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


Reading ‘Men Explain Things to Me’ by Rebecca Solnit, Part 1

On who exactly is so dangerous:
“Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who commit mass murders in the United States and the (mostly hostile) commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says that this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.

It’s not that I want to pick on men. I just think that if we noticed that women are, on the whole, radically less violent, we might be able to theorize where violence comes from and what we can do about it a lot more productively. Clearly the ready availability of guns is a huge problem for the United States, but despite this availability to everyone, murder is still a crime committed by men 90 percent of the time.” –pp24

On the freedom of women as liberation for all:
“Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be free and powerful. But we are free together of slaves together. Surely the mindset of those who think they need to win, to dominate, to punish, to reign supreme must be terrible and far from free, and giving up this unachievable pursuit would be liberatory.” –pp35

On women historically losing personhood during marriage:
“The British judge William Blackstone wrote in 1765, in his influential commentary on English common law and, later, American law, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband.” Under such rules, a woman’s life was dependent on the disposition of her husband, and though there were kind as well as unkind husbands then, rights are more reliable than the kindness of someone who holds absolute power over you.” –pp56

on same-sex marriage equality rocking the gender-unequal foundations of heterosexual marriage:
“…even people who weren’t particularly nasty were deeply unequal in the past. I also know a decent man who just passed away, age ninety-one: in his prime he took a job on the other side of the country without informing his wife that she was moving or inviting her to participate in the decision. Her life was not hers to determine. It was his.” –pp59-60

reflection on erasure/assertion of female presence, viewing Ana Teresa Fernandez’s Telaraña:
“To spin the web and not be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not just straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sign and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out.” –pp75

Photos from the Women’s March on Washington

Friends marched literally around the world and I could not have been more inspired. There were so many people in D.C. that we could barely march. On the ride home, my friend and I discussed how we as white women can support women of color in the fight for equal rights. Hope you also had an inspiring weekend!