Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Voice of Silence

I had never heard of Rebecca Solnit until I read her LA Times article "Men who explain things." In the article, Solnit discusses the imbalance that creates both women's literal and virtual silence.

She tells of an occasion when a "Mr.Very Important" dismissed her book in favour of another very important work on the same subject - but Solnit had written that other very important work (River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West).

On another occasion a "Mr. Very Important II" sneered at her assertion that the group Women Strike for Peace had contributed greatly to the ending of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the early 1960s. Solnit was correct.

Solnit uses both examples to show how women's voices are silenced in various ways around the world. Solnit experienced sneering and overtalking, but women are silenced legally and violently too. She reminds us of some "Islamic countries where women's testimony has no legal standing."

At this point, I had planned to say how pleased I was to discover Solnit's other books in a bio of her, but something happened in Canada last week that totally distracted me and demonstrates how the forces of silence are still present and powerful everywhere.

Mr. Justice Douglas Cunningham of the Ontario Superior Court would not accept the evidence of a member of the provincial parliament in the influence-peddling trial of Larry O'Brien, mayor of Ottawa. The member has to commute between home in Ottawa and the provincial parliament in Toronto, leaving HER family. Lisa MacLeod's testimony is, thus, unreliable because of the distraction this causes, and the judge felt that he "must assign it little weight." And just where is it that a woman's testimony has no legal standing?

I will borrow Solnit's description of Mr. Very Important II for Mr. Justice Douglas Cunningham: "a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization."

I would like to invite Rebecca Solnit to my soiree.


Anonymous said...

wow...amazing...how could a woman bring herself to concentrate away from her kitchen? a man would never testify in a distracted state because as the stronger, more serious gender, of course, they are the epitome of concentration...

ChrisJ said...


You are bang on with your comment.

Thank you.