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Am I Perpetuating a Harmful Myth If I Buy a "Reading Woman" Calendar?

I want a "Reading People" calendar!

Painting of girl in yellow velvet dress with lace collar reading
Painting: Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770

The annual onslaught

Every year at this time, Christmas catalogs pile up in my mailbox, flaunting their products and tempting me to choose a gift for my husband, grandkids, friends, sisters, daughters, and sons-in-laws.

I'm supposed to be shopping for Christmas presents for others.

Instead, I see things I want to buy for myself!

The one gift-to-me that I consider buying every single year is a "Reading Woman" calendar.

The error of my ways???

Now, take this with a grain of salt. Know that I'm not telling you this with hostility or anger. My tone is not strident or bitter. I may even sound crazy to you, thinking so much about something so small.

But I'm contemplating the error of my former ways, analyzing my desire for "a Reading Woman" calendar and wondering how I got this obsession.

Why does this particular calendar appeal to me so much?

  • Yes, I love books in all their various forms.

  • Yes, I'm obsessed with stories.

  • Yes, I adore learning and adventuring to places I'll never go to in real life.

  • Yes, I long for time to peacefully sit and do nothing but read.

  • Yes, I'm a woman.

  • Yes, I'm touched by beauty, finding the colors and light of paintings a balm to my soul.

Art speaks to me, and pictures like the one below fill the "Reading Woman" calendar.

Woman reading on orange couch on a porch
"Couch on a Porch," painting by Frederick Childe Hassam

The appeal of the Reading Woman

I mean, really. I love everything about this Claude Hassam picture, "Couch on the Porch," painted in 1914. The flickering light that comes through the trees. The smell of warmth. The relaxation that comes from being able to stretch out, alone, with a book. (It's just how I feel when I recline on my garden swing in the summer, newest great book in my hand!)

It's no wonder that a "Reading Woman" calendar appeals to me. The pictures are gorgeous, many considered artistic masterpieces. Check out "35 Portraits of Women Reading," indicative of the kind of photos in the calendars I'm attracted to every year.

Perpetuating a harmful myth?

This year, I had a strange but pervasive thought...

I'm perpetuating a harmful myth by purchasing a "Woman Reading" calendar!

I certainly don't want to reinforce the idea that a woman who reads is an unusual sight! Heaven forbid that I encourage the belief that women who read lead lives of leisure, lounging around in beautiful gowns without a care in the world.

No doubt about it.

Women reading ARE beautiful. But so are men. And kids. Lord knows, seeing a teenager read a book is a glorious site to behold. So why should I repeat and emphasize the crazy idea that women who read are masterpiece-worthy?

How the myth got started

It used to be that not many women could read, so those who could, WERE special. In 1820, only 12% of the entire population was literate.

However, by the end of the 1800s and the early 1900s, the literacy rate of women began to skyrocket, partly because of the advent of the sentimental novel.

Artists took note and began to capture the novel beauty of "women reading," resulting in some of the great masterpieces of the art world.

Eduourd Manet's The Railway painting featuring a woman reading.
Eduourd Manet's "The Railway" painting

Luckily, times have changed, and seeing a woman reading is no longer a "novel" experience. (You can read the pun in there if you'd like!) Now, the global literacy rate is 86%, and in the majority of countries in the world, 95% of the population can read. (The exceptions to the high literacy rates are some countries in Africa where less than 30% of people can read.)

But throughout the world, most people can now read. Isn't that a wondrous, miraculous fact?

So why aren't there calendars of "Men reading?" "Children reading?" "Teenager reading?" "Senior Citizens reading? Or just "People reading?"

Silly and overthinking

It's okay to laugh or shake your head at my silly thoughts. I've laughed at them myself and debated about publishing this piece for two weeks.

No one cares which calendar I buy!

But wouldn't it be cool if reading itself was marketed and touted as the coolest activity in the world for ANYONE to do?

Wouldn't it be awesome if artists and photographers focused on readers in general instead of just beautiful women? How amazing would it be if agents wanted endorsements - not from musicians and celebrities and sports superstars - but from common, ordinary people absorbed in the greatest, most productive activity on earth?

No doubt, I won't erase the romanticized notion that women who read are SPECIAL by not buying a "Reading Woman" calendar. More people won't magically start reading books if I promote the idea that true beauty exists in ANY PERSON who reads, regardless of gender, age, race, or religion.

Am I delusional when I think that the world would be a better place if EVERYONE read books and newspapers for fun?

Maybe. But since this year I agonized over which calendar to buy, and because I couldn't find a calendar that promoted "People Reading," I bought a "Great Gardens of the World" calendar instead!


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