Review: Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit

by | July 27, 2014
filed under Books, Feminism

Cover of "Men Explain Things to Me"“Like racism, misogyny can never be adequately addressed by its victims alone.” – Rebecca Solnit

The recent #WomenAgainstFeminism hashtag and widespread circulation of a BuzzFeed list, titled “14 Women Say Why They Don’t Need Feminism”, has reignited the discussion on whether feminism is still relevant and necessary today. The women pictured, unfortunately, seem to have a grave misunderstanding of what feminism is and where women’s equality is at today.

Their reasons for being anti-feminist include, among many, their belief in “real equality”, their respect for “all humans not just one gender,” their refusal to join a “hate movement” and “ignore the fact men have issues too,” and because they already have the right to vote, receive equal pay, get an education, and run for office.

Rebecca Solnit’s most recent book, Men Explain Things To Me, comes at an appropriate time and shows that feminism is still very much necessary. Solnit’s book shares the same name as her 2008 essay, a piece that quickly went viral and is still being shared and commented on.

Although Solnit does not claim to have coined the now popular term “mansplaining”, her essay helped to inspire the word, and in 2010, “mansplain” was selected by the New York Times as one of its words of the year. “By 2012,” Solnit writes, “the term ‘mansplained’… was being used in mainstream political journalism.”

According to the New York Times, a “mansplainer” is a “man compelled to explain or give an opinion about everything—especially to a woman. He speaks, often condescendingly, even if he doesn’t know what he’s talking about or even if it’s none of his business.” Solnit argues this silencing of women has dangerous consequences: many of the problems that plague society have, in large part, arisen and continue to take place as a result of the very inability to listen to what women have to say.

Solnit’s book is comprised of only seven essays; however, the book manages to tackle issues ranging from gender-based violence to the global injustice that continues to affect our society today. It is an excellent rebuttal to anti-feminists, who believe that feminists hate men, exaggerate the statistics on sexual and domestic violence, and most appallingly, believe that global gender equality has been achieved.

Solnit writes with clarity and honesty and her essays, while sobering, are also witty and engaging. Her arguments are in-depth and extremely well thought out.

Her chapter on global injustice, in which she compares former International Monetary Fund (IMF) head Dominque Strauss-Kahn’s rape of a hotel maid to the relationship between the global north and south, was especially thought provoking. Just as Strauss-Kahn had taken advantage of the hotel maid, among many of his other female colleagues, “The IMF was a predatory force, opening developing countries up to economic assaults from the wealthy North and powerful transnational corporations.” Solnit observes, “that a man who controls some part of the fate of the world apparently devoted his energies to generating fear, misery, and injustice around him says something about the shape of our world and the values of the nations and institutions that tolerated his behavior and that of men like him.”

Men Explain Things To Me is about gender roles, but more importantly, it is about the unequal distribution of power. Solnit’s stark discussions of rape culture, marriage (in)equality, as well as alarming gender-based violence statistics illustrate that we need feminism more now than ever before.

Solnit reveals, “though a rape is reported only every 6.2 minutes in this country [the United States], the estimated total is perhaps five times as high. Which means that there may be very nearly a rape a minute in the United States. It all adds up to tens of millions of rape victims.” Are we ignorant to these assaults, or have we become apathetic?

If the previous statistic didn’t shock, surely the following will serve as a wake-up call: “the more than 11,766 corpses from domestic-violence homicides between 9/11 and 2012 exceed the number of deaths of victims on that day and all American soldiers killed in the ‘war on terror.’” While the media recognizes certain cases of gender-based violence, the awareness and dialogue necessary in changing this pattern of violence is still far too small.

While the feminist movement has made significant gains, there is still a long way to go before gender equality can truly be achieved. Women in developed and democratic societies may have won the right to receive an education, have a job, vote, and even run for office, but these gains mean nothing if women continue to suffer the silencing of their voices. Anti-feminists who gloat about their rights and claim they have no need for feminism should do well to remember that their rights were hard-won by past feminists, and that women (and men) are still victims of sexism and discrimination.

As Solnit states, “Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime. I’m still fighting it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.”

 


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