Men Explain Things to Meby Rebecca Solnit Published 20 May 2014
|Men Explain Things to Me.pdf|
Download Men Explain Things to Me (2014) PDF ePub eBook
- 1. Register a free 1 month Trial Account.
- 2. Download as many books as you like.
- 3. Cancel the membership at any time if not satisfied.
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 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.
"Men Explain Things to Me" Reviews
It ... didn't go where I thought it would. It starts out strong, she ends on a decent note, but it meanders in the middle in a way that makes me wish it hadn't been a book at all. It's good writing, and the points she makes are important, but overall it was just a little, I don't know, unfocused? Lackluster? Something about the third quarter, all that Woolf/Sontag musing, that lost totally lost my interest. I was hoping for more connection, something sharper.
What a mixed bag. The title essay works best for me because it actually discusses the author's personal experiences with getting talked over by men although she obviously knows a great deal more than them about things. The Woolf/Sontag essay is interesting too.
Everything else reads like an intro feminism pamphlet with a focus on rape and DV, but with poorly done intersectionality, especially around race and colonialism. The more she talks about global issues with a sweeping brush, the more uncomfortable I felt. My greatest wince was this part as she's looking a photograph of an Afghani family: "I realized with astonishment that what I had taken for drapery or furniture was a fully veiled woman... Whatever all the arguments may be about veils and burkas, they make people literally disappear."
Like, WTF is that?! If you have such unfamiliarity with Afghani/Muslim culture that you initially mistake a woman for a piece of furniture, maybe don't assume you can make a judgement about the visual significance of their women's clothing to the point that you call your opinions "literal." A good question to ask yourself: "Is this piece of clothing the Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter?" If the answer is no, then the clothes don't not make women "literally disappear." That's just your ignorance talking!
It's clear that this book was only meant to scratch the surface, as evidenced by the inset quotes from the book that all but scream "I assume you're skimming this!" So a fair bit of strategic essentialization was inevitable, and there's a place for that in short essay writing of this style. But in these essays - of which four out of seven contain horrifying accounts of individual rapes and murders followed by shapeless metaphors about progress and hope - foreign countries are basically only cited as places of horror and oppression, while the lighter moments of the book (like the Woolf essay or a short piece on marriage equality) are all situated in white American thought and activism.
And when she does take on colonization, it's so heavy handed it hurts. "Her name was Africa. His was France, He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her" she writes about Dominique Strauss-Kahn's rape of Nafissatou Dialo. Like, why does he get the specificity of representing his country (despite being the head of the IMF) while she's expected to represent a whole continent? Nitpicky, I know, but if you're a white lady writing about international feminism, you gotta get your shit together on this stuff. Don't represent brown countries as only places of pain, and don't make women of color part of your convenient narrative at the cost of their visibility or individuality.
Feminism has - and probably will always have - a special place in my heart. Overall, I don't read a lot of nonfiction, but when I do, it is often in the form of feminist essays. And I just think I may have been spoiled by better essay writers than Solnit.
Men Explain Things to Me was a natural choice for my TBR, but the writing quality is just okay, not very evocative or engaging, and the ideas are very basic. Compare this to Roxane Gay or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Bad Feminist, Hunger, We Should All Be Feminists, Dear Ijeawele) and it pales in comparison.
I think the strength of this book - and the reason it has done so well - is that it’s main concept will make sense to a lot of women. I keep seeing anecdotes from other reviewers on how men have tried to explain things to them in their lives. There is something very wonderful about someone putting into words an experience that up until this point you haven’t known how to explain. I get that.
But, unfortunately, that's where the positive ended for me. Take, for example, the title essay of "Men Explain Things to Me". The title pretty much says it all, and the essay doesn't take you into any more depth. Almost the entirety of the essay is contained within its title. The essay consists of Solnit talking about an encounter with a man who tried to explain to her something she knew more about than he did. She doesn't analyze this, or the history behind it - it is not so much an essay as it is an idea floating around without depth.
That's just the first essay, but the rest feel like Feminism 101, too. They are mostly statistics that learned feminists will have already heard of, and Solnit doesn’t give any additional insight. The book lacks intersectionality, which, you know, fine, I get writing about what you know, but then don't make absolutely ridiculous statements like this:
"violence doesn't have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender."
The author highlights her ignorance with this statement because violence has been shown repeatedly to have all of those things.
I thought for a while I could say this book was only for those who know nothing about feminism already, but reading statements like that make me think it isn't for those either.
Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube
I didn't know this book was a collection of essays when I first sat down with it. I thought it was an expansion on the title essay. I would have enjoyed this book more if I'd known what to expect, so in case you didn't know, either: this book is a collection of feminist essays.
