Making Kerouac Our Bitch: On Being a Woman and a Reader of Misogynist Writers


Cited by many critics as one of the most important American novels ever written, On the Road nonetheless continues to polarize readers, sparking intense debate, or even eye-rolling dismissal. But how should we read Kerouac’s overt sexism? At best, many readers have reluctantly accepted the author’s misogyny as reminiscent of an era, while still managing to celebrate the genius of his prose. At worst, in the eyes of many critics, Kerouac’s sexism has rendered him a pathetic creep, unworthy of redemption.

But perhaps, both arguments are missing the broader potential for radical feminist liberation weaved into the mad man’s scroll. Beyond my interrogation of Kerouac’s On the Road, I want this Olio to go a bit deeper and introspective on a personal level, with the express purpose of revealing, for myself and those listening, what it is really like to be a woman and a reader. I state these two things separately—woman, reader—with intention. Because as a cultural historian, I believe we construct our notions of self by engaging in and producing shared cultural narratives, and in this world, woman and reader are two distinct things.

So what is it like, then, to be a woman who reads in a world where most authors are men? What is it like to search for yourself on the page, only to find yourself the joke, the insult, the unnamed, the bitch? What is it like to find yourself identifying so completely with a male subject’s perspective that you begin to question your own subjectivity?

I want to address these dilemmas by exploring my relationship to Kerouac and other male writers, with the hope that I can offer up some new possibilities for how women might know themselves as readers. Misogyny is ingrained in so much of the literature we love, but I believe there is a way to turn the act of reading into an act of feminist subversion. Let’s make Kerouac our bitch.


Recommended reading from Penguin Press:

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

“Every once in a while, a novel reminds us of why we still need them." - Megan O'Grady, Vogue




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Other upcoming Olios


Jun 19

The (Un)Enlightenment and What it Means to be Modern

Taught by Lev Moscow
7:30 p.m. at Living Room

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Jun 20

Believing is Seeing

Taught by Briana Toole
7:30 p.m. at Berg'n

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Jun 22

OlioHouse | Breaking Bread: An Olio Salon Dinner

Taught by Brian Lewis
2 p.m. at OlioHouse | Wassaic, NY

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Jun 23

Female Power and Desire in Shakespeare after #MeToo

Taught by Christina Katopodis
1 p.m. at Threes Brewing // Greenpoint

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Jun 25

The Artist in an Alternative World

Taught by Ward Regan
7:30 p.m. at Nowadays

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Jun 25

OlioTour | Federal Hall & African Burial Ground

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6 p.m. at Federal Hall

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Jun 26

Jun 27

The Long History of Selfie Culture

Taught by Ted Barrow
7 p.m. at Strand Bookstore

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Jun 29

OlioHouse | Happiness & Hedonism Weekend

Taught by Skye Cleary
2 p.m. at OlioHouse | Wassaic, NY

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Jul 7

Museum Trip | 'The 80s Show' Private Tour

Taught by Charles Riley
2 p.m. at Nassau County Museum of Art

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Jul 13

OlioHouse | Considering The Tyranny of Choice

Taught by Michael Haltenberger
2 p.m. at OlioHouse | Wassaic, NY

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Jul 25

Frida's Fragrance: Art, Scent, & Persona

Taught by Jessica Murphy
7:30 p.m. at The William Vale Hotel

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Sep 19

OlioTrip | Cienfuegos, Cuba

Taught by Teresita Levy
10 a.m. at Cienfuegos, Cuba

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