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a log of books & things.

Mansplaining + reading Rebecca Solnit


Yes, people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Yes, people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

— Rebecca Solnit. Men Explain Things to Me. 2014. 

So bloody true. I first ran into Rebecca Solnit’s essay Men Explain Things to Me a couple of years ago when I was in the middle of a rather brutal showdown with a couple of male friends on a social networking site revolving around a crass joke about aliens, flat chests, lesbians and feminists. And things somehow shifted to a larger tiff about post-feminism and the utterly blasé way it’s usually employed to refer to “progressive” positions which endorse and seek to justify and exculpate rape jokes, for instance, or self-consciously anti-feminist positions assumed, the same people will argue to the end of eternity, have been assumed because, we are post-feminists and of course we’re all liberal and progressive when it comes to women’s rights so of course women must realise these jokes are just jokes and we’ve all gone far enough on the feminist bandwagon to take for granted that feminism is passé now for it’s already won all its battles. Mansplaining happens EVERYWHERE. Not just with male friends who have a final authority on apparently male territories of gaming, music, theory … it can go on. Bottomline, any territory with a man anywhere remotely in its vicinity becomes male territory with the man immediately appointing himself the last sentinel, the omniscient narrator, the Word, so to speak, who fashions the schema that controls the perceptions of that particular terrain. Which of course boils down to, whatever I now say about X is going to be held to be true by virtue of me possessing a certain anatomical protrusion. Mansplaining happens with family so often that we fail to recognise it when it does because we are too socially conditioned to accept hierarchies which naturalise the functioning of a family as the basic functioning unit of a society to the extent that we forget it’s also the primary vehicle of the perpetuation of patriarchy since clans started turning exogamous. Brothers do it; cousins do it; far off distant male relatives do it; fathers do it. And most women, if they don’t wise up to these power dynamics end up stifled into non-functioning, second class subjects deriving their identity, self-validation purely from male association and approval. It’s so exhausting to always try and be alert to cues which oppress/ silence, and I wasn’t surprised after I mailed this to a bunch of my women friends when they told me that, yes, we have all experienced this, and ridiculously frequently, but most of us just don’t have the language to articulate it because that’s also another way in which silencing, and power structures operate — by denying you access to certain modes of articulation that will interrogate and posit a threat to the dominant structure, and thus making invisible and consequently delegitmising your experience of the occurrence of instances of silencing. All you have to do it talk about it with men — if it’s men who are initiating the act of silencing in a given context. The denials will come flooding in — what are you talking about? that just makes no sense! you couldn’t speak up in that given context because you just aren’t smart/ quick/ discerning enough, and now you’re using accusations of silencing as an excuse to pat yourself on the back and excuse yourself for not getting to the finishing line before your male counterpart. Of course, nobody will dare talk about how the structure enables only certain entities participating in its organisation and equips the same entities to access certain routes to success better and utilize it productively. 


Solnit’s book isn’t trenchant through and through. The first essay, which is probably a reworking/ expansion of her original essay (which I tried perfunctorily to find and link to this rant but couldn’t anywhere) is possibly the most engaging piece. The rest is a sometimes oversimplified cursory flitting between some major moods and obsessions of feminist discourse — Woolf, rape culture, neoliberalism/ capitalism and women, advertisement culture and the colonisation of women’s bodies/ lives. Some passages are downright problematic as well. For instance, this chunk on violence:

We have an abundance of rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it’s almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender.

I get what she is probably driving at — the all-pervasive nature of violence, that cuts across barriers of race, class, religion, nationality — but this simply conveys a dangerous message, that violence is purely gendered. I think it’s important to emphasise the intersectionality upon which processes of violence-generation are predicated which are definitely/ definitively classed, raced, and simultaneously may or may not happen to further nationalist/ religious agenda. 

Another problematic passage is this other one on the historical antecedents of violence against women where she links colonisation/ processes of imperialism/ neo-imperialism to acts of gendered violence, which is essentialising to say the least, and goes against a lot of strands of feminist writing which have previously tried to uncouple understandings of violence on a global scale from typifying gendering and unpack the problems of how, popularly, imaginaries of violence seem to assume a gendered dimension. These imaginaries don’t merely work on the scale of a metaphor but also contribute powerfully to concretise stereotypical gender tropes, that of the man as sole sexual aggressor, and the woman as passive recipient/ victim, and form the basis of highly problematic epistemologies. Orientalism, anyone? Come on, you can’t be writing like this after Said. 

How can I tell a story we already know too well? Her name was Africa. His was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her, and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted with a high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Côte d’Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity. Her name was Asia. His was Europe. Her name was silence. His was power. Her name was poverty. His was wealth. Her name was Her, but what was hers? His name was His, and he presumed everything was his, including her, and he thought he could take her without asking and without consequences. It was a very old story, though its outcome had been changing a little in recent decades. And this time around the consequences are shaking a lot of foundations, all of which clearly needed shaking.


Reading Rebecca Solnit led me to this excellent tumblr, though:

We need more such fora to articulate daily experiences of silencing. Only way to turn moments of silence and subjugation to fulfilling self-expression and self-determined, self-validated identities. 

 Ofra Amit

(Source: washm)

Mia Todd. Spring. 

(Source: pissdrunxx)


Let’s walk on the sky!

Mood Indigo. Michael Gondry. 2013. 


Let’s walk on the sky!

Mood Indigo. Michael Gondry. 2013. 

The End of History? 25 years on. 

Notes Beyond Deleuze & Guattari - Social Machines and Time as Ideology

(Source: fucktheory)

Through The Olive Trees (1994) - dir. Abbas Kiarostami

(Source: nokiabae)

"Take good care of her."

(Source: suzanneclements)

Breaking the Waves, Lars Von Trier (1996)

(Source: just-around-midnight)

Bangalore, right now.

Bangalore, right now.

(Source: danceintherainworld, via lockeand-saga)