While on vacation in New York City this winter I happened upon Rebecca Solnit’s book of essays Men Explain Things to Me. I finished it soon after in a chic Williamsburg cafe. You may already be broadly familiar with Solnit, whose work inspired the slang term “mansplaining.” My boyfriend was simultaneously reading Ready Player One (which I would also recommend), but the difference between the two books, one playful and set in a future fantasy world, the other focused primarily on violence against women, was striking.
Men Explain Things to Me focuses primarily on repression of and violence against women. Solnit’s beautiful writing style reveals important truths about these complex subjects that are hard, for me at least, to put into words. Her writing feels especially timely in a political climate where so many Americans are becoming more engaged, from protesting in the Women’s March on Washington to attending their member of Congress’s town halls to make their voices heard.
In an interview with Believer in 2009, Solnit said “A lot of people think of political activism as some grim duty, and I think we do have an obligation to be citizens—to be informed and engaged—but it’s not just duty. Public life enlarges you, gives you purpose and context, saves you from drowning in the purely personal, as so many Americans seem to. I still think that walking down the middle of the street with several thousand people who share your deepest beliefs is one of the best ways to take a walk.”
When Wesley told me that Rebecca Solnit would be coming to Berkeley in March to discuss her latest book, The Mother of All Questions, I knew we had to go. Jeff Chang, author of We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation, interviewed Solnit about topics like Standing Rock, Trump, silence, weaponization of men’s bodies, voter disenfranchisement, hope, intersectionality at marches, and even Beyoncé (who Solnit called “the Virginia Woolf of hip hop”). My personal biggest takeaway during a period where I tend to read the political news with alarm was her point that being miserable is not actually a form of solidarity. “Despair is a black leather jacket that everyone looks cool in,” she commented, but added “being privileged while wallowing is not a revolution.”
Image source here.