A few weeks ago I took a two hour train ride to my parents. Unlike most people, I am always happy to travel by train. To me, a train ride means me time, also known as READING TIME. That day I was reading The Circle by Dave Eggers. At the first train stop a man at about 50 years of age sat next to me. I immediately sensed that he was the type of man that is always looking for a conversation, I could tell by the way he tried to look at my book. I already prepared for him to ask what book I was reading (that happens a lot while reading in public, and I am always happy to answer the question), so when he finally started talking I was kind of stunned for a second: “Isn’t that a book for man you are reading?”
I wasn’t stunned by the fact that he did not ask the question I was expecting. I was stunned because, apparently, there is a male/female divide in literature I had never heard of. For a moment I was not able to answer, then I got a little mad: what is this man implying? So I asked him why this book was so ‘manly’ to him. The man took a moment to answer: “Well, I am not a reader, but from what I’ve heard this book is a sci-fi (he pronounced it as: SI-ONS FIC-SJON, but it was clear he meant sci-fi). Sci-fi is for man.” I was getting pretty upset, but I also wanted to set the record straight, so I told him this book is more dystopian than sci-fi. Off course, he had never heard of the term. So I asked if he had ever heard or maybe even read Orwell’s 1984, but he gave me a look that clearly said “not interested”, and continued: You should read the books my wife is reading, I bet you would enjoy those much more.” At this point I was so upset I could cry, but I somehow got myself to ask which books his wife reads. It didn’t surprise me at all when he answered: “I have no names but she is pretty into romantic love stories. I do know she has read that 50 Shades of Grey book everyone is talking about (off course he did remember that one!).” At this point I kind of lost it, it seemed like this man was convinced he could persuade me into reading books he considered appropriate for women, books like 50 Shades of f-ing Grey. I was only waiting for him to tell me that I should always remember my duty to cook and keep my house clean. Luckily for him, he didn’t, because I swear I could not have helped myself and it would have definitely resulted into me punching him in the face.
At the next stop I acted like I had to get off, and seated myself at the other side of the train. For a moment I hesitated to give the man my copy of The Circle, so he could give it to his wife. But I was sure he would not even show her the book, afraid she would forget her duties as a female.
Since, when starting a new book, I catch myself wondering if that particular man would consider the book male or female. Not because I believe in this male/female divide this man made up, just because I got a little fascinated by the idea that people are really this narrow-minded.