book review: men explain things to me

by Krystal Bick
February 22, 2018

Men Explain Things To Me.

As you might have guessed, it’s hard to read this book on the subway and NOT solicit a few stares. Or even raised eyebrows. Or, like the one dude I came across on the 1 train, who interrupted my reading to ask me exactly WHAT men explain to me, it sparks a few debates. And I gotta say, I LOVE books like that. Admittedly, I first heard about Rebecca Solnit’s essays, which have been published in the likes of The New Yorker, Harpers Bazaar and The Guardian to name a few — so her books came highly recommended, this one being the first among a few of my friends’ lists. From the first few pages, and the first of MANY head nods, eye rolls, groans, and several audible “Amens”, I was hooked. And moreover, my guy and I actually got into a little routine each night where I’d read a few chapters out loud to him and we’d discuss, which made the text that much more enriching.

But let’s back up for a minute. Men Explain Things To Me? In a nutshell: it’s the all too common mishaps in conversations between men and women, namely in the silencing of the latter by the former. It’s relatable for any woman who’s ever been mansplained to before by a male colleague, boss, friend or heck, significant other and while there are many perhaps comical in hindsight anecdotes throughout, it’s also a pretty chilling snapshot of the gender divide, and the all-too grim statistics behind it.

OK, so we’re up to speed here. Why a book review then? I know I don’t often share my thoughts on the books I’m reading here on This Time Tomorrow, but something about this particular book made me want to start. I loved the discussions it sparked between my guy and I and, of course, I think there’s great dialogue to be had with all of you on the same subject — a lot of you even weighed in on Insta Stories requesting a book review.

Plus, I have a rather fitting anecdote to kick things off with here, starring this very outfit I shared yesterday, featuring all red vinyl leather. And it goes like this…

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OUTFIT DETAILS: Mango vinyl trench coat // Zara turtleneck (similar style here) // Levis jeans // Dior heels // The Daily Edited bag // Celine sunglasses // Lisi Lerch earring + & Other Stories earring

I happened to wear this very red outfit during Fashion Week. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s a very EXTRA outfit — but it’s a very EXTRA outfit I was excited to wear to Fashion Week, one that made me stand out a bit more in the attendee crowd. After leaving my last show of the morning that happened to be in Chelsea, I decided to walk the 10 or so blocks back to my apartment in the Village. As my other show attendees jumped into Ubers and cabs, I found myself walking back amongst regular New York pedestrian traffic, many of whom, probably thought my outfit was a bit loud for 11:30am on a Wednesday. But you know what? I’m used to weird looks and stares. Not my first rodeo.

Until a certain construction worker came along that is. Yeah, I know. Cue the cliche catcall whistle here. And believe you me, what I wouldn’t have given for a simple catcall whistle in this scenario. Instead, here’s what I got:

HIM: (Looking me up and down.) Mmmmhhhmmmm…I’d like to eat you and your skirt for lunch.

ME: (Pretending NOT to hear, making it obvious my headphones were on, but I was in between songs and heard every disgusting word.)

HIM: Whaddya say?

ME: (Now in disbelief — does he really think he’s propositioning me right now? Is this really happening?!)

The light changes and before I let my anger get the best of me, I continue walking fast and ahead of him, literally reeling from the brazenness of this exchange. Of course, it’s not my first time receiving an inappropriate comment from a man and it unfortunately, won’t be my last. Something about this particular exchange though brought to mind all the times I’ve been subjected to feeling a certain way, JUST because I’m a woman. And it also made me realize just how ingrained some of our societal fallacies are — namely, the idea of, “well, you were wearing THAT outfit after all…”

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Excuse my French here, but I FUCKING HATE that this is the answer to many women who come forward with their sexual assault stories, as if sexual assault is something WE’RE supposed to actively ward off, and if we don’t dress like Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale, well then we had it coming, didn’t we? Cue this amazing satirical skit I recently found on the BBC, which perfectly sums up how inconceivably backwards this logic is.

