Reading without trousers

by isabelrogers

It has been a funny old week on Twitter. I saw an article about reading: I forget what it said, because I was distracted by the ludicrous picture that had been put at the top. A woman sat with bare legs at such odd angles I feared for her joints. And that got me thinking, all the while fingering the toffee hammer I keep ready in my pocket at all times in case today’s the day we can finally smash the patriarchy.

I wondered if this picture was a one-off weirdo. Then I googled ‘woman reading’. And, well, I found these, said what I thought, and went a bit viral:

woman book 1

Sometimes, I can only feel comfortable reading if I forget my trousers and dislocate my knees. I am nervous about losing the page, even if it’s the page I’m on. I own no bookmarks, however, so have deconstructed a Christmas wreath.


woman book 2

If it’s mild, I venture into nature. I continue to eschew trousers, but that doesn’t put me off sitting on a stump.


woman book 3

It’s something about the air round the back of the knees, I think. Helps to absorb tricky vocab.


woman book 4

If you must wear trousers but have to look at a book immediately, this can be done safely if you insert ventilation holes. Dislocate your knees first for full efficacy.


woman book 5

I like to unwind after a hard day with the last few pages of a chapter, in front of a roaring blaze of recently removed trousers.


woman book 6

Sometimes, if I’ve read too much that day, or worn too many trousers, I can get a migraine.

Leaving aside the enormous fun a lot of us had with this (and some of the conversations this thread started were outstanding – even gaining its own hashtag of #ReadingWithoutTrousers), I was disturbed. Women here are portrayed as passive, expressionless, partially clothed, and often with their head and face entirely absent. Any of this starting to sound familiar?

I looked for the equivalent pictures of men (will I never learn?). I googled ‘man reading’. Same rules: different gender. And oh boy, different results.

man book 1

I like to think of myself as Basic Reading Guy. Fully clothed. Cardigan buttoned over my emotions, gripping the chair a bit too hard – but maybe it’s a fight scene. The hero’s ok though. Phew. Manspreading index: 4.


man book 2

Sometimes I see a word that perplexes me, like pashmina or vicissitude. What is that doing in my book? I gesture to set it free, and crack on with the next chapter.


man book 3

If there is a really difficult bit, I must stare at it until my beard is grown, massaging the words into my head.


man book 4

Once the hard words are in my head, a gentle shaping of the skull rearranges them into strata according to subject, ready to leap out instantly when they are called by a ‘well, actually …’


man book 5

I get into the minds of different characters by assuming a separate posture for each voice. This is also a good core workout. Remember to replace your electrolytes afterwards. And maybe a protein shake.


man book 6

When I read my favourite bit, I need to tell someone. Immediately.


man book 7

Even if it’s only a throwaway quip.


man book 8

I like funny books. This one’s probably written by a man. Oh yeah, that line. That’s a classic.


man book 9

It is important to remain fully clothed throughout the reading experience. If you see any women reading without trousers, you may strip down to your vest but only until you finish the chapter.


man book 10

You know, at the end of the day, it’s not what you read, it’s how big your pile is. Look at this stack.

In every one of these pictures of men, we see his face and expression. Often, he is communicating something, to us or others. We see him being affected by what he reads, whether it’s funny, challenging or something worthy of passing on. The last man looks straight at the camera. These men have agency. And, naturally, they are fully clothed. The important thing is what they are doing, not what they look like. Plus ça bloody change.

I didn’t google ‘semi-naked women reading’ and ‘fully-clothed men reading’. The search terms were identical. Of course I chose from the results to fit some jokes. But, honestly, I didn’t have to manipulate them that much.

So yes, I made a lot of people laugh this week, and I celebrate that. Patriarchy stinks though, doesn’t it? I find the most effective way to smash it isn’t always a toffee hammer, but ripping the merciless piss out of it. Like only a humourless feminist can.