Our team covers subjects relevant to women's lives and encourages timely conversations
related to our existence as compassionate, informed citizens.
Welcome to our Books Abroad blog space. Check here for information, insights, reviews and tips from our wonderful feminist literature team experts!
Team Leaders: Connie Borde & Sheila Malovany-Chevallier
Contact: [email protected]
The serious side of ‘mansplaining’ has been lost. That’s where the harm begins.
The key context of the word inspired by my 2008 essay is that mansplaining is one part of a huge problem – of who gets listened to, and who gets believed.
I have a file on my desktop titled Mansplaining Olympic Tryouts, mostly screenshots of some of the most epic specimens I’ve come across on social media or that people have steered my way. They’re grimly hilarious: a man explaining vaginas to a noted female gynaecologist, a man telling Sinn Féin adviser Siobhán Fenton to read the Good Friday agreement (she replied with a picture of herself with the book she wrote on that agreement), and the famous incident with Dr Jessica McCarty, about which she tweeted: “At a Nasa Earth meeting 10 years ago, a white male postdoc interrupted me to tell me that I don’t understand human drivers of fire, that I def needed to read McCarty et al. I looked him in the eye, pulled my long hair back so he could read my name tag. ‘I’m McCarty et al.’”
The word mansplaining was coined by an anonymous person in response to my 2008 essay Men Explain Things to Me and has had a lively time of it ever since. It was a New York Times word of the year in 2010, and entered the Oxford English Dictionary in 2018; versions of it exist in many other languages from French to Icelandic, and the essay itself has appeared in many languages including Korean and Swedish. People often recount the opening incident in that almost 15-year-old essay, in which a man explained a book to me, too busy holding forth to notice that I was its author, as my friend was trying to tell him.
But pretty briskly the essay moved from the amusing to the terrifying: I then recounted an incident in which a middle-aged man explained to a very young me, chuckling, that when his neighbour ran out of the house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her, he was confident that she was crazy and her husband was not murderous, simply because of his assumptions about gender.
Here’s what almost everyone seems to miss about mansplaining, including those doing the formal studies as well as the people telling the funny stories. It’s one corner of a colossal problem, in which biases, statuses and assumptions warp everyday life and allocate more credibility, audibility and consequence to some people than others. All this creates what I think of as inequality of voice. Whether you’re trying to convince doctors that your pain is real or neighbours that your husband is trying to kill you, it can be a life-or-death issue. It matters in offices, classrooms, conferences, boardrooms, in hospitals, on the street, in bedrooms and at dinner tables.
One high-profile recent incident of people who assumed they had the authority to control the narrative came with the police murder of Tyre Nichols, one of many incidents in recent years where video told a very different story to the one told by the police. Somehow they seem to assume that they have the impunity that comes with controlling the narrative, which in cases like this mean literally expecting to get away with murder. Inequality of voice is one of the most powerful elements of inequality of all kinds. Children and elderly people are routinely treated as incompetent witnesses to their own lives and needs. Poor people, immigrants and people with disabilities are likewise treated as subordinates and incompetents.
Non-white people are too often assumed to be less trustworthy, less qualified to speak and act in many kinds of situation, and – to state the obvious – too often regarded as criminal simply on the basis of colour.
There are a lot of stories about people of colour being assumed to have stolen the vehicles they drive or be the servants at posh gatherings; I’ve heard from some of the latter first-hand. There have been many studies about how often women and people of colour are ignored or disbelieved when they report pain, sickness and injury, and how that impacts health outcomes. Black women in the US have a disproportionate incidence of dangerous medical experiences related to pregnancy and birth because of unequal access to care – and to credibility. Even tennis star Serena Williams was at first dismissed when she reported a postpartum pulmonary embolism.
People have also tried to render the word gender-neutral, which would make it meaningless. We have lots of other words – arrogant wanker, patronising idiot, Dunning-Kruger prize winner, for example – for acts of misplaced condescension. But reducing the issue to incidents of being merely patronised in conversational exchanges misses what matters. A phrase I often use is “dosage is cumulative”. If you spend your life being assumed to be less competent, less qualified to speak and less worthy of being listened to, more likely to be mocked, ignored or insulted, it inhibits your willingness to speak up and participate. So it’s not just what happens in the moment that matters, but how it shapes how we perceive ourselves and others in the long run.
