A lot of the men I know dislike the idea that Solnit has a point in the title essay, but she really does. There’s an attitude amongst some men — usually of a certain age and status — that they know better than any female-shaped person they might be talking to. I get it when working support, I get it when talking about my academic interests, and yep, I’ve had it on this blog. Bibliophibian = female = doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
I recently had someone explain drug-resistant tuberculosis to me. I’d just completed six months of research into drug-resistant tuberculosis, how it arises, how it persists, and how it can be treated (for my BSc dissertation). The person in question was someone on a forum who had, in their own words, “not done any biology since my GCSE”. I’ve had people explain to me (wrongly) that Sir Gawain was a symbol for x and y in Arthurian myth — I have a master’s degree in English Literature, and my dissertation for that was on… well, you can guess, right? Their qualification was that they’d read T.H. White’s novels. I can’t remember what White had to say about Gawain: pretty sure White didn’t come into my dissertation at all due to being almost entirely irrelevant to my theories (I mean, at least read Malory and Chrétien before you pontificate, dude).
The point is, it’s a real phenomenon. I’ve never had a woman do that. Granted, there are also many men who will accept that I have the expertise I claim, but the same as Solnit’s examples, there are also plenty of men who don’t. And it’s rare to get an apology for those assumptions made.
So the title essay of this book definitely strikes a chord. The other are a little more uneven: I wasn’t that interested in the one on Virginia Woolf, for example. Solnit writes clearly, and hedges her assertions round with reminders that she really isn’t saying all men do x or all Americans are racist or anything else. She’s pretty moderate in that regard.
It feels like a collection padded out with a few random pieces that sort of maybe fit together, mostly in order to publish Men Explain Things to Me. It wasn’t a bad read, but… meh.