Some of the writing here makes for some pretty brutal reading. Much of it had me jumping up and down, shouting, "YES! FINALLY, SOMEONE ELSE IS SAYING THIS! IT'S NOT JUST ME! THIS IS TRUE!"
Passages like this one:
It's not that I want to pick on men. I just think that if we noticed that women are, on the whole, radically less violent, we might be able to theorize where violence comes from and what we can do about it a lot more productively. Clearly the ready availability of guns is a huge problem for the United States, but despite this availability to everyone, murder is still a crime committed by men 90 percent of the time.
And this one:
No female bus riders in India have ganged up to sexually assault a man so badly he dies of his injuries, nor are marauding packs of women terrorizing men in Cairo's Tahrir Square, and there's just no maternal equivalent of the 11 percent of rapes that are by fathers or stepfathers. Of the people in prison in the United States, 93.5 percent are not women, and though quite a lot of the prisoners should not be there in the first place, maybe some of them should because of violence, until we think of a better way to deal with it, and them.
And so many more. I could quote this book all day. (Ask my friends.)
Solnit points out, correctly, that South Africa is the rape capital of the world. I already knew this, and have been known to point out (again, check with my immediate circle) that we all cared a lot about the horrible things going on in South Africa when those horrible things were racist. Now that it's women who are being brutally mistreated – gosh, look at the time. And anyway, that's not the same thing as apartheid, is it? It's not the government raping women. So, you know.
Excuse me while I punch a wall.
Solnit's chapter "Who has the right to kill you?" has never been more timely. It addresses the idea some men have that they have a right to control women's behavior, and to mete out punishment for "misbehavior." (Misbehavior being behavior such men don't approve of, such as women not basing their actions on what such men want.)
A few days ago, I was listening to a news report about one of the rapists who's facing the death penalty for his murderous assault on a medical student in New Delhi. This rapist was interviewed about his crime, and I was expecting to hear him sound utterly cowed, utterly chastened. He was facing possible execution, after all, for a crime that had prompted outrage around the world. I expected this to be hard to listen to, because I rarely enjoy hearing people cringe no matter how hard they've worked to earn the privilege of doing so.
Instead, he doubled down. He had the right, he said, to teach a lesson to a girl who was out late with a boy she wasn't married or related to. And anyway, he wouldn't have hurt her so much if she hadn't fought back.
Well, I was right about it being hard to listen to.
I want to point out one small fault in this book, because it's a misuse of statistics I've run into before and it drives me nuts and I need it to stop. We can do better, and when it comes to a cause as important and beleaguered as feminism, we need to do the best work possible.
Here's a passage from Men Explain Things to Me that didn't have the intended effect on me:
About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It's one of the main causes of death for pregnant women in the United States.
The first sentence made me blindingly furious. I wanted to run outside and do something. Shout from the rooftops. Donate to my local shelter. Something. Anything.
The second sentence made me think, "That's true – we've really made a lot of medical advances. Women aren't dying in childbirth, or from pre-eclampsia, or from the side effects of hyperemesis gravidarum, nearly as often as we used to. And that's not what you meant, is it?"
I know I sound like a heartless jerk, but I can't STAND it when people use what I call the Popularity Contest of Doom to make a point that makes itself without any help.
I remember hearing something on the radio years ago about suicide among the very young. Really, you barely need statistics at all if you're going to agitate against that. If one single solitary child is taking her own life, that's one child too many. Take my wallet. Take my chocolate. Do whatever you need to, but make it stop.
This report or ad or whatever it was couldn't stop there. Instead, a woman's voice intoned, "Suicide is the leading cause of death among children aged 9 to 14 in this country."
And I'm sorry, but yes – as a rigorous critical thinker, my first thought was, "Well, YEAH. We've hit the medical causes so hard that suicide has had the chance to catch up."
Solnit said something about how "this is the number one cause of death for women" a few times in this book, and it drove me quietly out of my mind every time. Because what does that mean? Why phrase it that way? If the leading cause of death among pregnant women in America is murder, and then German measles makes a horrific comeback and pregnant women start dying more of that even though the murder statistics didn't change any, are you saying I shouldn't worry anymore about pregnant women being murdered by their spouses and ex-spouses because who cares about the second-place winner in this race from hell?
If you don't mean that, why bring it up at all?
If you have meaningful figures and statistics, give me those. If three American women a day really are murdered by spouses or exes, that's what I care about. That's enough. More than enough. I don't care who else wanted to be queen of the evil prom.
