- File Size: 410 KB
- Print Length: 103 pages
- Publisher: Haymarket Books (April 14, 2014)
- Publication Date: February 13, 2020
- Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00IWGQ8PU
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,936 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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About the Author
Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of eighteen or so books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster, including the books Men Explain Things to Me and Hope in the Dark, both also with Haymarket; a trilogy of atlases of American cities; The Faraway Nearby; A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster; A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Wanderlust: A History of Walking; and River of Shadows, Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (for which she received a Guggenheim, the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism, and the Lannan Literary Award). A product of the California public education system from kindergarten to graduate school, she is a columnist at Harper's and a regular contributor to the Guardian.
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Solnit is clearly a powerful mind and talented writer. Her prose is strong and forceful, and she writes with stirring— at times contagious—- conviction. The book’s most powerful essays (“Men Explain Things To Me” and “#YesAllWomen”) are intelligent, clear-sighted looks at a massive, difficult, dangerous topic. It’s saddens me to applaud Solnit for her courage in writing this, if only because that acknowledges the typical backlash against women who speak out against misogyny, but she IS courageous and that alone warrants commendation.
The book starts out with a funny, almost playful anecdote about being mansplained to by a pompous idiot at a party in Aspen, but then quickly moves into darker waters. Solnit goes on to use politics, art, history and new media as springboards for discussing the interconnectedness of cultural misogyny and how mansplaining and rape can be viewed as existing on a continuum. Towards the end of the book she summarizes this nicely: “It’s a slippery slope. That’s why we need to address the slope, rather than compartmentalizing the varieties of misogyny and dealing with them separately.” (p. 134) It’s a new way of looking at an ancient problem, articulated in a way that I don’t think I’ve heard before, and Solnit rounds out her case by anticipating counter arguments (i.e. men being falsely imprisoned for rape) and responding to them to the degree that they deserve.
So here’s the part where I complain: While her arguments are culturally important and her writing is strong, Solnit’s rhetoric seems, at times, deliberately hyperbolic and meant to divide readers. On pg. 57 she describes the case of Ariel Castro, a man accused of imprisoning, torturing and sexually abusing three women as being “a vicious version of the traditional [marriage] arrangement.” Later on in the book (p. 153) she takes a similar swipe at capitalism: “There’s more that we need to be liberated from… a system that serves environmental destruction and limitless consumption…” And beyond that there’s a general celebration of revolution, (non-violent) anarchy, as well as Solnit’s insistence that this is, indeed, “a war.” In other words, if you’re traditional / conservative / old-fashioned, then chances are you’re probably going to feel pretty alienated while reading this, if not all out attacked. I don’t consider myself conservative, but there were still times when I felt myself getting defensive. With that said, I was less annoyed with this on ideological terms than I was by what felt like a tactical mis-step. Simply put: This is a wise book. This is an important book. A lot of people should be reading it and absorbing it's message. And I could suddenly feel thousands of readers— good people who’s minds are ready to be expanded— fleeing from it’s very positive message, because they were being lumped in with rapists and murderers. I was frustrated because I felt like the book was preaching to the choir and, in-so-doing, entrenching conservatives deeper into their current belief systems.
One could argue that this book isn't intended to convert and so it's unfair to judge it by those standards; that it’s a celebration and reminder of what’s already been accomplished in the fight for gender equality, and that now it’s up to someone else to write the gentler, more palatable book that eases The Other Side into progressive thinking. And you know what— that may very well be the case. In the meantime, I encourage conservative thinkers who are interested in reading this to do so with an open mind instead of just looking for things to disagree with. Because the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of what’s discussed in this book really has nothing to do with superficial left / right politics and everything to do with how we want our nieces/daughters to be treated as they grow up in the world. And that feels like something we can all agree on.
Contrary to critical reviews,
Top international reviews
So I knew I was going to be absorbed, educated, enlightened angered and amused by Men Explain Things To Me and Other Essays, a collection of investigations into various aspects of the relationship between men and women, and into the workings of a society which has clearly shown of late how far we still have to go
In the first, title essay, Solnit looks at ‘mansplaining’ though she doesn’t use the term , with a laugh-and-wince encounter with someone who clearly was all mouth and no ears.
The Longest War explores the dark subject of rape.
“We have an abundance of 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”
Worlds collide in a Luxury Suite takes the issue of power and domination into the relationship between capitalism, the IMF, and the way the developing world has been exploited and held back. She links this story with the personal one of Dominique Strauss-Kahn formerly head of the IMF, and the African chambermaid he was charged with assaulting
In Praise of the Threat looks at the changing history of marriage, and how same-sex marriage, without the historic inequalities of marriage between the sexes, metaphysically may make for a recognition that a marriage should be between equals. Which is not what marriage has traditionally been.
Grandmother Spider examines the invisibility of women within much genealogy. Look at the Bible, as example. All those begats, almost all men. Where are the daughters in the list, where the mothers?
“Fathers have sons and grandsons and so the lineage goes, with the name passed on; the tree branches, and the longer it goes on the more people are missing: sisters, aunts, mothers, grandmothers, great-grand-mothers, a vast population made to disappear on paper and in history”
Woolf’s Darkness is a celebration of Virginia Woolf, and her willingness to face the darkness – her own and the world’s, and to engage with the mysteriousness of life, and the not-knowing. This is probably the most poetic of the essays. By which I mean that it takes the reader, by flash of unknown and surprising juxtapositions, as poetry does, into seeing the non-linear nature of our lives
“We know less when we erroneously think we know than when we recognise that we don’t. Sometimes I think these pretences at authoritative knowledge are failures of language: the language of bold assertion is simpler, less taxing, than the language of nuance and ambiguity and speculation”
Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force is a celebration of feminism, which, as Solnit points out is not just about changing women’s lives for the better. We (men and women) are on a journey here
“Feminism is an endeavour 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 end”
“I think the future of something we may no longer call feminism must include a deeper inquiry into men. Feminism sought and seeks to change the whole human world; many men are on board with the project, but how it benefits men, and in what ways the status quo damages men as well, could bear far more thought”
Thought provoking, articulate, beautifully written; thoroughly recommended
This is a great book filled with facts and important issues that affect all of us. Rebecca Solnit is a force to be reckoned with. Is there anything she can't write about brilliantly?
After the light-hearted tone used for telling this anecdote (albeit with more than a hint of gritted teeth), the essay rapidly gets darker and more serious. The whole book is a short series of essays covering various aspects of patriarchy: from mansplaining, to rape culture; from why same sex marriage equality does indeed threaten “traditional”, that is, grossly unequal, marriage, to the obliteration of women's voices; from arguing with Susan Sontag arguing with Virginia Woolf, to the history of women's movement.
All this is beautifully written with verve, and passion, and rage, and makes for excellent, but uncomfortable, reading.