The book is a collection of Solnit’s essays, starting with the title one, but touching on many aspects in which women are made to feel lesser and become objects of violence. For me what Solnit does in her essays is track the origin of violence, she focuses on violence towards women, but I do think her arguments can also be considered in broader context, basically as soon as you take somebody’s voice away, you stop listening to them, it dehumanizes that person and makes them a potential victim of violence, purely because they are not considered human or equal anymore.
I will not explain what mansplaining is, because either you know already or you’re perfectly capable of finding out. Solnit starts from words and conversations and shows how quickly the lack of respect turns into contempt, into feeling better and stronger and then into feeling allowed to use violence, because if you think of it not-listening and talking down at someone is already a passive-aggressive behaviour, a form of violence. I appreciated very much that Solnit makes sure to steer clear from man hating, she makes it clear the behaviours she describes are prevalent, but she tries not to generalize, not to assume anything.
She starts with mansplaining, but then moves on to other aspects, her essay on the case of Dominique Strauss-Kahn is full of anger at the equality, the self-righteousness, at how what happened is a symptom of wider problem. How the settlement in the civil case brought us back to square one by taking the maid’s voice away from her.
There is also a beautiful essay on Virginia Woolf, on creativity and finding ones voice, it is a thoughtful collection of texts. I think what resonated most in the whole book with me was the Cassandra’s curse, the fact that by default women are perceived as less credible, not only by men, by other women too. We’re raised in a way that makes us doubt ourselves by default, and then this doubt infects all the women.
The book is illustrated with beautiful paintings by Ana Teresa Fernandez, they tell their own story.
I enjoyed the book a lot, but there was one thing worrying me, if I was the reader then it was preaching to the choir. I mean it is nice to read something that confirms ones thoughts, but on the other hand, it didn’t bring anything new to my world, and there is no way to make it mandatory reading for men, so I am a bit doubtful about the impact. But hey! Maybe this is another sign of the Cassandra’s curse.