Book Review: Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit (2014)

OMG. This was such a perfect book. Not flawless, but close to it. Ahh!

How I found it

I just got it out of the library today and idly navigated to its Table of Contents, then Chapter 1. I fell into it completely! Totally by surprise! The first time it occurred to me to check what page number I was on was on page 84. I was not expecting that. I was not expecting its lyricism, its art, its appreciation for Virginia Woolf.


Ugh, like almost everything. This book is too good. The topics are several, but the premise it intros with is this: Some men don’t see women as human. This belief leads to a variety of behaviors that are on a spectrum of violence. Silencing a woman by talking over her, particularly when the male silencer does not understand the topic at hand as fully as the silenced woman does, is one manifestation of this belief that women are less human, less able or deserving of expressing her interpretation of reality.

I get talked over so many times at work that I couldn’t help but inwardly shriek “Hallelujah” when I read something so devoted to analyzing this experience.

There are fascinating photos of excellent paintings that accompany each chapter, which was surprising and curious and marvelous. I picked it up and was through with it within 90 minutes, I fell into it so fully. It is rare for non-fiction to carry me away like this.

There is a chapter that more obliquely references women’s humanity. The topic of this chapter is meandering, in appreciating the ambiguity, the mystery, the non-finality of things, events, history, personal identities, people. This is where a bunch of Virginia Woolf references come in to act as lens and support.

This jives so well with my worldview, and it was so pleasing to see it in a great book and to know that others (Woolf for example) have been into the idea too. I very much belief that “truth” is inherently unknowable, it consists in too many details ongoing inside of even a moment of time, that are simply not achievable, simply not holdable, in even one entire human lifetime, in even all human lifetimes. I call this my ‘test-tube’ theory — i.e. if one visualizes a moment in time as a collection of 100 test-tubes full of colorful liquids, so much is going on in that moment that the test-tubes are at all different fluid-levels and colors and nuances. In this sense, ‘truth’ loses meaning as an achievable object or purpose, the demand to ‘speak the truth’ or be ‘truthful’ or ‘honest’ is useless so long as one holds ‘lying by omission’ as an aspect of truthlessness, and since we can never not omit something (there is a sheer volume of things that we don’t even perceive, or perceive but cannot hold, or perceive and hold but cannot communicate) we are always liars, so why value this notion of truth if it is unachieveable and would furthermore be of dubious value were its achievement to be even possible?


I might not be fully understanding what Solnit is getting at, but there were some gendered analogies calling ‘colonized’ continents like Africa and Asia female, and the colonizing parties like Europe male. This felt weird to me. I mean, I get it–the victims of a war or even of an everyday conflict are often feminized after they lose, and made fun of for it (to understate it…). Female in this context means ‘loser’ and ‘bad’. They are interchangeable.

But the analogies evoked feelings of confusion in me. I rankled at them. I didn’t understand what they were trying to mean. I felt in my chest, in my throat, that I didn’t like it.


This still was one of my favorite books, possibly ever. I highly, highly recommend it. I think I will buy several copies for people I know, both those who will go into it with delight and comprehension, and others who might be confused but eventually enlightened.


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