(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“The shell of home is a prison of sorts, as much as protection, a casing of familiarity and continuity that can vanish outside. Walking the streets can be a form of social engagement, even of political action …but it can also be a means of inducing reverie, subjectivity, and imagination, a sort of duet between the prompts and interrupts of the outer world and the flow of images and desires (and fears) within. At times, thinking is an outdoor activity, and a physical one.”
Author Rebecca Solnit explains that this process brought ideas to English writer Virginia Woolf. Though she suffered what many consider to be bi-polar disorder-Woolf committed suicide in 1941- Solnit claims that Woolf “liberated the text, the imagination, the fictional character, and then demands that liberty for ourselves, most particularly for women.”
In this powerful 2009 essay, “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable” she demands that women “have full freedom to roam, geographically and imaginatively.”
Men Explain Things to Me is actually a series of essays by Rebecca Solnit, where she explores the evolution of women’s freedom and the determination of self. I discovered this slim book when I perused the staff recommendations at Skylight Books in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles.
In the the 2008 title essay , Solnit states that many men speak as experts to women on things that they know nothing or little about. They talk down to women which keep women from opening up and expressing their opinions. This also enforces self-doubt and self-limitation.
“Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite” (2011) was written right after IMF head, Dominique Strauss- Kahn was arrested for sexual assault. Solnit parallels this to the IMF’s attack on the poor nations and how it is an assault on all of us through free market economics that cuts unions, education and aid to the poor. However, she celebrates that today in this country a poor woman can file charges against a prominent man and have a chance that the justice system may prevail.
Solnit opened my eyes in some of these essays. For example, “In Praise of the Threat: What Marriage Equality Really Means” (2013), she reminds us that gay marriage has opened the door to marriage equality for all people, changing the dynamics of heterosexual marriage, where men control women.
The history of violence is explored in “The Longest War” (2013). In her 2014 essays, “Grandmother Spider” (2014) and “Pandora’s Box and the Volunteer Police Force” she notes how women both exist and are invisible. However progress, enlightenment and freedom for any group can never be put back in the Genie’s bottle.
I particularly enjoy the striking images by San Francisco artist Ana Teresa Fernandez (magical reality) that are sprinkled throughout the book and give further emphasis to the written word. If you are not familiar with Fernandez, google her work.
I recommend Men Explain Things to Me for those who wish to challenge their ideas and perhaps find a new way to look at history and current events in a unique context.