It was, at this point, all the way back in 2008 that Rebecca Solnit released her seminal essay, “Men Explain Things To Me.” In 2014, it would go on to become the crux of her eponymous collection of essays, which also featured such titles as “The Longest War.” And it has, indeed, been the longest war–that is to say, the one between “men” and women, generally spurred by “men” constantly “clapping back” when they feel they’re being attacked or that their “authority” is being in any way “stepped on.” Women, in contrast, are still expected to sit quietly and listen intently to what the “sage” “male” has to say. To accept that her opinion is real cute and all, but now how about she sits back and listens to an “expert.” And, of course, if she says anything to negate his thoughts, he comes back with a condescending “explanation” (or “mansplanation,” if you will) of how it’s really sweet that she has her “beliefs,” but here are all the reasons she’s wrong.
Some “men” will simply respond to you with a flat-out, “No” to a thoughtfully composed “opinion” (because of course everything a woman “believes” is just an opinion–it couldn’t possibly be doctrine the way “men’s” words are). If a woman ever said “No” as a starter to a response to a “man,” it would not be received lying down. And maybe if this woman was fortunate enough to be deemed a Scholar on certain subject matters like Solnit, she would have a bit more clout, which is why Solnit admits, “I’ve had a lot more confirmation of my right to speak and think than most women, and I’ve learned that a certain amount of self-doubt is a good tool for correcting, understanding, listening and progressing–though too much is paralyzing and total self-confidence produces arrogant idiots.” Unfortunately, most packing a vagina (not to exclude trans people or nothin’–that wasn’t a J.K. Rowling moment) do not have the good fortune of being slapped with a Legitimate Book Publisher.
Luckily, Solnit can speak for the majority of women when she says, “I[’ve] objected to the behavior of a man, only to be told that the incidents hadn’t happened at all as I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest–in a nutshell, female.” Because “credibility is a basic survival tool,” “men” have been at the top of the food chain since the dawn of time, whereas women are so often working to survive without it. And still managing to prove their infinite value while operating with far fewer tools (well, minus the tools that are “men” themselves).
Solnit is careful to note that even those female voices subjugated in the West still somehow have it “better” than most other women on this planet, as she remarks, “More extreme versions of our situation exist in, for example, those Middle Eastern countries where women’s testimony has no legal standing: so that a woman can’t testify that she was raped without a male witness to counter the male rapist.”
Upon the release of Wanderlust in 2000, Solnit realized it was only after its acclaim that she gained a new level of confidence that many women still can’t ever imagine. Prior to that, she realized, “Most of my life, I would have doubted myself and backed down. Having public standing as a writer of history helped me stand my ground, but few women get that boost, and billions of women must be out there on this seven-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever. This goes way beyond Men Explaining Things, but it’s part of the same archipelago of arrogance. Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t.”
So often, there is no point in responding to anything “men” say. Especially in the comments section of, say, a pop culture article. As Solnit put it, “His scorn was so withering, his confidence so aggressive, that arguing with him seemed a scary exercise in futility and an invitation to more insult.”
Women who bother with wasting their breath (at least vocally and in front of the “man” in question as it’s happening) know better by now. That the “man” is incapable of “reception.” Or being convinced of anything other than what his own doctrine is. A doctrine he feels should be spread because “explaining men assume [we are], in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge.”
The fact that “men” have never known what it’s like to “fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being” actually makes their opinion ultimately less valuable anyway.
After the essay’s release, things, of course, got more meta for Solnit as she described, “Some men explained why men explaining things to women wasn’t really a gendered phenomenon.”
And it was a phenomenon indeed, as the essay made the rounds and clearly seemed to resonate with women everywhere. Solnit pointed out, “By 2012, the term ‘mansplained’… was being used in mainstream political journalism… and I was sometimes credited with it. In fact, I had nothing to do with its actual creation, though my essay, along with the men who embodied the idea, apparently inspired it.” Alas, even after all this time, “men” don’t appear to understand that they’re the joke when they continue to mansplain. Many of them are still too young to have an excuse for acting in such an old guard way. But then, that’s just a testament to how it takes generations for a trait to be stamped out. What’s more, pissing off the old guard is getting easier and easier to do. They’re all so rattled by losing power that they’ve turned into barking chihuahuas–all bark, no bite–ready to yap at the slightest movement of one’s mouth. Especially if what comes out of that mouth shatters their fragile worldview.
We cannot continue to live in an environment where “men’s” “presumption… makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”
In short, stop rewarding mediocrity–as has been the case for centuries of white men taking up spaces that they were only in possession of by non-virtue of their skin tone and gender. In 2020, Taylor Swift’s “mad woman” from folklore would become like a sardonic and bittersweet addendum to Men Explain Things To Me in pop song form. Because the go-to for “men” to dismiss women is, even to this day, to brand them as “cuckoo.” Thus, Swift sarcastically sings, “Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy/What about that?/And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry.” As is the usual “male” “right.” Thus, Swift, oozing with venom, delivers the chorus, “And there’s nothing like a mad woman/What a shame she went mad/No one likes a mad woman/You made her like that.” She further illuminates, “Now I breathe flames each time I talk/My cannons all firin’ at your yacht/They say, ‘Move on,’ but you know I won’t.” Rightly so. For how can any woman “move on” when every day–for what will be the foreseeable future–she’s faced with a battlefield for merely expressing herself? Is that enough of a fucking explanation for you?