In recognition of the Super Sunday victories of Hillary and Donald Dumpf, I finally read Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit. The title is but one of the essays in this collection of musings about the status of women as we stand today – all around the world as well as in America. But it was this one that got my dander up the most because she addresses the basic nature of the “war of the sexes.” We tend to compartmentalize different women’s issues into separate institutions and causes. Domestic violence, all manner of rape and harassment, as well as reproductive freedom should be addressed as stemming from the root issues we don’t hear about: credibility and agency.
Credibility is the crazy idea that a woman’s word should be taken as legitimate before it is run through a barrage of doubtful questions. Solnit writes that she once had a dinner with a boyfriend’s father. He told of an incident in his neighborhood (in Oak Ridge, TN apparently) when a neighbor’s wife ran into the street naked one night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. He was merely bemused. Mrs. Solnit asked how he knew her husband wasn’t trying to kill her and he explained that they were simply respectable people. So, to him, the more credible possibility was that the woman was crazy.
If you or anyone you know has been sexually assaulted or harassed on the job, most of the battle towards justice is getting authorities to believe you. Even your first brave outcry is met with questions about the nature of your relationship with the offender and whether you have a boyfriend or husband. Apparently cops think women are prone to crying rape after a consensual encounter so their partners won’t get mad if they find out.
“Credibility is a basic
But on a less extreme level, “Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they are talking about. Some men.” Every time I am in a discussion with men about a man subject – such as policy, religion, or science fiction/fact – I have a creeping feeling that most are biding time before they can speak again and they have gone to whatever white noise space in their giant heads they go to when a woman opines. That is, after I have yelled them down enough to listen to me. Frequently they don’t care for my sass.
My least favorite man-phrase is “Okay. Hmmm. I’ll buy that.” As if I am possibly selling some sort of snake oil instead of describing a lucid idea – or the truth as I know it. As Solnit succinctly writes, ” . . . I objected to the behavior of a man only to be told that the incidents hadn’t happened at all like I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest – in a nutshell, female.” Add strident, shrill, and harping to that list whenever we have a complaint. Any complaint. (Whereas “to hold forth” is a very masculine action verb.) She calls this an “invitation to silence.”
The best way to maintain the silence of women is by destroying their rights as sovereign beings. Agency is the notion that women own themselves, body and mind, and have the means to be heard and advocate for themselves. We should have enough power in society to be able to change things for ourselves. Right now we do not.
A fabulous documentary with a lot of super kick-ass ladies like Katie Couric, Gloria Steinem, Margaret Cho, Gina Davis, et al. is Miss Representation. It exposes how mainstream media contribute to the massive under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. We are 51% of the population and 17% of our lawmakers. (And the laid back not-quite-half of SCOTUS).
When you understand what having agency means, a lot of touchy issues become a little more clear. Take abortion and reproductive rights. The touchiest. No matter what choice a woman does or does not make about becoming a mother, an unwanted pregnancy is fucking terrifying. If you will be bearing the brunt of the expense and insanity a new human brings with it into the world, knowing what we all do about the state of employment and benefits for single women, you are staring down a problem that will cause heartbreak no matter what happens.
That’s the reality. We are never going to “solve” abortion. All women need to understand that if you limit another woman’s agency in one arena of society you erode it on every level. Even though anti-choice activists fervently believe they are saving a pregnant woman (or child) from their own bad decisions and future regret, they are still stealing her ability to control the course of the life that belongs to her. I am a woman of faith (a Christian faith *gasp*) and firmly believe that free will is ordained by God.
Is it not?
The laws they advocate for strip our rights as a whole. No man will ever have an abortion or a baby. Of all the issues that women should control in the legislative body, this is the only that is exclusive to us. But men and the misguided women who work with them are robbing women I know of health care services in all respects.
Alright. Enough of that.
Here I will mention a recent silencing. The women (and men) who were targets of the #Gamergate harassment campaign are being silenced through raw fear for their lives. The threat of violence is frequently as limiting and life destroying as violence itself. That these sorts of coordinated attacks are never as aggressively investigated and prosecuted as other actions which directly harm a person, is either a massively stupid interpretation of what free speech means or we’ve still got a really long way to go, baby. (#Gamergate is still officially referred to as a “controversy” by the way).
Again, any sensible woman would understand the seriousness of using the vast influence of inconnectivity to destroy a person’s safety, livelihood, and participation in a chosen field. But we are not, for the most part, the gender who decides what laws are needed to keep us safe and healthy.
It seems to make no sense. It does not compute.
“One of the most radical things you can do is to actually believe women when they talk about their experiences.”
of the Feminist Frequency
But I have digressed. Rebecca Solnit’s essay collection is an amazing introduction for anyone (especially an ally) who is wondering why feminism is now necessary and won’t stop growing anytime soon.