This is a tiny quibble about a book that turned me into the reader everyone dreads – the one who looks up from her page and says, "Let me just tell you this one part" and then makes you late for work by reading aloud for ten minutes straight, pausing only long enough to say, "Isn't that amazing?" before starting in on yet another part that you really have to hear.
Brace yourself to read this book, but read it.
This book is so depressing that I had to read this one at the same time to prevent me from spiralling down into despair.
You may have heard of the title essay, which is funny and deservedly famous. But in the second essay the floor suddenly drops away and we’re falling into the vile pit of misogyny. The second essay is called “The Longest war” and is about men hating, silencing, injuring and killing women.
Ah misogyny, men hating women. It’s like oil – every time you think we may be running out of it vast new reserves are discovered. Recent new geysers of hatred have been spouting forth from the internet and why? Because some women just do not know their place. Imagine – some of these women actually had the temerity to suggest a woman’s portrait should feature on a British bank note. So naturally, they got rape and death threats . Well, what did they expect?
Then some other women had the gall to suggest that many computer games are misogynistic. After the by now standard rape ‘n’ death threats came the bombing threats.
The writer Caitlin Moran has a reply to those who say aw, stop whining, just block the trolls.
For those who say “why complain -just block” on a big troll day it can be 50 violent /rape messages an hour.
Gotta love that internet.
In other countries the men don’t just talk the talk, they shoot 15 year old girls in the head if they have the temerity to speak publicly about the education of girls.
When they’re not actually raping & killing & trolling, men make movies in which men torture women to death, movies which some other men ban and others enjoy. Here's a few interesting titles (there are sooooooo many more)
Well, in the interest of fairness, some women also like this sort of movie…. Here’s Goodreads author J A Saare explaining where she’s coming from
But I’d say it’s mostly men, by a long long shot.
Rebecca Solnit lays this all on the line in this series of essays. But - maybe by sheer will power, she manages to end on an optimistic note, which I was very grateful for. She says that at least this is all known about & made public now; and the genie of feminism can’t be put back in the bottle, and even though the road is 1000 miles long
the woman walking down it isn’t at mile one. I don’t know how far she has to go, but I know she’s not going backward, despite it all – and she’s not walking alone.
Here's a little bit of good news from Britain : we have begun to jail men who threaten rape.
Labour MP Stella Creasy tells of ordeal as Twitter troll is jailed for 18 weeks
STELLA Creasy has described feeling "frightened" and "terrified" as a result of a hate campaign by a Twitter troll who was today jailed for 18 weeks.
Delivery driver Peter Nunn bombarded Stella Creasy with menacing messages including threats to rape her.
Nunn, 33, used social media for a series of vile statements after Ms Creasy supported a bid to put Austen on the bank note.
The campaign was launched by feminist Caroline Criado-Perez, a court heard.
She was also a target of threats from Nunn, City of London Magistrates' Court was told.
He retweeted one sickening message to the Walthamstow MP, which read: "You better watch your back, I'm going to rape you at 8pm and put the video all over."
Ms Creasy told 5 News Tonight: "I can't pretend that it hasn't had an impact on me. Of course it makes you much more wary of strangers, it makes you frightened, it makes you terrified because somebody has fixated on you and wants to cause you suffering and pain.
Nunn, from Bristol, was found guilty at an earlier hearing of sending indecent, obscene and menacing messages by a public electronic network between July 28 and August 5 last year.
Jailing him for 18 weeks today, District Judge Elizabeth Roscoe dismissed Nunn's defence that the messages were meant to be satirical.
She said: "This was extreme language with substantial threats to Ms Creasy.
I do not accept that this was free speech and jokes," she added.
Earlier the judge had remarked: "I can't see that this is anything other than grossly offensive and menacing.
"I am told that a lot of people joke about rape, I don't know if I'm sure that this is a common form of humour in any form of media."
The first two essays in this book started out sooo strong. I was really enjoying it up until the middle, because then it got into some essays that went off on a tangent about politics and the justice system, which wouldn't be horrible if tied back to feminism, but the language became so dense that it lost my attention. Solnit is great at researching her pieces and matching her words with experience and personal stories, but a lot of times she would be ranting about things that happened in 2003 and I just couldn't relate.
I thought the essays were eloquent, but I also understand the concerns that some people have about this book being non-intersectional, since it discusses the fact that women are more likely to be victims of violence than men, but fails to include the hierarchy within that statistic that explains the differences in white women vs. women of color being victims of hate crimes and domestic violence.
Overall I wouldn't really recommend this as a feminist read, but I will keep it on my shelf because it did have some nice quotes that made me think, such as a woman's power comes hand-in-hand with her credibility, which I never really thought about before. It was fascinating and infuriating.