What a lovely phrased coined by Rebecca Solnit in this quite powerful essay called Men Who Explain Things. There’s more to it than the title suggests of course.
Men explain things to me, and to other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men. Every woman knows what I mean. 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.
The best part is when you’re trying to defend yourself and no matter how calm you remain, they still tell you to settle down and then stop taking you seriously. If they even did in the first place. It’s odd that I work in an industry with many powerful women. Many bookstores, publishing houses, and agencies in the US are run by women. Yet we most often see men winning the prizes, men reviewed in the book pages. I just did a rough count going through stacks of the New York Times Book Review inÂ my office:
- Seven cover reviews in the last 33 weeks were written by women, two by Liesl Schillinger and two by Kathryn Harrison.
- In the current week of the NYTBR, of the 15 reviews plus five mentioned in the crime roundup, four were books written by women.
- Last week’s NYTBR, four of 16 books were written by women.
- The week before, three of 14 books were written by women.
- In this year’s Pulitzer Prizes, only two women won in any category and none in the Letters, Drama, Music section.
- In this year’s National Book Awards, no women won any of the prizes.
That’s just a quick and dirty search. I’m sure people will come back saying, well, women aren’t writing as many books, or they’re not writing the kinds of books that might be nominated for prizes, or some such thing. Men still seem to dominate the conversation in the book world. Perhaps I need to speak up more.