Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit is, like most contemporary writing, something that I saw floating around online and laid out prominently in bookstores for years before I eventually got my hands on it. Solnit even came through the city I live in about a year or two ago but, since I wasn’t really familiar with her work at that point, I didn’t even go see her talk — though now I am kicking myself for not going! I finally got the chance to read this collection of essays because of a secret gift exchange I do with some coworkers each year. The lovely lady who was my secret gift giver picked this book out for me because it was on her to-be-read list, too. I am so glad she sent this to me because I was (unsurprisingly) absolutely floored by Solnit’s writing.
Like I said before, I was pretty unfamiliar with most of Solnit’s work, though her name inevitably appeared in various literary lists, articles, and what not. I wasn’t even aware of the connection between this titular essay and the concept of mansplaining that took over in recent years, especially in the online space. I know both the term ‘mansplaining’ and the title ‘Men Explain Things to Me’ can elicit a knee-jerk reaction from some people who assume something about Solnit’s ideas from what they believe the title or word indicates. However, what I like about Solnit is that she can be fairly polemical in the way she unabashedly criticizes culture, but she is also very self-reflexive and that self-reflexivity is what makes her ideas so brilliant and nuanced. Take, for example, how she views mansplaining:
“The term “mansplaining” was coined soon after the piece appeared, and I was sometimes credited with it. In fact, I had nothing to do with it’s actual creation, though my essay, along with all the men who embodied the idea, apparently inspired it. (I have doubts about the word and don’t use it much myself much; it seems to me to go a little heavy on the idea that men are inherently flawed in this way, rather than that some men explain things they shouldn’t and don’t hear things they should. If it’s not clear enough in the piece, I love it when people explain things to me they know and I’m interested in but don’t know; it’s when they explain things to me I know and they don’t that the conversation goes wrong.)” — Men Explain Things to Me, 13