The credibility gap turns into a hugely harmful thing with sexual assault and gender violence, in which men have historically been believed over women. It often brings on victims’ despair about reporting such abuse, because if you will not be believed, and if you will be mocked, shamed, harassed or even criminalised for reporting abuse, why would you bother? Almost all sexual abuse involves a perpetrator with higher social status, and a big part of that status is the ability to control the story and suppress other versions. It’s what serial rapists like Harvey Weinstein and serial child molesters like gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar relied upon during decades-long criminal careers. Inequality of voice isn’t just what happens after such crimes; it’s too often what perpetrators count upon beforehand.
It’s great that the word mansplaining exists, along with spin-offs such as whitesplaining and westsplaining (the latter for North Americans and western Europeans explaining the invasion of Ukraine and eastern European politics with narratives centred on our political histories rather than theirs). But everything loses meaning when it loses context.
Mansplaining’s meaning requires the broader context of intersecting inequalities and assumptions that play out in everyday life, with consequences that are occasionally amusing but too often nightmarish. My goal always was to advocate for a democracy of voice, for equality in who gets to speak, who’s heard, and who’s believed and respected when they speak, across all categories.
- Rebecca Solnit is a Guardian US columnist
Reposted from URL: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2023/feb/09/mansplaining-word-problem-rebecca-solnit?CMP=share_btn_link
Women and Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard
Books Abroad, The Global Women’s Caucus Feminist reading group, is excited to kick off the new year with an unforgettable read about the roots of misogyny, written by world renowned classicist Mary Beard.
You might wonder what a learned Cambridge don, professor of classics, scholar of Ancient Roman and Greek civilizations, and Britain’s best-known classicist can tell our modern “me-too” world about feminism, but the answer is, “a lot.”
Beard is an indomitable feminist, and her new best-selling book Women and Power, is an engaging and educated search back into antiquity to find the roots of misogyny. To quote The Guardian, “[r]eading it in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, it seems utterly, dreadfully convincing. Mute women; brutal men; shame as a mechanism for control; androgyny and avoidance as a strategy for survival.” But Beard doesn’t keep us in the past. What she uncovers for us in the classics has bearing on our leaders today and sensitizes us to the world around us. And she even offers remedies. It’s a slim volume (115 pages), but what Mary Beard writes is powerful and complex.
A manifesto that is erudite, powerful and complex… and more importantly, for non-classicists, delightfully readable.
Join us Tuesday Jan 26 at 7:30pm on Zoom.
On Coming Together, Transformation, and Literature: Announcing the GWC Feminist Literature Festival
As any book lover will testify, literature has a way of bringing people together. Coming together feels apt right now, at the end of our second year battling a pandemic, where millions of people are coming out of the thick of isolation with the help of a COVID vaccine and lifted travel restrictions.
That’s one of the things I think of as I announce our first ever Global Women’s Caucus Feminist Literature Festival, hosted by the Books Abroad feminist reading group.
It will be a month of celebrating literature— books, writers we love, and writing itself.
We will welcome some of the esteemed writers who are members of our Democrats Abroad family, screen a documentary of Toni Morrison’s life, celebrate Octavia Butler, take a webinar on Simone de Beauvoir, host weekly writing drop-ins, and finish off with cocktails and book recommendations. We hope it will be an unforgettable month.
The other thing I think of as I announce this festival is the transformative power of literature.
I joined Democrats Abroad and became involved with Books Abroad when I was seven months pregnant. It was the month I moved to France. Weeks later France went into its first COVID lockdown. In the next month, I had my son and became a mom for the first time. By the time my son was two months old, Books Abroad founders Connie Borde, Sheila Malovany-Chevallier, and Angela Fobbs had already lovingly wrapped their arms around me and recruited me to facilitate our book club meetings and lead the team.
Being a new mother in a pandemic meant a lot of solitude— witnessing milestones alone, having next to no childcare, not having family by my side through the hard times of infancy. Anyone will tell you that becoming a mother is a life altering event, but way before I became a mother, the only thing that ever consistently changed my life was literature. In fact, I often joke that every book I read changes my life. Leading Books Abroad as a new mother has been uniquely transformative because it ties together the already intense and transformative experiences of motherhood, reading great literature, and leadership.
Fall has always felt like a good time to read, as has summer, as has winter...but this fall feels as if there’s no better time to have our first ever Global Women’s Caucus Feminist Lit Fest to celebrate literature and its role in democracy, to let it bring us together, and to honor its transformative power.
We hope to see you there!
Read a bit more about the Lit Fest below and make sure to RSVP to attend events. All times CET.
