This recurring feature, curated by Pilgrim Soul, directs Harpy readers to important feminist thoughts and concepts as spoken by some of her favourite feminists on and off the web. The appraisal of the value of these snippets is, of course, entirely Pilgrim Soul’s, and does not necessarily reflect the views of other Harpies. Feel free to discuss in the comments here.
As is, I imagine, the case for many of you, I often have the misfortune of speaking with men who appear to think I was born yesterday. I am not sure what gives off this impression, particularly because these are often the same sorts of men who, should our acquaintance be an extended one, find themselves some way to tell me that they feel I would make for a very intimidating girlfriend. (I assure you this opinion is not a solicited one.) In thinking about these men recently I was reminded of this op-ed by Rebecca Solnit, which has probably been read by fewer than ten of the men to which it is applies (since they would hate to have something explained to them by a woman). I would really like it if this became a primary text for many people, but then, I always was a dreamer. Describing a man who once took it upon himself to lecture Ms. Solnit about a book that turned out, in the end to be hers, and which he hadn’t even read, she observes:
Yes, guys like this pick on other men’s books too, and 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.
Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that 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.
I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs, or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)
Arrogance might have had something to do with the war, but this syndrome is a war that nearly every woman faces every day, a war within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to let Mr. Important and his overweening confidence bowl over my more shaky certainty.
Don’t forget that I’ve had a lot more confirmation of my right to think and speak 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, like the ones who have governed us since 2001. There’s a happy medium between these poles to which the genders have been pushed, a warm equatorial belt of give and take where we should all meet.
I really doubt that any of our readers have been much accused of passivity, and yet, even I recognize myself in this a lot, because a lot of the time I don’t say anything.
Tell us if this happens to you.