In her comic, scathing essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what often goes wrong in conversations between men and women. She wrote about men who wrongly assume they know things and wrongly assume women don’t, about why this arises, and how this aspect of the gender wars works, airing some of her own hilariously awful encounters.
She ends on a serious note— because the ultimate problem is the silencing of women who have something to say, including those saying things like, “He’s trying to kill me!”
This book features that now-classic essay with six perfect complements, including an examination of the great feminist writer Virginia Woolf ’s embrace of mystery, of not knowing, of doubt and ambiguity, a highly original inquiry into marriage equality, and a terrifying survey of the scope of contemporary violence against women.
I am a big fan of Rebecca Solnit. I read Hope in the Dark just after the US election, and it changed my entire outlook on modern politics. When I received Men Explain Things to Me for Christmas, I was overjoyed!
The title essay is brilliant. Solnit expressed herself with the same verve and wit that I remembered from Hope in the Dark, with just a little added – something. It’s probably because I’m more accustomed to feminist topics than activist ones, but I really felt myself being swept along by her words. In this particular essay she talks about the term mansplaining (although she makes a lot of caveats for it, which I didn’t think was necessarily needed), and adds a few hilariously un-shocking moments of misogyny that she has faced in her academic career. Other essays along the feminist theme were Grandmother Spider and Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable. I enjoyed the Woolf one in particular – I really must read more of her stuff.
In Praise of the Threat: What Marriage Equality Really Means is one of the last essays in this small book, and that’s where my love of Solnit started to fade, just a little bit. It has some good points about the traditional meanings of ‘marriage’, but I really don’t think she was the right person to write this. She doesn’t really mention LGBT+ people or issue at all, but rather how marriage equality will affect straight feminists. I get that’s her viewpoint, but I would have appreciated a small admission that there are other important points of view concerning marriage equality.
All in all, I think Men Explain Things to Me is a little less punchy than Hope in the Dark. However, as an introduction to modern feminism and activism, it works very well.