The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit


Last year, I read Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, who is credited with coining the term mansplaining. This term is likely familiar to all of us by now, as many women have had more than enough occasions to use it in our daily lives. I know I have!

Unlike Men Explain Things to Me, The Mother of All Questions strikes a more serious tone as Solnit examines the topics of silence, violence, gender binaries, and the history of rape jokes. Each short essay in this book offers an incredibly thought provoking commentary on gender and feminism.

Although nothing discussed was all that surprising to me, as I have spent semesters during my undergrad reading feminist literature and discussing the very topics this book covers, it was still jarring to read some of the stories, and statistics, included surrounding these topics. If you think our culture and society is highly evolved, this book will remind you that it is certainly not.

In A Short History of Silence, Solnit differentiates between silence and quiet, emphasizing that silence is what separates us:

Silence is what allows people to suffer without recourse, what allows hypocrisies and lies to grow and flourish, crimes to go unpunished. If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one’s humanity. And the history of silence is central to women’s history.”

-Rebecca Solnit

She compares female silence to male silence, in the context of our patriarchal society, in comparison to ideals of masculinity, and sexuality.

We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experiences as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.” – Ursula Le Guin, quoted in the introduction

It is fascinating to read these words, published in 2017, but in the context of all that is taking place in the world right now. Because of the fast pace of news cycles these days, a week can feel like a month, a month can feel like a year. I couldn’t even believe it had only been a year since reading Men Explain Things to Me as it felt so long ago. All the more reason we need to be reading books like these right now; our society and culture is changing rapidly yet we can still learn so much from our recent past.

If you read any part of this book, I would encourage you to choose A Short History of Silence, as it was the most influential to me, and one I would recommend all men and women read.


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