Reading ‘Men Explain Things to Me’ by Rebecca Solnit, Part 2

Mental illness and violence in America:
“Mental illness is, however, more often a matter of degree, not kind, and a great many people who suffer it are gentle and compassionate. And by many measures, including injustice, insatiable greed, and ecological destruction, madness, like meanness, is central to our society, not simply at its edges.

In a fascinating op-ed piece last year, T.M. Luhrmann noted that when schizophrenics hear voices in India, they’re more likely to be told to clean the house, while Americans are more likely to be told to become violent. Culture matters. Or as my friend, the criminal defense investigator who knows insanity and violence intimately put it, ‘When one begins to lose touch with reality, the ill brain latches obsessively and delusionally onto whatever its immersed in — the surrounding culture’s illness.’ ” –pp122

Language opening a landscape for change:
“Language is power. When you turn ‘torture’ into ‘enhanced interrogation,’ or murdered children into ‘collateral damage,’ you break the power of language to convey meaning, to make us see, feel, and care. But it works both ways. You can use the power of words to bury meaning or to excavate it. If you lack words for a phenomenon, an emotion, a situation, you can’t talk about it, which means that you can’t come together to address it, let along change it. Vernacular phrases — ‘Catch 22,’ ‘monkeywrenching,’ ‘cyberbullying,’ ‘the 99 percent and the 1 percent’ — have helped up to describe but also to reshape our world. This may be particularly true of feminism, a movement focused on giving voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless.” –pp129

No violence can be isolated, it also operates in a culture and of degrees:
“Six years ago, when I sat down and wrote the essay ‘Men Explain Things to Me,’ here’s what surprised me: though I began with a ridiculous example  of being patronized by a man, I ended with rapes and murders. We tend to treat violence and the abuse of power as though they fit into airtight categories: harassment, intimidation, threat, battery, rape, murder. But I realize now that what I’m saying is: it’s a slipper slope. That’s why we need to address that slope, rather than compartmentalizing the varieties of misogyny and dealing with each separately. Doing so has meant fragmenting the picture, seeing the parts, not the whole.” –pp134

The long journey of progress:
“Feminism is an endeavor to change something very old, widespread, and deeply rooted in many, perhaps most, cultures around the world, innumerable institutions, and most households on Earth — and in our minds, where it all begins and ends. That so much change has been made in four or five decades is amazing; that everything is not permanently, definitively, irrevocably changed is not a sign of failure. A woman goes walking down a thousand-mile road. Twenty minutes after she steps forth, they proclaim that she still has nine hundred ninety-nine miles to go and will never get anywhere.” — pp140

Progressive ideas and setbacks:
“What doesn’t go back in the jar or the box are ideas. And revolutions are, most of all, made up of ideas. You can whittle away at reproductive rights, as conservatives have in most states of the union, but you can’t convince the majority of women that they should have no right to control their own bodies. Practical changes follow upon changes of the heart and mind. Sometimes legal, political, economic, environmental changes follow upon those changes, though not always, for where power rests matters.” –pp142

When language limits women:
“And the casual sexism is always there to rein us in, too: a Wall Street Journal editorial blaming fatherless children on mothers throws out the term ‘female careerism.’ Salon writer Amanda Marcotte notes, ‘Incidentally, if you Google ‘female careerism,’ you get a bunch of links, but if you Google ‘male careerism,’ Google asks if you really  meant ‘male careers’ or even ‘mahle careers.’ ‘Careerism’ — the pathological need to have paid employment — is an affliction that only affects women, apparently.” — pp148

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