Knowledge and Silence…

Author:  Rebecca Solnit

me explain things to me cover (187x269)It doesn’t stand out much, just an unremarkable storefront on Main Street.  I happened upon the accompanying historical marker as I was enjoying an ice cream cone last summer while wandering around the tiny town of Dayton, Wyoming, located just east of the Bighorn Mountains.  But despite the humble trappings, the building was home to an extraordinary resident.   A schoolteacher and single mother of two who raised her family on her own following the death of her husband, Susan Wissler was elected mayor of Dayton in 1911, by a vote of 31-22, becoming the first female mayor in Wyoming’s history and one of the first in the entire country.  The lives of American women have changed a lot over the subsequent century, but full and equal rights are a goal that has not yet been reached.  Award winning writer Rebecca Solnit elaborates on this idea in her collection of essays, Men Explain Things to Me.

Inspired by an unsolicited lecture she received while at a posh social gathering at a chalet in Aspen in 2008, the lead off essay explores why women are so frequently silenced by men, even if they’re clearly more knowledgeable on a given topic.  Originally appearing on tomdispatch.com, the essay was circulated widely and although Solnit didn’t coin the term, it helped boost the popularity of a new verb for the 21st century, “mansplaining”.

The book includes six additional essays also focused on women’s rights, from rape and violence to marriage equality and Virginia Woolf.  Each essay is excellent, whether she’s pondering why so little attention is devoted to the fact that men commit 90% of all violent crime or exploring what true freedom would really mean for women.

An astute observer who writes with concision and sharpness, Solnit deftly cuts away the niceties and reveals some of the core issues that face women today.  Displaying a deceptively matter-of-fact and often humorous delivery, Solnit’s essays are affecting and powerful, moving me much more than I had expected.

Despite that fact that women have been struggling for equality for centuries, Solnit remains surprisingly optimistic.  She acknowledges the many gains that have been made, but doesn’t sugarcoat the obstacles that remain.  Men Explain Things to Me is a remarkable collection by an extraordinary writer.  Highly recommended in the Equality State and beyond.

— D. Driftless

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