Book 24: Men explain things to me and other essays by Rebecca Solnit



This book , by Rebecca Solnit, an American feminist writer, has seven essays, which deal with mansplaining, misogyny, patriarchy, class warfare and gender inequality.  ‘Mansplaining’ is a term used to denote a phenomenon in which, characteristically a  man, inspite of having limited knowledge of a subject, explains it to a woman in a patronising tone. Rebecca Solnit is credited with the invention of this terminology in her essay, ‘Men explain things to me’, which is the first essay in this collection.The author begins this essay on a lighter note, where she narrates her experience with an older man who had the audacity to explain to her about her own book! I am sure majority of women would be able to recollect at least one instance of mansplaining in their lives. Many a times I have had the fortune/misfortune of listening to older men(Of course, non- medicos) expound confidently about the nuances of medical science without giving me the consideration that I have invested half of my life time in studying medical science!

The author begins the second essay, ‘The Longest War’, stating the scary statistics of reported rape ( 1 every 6.2 minutes and one in five women being raped in her lifetime) in the Unites States. The author methodically examines, puts forth facts and brilliantly argues about the gender difference  which exists in perpetrators of violence. She writes, ‘Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender’. One of my friends was under the false impression that rape incidents in USA would be much less because casual sex is available in plenty there! What she failed to realise is that, it is not due to scarcity of sex or supressed sexual need, that men end up raping women.(Or else,why does marital rape happen?) Rape, in reality, has got nothing to do with sex but is a despicable and violent display of power. So even if casual sex is freely accessible, men who are inherently violent and consider women as second class human beings, will end up forcing themselves on them, be it inside or outside a household. It was shocking to realise that, world wide, women between 15 and 44 years of age are more likely to die because of male violence than because of illnesses or traffic accidents. Rebecca Solnit points out the fact that more deaths have happened in USA due to violence on women  than terrorist attacks and no one declares a war on such valiant display of power. She concludes the chapter by praising Indians for staging large scale demonstrations in 2012 for  New Delhi rape case and there by projecting it a human rights issue rather than another stray event. (This is the only point on which I disagree with her!)

The third essay, ‘World collides in a luxury suite’, draws a parallel between the ‘stronger’ countries looting the weaker ones and stronger men ill treating women.  In the essay titled, “In praise of the threat’ she discusses what marriage equality really means. She asserts that it was the feminist movement which enabled same sex marriage become a reality by transforming a ‘hierarchical relationship into an egalitarian one’.

The fifth essay begins with the description of a painting by Ana Teresa Fernandez which portrays a woman hanging out laundry; a woman who exists and is obliterated at  the same time. The author intelligently uses this painting to talk about women who have been obliterated from family trees, denied family names and sidelined by patriarchy.

In her essay ‘Woolf’s darkness’, Rebecca Solnit writes about the writings and philosophy of Virginia Wolfe and how she has drawn inspiration from them to write. She contemplates about  the tyranny of the quantifiable , ‘where something that can be measured always takes precedence over what cannot’. I realised that the urge to acknowledge only things which can be quantified has in itself become an accepted way of our life and culture. ‘Wolfe gave us limitlessness, impossible to grasp, urgent to embrace, as fluid as water, as endless as desire, a compass by which to get lost’, she concludes.

The last essay is titled ‘Pandora’s box and the volunteer police force’. The author firmly believes that feminism has not lost its purpose and now has evolved into something wider, encompassing human rights , environmental rights and a deeper enquiry into men. She hopes that more men would read and understand feminism because it not only liberates women, but rather liberates everyone. History teaches us that ideas which create a revolution will never die even if the end point of a revolution is not seen in the immediate future.

Men, if time permits, please read this book; at least the title essay. You may get a better idea about what infuriates a woman.

And all women and people with ‘more interesting genders’ out there, grab hold of this book and relish every single word; you will not regret it.

Convinced that ‘Misogyny, like racism, can never be adequately addressed by its victims alone’,  I earnestly wish for a day when more men would not hesitate to identify themselves as feminists.


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