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.