Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit


I was first introduced to Rebecca Solnit in a “Democracy Now” interview.  My next encounter was a “Brain Pickings”  newsletter which featured Solnit’s book Hope in the Dark which was written at the height of the Bush administration’s power and the outset of the Iraq War–a very dark time.  Hope in the Dark is still a very potent antidote to despair including the despair caused by the Climate Crisis, COVID 19, and the erosion of democracies around the world.  When I first read the book a few years ago in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, I found it so inspiring that I passed copies on to several friends.  Recently I attended a virtual conference at Upaya Zen Center which featured Solnit as one of the speakers.  I was inspired to read more of her writing.  I remembered her telling the tale on “Democracy Now” of how a man she met at a dinner party started lecturing her about her own book.  That story is the first essay in her book of essays Men Explain Things to Me.  The original essay, when first published, went viral and inspired the coining of the word “mansplaining” by an unknown feminist.  The term caught on so quickly, its origins can’t be traced.  

Men Explain Things to Me reflects Solnit’s belief in hope, her superior intellect and her wit.  The essays cover topics from the silencing of women to gender violence and rape.  She is a keen analyst of historical events and how they interact with our personal lives.  As an activist, Solnit insists we celebrate victories, learn from defeats, and never stop working collectively towards a more just and compassionate world.  She owns the things that have changed for the better in many arenas, but acknowledges that the work for change is ongoing.  She reinforces the kind of hope that the late Rep. John Lewis said requires “Good trouble.”  In his words, “I tell friends and family, colleagues and especially young people that when you see something that’s not right or fair, you have to do something, you have to speak up, you have to get in the way.”  The hope of Solnit and Lewis, among many others, is a hope grounded in reality and action.  Solnit is clear that results remain hidden in the future.  When deeply understood, hope takes a great deal of courage, and it is nurtured by communities of support.  Ungrounded optimism/pessimism or denial will never create a better world.  Solnit’s essays take an honest look at women’s rights, and inspire the reader to continue to push forward toward an equitable future.  Solnit’s analysis is brilliant and her hope is costly.



4 comments on “Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit”

  1. “Men Explain Things to Me” is such a great title. Would every woman who has had things explained to her raise her hand? Yes, just as I thought…a sea of hands. Have put a hold on the book, and eagerly await its availability. I need Hope in the Dark, too, and have put this one on my list.

    Barbara, you do Upaya? So do I, though I missed the virtual conference. Small world, as the virus has found out.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Teri, I know I found out about Upaya on this site. Maybe you sent me down this path. I love the website–they are doing events online to help meet their expenses during the pandemic. You simply need to make a donation. The one I attended was wonderful. The speakers were all amazing women including Jane Fonda. Apparently Roshi Joan Halifax is a friend of Jane Fonda’s and was arrested with her on Jane’s birthday at a Fire Drill Friday rally in D.C. Everyone was online so we zoomed into Jane’s home. It felt intimate until I noted on the screen that there were hundreds of people online with me all packed into Jane’s space!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Barbara, I have not read Rebecca Solnit but she has been recommended to me many times. Clearly, it is time i dove into one of her books. Have put two on my shelf at the library.
    I am deeply moved by what you have written here – by the idea of “good trouble” and by this thought that ‘…results remain hidden in the future.” I can be so easy to lose hope, but this thought brings solace.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Barbara, I’ve just finished reading Men Explain Things to Me. When I read that first essay I laughed out loud, and then settled down to figure out which man it was in my acquaintance who this reminded me of. Oh, yes. Him. Example: I’m parking my car but he insists on me backing into the space (I don’t like reverse) for an easier exit later. Grrr. I’m going to recognize this sort of thing and put my foot down.

    I marked this passage, among others, in the book:
    “It is difficult, if not impossible, to value what cannot be named or described, and so the task of naming and describing is an essential one in any revolt against the status quo of capitalism and consumerism. Ultimately, the destruction of the Earth is due in part, perhaps in large part, to a failure of the imagination or to its eclipse by systems of accounting that can’t count what matters. The revolt against this destruction is a revolt of the imagination, in favor of subtleties, of pleasures money can’t buy and corporations can’t command, of being producers rather than consumers of meaning, of the slow, the meandering, the digressive, the exploratory, the numinous, the uncertain.”

    Liked by 1 person

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