the presentation of female characters, and so it didn’t bother you. Your lack of irritation doesn’t reflect the reviewer “having a chip on her shoulder.” This is a woman telling other women they’ll be uncomfortable, and she is likely correct. Your opinion doesn’t matter to those women because you were indeed reading a totally different book. Which you enjoyed. Which they will not, because they are not you.

You can substitue this woman/man dialectic for queer/straight, [ethnic identity]/[other ethnic identity], [class background]/[other class background], [ability level]/[other ability level].

You’re not the default. You’re only your own default. And you have no idea how sensitively a character was portrayed who has nothing in common with you. You can say “huh, I really liked it,” and then stop. You can talk about the things you enjoyed. But we all know – YOU KNOW – “we must have been reading totally different books, because” is code for “you read it wrong; you were meant to read it with my identity, even though the character shares your identity.” It’s bullshit. Cut it out.

Advertisements