The XX Factor

Why Do Women Read So Much?

Another day, another round of asking the question , “Why don’t men read more books?” As usual, women are held up as the culprits when these sorts of questions are asked. Even though everyone genteelly refuses to blame women-instead choosing to honor their accomplishments and acknowledge how sexism shapes behavior-the answer persistently comes back to, “Because women dictate publishing and therefore women’s tastes dominate.” But the answer doesn’t quite satisfy, and I think it’s because people are asking the wrong question. The right question is, “Why do women read so many books?”

The reasons that people of both genders don’t read as much as they used to are just so obvious! Back when people read more, they didn’t have cable television, laptop computers, or a God-only-knows-how-profitable video-gaming industry to entertain them. The existence of ESPN and video games alone should explain why men don’t read more. But I think they also explain why women also keep on reading while men are giving up on the hobby. Not so much in my feminist household, but in many I’ve seen, men simply get first dibs on the TV, leaving women with the option of staring at walls, doing some more chores, or reading. Especially if they don’t play the game or enjoy the show that’s on.

Plus, reading fits the socialization patterns of women more than men. Boys are brought up from a young age not only to believe that reading is for sissies, but also that their desires and entertainments can be obtrusive and uninterrupted. Girls are brought up to be bookworms, and, in part, it’s because it’s a quiet past-time. The stigma attached to reading falls away for men as they grow up, but they don’t stop feeling entitled to entertainment that is loud and engrossing enough that it can’t simply be dropped because a chore has to be done or a family member needs attention.

Women, on the other hand, are still under a lot of pressure not to be in anyone’s way and to be easy to interrupt. If a child is whining, a phone starts ringing, or your husband has something he needs to tell you right now, a book can be dropped, whereas you might lose the game if you drop the video-game controller. In fact, I’ve wondered from a small age if there’s just something about a female person holding a book that compels people to interrupt. The desire for uninterrupted reading caused me to learn how to work the bathroom locks at a young age. As an adult who wished to read uninterrupted by men in public, I perfected my icy scowl and cold shoulder.