Every generation of women needs its manifesto, the one that coalesces all the crap they’ve experienced and observed and heard about from older women, that crap that men never seem to have to deal with, into one book that gets recommended and word-of-mouthed enough for it to slowly seep into the culture, so that even people who never have read it have at least sort of heard about it. Men Explain Things to Me is likely going to be the next one.
It has the urgency of the best political pamphlets, can be read in one sitting, and I can see the students I commute with reading it by choice. And there’s that great title, which is what first attracted my attention (partly because I’m pretty sure I’ve been one of those men).
Solnit’s skill lies particularly in drawing compelling parallels between street-level and globe-level—with other writers, this can result in a thesis that’s far-fetched and/or trivializing, but in Men Explain Things to Me, Solnit compares the sexual assault of a woman by the head of the International Monetary Fund with the predations of the IMF itself, and she leaves you wondering truly how much of the world’s misery begins with how boys are raised to treat girls.
She also highlights, perhaps unintentionally, the intractability of male violence against women: regarding a particular 2013 attack, she writes of “a man [approaching] a woman with both desire and the furious expectation that the desire will likely be rebuffed.” While it doesn’t usually result in violence—that yin-yanged desire and expectation, the human cock in conflict with itself—is an eternal verity, and how the hell you do you address it? How do you teach empathy? How do you teach impulse control (especially here in the 21st century)? Has anyone figured that out yet?
Get Men Explain Things to Me, spend two or three hours reading it, then pass it along. –Jim Woster (Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618, haymarketbooks.org)