Recollections of my Non-Existence, Rebecca Solnit
“Most urban women, you know, live as though in a war zone …”
When I started Recollections I expected that I might feel some passages were exaggerated or unpalatable. What is unpalatable of course is not the book – but the gruesome stories Solnit recounts of abuse, rape, murder of female victims – a virulent flow largely unstaunched even today by law making institutions.
What I found instead was a picture of my own life as a young woman only without Solnit’s awareness. I have lived my own life in fear but considered it normal. I lived unaware of the compromises I routinely had to make, so normalised were they, adapting what I ‘should’ wear, the things I ‘should’ talk about – especially any needs or wishes of my own. I have left unvisited places I could not safely visit alone or at night.
Even if it is ‘only’ a constant stream of wolf whistles and inappropriate comments that are faced when a woman walks down the street, the message is the same. They are entitled. She puts up with it. Or faces ridicule – no, hostile disbelief – or blame and inaction. So she remains silent.
Non existence is a skill learned early.
I have made these adjustments to my life the perfectly valid reason of wishing to remain unmolested, unraped. But until I read Solnit’s work I never questioned why my universe had to be this way.
A war zone indeed, and one from which the only escape is to grow old.
The adjustments that women have to make in their lives are so normalised and unquestioned that the assumptions upon which our lives are built – any man can treat any woman as he wishes without condemnation or fear of the law – go equally unquestioned. This may not be the case in the letter of the law. But the letter of the law is not available to most, and the law is useless where unenforced.
Recollections is Solnit’s own story. Growing up in San Francisco, her first apartment, friends she made and lost, the choices she made as an artist and a writer, as a reader. Years of finding a lyrical way of writing away from mere journalism. Yet much of this book feels elegiac. As if it has been written for the thousands – probably millions of women – who have been abused and even died at the hands of violent men. Who have been silenced.
What is changing is not – despite Weinstein – the fact of the matter, but the dialogue. The conversation. The awareness. And that this is changing is due to some very courageous women. As Solnit has written sexual assault thrives on the silence of its victims, but not all women are prepared to stay silent any longer.
“I understood that not everyone would welcome my information, and I was prepared for a variety of outcomes, including being dismissed.”
said Dr Christine Blasey Ford who questioned Brett Kavanaugh’s suitability to be appointed as a Justice to the Supreme Court of the US alleging that he had sexually assaulted her in 1982.
Yes, we have had the #MeToo movement which claimed Weinstein as a high profile victim and yes we have had the TimesUp movement. Yet many thousands of attackers and rapists walk the streets without any of the fear of condemnation or blame that their victims must daily suffer.
Solnit is not anti-man. It is a barb easily thrown at any feminist, a cheap shot offered up by people of both sexes to avoid any questioning of the status quo. She does not assume that every man is violent – of course not every man is violent. Most are not. But in cultures all over the world the dice are loaded against women in all sorts of ways.
Society is even now reluctant to hear the stories of abused women. Last autumn I found myself sitting with a friend in the waiting room of a police station (waiting for someone else!) when a young woman came in and started talking to us. She had she said been assaulted at the local college that she attended but had been unable to get the college authorities to intervene or to take any action to support her. In short, she was not believed. But at least she had found the courage to bring herself to the police station.
I believe this is due in part to writers like Rebecca Solnit.
Thanks to #NetGalley and #Granta Publications for this review copy.