Solnit – Chapters 1-5 Curation

Curation of Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit
Chapters 1-5
Gina Flanagan

In Chapter 1, Solnit tells us a story about a time when she was under estimated by a man who presumed to know more than she about the very book she had just published. Once this man finally realized who she was, she reveled in his embarrassed arrogance, which she describes as, “when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow.” This all too-often occurrence of men explaining things to women is what Solnit calls “confrontational confidence.”  Solnit says this presumption can cause lifetime damage in the same way being harassed can cause a woman to fear speaking out against her perpetrator. She says women should try to find a happy medium between self-doubt and total self-confidence.

Q:  This article, 5 Critical Steps To Fearless Confrontation, provides some excellent examples of how to handle confrontation, and is especially relative to women.  As a woman, have you ever experienced “confrontational confidence” and how did you handle it? 

In Chapter 2, Solnit discusses several topics surrounding male authoritarianism such as rape, domestic violence, and murder, and how the extent of those crimes go largely unnoticed in the world.  Society has seemed to latch onto the theory that it is more crucial to teach women how to avoid becoming a victim, rather than teach men how to avoid becoming a perpetrator. Solnit says the predominant offenders of these crimes are men with 93.5% making up the total prison population. She sums up this chapter with a call to action – it is all of our jobs to “change it.”

Q:  In 2017, Time Magazine named its person of the year “The Silence Breakers” to call awareness to rape and sexual harassment. Do you think the “Me Too” movement has affected awareness of this topic? 

Chapter 3 opens by taking a story out of 2007 headlines when the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Strauss-Kahn, was charged and convicted of sexual assault. Solnit illustrates that even the head of an organization such as the IMF, that claims its purpose is to promote employment and reduce poverty among other things, was capable of and not immune to commit violence upon a woman. She also mentions former President Bill Clinton’s shortcomings regarding the global food supply.  This also reminds us of Clinton’s infamous sex scandal with intern Monica Lewinsky, compounded by his lie to Congress and the American people, and then subsequent impeachment.

Solnit discusses and debates the meaning of “marriage equality” in Chapter 4.  Those who are for marriage-equality, often same-sex marriages, dismiss the pattern of traditional roles of the male as head of household, or having power over the female.  They choose an “egalitarian” relationship with equal status. Those opposed to marriage-equality, often male-female heterosexual couples, wish to maintain the gender role tradition, or “hierarchal” status.  There is a long history of male dominance in the traditional gender role family.  For a long time, women had no rights to their property or income.  Their husbands owned them and could physically abuse them with no legal consequences.

For hundreds of years, women could not vote to change the unfair laws that were put in place, by men, to perpetuate this continual cycle of abuse and need for control. How grateful I am for the sacrifices made by many women during the suffrage movement.  They are the reason we can vote.

  • If you haven’t seen the movie Suffragette, I highly recommend it!

Solnit tells of one extreme example of male control in the story of Ohio resident Ariel Castro.  He brutally controlled his wife and then went on to commit horrible crimes to three other women for the next 10 years.  Solnit says it is not only this type of extreme brutality that feminists condemn, but also the abuse that women suffer daily that no one ever sees.  I remember hearing about this story and being terrified knowing that it could happen to anyone.  It made me wonder how many women could be locked up in someone’s basement and no one would ever know.

Chapter 5 reminded me of why most women take their husband’s name in a traditional marriage.  This is how it has always been and so we do not really question why.  A woman’s lineage can get lost or buried in time while a man’s name continues to create a legacy.  For example, Solnit explains that the first ever “family tree” was illustrated in the Bible to document Jesus’s lineage.  This tree is only for fathers and sons and so excludes the women in the story.  Exclusion=“grandmothers.” Many years after Jesus, women were still excluded within their own marriage.  The law provided that a man would “become one with the woman,” which sounds very touching at first, but in reality meant that she would now undertake the “condition of non-existence.”

Solnit wraps up this chapter rather poetically and gives us a visual of a spider spinning a web, like a family tree, that connects families, including the women- the grandmothers, into a future that is full of opportunity, equality, individuality, and voice.


