When I first picked up Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things To Me, I was expecting a collection of funny stories about things overbearing men have said to the author. Oh boy was I wrong. This book is a dark and very serious collection of essays about feminism, sexism, misogyny, rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, poverty, class warfare, and the silencing of women’s voices across the globe. In short, this is pretty heavy stuff.
Yes, the first essay is funny and has been cited as the piece that launched the term “mansplaining” (you can read it here), but this is just Solnit’s hook to get you reading. The other eight essays in this book are unbelievably depressing. Solnit uses a lot of anecdotes and statistics to make her points and show just how widespread violence against women really is (and not just physical violence). Maybe it’s because I was expecting this book to continue in a similar vein to the first essay, but I really struggled to get through this one and it took me far longer than usual to read 130 pages.
While Solnit is undoubtedly a good writer (I really enjoyed Hope in the Dark, which I discussed briefly here), I thought this collection of essays was very scattered and lacked an overarching structure. The essay about Virginia Woolf and Susan Sontag, although interesting, felt totally out of place, almost as if it had been added as an afterthought. Another thing that bugged me a little about this collection (especially all that Woolf/Sontag musing) was that Solnit made a lot of really tenuous links for the sake of… sounding poetic, I guess.
All in all, I wanted to like this book more than I actually did and it really did not 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? Still, I’m glad that the issues Solnit raises are being talked about and I hope this book leads to more reading on the topic (and more social progress).
Have you read Men Explain Things To Me? Or any of Rebecca Solnit’s other books? What did you think? Would love to hear from you.