Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit is a collection of previously published essays. The topics address “mansplaining” (the irrepressible need some men have to “explain” things to women); the systemic and ubiquitous instances of violence against women; the devastating impact of the IMF on the economies of developing countries; why gay marriage is perceived as a threat to traditional marriage; the ways in which women are erased, silenced, and/or rendered invisible; a discussion of Virginia Woolf’s embrace of the unknown; the attack on women’s credibility; how some men’s feelings of entitlement impact women’s bodies and women’s voices.
In spite of the dire circumstances Solnit discusses, the collection ends on a positive note with the essay, “Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force.” In it Solnit argues although we still have a long way to go, now that feminists have let the djinns out of the bottle, there’s no going back. We are slowly but surely making progress.
Solnit’s essays are loosely connected with overall themes of gender equality and global justice. With an unabashed feminist lens, Solnit writes in an engaging style, peppering her points with humorous anecdotes when appropriate. But this is far from being a light-hearted, rose-colored view of the world. Solnit is unrelenting in exposing the global war against women and in drawing parallels between that and the exploitation of developing countries by their wealthier and more powerful neighbors. She draws on specific current events to buttress her case. Her chapter on “The Longest War” includes sobering statistics revealing the extent to which women are victimized by sexual harassment, sexual assault, battery, and murder. She argues for a need to examine the link between the social constructs of masculinity and male violence.
There are gaps in Solnit’s analysis. For example, she fails to address intersectionality: how racism, classism, and sexism create overlapping systems of oppression. She also tends to paint developing countries with the same homogeneous paintbrush. But to address these issues systematically would have required a more extensive work. Presumably her intention was more limited in scope.
As a work that advances the goals of feminism and one that engages in feminist analysis within its established parameters, Solnit succeeds admirably in putting together a collection of essays that introduce the reader to some of the basic tenets of feminism.