In the book Men Explain Things to Me, Solnit makes significant claims about women being raped and murdered by men. The book starts with simple yet a great example of “mansplaining” where Solnit have a conversation with this ignorant man who goes on about this great book that was published without realizing that he’s talking to the author. Even though her friend Sallie tried to interrupt him but he continues with what he thinks he knows and refuses to listen until he finally takes it in and then walks away quietly. By starting with this story, Solnit has perfectly set the tone for this book.
It’s easy to relate to mansplaining because as a woman I can surely claim that I’ve met at least one man in my lifetime that thinks he “knowsitall” merely because of his gender. There has been tons of times where my uncle or spouse would “explain things to me” in a condescending manner because they know how badly I need to be explained. The feeling of not being heard, the experience of unreasonable support or pat on the back is all familiar to me and it all connects back to mansplaining. In “The Longest War”, Solnit discusses the pattern of violence against women that includes different types of rape and murder, not just in the U.S. but also other countries in the world. The author includes facts, statistics and actual cases that took place. For instance, Solnit mentions the bus rape case that left India shaken and forced authorities to reconsider their laws to protect women against violence and rape. And most of these horrific crimes are committed by men. Solnit states, “violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion or a nationality, but it does have a gender” (Solnit 21.) She connects the violence as authoritarian and murder as the brutal form of authoritarianism.
It’s admirable the way she identifies violence as “the refusal to treat someone as a human being, and the denial of the most basic of human rights, the right to bodily integrity and self-determination” (Solnit 45.) She states that violence comes from the presumption that “I have the right to control you” which links back to authoritarianism. For example, Taliban gunmen shot this teenage girl in the head, Malala Yousafzai, a few years ago when she spoke up for the rights of Pakistani women to be educated. Solnit is trying to portray that it is not something new or unique. This is a pattern of violence against women that has been repeating throughout history. Whenever women stood up to claim their voice and power, a large army of men also stood up to make sure that the women are silenced, punished and fearful for their lives.
Solnit states that violence against women is a control issue and I completely agree. Violence occurs from the denial to perceive a woman as a human being and it’s displayed through many forms such as different types of rape (marital, gang, etc.) murder, sexual harassment, abusive relationships and the disappearance of women as Solnit puts it, “from the public sphere, from genealogy, from legal standing, from voice, from life” (Solnit 70.)
Precisely, there are so many forms of female nonexistence. To name a few, the simplest form is when women change their surnames after marriage and often addressed by their husbands’ names. Also, in South Asian or Middle Eastern cultures, children take the father’s name after birth. Solnit shares another story that has drawn me to connect with my cultural background. The New York Times Sunday magazine ran a cover story on Afghanistan. The big image at the head of the story was supposed to show a family. Solnit only saw a man and children standing and then suddenly the realization occurred to her that what she considered as drapery or furniture was actually a fully veiled woman. This woman had completely vanished from sight (Solnit 68.)
Essentially, I’m not surprised by this type of disappearance as it is a typical form for women in my culture. And I’m thankful that author has mentioned it in this book because it gives me an open space to think about it and to discuss frankly. Solnit describes “the veil was a kind of wall of privacy, the marker of a woman for one man,” there has always been an argument in my mind about this type of veil that deprives a woman of her existence. It almost makes me wonder if this is an excuse to keep them shut and covered in the name of religion. And if there’s a need for such a veil to show that she’s a “one-man woman” then in contrast there should be something for the guy that marks he’s “one-woman man.” Only then it would be proper in equal sense. Solnit writes, “For women, confinement is always waiting to envelope you” (Solnit 70.) I believe regardless of race, religion or nationality, confinement is always hovering for women, the only difference is some can escape and some cannot. I can relate to this in numerous ways.
In the religion called “Islam” women are required to cover their head and their bodies when they go out in public to maintain modesty and this is solely for Allah (God). But there are many more rules imposed on women in the name of religion. For me, for instance, my spouse have talked to me several times about wearing headscarf but I’ve refused many times saying I’m not ready yet. As much as I’ve read about my religion, it does not say anywhere to force women to do something that they aren’t willing to do simply because it would then kill the purpose of practicing religion voluntarily. Yet, it’s the same story that repeats in every Muslim household by male dominant figures (father, uncle, brother, spouse etc.)
