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”So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it.

He was already telling me about the very important book–with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

This is a struggle that takes place in war-torn nations, but also in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the workplace, and the streets.

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It wanted to be written; it was restless for the racetrack; it galloped along once I sat down at the computer; and since Marina slept in later than me in those days, I served it for breakfast and sent it to Tom later that day. It still seems to get reposted more than just about anything I’ve written at Tom Dispatch.com, and prompted some very funny letters to this site.

None was more astonishing than the one from the Indianapolis man who wrote in to tell me that he had “never personally or professionally shortchanged a woman” and went on to berate me for not hanging out with “more regular guys or at least do a little homework first,” gave me some advice about how to run my life, and then commented on my “feelings of inferiority.” He thought that being patronized was an experience a woman chooses to, or could choose not to have–and so the fault was all mine. Young women subsequently added the word “mansplaining” to the lexicon.

The Slippery Slope of Silencings Yes, guys like this pick on other men’s books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered.

Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. More extreme versions of our situation exist in, for example, those Middle Eastern countries where women’s testimony has no legal standing; so that a woman can’t testify that she was raped without a male witness to counter the male rapist. 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.

He carped, for example, that to aggrandize Muybridge’s standing I left out technological predecessors like Henry R. He’d apparently not read the book all the way to page 202 or checked the index, since Heyl was there (though his contribution was just not very significant).

Surely one of these men has died of embarrassment, but not nearly publicly enough.

And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen.

That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless–for a moment, before he began holding forth again.

Having the right to show up and speak are basic to survival, to dignity, and to liberty.

I’m grateful that, after an early life of being silenced, sometimes violently, I grew up to have a voice, circumstances that will always bind me to the rights of the voiceless.— I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen.

Young women needed to know that being belittled wasn’t the result of their own secret failings; it was the boring old gender wars.

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