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The Gender Wars in Perspective

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Here are two figures, and given how anyone who has been sexually assaulted is likely to feel about the experience, they have to be low-end estimates: The latest Pentagon numbers indicate that about 26,000 men and women (but mainly women) in the U.S. military "were sexually assaulted in 2011, up from 19,000 in 2010"; and the figure regularly cited, even by President Obama and Vice President Biden, is that one in five college women either experience an attempted sexual assault or are raped in their years on campus.

While these numbers can be argued about, they are striking evidence that, so many decades after the modern feminist movement was launched, the gender wars (male version) continue at levels that should shock anyone. Or thought of another way: For a surprising percentage of women in the 21st century, every career path seems to end in the same grim place.

Fortunately, in her new book, Men Explain Things to Me, just published today, Rebecca Solnit offers a striking and hopeful assessment of where the feminist movement is now, and of the ways of thinking it has made so antiquated that none of us can return to them, no matter the pressures. A book on the gender wars, from which her latest post "Pandora's Box and the Volunteer Police Force," is taken, offers a fresh look at feminism a half-century later. She suggests that, whatever has yet to be won, by changing our assumptions feminists have already insured that the biggest battle of all is in the past. That women are equal to men and deserve equal rights as well, as Solnit points out, is no longer an earth-shattering idea, and that in itself is a great victory, even if getting institutions and individuals to abide by it is another matter.

Featuring a famed essay that originally appeared at TomDispatch and gives the book its title (and from which young feminists conjured up the term "mansplaining"), it ranges from a highly original inquiry into marriage equality to a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women and a moving exploration of how novelist Virginia Woolf embraced the mystery of not knowing. Simply put, Men Explain Things to Me is a must-read masterpiece.