Men Explain Things to Me- Rebecca Solnit

“Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.”

Men explain things to me all the time, whether it be in person, online, in classroom, on dates, and at work. And my female friends tell me the same thing. Of course I have often been left wondering what it is about me that make these particular men believe I know nothing about the subject? It can’t just be my gender,surely? It often is but often their actions are often racialized. This book focuses on gendered assumptions of a woman being seen as “some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge.”

My thoughts for the majority of this review come from the titular essay, “Men Explain Things to Me.” Despite the fact that she’s an accomplished writer, Solnit experiences “mansplaining” though she doesn’t use that term herself. What was surprising to me was how the essay started off in a light and slightly humorous tone but soon got quite dark, clearly showing us the consequences of silencing women, and those consequences are dire.

There was a lot of depressing data on rape and domestic violence figures. Solnit acknowledges male feminists and men who actually listen to women’s experiences, and she also questions the image of masculinity in society. It reminded me a bit of Anais Nin’s thoughts in her essay “In Favour of the Sensitive Man”:

“What’s the matter with manhood? There’s something about how masculinity is imagined, about what’s praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed.”

After reading all the depressing numbers I can’t help but wonder why there hasn’t been more to address the violence facing women. In fact, it’s quite shocking that this isn’t a priority (especially not for some politicians, as Solnit points out some awful examples of rape culture perpetuated by Republican politicians). But this is not only an American problem, it’s pretty much a global issue. As Solnit points out, why hasn’t there been a war declared on rape and domestic violence? It is a pandemic although the media prefers to call these incidences isolated incidents.

There are other essays in the collection that are just as good and as informative as the titular one, with Solnit’s poetic touch that didn’t come through as strongly in this collection as it did in one of my favourites, The Faraway Nearby. One I especially liked was “Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite,” which was about the IMF and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In this essay she showed the relationship between power and exploitation, and one can say domestic violence and sexual assault follows a similar pattern:

“Her name was Africa. His name was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her, and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted with a high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Côte d’Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity.”

I could go on and on about the above paragraph; it’s stated so succinctly but there are so many layers to it.

A quick read with plenty of food for thought.

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