“Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t.” This is a quote from Rebecca Solnit’s book Men Explain Things To Me.
The past couple of years have been challenging in a lot of ways. In particular, a lot of very important relationships have changed. My stepfather died and I lost his quiet, steady support which had been a part of my life for over twenty-five years. I also moved back to my hometown temporarily. I had a ton of fights with my teenage niece because we had drifted apart and my stepfather’s death made us unrecognizable to each other. Then we came together, she and I, as friends, comrades, and confidantes. I got to spend a great deal of time with family members I’ve only seen intermittently for years and become friends with them as well. Then again, some family members I haven’t seen often since I moved to the Midwest seemed quite surprised with the ways in which I’ve grown up.
I have opinions I didn’t have before. Moreover, I have training, knowledge, and even degrees I didn’t have before. I have convictions and confidence I didn’t have before.
This has been particularly upsetting for one person who was, and is, very important to me. Reading Solnit this morning I was struck by memories of the ways in which this person, who loves me very much, is hard pressed to admit that I am an expert on anything particularly it I disagree with him. In all the conversations we have had he has not once deigned to admit that I might be right, or even partially right. Instead, I am arrogant or condescending. Yet, he is somehow not these things when he tells me that his knowledge is more real than mine. Which is really just a way of telling me that his types of experiences, and his perceptions of them, are more valid than mine.
Sometimes it makes me angry because it is infuriating to have someone you care about deeply tell that you are wrong and ask you to apologize for being wrong without ever considering apologizing to you. It also makes me very sad because I can’t imagine how difficult and narrow life would be if I always had to be right. It would be incredibly stressful. Perhaps this is part of why men, on average, die younger than women. The most marginal benefit of constantly being told we are always wrong is being free from the hypertension inducing stress of always having to be right.
This is just part of what I mean when I say that patriarchy is bad for everyone. It sucks, as a women professionally trained in critical thinking and entrusted to teach young adults how to think critically at top ranked universities to be told by people I love that my knowledge is not enough. Not enough for them to consider taking me seriously and not enough for them to consider my side of the argument. Not enough, in short, for me to be equal to them as a person. It also sucks to see someone I care about trapped in the prison of toxic masculinity–always having to be right about everything, never enjoying the share relief of saying “I don’t know” or “I was wrong” or “I’m sorry.” All of those things are good for the human soul and be avoiding them he loses part of his humanity as well.
No, it’s not equal. As Solnit points out, the lack of willingness to grant women credibility when it comes to their own lives and perceptions gets women hurt and even killed DAILY. The consequences of women having their experience explained to them are more dangerous, and more frequent [insert the Stanford rapist story here] but that doesn’t change the fact that patriarchy. hurts. everyone.