This short, deeply smart collection of essays is really important.
Seriously, “Men Explain Things to Me” resonated with me on every level. It’s a perfect gut-check… when some (most) men imply that I’m not entitled to articulate my own experience… when some (most) men cut me off in conversation about a topic on which I’m an authority because they have a couple of thoughts about it… when colleges and universities respond to reports of rape by instituting curfews and behavioral guidelines for women… when my husband insists that I stop working after we marry, but then I miss my work, mostly because I’m miserable and isolated in the marriage that turned out not to be a marriage of equals even though we talked about true partnership at great length on multiple occasions before taking the leap, and so I get a new job that will put me back on the right path, and then he cheats and leaves and entitles himself to blame that behavior on me for “careerism” (“‘Careerism’— the pathological need to have paid employment— is an affliction that only affects women, apparently.” – Solnit quoting Amanda Marcotte)… when victims of sexual harassment/abuse/assault have their character put on trial… when the suggested response to online harassment/abuse/assault is to block/ignore rather than responsive action from authority… when all of these and so many other demonstrations of a gendered imbalance of power make me furious, ill, full of despair, and confused, does that mean that I am crazy? Gut-check answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT. “Generations of women have been told they are delusional, confused, manipulative, malicious, conspiratorial, congenitally dishonest, often all at once.” But we are not.
It boils down to power, which is not, as Solnit points out early on, a limited resource, despite the panic the concept of “sharing” it (ie: empowering all humans on an equal level) produces, as if empowering me would disempower someone else.
As she says, “I think we would understand misogyny and violence against women even better if we looked at the abuse of power as a whole rather than treating domestic violence separately from rape and murder and harassment and intimidation, online and at home and in the workplace and in the streets; seen together, the pattern is clear.” And she really does integrate examinations of all of these different (same) forms of abuse of power in all of these different (same) forums. And each time, it feels real and right, and there are data to back her up, giving me that wonderful gut check again and again: they may tell me I’m crazy, but these are actually the facts.
I had to restrain myself from highlighting every paragraph that struck me, because I would have ended up with a fully highlighted book, and besides, it’s a library book, so what good what that have done me? So without photographic memory, I will walk forward on the non-linear road of 10,000 miles, in the great company of much better minds than mine, and I’ll keep opening bottles and letting genies out into the world so that we can keep whittling away at absurd, impractical, and unnecessary imbalances of power.
Solnit says, “Despair is a form of certainty, certainty that the future will be a lot like the present or will decline from it; despair is a confident memory of the future, in Gonzalez’s resonant phrase. Optimism is similarly confident about what will happen. Both are grounds for not acting. Hope can be the knowledge that we don’t have that memory and that reality doesn’t necessarily match our plans; hope like creative ability can come from what the Romantic poet John Keats called Negative Capability.”
So I’m going to try not to despair, or dream, but rather hope, and act.