Sunday, October 14, 2012

Men Explain Things To Me

A good article on the Harvard Divinity School web site that I found via VIDA on Facebook. The author, Sarah Sentilles, is writing about how her book called "Breaking Up with God: A Love Story" was received and the pattern of condescension and dismissal she noticed and suspects is based on sexist assumptions.

She references another great article, by Rebecca Solnit called "Men Explain Things to Me" which is a treasure trove of outrage and insightful commentary. Solnit starts out with an anecdote:
...He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?" 
So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book... (that) I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, "That's her book." Or tried to interrupt him anyway. 
But he just continued on his way. She had to say, "That's her book" three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn't read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless -- for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we've never really stopped.
I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that's eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet.
Then she goes on to make an important point about men thinking that their opinions always trump women's and negate female experience:

Credibility is a basic survival tool. When I was very young and just beginning to get what feminism was about and why it was necessary, I had a boyfriend whose uncle was a nuclear physicist. One Christmas, he was telling -- as though it were a light and amusing subject -- how a neighbor's wife in his suburban bomb-making community had come running out of her house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. How, I asked, did you know that he wasn't trying to kill her? He explained, patiently, that they were respectable middle-class people. Therefore, her-husband-trying-to-kill-her was simply not a credible explanation for her fleeing the house yelling that her husband was trying to kill her. That she was crazy, on the other hand... 
...About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It's one of the main causes of death in pregnant women in the U.S. At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible.

But until recently it was considered more likely that a woman claiming her husband was trying to kill her had to be crazy. Because that's what men decided.

And this ties into the whole TALLEY'S FOLLY issue, where the actor I argued with, as well as author Landford Wilson, assumes that Matt was fully justified in silencing, physically restraining, and blocking the door of his so-called "love" interest - and then lecturing her on the proper way for people to behave - because she was too crazy to understand that her brothers were going to literally kill Matt for being Jewish.

But maybe instead, Matt should have been worried that they might do something to him because he was holding their sister hostage.