Trust Women Readers

By Laura Vivanco on Tuesday, 5 March, 2019

Quite a lot has been written about the dangers of reading, and how fiction may encourage readers (particularly young and female readers) to act or think in ways which are detrimental to them. Gry Hongsmark Knudsen argues that those with such concerns have been underestimating women readers. They interviewed women readers of the Fifty Shades books and found that these readers

read Fifty Shades instrumentally [...] to reinvigorate their sex lives and to remind themselves of sex. In that process, they put less emphasis on whether the relationship in the narrative is something with which they identify or not. Rather, what they describe as attractive about the books is their ability to produce "affective intensity" [...]. That is, the important part of the reading process is the affective changes produced in the mind and body, not whether the relationship in the narrative is realistic, attractive, or equal. If the readers are concerned that the book is problematic in terms of its gender roles and portrayal of women, it does not produce a pleasurable state of mind or body and they stop reading. Thus it seems that, whichever option they choose, the readers adopt a selective reading process: either they disregard the troubling aspects or they stop reading because of the troubling aspects. As such, the findings of this study challenge the hypothesis that readers are necessarily influenced in specific ways by texts, given that in the sample all the readers taking part disregarded, rejected, or resisted some parts of the narrative to focus on others. (181)

The conclusion is that,

if we acknowledge women as critical readers, we also have to acknowledge that the process of adopting ideologies based on texts [...] is far from simple. Readers defy reading positions inscribed in texts and thereby differ widely in what they get out of reading them. (182)


Hongsmark Knudsen, Gry. "Critical Consumers: Discourses of Women, Sexuality, and Objectification", Handbook of Research on Gender and Marketing, ed. Susan Dobscha. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2019. 168-185.

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