Essays on the feminist movement and a few words about true values

Rebecca Solnit, Men Explain Things to Me. Images by Ana Teresa Fernandez

Granta Publications, London, 2014. First published in the United States by Haymarket Books, 2014, 130p


This book made me feel a little uncomfortable and I don’t know if it was because of all the truths it has revealed or because all the author’s feminist beliefs that made me rethink my role in my own family, in society, in this world on the whole.

More than a permanent contributor at Harper’s Magazine, Rebecca Solnit is the author of numerous books that speak about politics, art, environment, community. Men explain things to me is a collection of seven essays that zealously define and explore the feminist movement. Rebecca Solnit is so frank that she made me feel uninformed and too passive.

The volume begins with a story written in an intellectual humoristic tone depicting the writer participating at a luxurious party near Aspen, in the house of an imposing man who has made a lot of money. Hearing that she is an author, the host asks what her books are about then abruptly interrupts to tell her about the very important book on the subject that came out that year and which was practically Solnit’s book. It was her book the one he was talking about but the host was too important to read it, he has just read the review in the New York Times.

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

In a world where there still is the tendency to silence women some men always know better. Solnit uses her situation to further explain how women still need to fight to be credible and make their voices heard. Her essay became viral and a lot of women spoke about their similar experiences.

The author’s tone changes in the next essays and she becomes more serious using facts and statistics to sustain her affirmations. There is a reported rape every 6.2 minutes in the United States and crime is committed by men 90% of the time. In India the rich exploit the poor and most of the rapes or murders are covered up. South Africa has become a global rape capital and in Mali, Sudan and the Congo rape has been used as a tactic.

Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender. Here I want to say one thing: though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn’t mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible.

In a system of domination people need to keep control of their body and mind. Parents should teach their boys about real masculinity and thus participate at violence decreasing. Solnit praises the wonderful men who fight for women’s rights and reminds her readers that democracy means that everyone has a voice and this has nothing to do with wealth, race or gender.

So beautifully said:

To spin the web and not to be caught in it, to create the world, to create your own life, to rule your fate, to name the grandmothers as well as the fathers, to draw nets and not just straight lines, to be a maker as well as a cleaner, to be able to sing and not be silenced, to take down the veil and appear: all these are the banners on the laundry line I hang out.

There is also an essay that focuses on Virginia Woolf and her influence on Rebecca Solnit. The future is dark Woolf said and Solnit agrees that future is uncertain but the effects of our actions may unfold in unimagined possibilities so we should embrace life rather than fearing it. The destruction of the Earth is due in part to our loss of imagination so in a sense Woolf is a revolutionary who asked the freedom for women to be able to roam, geographically and imaginatively.

The last essay, Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force, is a warm stimulation to think outside the box and understand that the fight for women’s rights is not over and things cannot go backwards because Pandora’s box has been opened and women are out of the box asking for equality.

You can find the book here:


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