Men Explain It All: Hannah Gold returns the favor

The best book review of the year, hands down, by Hannah Gold in The Baffler, begins this way:

Solnit"I have just sat down to dinner with my female friend and her two male friends she brought along, neither of whom I’ve met before. They are both programmers, and when my friend goes to the bathroom pretty much immediately upon arrival, they begin grilling me on my knowledge of scatter graphs. This is a raw deal for me. I tell them I’m “not a math person.” And so, of course, they explain.

After maybe five minutes of being told to imagine an X-axis and a Y-axis and an algorithm based on breakfast preferences, they ask me what I do. “I’m a journalist,” I say. “Oh nice,” one shoots back. “Have you written anything?”

My two simultaneous impulses are to run away and to punch “something” in the face. Then I remember that I have in my possession a secret weapon—an advertisement for myself.  I reach inside my purse and, in deathly silence, remove from it a slim blue volume with the title emblazoned across the front in white: “Men Explain Things to Me.” I lay it on the table, face up, like a winning poker hand. They stare and they blink and they don’t say anything at all."

Gold goes on to admire the book of essays by the great Rebecca Solnit, a writer (I'm proud to say) I've mentioned numerous times on this site. Solnit's titular essay, for The Nation, begins this way:

I still don't know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion's young ladies. The house was great — if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets — a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, "No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you." He was an imposing man who'd made a lot of money.

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, "So? I hear you've written a couple of books."

I replied, "Several, actually."

He said, in the way you encourage your friend's seven-year-old to describe flute practice, "And what are they about?"

They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003,River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. "And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?"

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I'd somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book — with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

The resemblance is almost uncanny. The original essay went viral and generated a new word — mansplaining — that Solnit (charmingly) disavows. The review, really more of a battle cry, deserves to go to viral. Here's hoping. 

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: