Saturday 3 February 2018

The Mother of All Questions: Further feminisms by Rebecca Solnit    {Reviewed by STELLA}
A few years ago I read Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me and was bowled over by her clarity, wit, anger and determination. Her recent collection of feminist essays, The Mother of All Questions, covers similar ground. She explores power, prejudice and sexual violence head-on, making the reader sit up and take notice, questioning the stories that we are told, the ones we hear and the others that get subsumed. This collection is very much about telling our stories, and about what happens when we do. In the light of high-profile celebrity abuse cases, Weinstein, Saville and Cosby to mention just a few, this couldn't be more relevant, and it is not surprising that we are seeing a steady stream of feminist writings on the topic of rape and sexual abuse. Solnit wants to dig deeper to uncover the reasons that we have a culture of violence, and why women continue to be victims of a power hierarchy that favours men, particularly white men. Yet this isn’t a polemic - it doesn’t label all men as perpetrators, and in the essay, 'The Pigeonholes When the Doves Have Flown', she talks about the problems of categories and labeling societal groups. In her introduction and an essay entitled, 'Feminism: When the Men Arrive', she acknowledges the changes in feminist dialogue in recent years with the advent of men talking about feminism and critiquing the patriarchal system that disenfranchises women (and men). The lead essay of this collection, 'The Mother of All Questions', is a survey of silence and the silencing, in all its many guises, of women’s stories. It’s a compelling analysis of the dangers of silence and the power that silence can strip from a person. Solnit believes in language and the importance of all stories to be told, and that by speaking out and speaking up change will come. In her dialogue, she is hopeful. Yet change is slow - domestic violence, campus rape and misogynistic behaviour are still rife. For many reading these essays it may feel repetitive, that the arguments have been made before, and this is a valid point. Feminism has been through several waves. The difference, Solnit would argue, is that a greater and more diverse community is now talking and maybe more are listening. Solnit’s writing is agile and thought-provoking. She draws on history, popular culture and writing by her forebears as well as her contemporaries to illustrate her points. Most essays deserve a second, if not third, reading. 

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