Chapter 4&5 (Solnit)

14 Feb

In the fourth and fifth chapters of Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit continues to criticize the patriarchal hierarchy built deep into society and highlights the consequences of silencing women. In Chapter 4, Solnit examines the concept of “marriage equality” and how rather than denying it as a “threat to traditional marriage,” it should be celebrated as one (55). She begins by introducing marriage equality as the swapped phrase for “same-sex marriage” as it represents marriage as one between equals in contrast to the traditional marriage with women as subordinate to husband (56). In both British and American common law, a woman’s legal existence disappeared with marriage and it extended to her property and her body (56-57). Although there has been legislation to give women power under marriage, such as Britain’s Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, the systems of power continue to ignore women and continue to enable men to exert absolute power (56-57). These traditions of male power in relationships are exactly the dynamics feminism sought to transform (58). Solnit presents feminism’s efforts to “transform a hierarchal relationship into an egalitarian one” as the basis for the present argument of same-sex marriage (58). In same-sex relationships, the traditional roles do not fit thus allowing for an examination of the gendered qualities within marriage (58). Although many conservatives argue that reproduction and the ability to raise a child are the reason same-sex marriage is of concern, attacks on women’s rights and reproductive rights proves the point of contention is the challenging of traditional gender roles (59). While there are plenty of heterosexual couples that treat one another as equals, the disparity of power between men and women persists and marriage equality for all, not just same-sex couples, is the key to balancing the scales (59-60).

In Chapter 5, Solnit takes a more symbolic approach as she describes how women have been hidden, silenced, or forced to disappear within society. She begins with a painting (as seen on the cover of Chapter 5) in which a woman hangs white sheets on a laundry line and, while her hands and feet are visible as well as the outline of her body, the viewer cannot see her beyond her tasks (64). The artist, Ana Teresa Fernandez, paints a woman who “both exists and is obliterated” behind the role she plays in society (64). In the second section, Solnit continues on to show the obliteration of women within lineage through the erasure of maternal lines (64). As families continue to have sons, the paternal line is protected and with each new generation, groups of women are dropped from the family tree to produce a linear pattern (65). Through the third section, Solnit presents the consequences of dropping the women in lineage as all of their influence is lost (66). She defines these lost figures of influence outside of formal education as the “grandmothers” (66). Outside of the ignorance towards these maternal lines, the literal erasure of women is practiced in their names (66). Women disappear behind their father’s name when born and, in some cultures (including many English-speaking cultures), when married (67). By refusing to acknowledge women by their own name, women are absorbed into the male figure’s identity whether it be their father or their husband (67). Within the next section, Solnit describes an image containing a family of two children, a man, and in the background, a fully veiled woman. Much like the painting described in the first section, Solnit sees the veil as a physical depiction of hiding women and preserving the patrilineal world with women out of the public eye (68). In a matrilineal world, these actions would not be necessary as the sight of women would not be considered a threat but instead, many patrilineal worlds continue to conceal women and limit them to home (68). The next section describes the disappeared, los desaparecidos, of Argentina and the mothers who fought to get them back, Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (69). While they were not seen as individuals, their identity cloaked behind motherhood empowered them to continue to fight in a “limited kind of freedom” (70). In section seven, Solnit describes the violence that has encouraged women to disappear or hide in homes (70). As rapes continued on her school’s campus, her university and authorities told female students to stay in their dorms at night rather than address male students or the offenders (70). When the female students flipped the “advice” and said male students should stay at their dorms, the response was of shock as they did not want to disappear and “lose their freedom” despite it being the situation women were under (71). Solnit presented a more extreme example of violence in the form of “feminicide” or the murder of women by men, especially “lovers, husbands, [and] former partners” who sought out control in the “ultimate form of erasure” (71). Despite the constant push to disappear, especially in these violent ways, women continue to fight back and by presenting themselves, women are already moving forward (71). When jumping back to the first image, Solnit expands her initial portrayal to argue that although the woman is covered, her actions of the parts she displays may be of power (73). The subject of the matter is obscured yet the woman who is depicted is not because those actions are still a part of life (73). While each piece of this chapter displays a different part of women being silenced, hidden, or completely disappearing, all refer to the concept of a spiderweb in which all women can build their own web without getting caught and forced to hide or act a certain way (75).

Questions for Consideration:

  • Why is same-sex marriage seen as equivalent to marriage equality? Are there more factors defining same-sex marriage than gender roles or does it stand as the consequence of the feminist movement’s challenging of gender roles?
  • In chapter 5, Solnit attempts to draw in many different stories to create a larger narrative among women through the erasure of their influence or existence. As a white woman, how does Solnit’s perspective of hidden/silenced women contrast with Hook’s?
  • What elements is Solnit warning the audience to be careful of when she says “to spin the web and not be caught in it” (75)?
    • With this question, I advise doing a brief research on the concept of Grandmother Spider within different cultures, especially in the context of the Navajo, Cherokee, and Hopi peoples.


