“[Women are] told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives.”
There are sentences like this throughout this collection of essays, that seem so obvious and yet feel like a gut punch every time you read them. Here’s another, from The Longest War: “Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.” Or “Women are afraid of being raped and murdered all the time and maybe that’s more important to talk about than protecting male comfort levels.” Taken from #YesAllWomen.
I don’t usually read much non-fiction. I use reading as an escape from the real world, I don’t want to take a deep dive into all the horribleness it contains. But sometimes you have to, and this collection seemed a good start.
In the title essay, (the one I believe she is most known for), Solnit addresses the men who feel comfortable spouting off knowledge they don’t have, while women who are considerably well-versed in a subject will hold back or question their own knowledge. The Longest War covers violence against women by men and how this seeps into politics and law. Grandmother Spider looks at the erasure of women – in genealogy, in art, by marriage. #YesAllWomen covers the movement that sprung up after the 2014 Isla Vista killings. There are nine essays in all, each short and accessible and written with humour that offsets some of the darkness, though not all. I struggled with the essay on the IMF, and Woolf’s Darkness, perhaps because she has never been one of ‘my’ writers, and therefore the essay didn’t speak much to me. The rest are excellent and infuriating in equal measure. It’s a short book that you can read quickly and yet it took me days. I needed a break after each one because I was just angry at the world.
It’s not like reading this has opened my eyes. I’ve been aware of violence against women practically my whole life, but there’s a difference between the drip drip drip of news stories, day in and day out, and seeing it all laid out here (and written so articulately and passionately). Men kill women. All the time. Every day. Every minute. They rape and they abuse and they injure. The statistics show this. We shouldn’t have to say NOT ALL MEN every time we talk about this (although Solnit does here. I imagine because she is all too familiar with this argument). We KNOW not all men. If we thought it was all men we’d be living in bunkers, or better yet, Themyscira. But a lot of men do, and as the quote says above, we should be able to say this without needing to protect men’s feelings. It’s important. And it is a problem that needs to be faced. By men.
This has stopped being a review now and is more an angry screed about the state of the world, but I think the essays in this book are necessary reading, if not easy or comforting.