And yet, there I was, walking down 9th Avenue, feeling a fleeting pang of guilt, as if this outfit was to blame, followed by anger with myself for feeling that way at all. Which is where I turn to you guys, have you ever felt that way in a similar exchange? Guilt, which then turns into anger at the source of that incorrectly-placed guilt?

Anyway, back to the crux of this post — Men Explain Things To Me. I just have to say, I love how Salnit’s brain works. This collection of essays reads quite personably, ranging from the relatable, to the scathing, to the factual and back to the relatable. It made me rethink and evaluate a lot of my previous conversations with male bosses, coworkers and friends alike — examining everything from tone to word choice to blatant interrupting and silencing, particularly during conversations where it was assumed wrongly that I didn’t know what I was talking about. What I found particularly eye opening too, is perhaps how subconscious some of this behavior is, which isn’t to say ALL men DON’T realize when they’re doing it because many DO, but in the case of many well-intentioned, feminist dudes, sometimes it’s as simple as realizing you should let me finish when I have something to say. Not because I’m a woman. Not because it seems polite. But because I’m a human being with a mind I’d like to share.

On that note, I’ll end with a favorite excerpt from Solnit as she’s a much more eloquent writer than I:

“Many women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime. I’m still fighting for it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.”

Have you guys read Men Explain Things To Me? Would love to hear your thoughts! 


Photos by Nora Varcho

13 thoughts on “book review: men explain things to me

  1. I love this post! I was a consistent high-performer academically throughout school, am very well read, and have a high IQ (although who knows what value that really has). I know that I’m intelligent. In fact, I know that I’m of above average intelligence. Yet, somehow—when talking to men, I feel the need to fact check every single thing I say and ensure that I do major research on every topic of discussion because it’s so drilled into my mind that they will question what I’m saying. I realize it more and more as I’m now in my mid-20s and I’m tired of it. I really hope to get past what’s been drilled into my psyche by “men explaining things to me” and just be wholly confident in the intelligence/knowledge I do possess.

    briana |

  2. My two cents:

    First of all coming from someone who was around Italian family members the idea that Italian women feel like there not being heard ( or for that matter Jewish women) seems pretty stupid to me. In an Italian dominated conversation everyone is interrupting everyone else ALL THE TIME. So you learn either to say everything louder or have something important to say. I chose the latter. It is very important to learn to think for yourself, but more importantly to think Correctly, that is with the truth. So when you are wrongly criticized you will Know that you are right and they are wrong not just think it. Plus it doesn’t leave you feeling angry or like you have to make a point, but you can just leave the other party to the own error.

  3. I shouldn’t have been rushing because I wanted to say something else.

    I don’t think that I’m overstating when thinking that as attractive women we like to get noticed, but, speaking from experience, we really don’t like getting noticed by That Guy, you know the creepy, sleazy, weird one, you know what I mean.
    However, it is childish to believe that dressing to get more attention won’t also get more attention from That Guy. For myself I dress to my taste (like I would do anything else), but also like a lady.

    Couple funny stories, one of my first memories is of watching To Catch a Thief with Grace Kelly, and I don’t know who would say that she didn’t in her appearance and public behavior typify a lady, and this I said to my very young self that is what I want to be.

    Second, last year, yes as a grown woman I still make these mistakes, I wore a great dress that I had made and to me the fabric was opaque enough without a slip. Oh well, well no the hell it was not. But I went out with my mom to the very outdoor gardens with a maxi length sheer dress with slip shorts on and no slip. I felt exposed to say the least, so we left early and as we were walking past traffic back to the car a delivery truck past and the man in the passenger seat looked out of the window back at me, no doubt because it appeared that I wasn’t wearing pants under that dress, but the look on his face said it all. He went from rather pleased with having seen this spectacle, to seeing me (and I don’t think I remembering it wrongly) and looking very sheepish and then looking down.

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