When I first saw Women Who Read Are Dangerous by Stefan Bollman in Waterstones I quickly realised that it was part of the same series as Women Walking. Having a flick through in the shop it struck me how different the two books are.
In my review of Women Walking I wrote about how refreshing not to see women depicted as passive objects. And you would think that the artworks in Women Who Read would show women actively furthering their knowledge. But what you find is that artists over the years have reinforced the idea that leisure not academic achievement is the only reason why women read.
You have to question why some artists have created works in which the women are nude or in a boudoir scenario while reading a book. To be fair, the other scenario is depicting with children in a nurturing situation.
The final image in Women Who Read is the Eve Arnold photograph of Marilyn Monroe reading James Joyce’s Ulysses which the accompanying text questions if she actually read the book or if it was just a prop. An attractive woman also being clever can not possibly be right?
What is this underlying message? Women have no place in the intellectual world.
But is this all historical? I wish it was. Hysterical Literature is a set of YouTube videos with millions of views in which women read from books while getting a “happy ending”. The project creator says:
It explores feminism, mind/body dualism, distraction portraiture, and the contrast between culture and sexuality. (It’s also just really fun to watch.)
In my view his work is just a reminder to all women that their place is back in the bedroom not in the library. There is still such a long way to go. The saying knowledge is power is so true.