“Feminism is an endeavor to change something very old, widespread, and deeply rooted in many, perhaps most, cultures around the world, innumerable institutions, and most households on Earth — and in our minds, where it all begins and ends.”
“Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force” from Men Explain Things to Me, p. 140
By Rebecca Solnit
This book is a collection of “Men Explain Things to Me” and six other essays written by Rebecca Solnit between 2008 and 2014. She guides readers through history, current events, statistics, and anecdotes, all of which are grounded in feminism. She specifically addresses the danger of our habits, from the personal to the political and beyond, of silencing women, and of discrediting women. She explains her urgency by writing, “Having the right to show up and speak are basic to survival, to dignity, and to liberty” (p. 15). There are difficult portions to get through, such as when she focuses on violence against women, but Solnit’s own passion for addressing and righting these wrongs is felt deeply, and this mission drives the essays forward.
One of my favorites is “In Praise of the Threat: What Marriage Equality Really Means.” Solnit agrees with conservatives who argue that same-sex marriage is a threat to traditional marriage, and in fact celebrates this very threat. Traditional marriage, if that is to mean marriage between one man and one woman, is historically an unequal partnership. Feminists fought to reject the hierarchal structure of traditional marriage, and now we are seeing even further progressive changes in the definition of marriage equality. In “Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite,” Solnit briefly discusses the impact of Western economic ideology on the rest of the world, and the devastation it has caused. The essays are varied in topic but ultimately address a single issue, feminism, “the radical notion that women are people” (p. 152). The variety demonstrates the complexity of feminism, how everything is interconnected, and why the good fight must be addressed on so many fronts. This is the first I’ve read anything by Rebecca Solnit but I’m now in. A reader has recommended The Faraway Nearby, which I plan to pick up very soon.
The non-fiction streak continues into the new year with Men Explain Things to Me, a slim blue volume of seven essays by Rebecca Solnit. I consider it a good sign when seemingly disparate, random, yet memorable pieces of information that I’ve come across at some point or another are suddenly hanging out in the same room. Maybe, I wonder, there is actually a rhyme and reason to what I consume; maybe there is a common theme among the things I know. Maybe. Within the first few essays I came across a reference to Idle No More, a grassroots movement among Canada’s Indigenous peoples that I heard about at a talk on campus last fall, and then “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” which I inexplicably learned in a communications course ridiculously titled “Entertainment as Implicit Pedagogy.”
Thus far, Solnit’s essays have pointedly addressed violence against women, global economic injustice, and marriage equality. I’m sure there is much more to come. The title essay recalls the author’s experience of a man condescendingly explaining to her about a book that she herself had written, but branches out into the much larger issue – and danger – of silencing women. Solnit dedicates this book to “the conversations that don’t end,” so here’s to learning a bit more about those conversations.