Sunday, 28 January 2018

Mansplaining and More

A couple of years ago I read Rebecca Solnit's essay 'Men Explain Things to Me' (2012). It was a wonderful exposé on the way women are silenced, and the effects this loss of voice has.  Solnit wrote the essay following an exchange with a man who patronisingly tells her all about a book he had not read, but which Solnit had actually written. This essay inspired the 'mansplaining' concept, which has become a common expression for anytime women are spoken at with condescension by men.

Recently I revisited Solnit's essay, and continued on to read her collection Men Explain Things to Me (2014). Beyond the title essay, Solnit explores a number of issues that affect women, from a feminist perspective.

'The Longest War' is about rape. It opens with the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh on a bus in Delhi in December 2012, moves on to other examples like the teenager assaulted by the Steubenville High football team and the eleven-year old in Texas raped by twenty men. Solnit writes that gang rape is everywhere and that there is 'a pattern of violence against women thats broad and deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked'.  The phenomenon of violence against women is not new. Solnit argues  that continuing to treat each act of violence as an isolated issue is part of the problem, and that the broader culture of toxic masculinity needs to be addressed as a civil/human rights issue.

In 'Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite' Solnit takes on the International Monetary Fund and Dominique Strauss-Kahn's exploitation of women. 'Grandmother Spider' explores the disappearance of women giving examples like genealogy, in which women historically have taken on their husband's name and  been erased from the patriarchal family tree. 'In Praise of the Threat: What Marriage Equality Really Means' is about traditional marital roles and how it can be redefined. While the other essays look at hysteria and not taking women seriously ('Cassandra Among the Creeps'), denying women their voice ('#YesAllWomen Feminists Rewrite the Story), and about how women are kept in place by trolls and social norms ('Pandora's Box and the Volunteer Police Force').

While the title essay is the one that has received the most attention, I greatly enjoyed her essay on Virginia Woolf - 'Woolf's Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable'. Woolf, Solnit writes, 'is celebrating getting lost, not literally lost as in not knowing how to find your way, but lost as in open to the unknown, and the way that physical space can provide psychic space.' Her admiration of Woolf oozes from this essay, and made me want to rush out and reread Woolf again.

I greatly enjoyed my time with Solnit's collection. However, the cumulative effect of these essays, read one after another, is a bit of a repetitive blur. I wish I had taken more time to read, leaving a gap between each one, as they were meant to be read. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in contemporary feminist thought.