Rowena's Reviews > Men Explain Things to Me

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
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"Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they're talking about. Some men."

Men explain things to me all the time, whether it be in person, online, in classroom, on dates, and at work. And my female friends tell me the same thing. Of course I have often been left wondering what it is about me that make these particular men believe I know nothing about the subject? It can't just be my gender,surely? It often is but often their actions are often racialized. This book focuses on gendered assumptions of a woman being seen as “some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge."

My thoughts for the majority of this review come from the titular essay, “Men Explain Things to Me.” Despite the fact that she's an accomplished writer, Solnit experiences “mansplaining” though she doesn’t use that term herself. What was surprising to me was how the essay started off in a light and slightly humorous tone but soon got quite dark, clearly showing us the consequences of silencing women, and those consequences are dire.

There was a lot of depressing data on rape and domestic violence figures. Solnit acknowledges male feminists and men who actually listen to women’s experiences, and she also questions the image of masculinity in society. It reminded me a bit of Anais Nin’s thoughts in her essay “In Favour of the Sensitive Man”:

"What's the matter with manhood? There's something about how masculinity is imagined, about what's praised and encouraged, about the way violence is passed on to boys that needs to be addressed."

After reading all the depressing numbers I can’t help but wonder why there hasn’t been more to address the violence facing women. In fact, it’s quite shocking that this isn’t a priority (especially not for some politicians, as Solnit points out some awful examples of rape culture perpetuated by Republican politicians). But this is not only an American problem, it's pretty much a global issue. As Solnit points out, why hasn't there been a war declared on rape and domestic violence? It is a pandemic although the media prefers to call these incidences isolated incidents.

There are other essays in the collection that are just as good and as informative as the titular one, with Solnit's poetic touch that didn't come through as strongly in this collection as it did in one of my favourites,The Faraway Nearby. One I especially liked was “Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite,” which was about the IMF and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. In this essay she showed the relationship between power and exploitation, and one can say domestic violence and sexual assault follows a similar pattern:

"Her name was Africa. His name was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her, and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted with a high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Côte d'Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity."

I could go on and on about the above paragraph; it’s stated so succinctly but there are so many layers to it.

A quick read with plenty of food for thought.
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Reading Progress

December 28, 2014 – Shelved
December 28, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
December 28, 2014 – Shelved as: feminism
March 29, 2015 – Started Reading
March 29, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-15 of 15 (15 new)

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message 1: by Jibran (new)

Jibran It can't just be my gender,surely? It often is but often their actions are often racialized. I was thinking the same. It is bad enough when assumptions are made on a woman's knowledge because of her gender, it is worst when you are a non-white woman. And if you happen to have an accent that comes from a far-off 'exotic land', let's just say this is when the impulse to impart wisdom is at its strongest, the saviour complex kicks in, and your are left doubting your own abilities to think for yourself.

Sometimes the assumptions are not even conscious; it just sits at the back of the mind.


Rowena Thanks for your comment, Jibran:) I wish more people would read books so that they could get the points that you made! There is definitely quite a bit of exotification of non-white women here, some so blatant and disturbing. I have a lot of Asian friends and they get it a lot more than I do.


Nandakishore Varma Your review gave me a lot of food for thought, Rowena. I am forever explaining things to women, even though I do not promote male chauvinism. Introspecting, I found that I do it because it gives me a certain sense of intellectual superiority and power without the attendant guilt - so I am a little bit of a chauvinist after all!

And one more reason (a more prosaic one!) - there is no better experience than having an attractive woman sitting near you, looking attentively at your face, and drinking in (or pretending to drink in) your words. ;)


message 4: by Seemita (new) - added it

Seemita "Mansplaining" ... That really got me thinking. Its painful to accept but accept we have to nonetheless, the rampant sermonic tones that linger sometimes tacitly and sometimes overtly in the men around us. I have found more incidents than I would like to remember, where, despite being extremely articulate, the "educated" members of the opposite sex show in mirror, more ignorance.

Thanks for this beautiful review, Rowena. You make a strong case in very linear words. It goes straight into my TBR! :)


message 5: by Travelin (last edited Mar 29, 2015 11:18PM) (new)

Travelin This may follow the progression of the poem "Fire and Ice", where it seems safer for some women to settle for the mansplainer sitting in the corner of world parties.


message 6: by Cheryl (new) - added it

Cheryl That last quote is stupendous! Excellent review, Rowena! You made me get The Faraway Nearby, even though I haven't started reading it yet. What great points she makes in this one as well. What's sad is that some men don't even realize when they're 'mansplaining' and some women either don't realize it, or what's worse, some seek it or welcome it. Perhaps this is a problem also? I see it happen too often in meetings...


Rowena Nandakishore wrote: "Your review gave me a lot of food for thought, Rowena. I am forever explaining things to women, even though I do not promote male chauvinism. Introspecting, I found that I do it because it gives ..."

The last part of your comment made me laugh, Nandakishore:)Who wouldn't want an attractive face gazing at them!


Rowena Seemita wrote: ""Mansplaining" ... That really got me thinking. Its painful to accept but accept we have to nonetheless, the rampant sermonic tones that linger sometimes tacitly and sometimes overtly in the men ar..."

"sermonic tones" - I love how you put that, Seemita! While I've always found mansplaining annoying, I'd never given much thought to the overall consequences. Thank you, hope you enjoy the book:)


Rowena Travelin wrote: "This may follow the progression of the poem "Fire and Ice", where it seems safer for some women to settle for the mansplainer sitting in the corner of world parties."

Who's the poem by?


Rowena Cheryl wrote: "That last quote is stupendous! Excellent review, Rowena! You made me get The Faraway Nearby, even though I haven't started reading it yet. What great points she makes in this one as..."

Thanks, Cheryl! I think you'll really enjoy "The Faraway Nearby', definitely the best essay collection I've read this year. Ah, you reminded me of an old friend of mine who acted "dumb" in order to be mansplained to! As for me, I'm so over it! :)


message 11: by Travelin (new)

Travelin Rowena wrote: "Travelin wrote: "This may follow the progression of the poem "Fire and Ice", where it seems safer for some women to settle for the mansplainer sitting in the corner of world parties."

Who's the po..."


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_and...


message 12: by Melanie (new) - added it

Melanie Great review! Need to get my hands on this one.


Rowena Melanie wrote: "Great review! Need to get my hands on this one."

Thanks, Melanie! I now have in my possession "A Field Guide to Getting Lost.":)


message 14: by Lucie (new) - added it

Lucie Smoker You made me add this bookto my list. That paragraph is so wise yet poetic.


Rowena Hi Lucie, I'm glad you're going to give it a go! Solnit is an amazing writer:)


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