The writer and activist Rebecca Solnit is best known for her essay Men Explain Things to Me, where she described a male guest at a party who explained her own book to her, and explored the cultural assumption that women (especially young women) know nothing and are there only to listen and learn from men. (A commenter on the essay coined the word “mansplaining” to describe this phenomenon.)

Solnit argues that this dynamic affects women and girls not only in conversation, but professionally and legally, sometimes at the cost of their lives. In a culture that tells us that men are more knowledgeable and believable than women, no one objects when men are promoted over their female colleagues and paid more for the same work, or when survivors of abuse are ignored and dismissed and their perpetrators face no consequences. All of these problems share a root cause: the idea that women, no matter their age or experience, are not, as Solnit writes, “in possession of facts and truths”. Due to their youth and relative lack of power, girls are even more at risk of being silenced and dismissed as unreliable witnesses, too young to be listened to.

The essay, published more than 15 years before the #MeToo movement, is even more resonant today, and captures the exhaustion that comes from having to fight “the war on two fronts”.

By putting the dynamic of mansplaining into words, Solnit gives girls the power to talk about it, to arm ourselves against it, and to protect ourselves and each other from being talked over, interrupted, belittled, and dismissed. She ends the essay by noting, “Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime. I’m still fighting it, 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.”

At Girl Museum, we are fighting too: to highlight the work that girls and women have made in these challenging circumstances, to witness their lives, search for their voices and make room for them, and believe what they tell us.

Jennifer Lee
Curator
Girl Museum Inc.

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