Book Title/Author: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
Age/Genre Info: Adult Nonfiction
Preferred Reading Environment: The couch on Thanksgiving but only if you don’t mind sparking debate with your politically inflammatory relatives who will immediately “not all men” you. Otherwise, the bath, as usual.
Reading Accessories/Accoutrements: Your “I voted” sticker, a list of phone numbers and phone scripts to talk to your senators and representatives about what matter to you, and some 90’s alt-chick rock.
Content Notes: This book deals with topics of racism, sexism, inequality, political power, and sexual violence.
Happy Day After Voting for our readers in the United States! We hope your election results give you some hope and most of all, motivation to change things in your communities both in and outside the political process. Now, onto the review!
Last year for Christmas, my husband, Michael, bought me several books. Most of them were ones I had asked for, but there were a couple he had found that he just knew I would like. “Men Explain Things to Me” was one of these.
This is a collection of essays by Rebecca Solnit. I had not heard of her or read any of her essays before, but after reading the blurbs on the back praising this as a sharp-witted and bold feminist collection that tackles gender and power (that’s paraphrasing several said blurbs), I knew why he bought it for me.
I had just gotten into Roxane Gay and was exploring other feminist essayists. As I read the titles of the essays in the collection, I was pretty sure this was right up my alley. Here is a small sample, besides the titular essay:
- Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite: Some thoughts on IMF, Global Injustice, and a Stranger on a Train
- Grandmother Spider
- Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable (I haven’t gotten through a Virginia Woolf novel, but her life and philosophies intrigue me endlessly)
- Cassandra among the Creeps (ooh, I smell some feminist interpretations of Greek mythology)
- Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force
I distinctly remember reading this in the bathtub. Despite the name of our blog, not all of my reading is done surrounded by bubbles, but it’s definitely my preferred setting. For essays on politicised topics in particular, I find the bath the perfect location. Once you get overwhelmed by the horrible-ness of people in the world, you can just place your book on the sink (or gently toss it a safe distance away) and sink under the water to try to escape. Underwater with your eyes closed is the best place to ruminate on frustrating topics, as the warmth and calmness of the water can combat your inner turmoil.
This book is full of thoughtful insights, and being split up into essays makes it an approachable read. I love just reading a chapter before bed, and essay collections are perfect for that. I’m not going to go into all of the essays, but here are some moments that stand out.
In “Men Explain Things to Me,” Solnit gets lectured by a man who claims she really needs to read this very important book on the topic they are discussing. It turns out, of course, that she is the author of that book, but when told this, the man ignores that fact and continues to try to elaborate on his points. In this same essay, she addresses the perception that women aren’t credible and that men are. She does a great job of not demonizing a whole gender, but showing why she thinks she’s experienced so many men explaining things to her when they don’t really know what they’re talking about.
“Grandmother Spider” combines descriptions of art with musings on the erasure of women in art, family trees, naming conventions, politics, and daily life. It discusses women being told to stay home at night for the danger of being raped. It talks about how people were “disappeared” in Argentina and how the first people to openly speak out were the mothers of the missing. I learned a lot in this piece that I didn’t expect going in.
“Cassandra Among the Creeps” opens by comparing Cassandra, the woman whose many accurate prophecies weren’t believed, to the boy who cried wolf, who had to tell the same lie multiple times before he was ignored. This essay deals with the tendency to label women as hysterical and uncredible, specifically when it comes to accusing men of sexual crimes.
All of these essays are worth reading. I plan on reading them again, and reading many more of Rebecca Solnit’s books and essays. They are well-researched, her sources are cited, and they take multiple perspectives into account. Her essays don’t act like America is the center of the world, and the global perspective helps drive her points as the true human issues that they are.