Thursday, November 10, 2016

Non-Fiction November: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit (Review)

Release date: May 20th, 2014
Author links: Goodreads - Website
Publisher: Haymarket Books
Pages: 130

Description (from Goodreads):

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 came across this fairly short collection of essays a while ago while looking for feminist content to read. Rebecca Solnit's name was familiar to me before, but I had never read anything from her before picking up Men Explain Things to Me. If Rebecca Solnit is a new author to you like she was to me, I think Men Explain Things to Me is a good starting point -- it definitely made me want to read more by her in the future.

Solnit's essay titled Men Explain Things to Me, which you can read from here, was originally published in 2012 and it is the piece of writing this short essay collection has been built around to. This very essay has been connected to the popularization of the term "mansplaining", and overall, it made such rounds online that Solnit decided to produce a whole set of essays, which were released together in this collection in 2014.

Since most (if not all) of the essays featured in this collection were published beforehand, you don't necessarily have to buy this collection to get an access to them (you can find them online!). But I do think having a collection like this can be an interesting addition to personal libraries, and I definitely do not regret purchasing it. 

I do want to point out though that maybe reading the essays back to back is not the best idea. I did that and noticed quite quickly that Solnit uses some of the same examples/arguments in a number of essays. This is not a problem if you consider the fact that the release of these pieces was originally more sporadic. But reading about the same examples back to back in a book format can get kind of repetitive and take something away from the reading enjoyment/experience.

Men Explain Things to Me is only a bit over 100 pages in length, but it definitely managed to make me think. The essays range from hilarious to tragic, and Solnit manages to cover a lot of ground and make a lot of arguments within a fairly short page count. Solnit's writing style is interesting and engaging, and definitely, something I want to familiarize myself more with at some point.

If you are interested in feminism, in the treatment of women in the society, and so on, I definitely recommend checking this one out. As said, you can write a lot of these essays online if you're not interested in purchasing the whole collection.

"But explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge. A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch -- even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf's long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie."

"Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being."

"We have an abundance to rape and violence against women in this country and on this Earth, though it's almost never treated as a civil rights or human rights issue, or a crisis, or even a pattern. Violence doesn't have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender."

"Increasingly men are becoming good allies -- and there always have been some. Kindness and gentleness never had a gender, and neither did empathy."

"His name was His, and he presumed everything was his, including her, and he thought he could take her without asking and without consequences."

"His name was privilege, but hers was possibility. His was the same old story, but hers was a new one about the possibility of changing a story that remains unfinished, that includes all of us, that matters so much, that we will watch but also make and tell in the weeks, years, decades to come."


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