5 Replies to “Chapter 4&5 (Solnit)

  1. I think that same-sex marriage is seen equivalent to marriage equality is because both sexes in one marriage means that they are equal, whether it is between men or women. Unlike traditional marriage that is not equal, due to the woman being viewed as subservient, same-sex marriage is seen as equivalent to marriage equality because each partner has an equal amount of power. I think that gender roles are much more prevalent in heterosexual relationships because there is a stronger historical basis for what we have been told relationships should look like between a man and a women. I would assume that the connection between the feminist challenging of gender roles and same-sex marriage can be attributed to the reasoning against same-sex marriage, that it harms “traditional” marriages that enforce gender roles and sex for reproduction only. I also liked how Solnit described the erasure of women in society by describing it as more physical, while hooks describes it in a much more psychological way.

  2. Your take on Solnit’s chapters are very interesting and I would agree with her symbolic approach. Solnit claims that the swap for same-sex marriage with marriage equality was applied because same-sex marriage meant that they have the same rights that different sexed couples do. Your question regarding whether or not same sex marriage is seen as equal to marriage equality because despite whether the relationship is between the same gender or opposite gender, the same rights should be applied. It was interesting to learn about the progress of the skewed ideology of marriage. Laws used to define marriage and the husband would be an owner and the wife was the procession. Patriarchy within society determine the male as the head of a household and the women to be inferior. I think that the work of the feminist movement was interesting to know that they have made efforts to make same-sex marriage possible by transforming the hierarchal relationship. The biggest takeaway from Solnit’s chapter was the marriage equality is a threat to inequality. This notion was inspiring to see that equality within same-sex marriages threatens the outdated idea of marriage. People who advocate for equal rights of same-sex marriages have been saying that the conservatives believe it is a threat to traditional marriage. The efforts of the feminist movement are set on creating a egalitarian relationship.

  3. Solnit presents same-sex marriage as being marriage equal. Her logic is that marriage equality is present since same-sex couples tend to not have defined gender roles because they are seen and treat each other as equals and there is no subordination from one partner to another. I found this idea interesting sin Bell HOok has somewhat of a distinct theory regarding subordination and domination in same-sex relationships. In the book “Feminist Theory, from margin to center” by Bell Hooks, Hooks concludes that relationships are naturally based on power and domination, no matter what sex each partner is (Chapter 9). I find that Hook’s idea is a direct contrast with Solnit’s thought on same-sex marriage being marriage equality. I believe that same-sex marriage does tend to have fewer gender roles than heterosexual marriages and that both partners tend to treat each other as equals. But I wanted to raise Hook’s points that no matter partner’s sex, dominance will be somewhat present in a relationship.

  4. Solnit briefly explains how in the creation stories of the Hopi, Pueblo, Navajo, Choctaw, and Cherokee peoples, Spider Grandmother is the “principal creator of the universe.” In Hopi mythology, Spider Grandmother is considered the creator of woman and man, and she can take the shape of an old or timeless woman or the shape of a spider. When Spider Grandmother is called upon, she helps people in many different ways–providing advice or healing. She is seen as a leader and wise individual representative of good things. In Navajo tradition, Spider Grandmother is known as Spider Woman and is one of the most important deities. Unlike Hopi mythology, the Navajo Spider Woman is not considered the creator of woman and man but she is known as their helper and benefactor. According to a Cherokee legend, Grandmother Spider brought light to the people by stealing the sun. While each of these stories and legends are different, Spider Grandmother is largely seen as a powerful mother to human kind–bringing protection, nurturance, and guidance.
    If you’ve seen a spider spin its web, you can see how it does not get caught in its own web. I think with the quote “to spin the web and not be caught in it,” Solnit is first advising women to recognize, cultivate, and build upon their own power, strength, courage and importance. Second, she advises women to do this without getting caught up, dragged down, or silenced by gender ideologies, hierarchies, and norms. She urges women to spin their own web–to essentially create their own life and rule their own fate.

  5. Same-sex marriages face a plethora of issues that heterosexual married couples do not have to consider. One example is in the case of adopting a child, when children have adopted their adoption papers require a mother and a father. This is challenging for same-sex couples because it means that only one parent has the ability to make decisions for the child. In the worst-case scenario a same-sex couple splits up and now one parent is stripped of their ability to see their child because they are not the legal parent.
    The concept of mother spider intrigues me because in many ways women serve as the homemaker and the greatest victim of the burdens of the home. There is the saying that “without a woman, a house is not a home”, so women shoulder the responsibility of being everything to everyone leaving nothing for themselves. I recognize this with my own mother because she is everyone’s chef, therapist, nurse, etc. but because she has devoted herself so fully to that cause she oftentimes has self-sacrificial tendencies. People believe this means she is trapped in the web of her own creation. Despite what others believe my mom told her that being a mother was her choice and that she doesn’t feel trapped. This makes me wonder if Solnit is viewing womanhood with too narrow a lens. Maybe being a mother can liberate people.

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