Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

I once received a comment on a blog post that said, “I know you look at this differently, but I do not believe there has been an ages long conspiracy of men to keep women down.”  At the time I was too flabbergasted to respond with any kind of eloquence.  Now that I’ve read Men Explain Things to Me, I won’t have to speak for myself; I will simply hand a copy of Solnit’s book and let it explain things for me, if you will.  *wink*

Seven essays on the female experience, Solnit’s anthology is a must read for anyone interested in the subtle ways our patriarchal society oppresses women.  Sometimes this is manifested in ignorantly arrogant men speaking over women, as in her first essay, “Men Explain Things to Me.”  All too often, however, this oppression takes the form of violence, because

There’s so much of it.  We could talk about the assault and rape of a seventy-three-year-old in Manhattan’s Central Park in September 2012, or the recent rape of a four-year-old and an eighty-three-year-old in Louisiana, or the New York City policeman who was arrested in October of 2012 for what appeared to be serious plans to kidnap, rape, cook, and eat a woman, any woman, because the hate wasn’t personal.

Solnit is not the caricatured “angry feminist,” although the statistics she cites would give her every right to be.  Instead, she welcomes men to the conversation, happily acknowledging the men who fight for equality and defend the rights of women.  She also spends time uncovering the damage patriarchy has done to men–namely, encouraging violent qualities at the expense of a rich and emotional inner life.  Feminism is for both women and men, and Solnit manages to hold on to a hope for an egalitarian and peaceful future while honestly staring into the horror of our present.

I especially liked her essays “Men Explain Things to Me,” “The Longest War,” and “Grandmother Spider.”  In fact, you can read “The Longest War” online and form your own opinion.  Solnit is a phenomenal writer, presenting her essays with both intelligence and engagement.  She completely won me over, and I’m definitely going to check out her other books.

41edjJkb2DL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book Jacket

In her comic, scathing essay “Men Explain Things to Me,” Rebecca Solnit took on what 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.

Release Date:  March 2014

Want another opinion?  Check out reviews by New Republic and Cultural Weekly.


3 thoughts on “Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

  1. pebbles14 February 26, 2015 / 8:44 am

    Yes, Tricia, yes. This is a good book. I love all of Solnit’s work and find her fascinating.

    There are so many tropes out there that I really feel prove that there is a patriarchy and it does…ya know…bad things, including the one that you referenced: the angry feminist. That trope kept me from publicly admitting I was a feminist for several years, until I realized how much the patriarchy benefits from me being silent because I don’t know how to name the things I talk about, like the equality of men and women and all people. Have you seen the “Why I Need Feminism?” pictures on BuzzFeed and YouTube? And the “Feminism is For Everyone” strain of things? So good.

    Let’s dedicate ourselves to calling it out and standing up for each other. Peace, A!


    • Tricia February 26, 2015 / 9:09 am

      I avoided the label feminist for the same reason! In fact, the beginning of my feminist awakening was in a sociology class at a Baptist college. One of the essays required us to describe an event from various sociological perspectives, including feminist. I said something flippant, like, “They would probably get angry, because feminists are angry about everything.” My professor hand wrote a comment and returned the test, saying, “You shouldn’t talk about things you don’t understand.” I loved this professor, and this absolutely mortified my people-pleasing soul. So I started looking at feminism more deeply, and I realized I was one.

      If I were to keep reading Solnit, what book would you recommend for me next? I’d love to try it!


      • pebbles14 March 11, 2015 / 5:36 pm

        Yes, Tricia, I hear you…have you seen those videos of people finding out what feminism really is and then being like, “Oh, I guess I don’t have to hate men/burn my bras/be angry/hate motherhood…it’s actually the idea that women and men (and everyone, regardless of gender identity and expression) deserve to be treated with equal respect in all areas of their lives.” Ugh. Patriarchy hurts men too, dontcha know?! But yes, Rebecca Solnit…definitely check out “A Paradise Built in Hell” and her mapping books of San Francisco and New Orleans…mindblowingly beautiful. 🙂


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