Reading Lolita in Patriarchy: Rebecca Solnit on Being Mansplained About How She Must Have Misread Nabokov

Rebecca Solnit
Photo by shawncalhoun

It isn’t a fact universally acknowledged that a person who mistakes his opinions for facts may also mistake himself for God. This can happen if he’s been insufficiently exposed to the fact that there are also other people who have other experiences, and that they too were created equal, with certain inalienable rights, and that consciousness thing that is so interesting and troubling is also going on inside their heads. This is a problem straight white men suffer from especially, because the western world has held up a mirror to them for so long—and turns compliant women into mirrors reflecting them back twice life size, Virginia Woolf noted. The rest of us get used to the transgendering and cross-racializing of our identities as we invest in protagonists like Ishmael or Dirty Harry or Holden Caulfield. But straight white men don’t, so much. I coined a term a while ago, privelobliviousness, to try to describe the way that being the advantaged one, the represented one, often means being the one who doesn’t need to be aware and, often, isn’t. Which is a form of loss in its own way.

-At Lithub, Men Explain Things To Me author Rebecca Solnit writes about all the mansplaining she was treated to in response to her November essay, “80 Books No Woman Should Read” on the same site—itself a response to a much re-posted Esquire feature called “80 Best Books Every Man Should Read,” which includes 79 men. Most of all, men—”liberal men”—told her she misunderstood Lolita and was wrong for identifying with the young girl who’s been raped and robbed of her agency, “which made me wonder,” she writes, “if there’s a book called ‘Reading Lolita in Patriarchy.'”

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