- “Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am” film screening: Watch a screening of the seminal documentary of the Pulitzer and Nobel prize winning author, released the year of her death. *Opening Event* (Oct 3, 2:30-5:30pm)
- Writing Drop-Ins: Receive a writing prompt, then turn off your screen and write for 30 minutes. Sharing is optional. (Oct 1, 8, 15, and 22, 1-2:30pm)
- Writers on Writing Series: Angela Fobbs interviews author and media legend Audrey Edwards on her latest work, “American Runaway: Black and Free in Paris in the Trump Years” (Oct 5, 12-2pm)
- Writers on Writing Series: Journalist Anne Kraatz interviews Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award finalist, Muslim feminism expert Carla Power (Oct 6, 7-8:30pm)
- Simone de Beauvoir Webinar: translaters and scholars Connie Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier present the life and work of the feminist icon (Oct 11, 7-8:30pm)
- Octavia Butler Appreciation Evening: Learn about the work of the writer hailed as the mother of the Afro-futurism literary genre. Sci-fi/fantasy lovers, come one, come all! (Oct 14, 7-8:30pm)
- Writers on Writing: Former New York Times writer Alan Riding interviews author Diane Johnson on her latest work and life in the U.S and France (Oct 20, 7-8:30pm)
- Books & Cocktails Closing Event - Take on our cocktail recipes and bring your favorite book to recommend in a fun closing night event! (Oct 24, 7-8:30pm)
October Literary Festival!
What better way to celebrate the written word than joining the Feminist Literature Book Club of the Global Women's Caucus for a month-long literary festival!
Literature has always been the hallmark of how people communicate across cultures, beliefs, and generations. In fact, many social movements were initiated by pen and paper, and passed along in meeting halls, carried over oceans, and grown in academic soils. We invite you to celebrate with us: read a book, write a story, and bring your friends and family to join our month-long fest that is sure to inspire and inform!
For more information and to RSVP Click here
An Untold History of Wayward Black Women
Mattie Nelson. Esther Brown. May Enoch.
You won’t find these names on any list of notable African Americans. Yet, they are some of the women whose lives scholar Saidiya Hartman excavates in “Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments,” The Global Women’s Caucus Books Abroad book choice for Black History Month.
Why would a book group devoted to feminist literature select a book about women who seem to be, at best, unremarkable; and at worst, societal deviants, misfits, juvenile deliquents? After all, there are so many other books about noteworthy women to read this February in the historic year of the election of the first woman of color as Vice President of the U.S, in the year following the most profound struggle for Black lives in recent times.
Women’s stories are often omitted from history, and where there is a lack of women’s stories there is a dearth of stories about Black women. Where there are stories, the narratives are frequently told by men. Women are either portrayed as minor figures or depicted as larger-than-life, ultra-human titans, to the effect of erasing the full breadth of their humanity. This is not to suggest that the great African American women usually celebrated during Black History Month should not be so honored; however, there are women who were not accomplished in the way we typically define it, yet who were instrumental in shaping American culture.
Before the second wave feminist movement, which came to define the tenets of feminism most recognizable in the popular imagination, young African American women who migrated from the American South to Philadelphia and New York (among other urban centers, where upwards of 6 million African Americans re-located at the turn of the century) were a part of shaping new ways of imagining American womanhood. Saidiya Hartman calls them wayward. They eschewed social norms and expectations of respectability. They refused domestic labor, they lived with romantic partners (men and women) unmarried, they claimed marriage and gave themselves new names as they saw fit, and they rejected do-gooder white people who tried to “improve” their lives. They dressed as men and had wives. They were radical.
As Sam Huber wrote in The Nation, they ‘inaugurated modernity before Gatsby,’ before blues singers like Bessie Smith were captured on phonograph, and before Alain Locke heralded a “New Negro” in the arts.’
Had these women been white men, they would have inspired novels, movies, music.
History has not completely ignored them all. Gladys Bentley was famous when she was alive, and Edna Thomas was the personal secretary of Madame C.J. Walker. But they have never been written about quite like this.
There is another reason why this book is so timely. Because the historical accounts are sparse, Hartman uses a genre-defying style to tell the stories. The work is deeply researched - she makes use of private diary entries, medical records, receipts, and small press journal and newspaper articles, among other sources - but bits of dialogue and narrative have been imagined by Hartman herself.