  1. Brianna Reyes

    First, I wanted to answer Gina’s Questions:
    If I have experienced confrontational confidence, I don’t remember the exact situation. However, when I experience confrontation, I tend to speak my mind, respectfully of course. I have always been the type of person to speak out in the workplace or in school if I felt something needed to be addressed. When I feel the need to address any issues, I always remind myself to stay calm. In addition, I believe to be heard in some cases, I have to be assertive and speak up. I always prepare myself before confronting any situation or problem by having 3 main points. If the problem requires more, I will have more. Being confident, organized, and assertive are my ways of handling any kind of confrontation.
    To answer Gina’s question about the “Me Too” movement, I do think the “Me Too” movement has raised some awareness about rape and sexual harassment, but this movement (in my opinion) only made a wide impact on social media. I have noticed more women and men coming forward about sexual harassment in the workplace and in other situations, rape. I think the “me too” movement did make an impact and did raise awareness. However, people are still afraid to come forward about sexual harassment and rape, in fear that people will not believe them.
    The first five chapters of Solnit were interesting to me because Solnit describes man situations I have experienced and seen other women experience. Like Gina mentions, in Chapter one, Solnit describes a time when an older man underestimates Rebecca and how that exact experience is something women often encounter. Solnit explains how some men will often assume they know things and women don’t. The idea that men think they are superior is something women have had to deal with in the workplace, at home, and in school. I personally feel like the men who act as if they are superior women often are raised by other men who hold these values. I am not saying this is the case in all situations, but I have noticed some men who are raised by single mothers or raised in a more modern household tend to be more respectful and caring about women.
    Furthermore, women are more susceptible to becoming a victim of sexual violence and in Chapter 2, Solnit digs into this topic. This topic will always be a touchy subject for some, but I strongly believe Solnit does well by explaining the struggle women face and how many rapes go unreported. As Gina mentions, Solnit describes how women are taught to avoid rape and becoming a victim, rather than teaching men not be the wrongdoer. She also mentions how colleges have not gone out of their way to try and prevent these incidents and that we must do something about it.
    Overall, these first five chapters really explain the struggle women face when it comes to men and how women have been underestimated and treated poorly by men for decades. My biggest concern is the abuse some women encounter and never speak of. When Solnit mentions this in chapter 4, I immediately started thinking of how many women I have personally seen in abusive situations. Like Gina said it really makes you wonder how many women could be in danger and we would never know.

    • Gina Flanagan

      Dear Brianna,
      Thanks for your response to my curation of Solnit Chapters 1-5. When we are put in a situation of confrontation, it is important to stay calm. Emotions can get the best of sometimes. In a situation of sexism or other types of inappropriate comments or situations, sometimes we can caught off-guard and respond in a way that is not ideal, like dismissing it by laughing it off or not saying anything at all. Women must be assertive and respond in a way that lets the person know it is not ok to speak that way. So often though women are silenced because they fear coming across as rude, belligerent, or unkind. Women try too hard to be kind sometimes in my opinion. We can quickly be given a label in the workplace for being hard to work with or not a team player. This is what makes confrontation to difficult. The consequences for women are very different from men.
      In response to your comment about men who feel they are superior. Parents certainly have a lot of influence on their children’s value system. It could be that this type of behavior was modeled in the home or a reflection of this person’s life experiences. Even if someone is raised by well-meaning parents, sometimes it is just who they are.
      The University of Richmond has a Bystander Intervention program that encourages students to look out for one another and to do something if you see something. This program aims to change the rape culture on our campus with specific directions on what you can do to prevent rape. It may be the first time that some of our students have ever heard about bystander behavior.

  2. Emily Hobbs

    Gina posed some really great connection questions. I, like most women, have experienced the situation of a man trying to explain something to a woman like she is beneath him. Growing up with four older siblings, two of them being my big brothers, helped me learn at a young age how to assert myself, stand my ground and not fall prey to the condescending men that exist in our world. It’s hard to have that “confrontational confidence” with anyone, for me at least. I am a gentle natured person, so anything opposed to peace is hard for me. But in our world, it’s so important to know how to confront confidently, maturely and when the time is right. In response to Gina’s question about the “Me Too” movement, I think it has definitely raised awareness about rape and sexual harassment. This was really a taboo subject, and of course it still is, but I think it’s so important to speak up and speak out about any injustice. Because of the feminism movement and the “Me Too” movement, women have been given a voice that they weren’t given before. It has given us a platform to be heard and to be given justice. The “confrontational confidence” mentioned earlier can easily be applied to the feminist and “Me Too” movements. We must have the courage to speak out, to stand our ground and to make our voices heard. I believe that it can make the world a better place when done with good intentions, a good heart and the right way.

    • Gina Flanagan

      Dear Emily,
      Thanks for your response to my curation of Solnit Chapters 1-5. Good for you for learning how to assert yourself at a young age! It sounds as if your older siblings played a hand in helping you to be assertive. Moreover, what a great thing for your brothers to teach you about condescending men and how to handle them. My brother definitely showed me the meaning of standing my ground as we sometimes fought, as many siblings do. Confrontational confidence does not happen overnight. It can take years to develop assertiveness, especially when it must be used regularly. When a situation goes from having to be assertive to experiencing something more serious as abuse, it can be difficult to stand your ground. Again, Solnit tells us that this type of manipulation leads to silencing victims. Women can carry this fear way into adulthood.
      I agree with you that speaking out about one’s sexual assault is at taboo in our society, which is the great thing about the #MeToo Movement. It created a space for people to relieve themselves of a great burden and to be authentic. It allows us to console one another and take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. For some women, I imagine it has made them feel justified in their accusations or their feelings about what did or did not happen to them. We can second guess ourselves and think am I being dramatic, or did I cause this because of something I did. We are not alone in these feelings. It can be hard to speak up and to stand our ground. I think we can all agree that what will make the world a better place is for people to stop creating a need for such a movement.

  3. Christina Farmer

    Thank you, Gina for outlining these chapters so well.

