I made a resolution in 2016 to return and read Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me once or twice a year, just to keep that clear voice and perspective front of mind. International Women’s Day seemed to be a special moment this year to act on that resolution.
I took time today during my lunch break to read, once again, of the silencing that occurs when men talk over women. As Solnit phrases it, “Being told that, categorically, he knows what he’s talking about and she doesn’t, however minor a part of any given conversation, perpetuates the ugliness of this world and holds back its light.” We are living in an age when our civic discourse shows just how serious the impacts of this silencing can be. Solnit ends the postscript to the original essay by noting, “Having the right to show up and speak are basic to survival, to dignity, and to liberty.”
I think about this dynamic a great deal. When I’m learning from and celebrating the accomplishments of women, I am reminded of how important it is to have these basic rights. To hear from this experience and knowledge. To hear of these stories and perspectives. When I find myself speaking over women in conversations or in meetings, I am reminded (often too late) of the position of privilege that I – a white male – often take for granted.
Solnit’s is a powerful voice, and I recommend you read anything by her you can get your hands on. I went on a Solnit reading binge several months ago and found myself both humbled and enlightened.
I was also working on a presentation today which included a quote from The Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray. That quote brought her story back to my mind: that of an African American member of the LGBTQ community, Civil Rights and Women’s Rights activist, the lawyer responsible for producing what Justice Thurgood Marshall called “the Bible of Civil Rights law,” a poet and writer, the first female African American Episcopal priest, and an Episcopal saint. Pauli Murray is one of the great, underappreciated women of the 20th century who is rightfully celebrated today. The quote — which is featured on a mural in her hometown of Durham, North Carolina — is as relevant today as it was the day she said it:
“True Community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.”
Wonderful words to remember on International Women’s Day…and every day.
More to come…