Another chapter, In Praise of the Threat, really speaks for me and I believe it should speak for every woman who has been married to their opposite sex. As we all know that heterosexual marriage has not been a great success when it comes to equality. If we look back in history, when couples got married, the man owned his wife and the woman had no identity of her own. She was treated as a property and her identity was assimilated with her husband. My marriage, for example, I was attending my first year of college when I had an arranged marriage. My spouse and in-laws had a lack of interest in my education. In fact, my in laws told me that “marriage is the most important thing in women’s’ lives and now that you have achieved it, we believe you should focus on yourself and your spouse. And our son will take care of you and your future children.” I strongly disliked the idea and for a moment this made me feel as if my education was unnecessary and my attempt to accomplish anything is life was worthless.
Though, it left me stunned even more is when I realized that my husband felt quite the same way about my education but he wouldn’t directly come out and say it to me. From that day on, I knew it would be an uphill struggle to finish my college degree, but I also knew that I have do it to be able to fight for my rights. So for the most part, it has been this way since ages due to the deep rooted norms and hierarchies that comes with this traditional marriage. In contrast, as Solnit argues that same-sex marriage can reveal what equality in marriage actually looks like and might even encourage us to form equality in all marriages.
Since we are discussing equality, it’s important to mention credibility because it greatly connects to why many women are silenced. Going back to the very first chapter where Solnit writes, “Credibility is a basic survival tool…billions of women must be out there on this seven-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives” (Solnit 7.) It’s obvious that Men explain things to women because they believe that women lack the basic survival tool which is credibility. Therefore, no credibility means absolutely no worth. Now, it’s easier to understand why a husband beats his wife to silence her, why a rapist wouldn’t take a “no” for an answer or why women’s testaments aren’t trustworthy.
Solnit writes, “most of my life, I would have doubted myself and backed down. Having public standing as a writer of history helped me stand my ground, but few women gets that boost” (Solnit 7.) She admits to that being a writer has helped her gain credibility but men explain things to her, still, unapologetically. This is something women have to fight for, to gain credibility, to be heard and to be believed. I’ve read this article called Men: Stop Explaining, Start Listening, and it’s amazing how this directly responded to Solnit’s idea of credibility.
A woman named Kelly J. Baker, who held a Q&A session at a small state university in the department of religion and philosophy. Her dissertation was on the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacy and Christianity. She talks about her aggravating experience with this senior faculty member disagreed with the statement that she was making and he went on explaining how she was “all wrong about the Klan” simply because he read one article that argued it. Kelly writes, “I tried to engage him while also acknowledging that my talk was based on years of research and analysis. With a wave of his hand and a chortle, he dismissed me again with a loud comment on how wrong I was.” She also indicates that this is just one of the incidences of mansplaining, being “a petite and young-looking blonde” it strikes to men that she lacks knowledge and things needs to be explained. Even though, Kelly had absolute credibility in this situation, but she was still denied the right to speak and the right to be heard. The faculty was desperately trying to prove his point even if it means to put her down.
Kelly writes, “The real struggle of feminism, Solnit argues, is the struggle to be both credible and audible. When we keep women from speaking up, we let them know it is not their world. Women have to fight to be “reliable witnesses to their own lives.” I couldn’t agree more, it’s as if she’s narrating the tale of every woman in this patriarchal society. This book has literally enhanced my understanding of the structure and helped me to describe moments that I often found difficult to explain. Similarly, in the last chapter of this book, Solnit mentions how storytelling through social media has helped women to bring out their stories.
Solnit states, “our words are our weapons…and language is power.” She says, “if you lack words for a phenomenon, or emotion, or situation, you can’t talk about it, which means you can’t come together to address it, let alone change it” (Solnit 129.) The author offers tons of hope despite the displeasing facts and statistics that is used to support the claims she makes about various issues such as murder, rape, right to control, marriage inequalities, etc. There’s a sense of hope and optimism because more women are identifying the wrongdoings and the wrongdoers which was not possible even ten years ago. So, we have come a long way and with the help of social media and digital storytelling, I’m confident we will be able to fully eradicate mansplaining and other male dominant issues.