    For nearly 20 years I worked for a home security company as the office coordinator. For several years I ran both the Richmond and Norfolk offices with a staff of about 10 sales reps and a dozen installers. Most of the time I was the only woman working in Virginia for this company. I was also the third person hired in Virginia at this company so I had seniority. I learned to tell from the first interview if the man would be willing to work with a woman. When a man interviewing for a job asked if I could fix his coffee, that was not a good sign and I would explain he would not be able to do that with our female homeowners. If he called me by an endearment (think “sweetie”), I would reply “I’m not that sweet.” It was a constant effort for some and they did not last long.

    I loved the article and the practical steps of 1-be prepared, 2-set the stage, 3- engage productively, 4-say it well, 5-aim for a mutually satisfying solution. My concern is that the article is directed towards women and getting a compromise while I often think men are encouraged to fight (argue) until they get a win (100% of what they want).

    I really enjoyed chapter two. Well, not “enjoyed” because it was horrible. But the statistics Solnit laid out are shocking. Sometimes you will hear about a woman being assaulted by her male partner and someone will say Why doesn’t she just leave? The question we should be asking is Why doesn’t he just stop beating her?

    Page 29 speaks of a “subversive twist” on a list to avoid being raped. I found it here ( and comments included it being unfair to men. Do people think rape is unfair to women? I do think #MeToo has increased awareness of rape and sexual assault. Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Larry Nassar, R. Kelly, Jeffery Epstein and countless other famous, successful, rich men have had to face their accusers in court because of a wide variety of sexual assault claims.

    I look forward to reading more in Solnit’s book.

    • Gina Flanagan

      Dear Christy,
      Thanks for your response to my curation of Solnit Chapters 1-5. It sounds like your intuitiveness about men served you and your company well. I know I say this a lot – you can tell a lot about someone if you just listen. First impressions are very telling. For someone who worked so long at one company, and being a senior staffer, you helped to create a culture where those types of behaviors are not acceptable. That benefited you, your company and your customers. I do hope they have been able to maintain such standards after your departure. Thankfully, you brought those to UR!
      Yes, women are much more likely to take the time to follow the steps Solnit mentions. We have been trained to think that we are the problem. We are the peacekeepers and feel responsibility for doing all that we can to make a situation better. In reality, if both genders followed these steps we would have a much better world. I was struck by the documentary at someone’s comment about how men are always the one’s picking up guns. Men and women are different in many ways. Research shows differences in our chemical makeup – testosterone levels, fight or flight responses, use of different parts of the brain, etc. These should not be an excuse to be abusive. Men can use these differences for good such as in the military.
      I agree with you the shocking stastistics regarding domestic violence. We know there are many reasons that a woman does not leave after being abused. When the abuser is a husband, boyfriend, or family member it can complicate things worse for a woman. I will say that this topic sparked a very interesting conversation with my husband and me the other night. As tragic as this topic is, posing the question “why doesn’t she just leave?” was a great way to talk openly about male authoritarians and feminism.
      Thanks for sharing Sarah Silverman’s advice to men about how not commit rape – hilarious! I appreciate it when levity is brought into such a serious topic. It can get peoples attention who might otherwise not even bat an eye. My favorite was #5!

  4. Madison Dean

    Hi Gina,

    Thank you for your post this week, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! In response to Q2, yes I experience this almost every day because I am someone who suffers from severe social anxiety. Though the book talks about using critical confrontation against men, I use it towards both men and women. I instantly get anxiety when I know I am going to have to talk to someone about something that either I have a problem with or when it is about something that I feel as though it might be a burden to that person (i.e. something to do within my job). Over the years I have taught myself to use some of these steps such as rehearsing and thinking about what I will say, exactly how I will say it, and what the potential outcomes could be. I ALWAYS present the point I eventually want to get to with a story or some type of background. I know that it is usually excessive, I simply just have to bring something up, but it is something my brain requires me to do. I believe that the fearless confrontation tactics are helpful to a lot of situations, especially for people who struggle with anxiety and other mental health issues! 🙂

    • Gina Flanagan

      Dear Madison,
      Thanks for your response to my curation of Solnit Chapters 1-5. Thank you for sharing your feelings about confrontation. I too get very anxious when I must confront a situation. You never know how someone will react. Usually I imagine the worst possible outcome so I my expectations are low. Then when it turns out better than I hoped, I feel a great sense of relief. Confrontation in the workplace can be difficult especially with a supervisor or someone in an authoritative position who can affect your financial status. I love that you have been so thoughtful about how you will respond. Recently I took a course on “crucial conversations” where I learned how to begin a conversation related to a sensitive, controversial, or hurtful situation. The first thing I learned was to turn within and really examine why I feel the way I do. Do I have any implicit bias that is affecting my feelings? In the case of confrontation by an unreasonable or ignorant person, there is not a lot you can do but listen and not make the situation worse. We have all experienced that person! I also appreciate you sharing about your anxiety. My anxiety causes my heart to race and to be very quick to react – like the fight or flight response. I have been known to put myself in “timeout” in my bathroom oasis and take a breather! It sounds silly but it really does help me to get perspective. I find that we often put out into the universe what we hope to get back. For me, I try to give grace and patience because that is what I need from others.

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