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Are Privileged Western Women Being Crushed into Silence?

According to an op-ed by Rebecca Solnit in the Los Angeles Times, it's not only Muslim women who are fighting a war for their rights. Someone forgot to tell Amy Alkon.

by
Amy Alkon

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April 14, 2008 - 1:01 am

I couldn’t believe the piece by Rebecca Solnit I read in the Sunday Los Angeles Times Opinion section; mainly because I found it too stupid to publish.

Solnit mewls on for 1,863 words about how women are patronized and silenced by men.

But, wait. Let me check. (Peering down into pants and then panties) Yup, there’s a vagina in my pants, which suggests I’m either a woman or there’s a matched, escaped set of labia taken up hiding in my underwear. Most mysteriously, I don’t seem to suffer the myriad conversational injustices from men that Solnit and so many other women apparently do.

Solnit opens her piece by describing how she was conversationally pummeled by a guy about Eadweard Muybridge, when she’d actually written the very book the guy was holding forth on. “Men explain things to me,” complains Solnit, “and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean.”

We do? I think somebody forgot to send me the memo. Yet, Solnit claims this terrible injustice is something “nearly every woman faces every day,” which “makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field,” and “keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare.” (“When they dare”? The woman writes like Mr. Darcy is going to pop up from behind the copier at any moment.) Solnit goes on and on about how this “syndrome” (yes, everything must be pathologized) “crushes young women into silence” and “trains” women “in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.”

First of all, I write a syndicated dating and relationship column, and I have to say, if there’s one problem with men these days, it isn’t “unsupported overconfidence.” I likewise can’t say I’ve ever felt “crushed into silence” or any of the maudlin rest. So… either my dad, who taught me to stand up for myself, and told me over and over that I could do anything boys could do, is unique among fathers in America, or there’s a name for what Solnit’s peddling, and it’s “grassy-knoll feminism.”

Meanwhile, Solnit herself, who, most annoyingly, Likes To Use Capital Letters For Emphasis All Over The Damn Place, says that even she, a woman who has “public standing as a writer of history,” had a moment when she “was willing to believe Mr. Very Important and his overweening confidence over (her) more shaky certainty.”

Sorry, but if you have “shaky certainty,” do you blame men, or sign up for a little assertiveness training? So much of what women do blame men for — women’s lower starting salaries in the workplace, for example — traces back to women passively accepting what’s presented to them, whether it’s some boorish jerk’s assertion, or the first dollar offer they’re made for a job. This is correctable, but not by writing long-winded screeds against men in the Los Angeles Times.

Although Solnit comes up continually short on guts in conversational situations, she’s remarkably gutsy about aligning herself and other privileged Western women with a silenced sisterhood of women living under Islam, “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.”

Of course, the difference is that women in Muslim countries are not, by law, allowed to testify. Western women like Solnit simply refrain from speaking up. Some loudmouth cut her off? Wow. While Muslim women fear lashings and death if they speak their minds, Solnit’s simply too limp-willed to say, as I’ve said numerous times, and to men and women, “Don’t interrupt!” or “My turn to talk!”

When that doesn’t work, like when I was on the TV show, “Faith Under Fire,” with the booming blowhard Frank Pastore, I began removing my mike, and told the host I was going to walk off if Pastore kept shouting over me. (I may not have been born with balls, but I keep a little set in my makeup bag, and bring them out on an as-needed basis.)

I drew on further personal experience when Solnit ventured into familiar territory — restraining order-land. I call it familiar territory because two jerks (Katherine Morgan and Robert Feist of the sound house Ravenswork) took out a restraining order on me a few years back. Not because they had any proof I was violent (I’m not, and they clearly didn’t think I was, since they never called the police to accuse me of, get this, using unladylike language on Morgan when Ravenswork employees were usurping neighborhood parking). Yet, easy as pie, Morgan and Feist filed a restraining order against me in Santa Monica court; apparently, as a revenge move. Naturally, it was eventually dismissed.

Forgive me if, in light of my experience, I find it a little hard to believe this bit from Solnit: “Even getting a restraining order — a fairly new legal tool — requires acquiring the credibility to convince the courts that some guy is a menace….”

Yeah? Tell that to David Letterman, who had a restraining order taken out on him by a New Mexico woman who claimed he was sending her coded messages through her TV. Clearly, there’s a very high standard of evidence here.

Solnit’s own standard for evidence leaves something to be desired. She next tosses out a statistic, “About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It’s a leading cause of death among pregnant women in the U.S.” And where’s this stat from? We really can’t say, because Solnit, who’s billed as a historian, doesn’t bother to offer any sourcing. I guess we’re just supposed to take it on faith that men are such horrible, women-crushing creatures that her stats must be correct.

Yeah, those men… if they aren’t raping or murdering us (or driving across town to bring us fresh chicken soup for our cold, in my boyfriend’s case), they’re insisting we’re “delusional.” Solnit writes about objecting to the behavior of a couple of men, only to be told (apparently by the men) “that the incidents hadn’t happened at all as I said they had, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest — in a nutshell, female.”

Sorry, Rebecca, but based on what you’ve written in this op-ed piece, I’m not having a whole lot of trouble finding you “subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest.”

Solnit continues: “Most of my life, I would have doubted myself and backed down.” And clearly, men are the culprits! To further prove her point, Solnit trots out another dinner conversation with another man of Capital Letters; in this case, “Mr. Very Important II,” who disputed something she said. Solnit writes that “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.”

Again, it’s the fault of men that Solnit kept her lip Krazy Glue’d shut, and waited until she got back to her hotel room to Google the information — despite having researched and written a book that touched on the subject. And, yes!… ding, ding, ding!… we have a winner! It seems that, per Solnit’s Googling, Solnit, not “Mr. Very Important II,” was correct. And so, years after that dinner, Solnit unleashes this little gem for him — in print, in the LA Times: “Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.”

If you’re reading this”? Years later?!

Uh, Ms. Solnit? See directly above? The carbuncle bit? Say that. That is, if you can’t first get your wee voice above a squeak to say, “Hey, ya big lug, close your yap for a minute! I wrote a book on this!”

Solnit rounds out her 1,863-word pity party with two particularly ripe paragraphs. First this:

”The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled many women — of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to mention the countless women who came before me and were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.”

Finally, Solnit, who again sees no shame in connecting her level of freedom of speech with that of a woman in Pakistan, claims, most melodramatically, that “the war” for a woman’s right to speak “won’t end in (her) lifetime.”

“I’m still fighting it,” she continues, “for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.”

Poor dear. I have to say, I feel for soldiers, and even sent some of our men and women over there in the Middle East some care packages early on. I’m willing to provide the same service now for our warrior against the zipped female lip, the brave Rebecca Solnit.

Rebecca, if you’re out there, I’ll give you one free hour with me in training in how to become a loud, bossy broad when situations call for it. Reading some of Cathy Seipp’s work might help you prep for our session.

And here’s a bit of shocking news for you: Women in the West are allowed in the laboratory, the library, and the conversation, and have been for quite some time. But, sometimes, people, even people with vaginas like me, are conversational self-serving jerks who will roll over meek little women like you with reckless abandon.

Four words: “Speak up already, lady!”

Amy Alkon is a syndicated advice columnist in over 100 newspapers, blogging daily at advicegoddess.com.

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