Men Explain Things To Me
You know that whole ‘mansplaning’ thing everyone’s been talking about? Well the idea (if not the actual phrase) came from Rebecca Solnit’s article Men Explain Things To Me. While I was in Washington DC at a hippie restaurant/bookshop I bought an expanded copy. The theory (much proven by everyday life) is that boys and men have such a sense of importance or entitlement that they will explain things to women who actually have more expertise than they do. Solnit begins the article describing a party she went to in 2008. She had just written a book about Eadweard Muybridge* and her wealthy and imposing host interrupted her to tell her all about this very important work on Muybridge that had just been published. Her friend had to say several times that it was Solnit’s book he was referring to before he got it.
After the article came out the idea went viral. Website began springing up, like ‘Academic Men Explain Things To Me’. Where university women shared stories of being belittled and ignored. And somewhere along the way the term mansplaining popped up and began trending on the social medias. Even I managed to see the tweets by men explaining to female cyclists how to ride a bike, or to female Astronauts explaining how science works… And then of course men explaining what mansplaining is, or rather why it wasn’t really a gendered thing. And so they ‘insisted on their right to dismiss the experiences of women’.
While these everyday occurrences may seem trivial the silencing of women’s voices takes on a darker tone in the rest of the book. In the expanded sections Solnit discusses lots of rape statistics, and references several high profile assaults of recent times. Fun stuff. But if women’s voices and experiences are always considered less credible than men’s then they’ll struggle to convince a jury that these crimes took place. In some countries, like Yeman or Saudi Arabia, where the testimony of a woman is considered half that of a man’s. Meaning, in practice, that they can only testify that they were raped if there is corroborating testimony from a male witness.
I would have liked the book to explore this theme more, rather than just be a long list of people who have been raped recently. There are only so many horrible stories I can take really.
*I have no idea who Muybridge is, but I’ll ask Rebecca Solnit if I ever see her
Sister got me this book for my birthday. Nasty Women is a collection of essays by a range of authors, all musing on life as a woman in the 20th century. In fact, it’s a very contemporaneous collection as many of the essays touch on the recent election of Donald Trump as President of the USA. (‘It was dizzying to watch America goose-step from hope to grope in less than four years.’) There is a Western bias to the accounts, obviously it’s written in English. And they all seem to live in the UK, Ireland, or the USA. There are a few exceptions, Zeba Talkhani is from Saudi Arabi and describes feeling like a spokesperson for Islam on moving to the UK. ‘Do all muslim women…?’
There are 22 authors, and (I have to be honest) I wasn’t really familiar with any of them. They talk on a range of subjects; contraception, sexual assault, racism, and pregnancy. There’s also a fair few on music. Kristy Diaz describes the pressure to be a ‘cool girl’ who likes real music. Becca Inglis talks about her complicated relationship with Courtney Love and mental illness. And Ren Aldridge from Petrol Girls wrote about something…sexual assault I think. But I have to confess this was the article I skipped. Despite her saying it wasn’t a ‘professional or academic piece of research’, it was hard to understand. Actually, I’m being harsh but it wasn’t easy enough for my brain sitting on the train first thing in the morning.
My favourite articles included Belle Owen talking about her disability and her quest for normality. Initially she is pleased when she is treated like everyone else. But then she starts to feel that by ignoring her disability they are ignoring or rejected part of her. Jen McGregor describes her experiences with Depo-Provera, a contraceptive injection. She knew she did not want children and had very painful periods so this seemed perfect. But the drug undermined her bones strength giving her Osteopenia at 25. It’s an interesting reminder that in seeking sexual freedom we are also challenging our bodies natural state.
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