Work that recounts history with a different lens has been under heat in recent years, like Nikole Hannah Jones’s 1619 Project for The New York Times Magazine. But works like these are more important than ever. If the narrative has erased or undersold stories by and about women, then scholarly, journalistic, and artistic work that seek to undo these omissions are in order.
Hartman posits that these women lived lives of great imagination and will. Though state- mandated oppression sought to strip them of free will at every turn, their will to live on their own terms is what makes them notable. In a time when social and systemic norms are (thankfully, in some cases) being undone, imagination, defiance, and intuition are tools to re-create the world as we know it are necessary. They are tools women have always used to survive. The relatively unknown African American women centered in “Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments” knew this. They haven’t been recognized or written about in all of their glory until now. We’re reading.
Books Abroad Reads: Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
Sunday February 21, 2021 @ 2pm CET - 4pm CET
Join us on Sunday Feb 21st at 2pm CET for an engaging discussion of Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman.
A unique, genre-bending book, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments explores the revolution of Black intimate life in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century by examining the untold history of women who led “wayward” lives and rejected conventionality in response to being denied access to the American Dream.
BOOKS AND COCKTAILS
In response to the amazing energy of our Breakout session at the GWC inauguration event, the women of Books Abroad are pleased to invite you to BOOKS AND COCKTAILS!
Pear & Rosemary Gin Fizz:
1/4 cup (60ml) gin
1/2 cup (125ml) chilled pear juice
Juice of 1 lemon, plus lemon slices, to serve
1 rosemary sprig
1/4 cup (60ml) chilled soda water
Loosely fill the glass with ice, then pour over the gin and the pear juice. Add a good squeeze of lemon and swizzle enthusiastically with the rosemary sprig (cut stem down) and leave in the glass. Add a few slices of lemon and top with soda just before serving.
Grapefruit Mocktail with Rosemary and Honey (non-alcoholic alternative):
2/3 C fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
1 thin slice of grapefruit
2 T raw honey
1/2 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 C ice
Combine the honey and 3T grapefruit juice in a small saucepan, heat over low temperature until honey is smooth and the mixture is warm throughout. In a mixing cup, add the ice, remaining grapefruit juice, 1/2 tsp. finely chopped rosemary and one sprig of fresh rosemary, Add in the warm simple syrup made from grapefruit juice and honey. Place lid on tightly and shake 30 seconds or until chilled. Add fresh sprigs of rosemary and add sliced mini grapefruits to the side of the glass.
RSVP on the event page to receive the Zoom link.
What We’ve Read So Far
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit
Not That Bad edited by Roxane Gay
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About edited by Michele Filgate
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women by Rebecca Traister
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments, Saidiya Hartman
Suggestions for what we should read next?
Please send them to Connie Borde: [email protected]
NEXT BOOKS ABROAD MEETING – February 21, 2020
Book Abroad Reads Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments
Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman explores the revolution of black intimate life in Philadelphia and New York at the beginning of the twentieth century by examining the untold history of women who led “wayward” lives and rejected respectability in response to being denied access to the American Dream.
“In wrestling with the question of what a free life is, many young black women created forms of intimacy and kinship that were indifferent to the dictates of respectability and outside the bounds of the law. They cleaved to and cast-off lovers, exchanged sex to subsist and revised the meaning of marriage. Longing and desire fueled their experiments in how to live. They refused to labor like slaves or to accept degrading conditions of work.”
It is a unique, genre-bending work that is deeply researched and melds history to the literary imagination.
Key historical figures like Ida B. Wells, W. E. B. Du Bois and Billie Holiday make appearances, but Hartman’s narrative focuses on lesser-known women who have been overlooked historically and are usually invisible in official archives.
This is sure to be an engaging discussion that will hopefully spark conversation about a rarely discussed aspect of Black history. We look forward to seeing you there!
|Washington DC, USA||08:00 EST|
|London, United Kingdom||13:00 GMT|
|Frankfurt, Germany||14:00 CET|
|Athens, Greece||15:00 EET|
|Dubai, United Arab Emirates||17:00 GST|
|Bangkok, Thailand||20:00 ICT|
Books Abroad January 2021 Update
In 2020, Books Abroad read four books, curated a Feminist reading list, and hosted discussions with more than 150 participants from three continents. We will continue to cover subjects relevant to women's lives in the personal and political spheres, and choose books that encourage timely conversations on topics related to our lives as compassionate, informed citizens. If you are interested in volunteering, please fill out this form or contact [email protected]. To get regular updates, please join the Women's Caucus.