Men Explain Things to Me


Brilliant essayist and prolific author Rebecca Solnit explores the multiple ways men and society seek to silence, suppress and intimidate women and how women can resist assaults, whether cultural, psychological or physical.

Prolific author and essayist Rebecca Solnit’s bold, witty feminist book, now a classic, highlights crucial issues with quick sketches of actual events and women’s responses to them, focusing on violence both subtle and horrific. Yes, writes Solnit, women can be violent, but men perpetrate violence far more. About rape, she says, instead of telling women to stay indoors at night, maybe authorities should tell men not to rape. Solnit’s stance in this book’s seven essays may inspire vehement backlash, and she addresses that, too. She embraces being political and controversial with rare insight and righteous anger while capturing the fitful march of progress on feminist issues.


The host at a party waylaid author Rebecca Solnit and a friend. Solnit’s most recent publication at the time was River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West. Solnit mentioned the title, and her host cut her off to ask if she’d heard of a new “very important Muybridge book.” Solnit’s friend explained to the host that he was referring to Solnit’s book. This shattered the man’s preconceptions about who writes important works and this exchange exemplifies, as Solnit points out, an all-too-familiar experience for women.

Yes, people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered.Rebecca Solnit

How different the world would be if men listened to women, Solnit writes. When men assert themselves, they expect women to rethink their ideas or retreat into silence. The battle for women to air their own thoughts and opinions and to have their value in society recognized, is far from over.


Women report rapes every 6.2 minutes in the United States, however, Solnit reports, experts believe the actual number of rapes is five times that. But women athletes, she underscores, don’t participate in gang rapes of unconscious boys. Women bus drivers don’t attack male riders.

Rape and other acts of violence…constitute the barrage some men lay down as they attempt to control some women, and fear of that violence limits most women in ways they’ve gotten so used to they hardly notice – and we hardly address.Rebecca Solnit

Solnit expresses alarm about efforts to erode access to birth control as access to abortion has been eroded access. In her view, the issue is who controls a woman’s body.

Marriage Equality

Marriage equality means that marriage between homosexuals confers the same benefits and responsibilities as heterosexual marriage.

For centuries, the law defined a married couple as one person: the man. Women depended wholly on their husbands. Until the late 1800s, for example, American women did not have the right to own property. Feminism protests the power differential in marriage and in society. Feminist activism needed centuries to lay the groundwork for same-sex marriage.


A family tree can go back a millennium listing only men – husbands, fathers, sons – resulting in thousands of years of lineage featuring not a single woman’s name. Thus, a patriarchal society maintains its narrative. Women disappear when girls take first their father’s surnames and – almost universally until recently – their husbands’ names. Other cultural traditions confine women to their homes, denying them interaction or a voice in public life.

Every woman who appears wrestles with the forces that would have her disappear. She struggles with the forces that would tell her story for her, or write her out of the story, the rights of man, the rule of law.Rebecca Solnit

When women express their thoughts and their own stories, they become part of the contemporary and historical narrative.


Perhaps part of the problem in explaining women’s issues is that using language to make bold, simple statements proves easier than addressing ambiguous subjects. The impact of actions often unfolds far in the future – and sometimes far away.

Despair is a form of certainty, certainty that the future will be a lot like the present or will decline from it; despair is a confident memory of the future.Rebecca Solnit

Often, the “tyranny of the quantifiable” and the difficulty of talking about ambiguous ideas or actions limits women’s discourse. Giving value to something that isn’t described or named is nearly impossible. Naming these values is a first revolutionary step in overturning the patriarchal status quo.


People often doubt a woman’s veracity when she accuses or criticizes a man, but when men attempt to dismiss a woman and her statements, their pronouncements often verge into hysteria. This is ironic, because “hysterical” is how men often characterize women. “Hysteria” comes from a Greek word meaning “uterus.” Thus, the confusion it denotes is unique to women.

Pioneering psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, for example, simply stopped believing his female patients because, if what they told him were true, their tales would undermine “patriarchal authority.” Therefore, he posited, these women must have imagined the sexual assaults they described.

Second-wave feminists defined previously unrecognized areas of violation by throwing light on abuses of power and questioning men’s previously unquestioned authority. They created the social infrastructure for victims of child abuse, sexual trauma, domestic violence and rape to tell their stories.

Misogyny and Violence

The term “rape culture” conveys society’s pervasive acceptance of sexual violence. This culture objectifies women while disregarding their rights and safety.

Domestic violence, mansplaining, rape culture and sexual entitlement are among the linguistic tools that redefine the world many women encounter daily and open the way to begin to change it.Rebecca Solnit

The misogynistic belief that women should have no voice and no opinions motivates the man who cuts off a woman’s conversation over dinner or at work – as well as the husband who beats his wife, or the stranger who kills a woman over unresolved anger toward another – or toward all – woman.

Perceptive and Original

Rebecca Solnit is one of America’s most perceptive, original, poetic, lyrical, insightful and compelling authors, but she shares a tough message here. She writes on a myriad of difficult subjects, including herself, with a striking ability to link disparate cultural, technological, psychological and spiritual strands to illuminate her always multilayered themes. Here, Solnit moves away from poetic abstractions and large-scale metaphors to address women’s concerns directly. She writes with anger, at times, and righteousness, and with great compassion and concern. Solnit intends this as both a clarion call for men and women to take action and a diagram for women to use to understand all the ways in which men, society and culture minimize them. Her prose is, as ever, galvanizing. Even those who oppose feminist ideas may find eye-opening arguments and insights here.

Rebecca Solnit’s 18-and-counting books include Hope in the Dark; The Faraway Nearby; A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster; A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Wanderlust: A History of Walking; and River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (for which she received a Guggenheim and the National Book Critics Circle Award in criticism).

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