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
Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for
explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t. Not yet, but
according to the actuarial tables, I may have another forty-something years
to live, more or less, so it could happen. Though I’m not holding my breath.
The term “mansplaining”
Not that I went out looking for incidents: they’re everywhere in the
news, though no one adds them up and indicates that there might actually
be a pattern.
There is, however, a pattern of violence against women that’s broad and
deep and horrific and incessantly overlooked. Occasionally, a
case involving a celebrity or lurid details in a particular case get a lot of
attention in the media, but such cases are treated as anomalies, while the
abundance of incidental news items about violence against women in this
country, in other countries, on every continent including Antarctica,
constitute a kind of background wallpaper for the news.
Someone wrote a piece about how white men seem to be the ones who
commit mass murders in the United States and the (mostly hostile)
commenters only seemed to notice the white part. It’s rare that anyone says
what this medical study does, even if in the driest way possible: “Being
male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in
several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having
antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family.” It’s not that I want to pick on men. I just think that if we noticed that
women are, on the whole, radically less violent, we might be able to
theorize where violence comes from and what we can do about it a lot more
It’s a system of control. It’s why so many intimate-partner murders are of women who dared to break up with those partners.
A woman is beaten every nine seconds in this country. Just
to be clear: not nine minutes, but nine seconds. It’s the number-one cause of
injury to American women; of the two million injured annually, more than
half a million of those injuries require medical attention while about
145,000 require overnight hospitalizations, according to the Center for
Disease Control, and you don’t want to know about the dentistry needed
afterwards. Spouses are also the leading cause of death for pregnant women
in the United States. “Women worldwide ages 15 through 44 are more likely to die or be
maimed because of male violence than because of cancer, malaria, war and
traffic accidents combined,” writes Nicholas D. Kristof, one of the few
prominent figures to address the issue regularly.
What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how
masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the
way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed.
Women’s liberation has often been portrayed as a movement intent
on encroaching upon or taking power and privilege away from men, as
though in some dismal zero-sum game, only one gender at a time could be
free and powerful. But we are free together or slaves together. Surely the
mindset of those who think they need to win, to dominate, to punish, to
reign supreme must be terrible and far from free, and giving up this
unachievable pursuit would be liberatory.