The Mother of All Questions

The Mother of All Questions

Book - 2017
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In this collection of essays, Solnit offers a timely commentary on gender and feminism. Her subjects include women who refuse to be silenced, misogynistic violence, the fragile masculinity of the literary canon, the recent history of rape jokes, and much more.
Publisher: Chicago, Illinois :, Haymarket Books,, [2017]
Copyright Date: ©2017
ISBN: 9781608467402
Characteristics: 176 pages : illustrations ; 19 cm
Additional Contributors: Calzada, Paz de la


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KatieD_KCMO May 30, 2019

Essential non-fiction. Solnit writes eloquently and clearly about ways in which women (and men who don't fit the narrow description of masculinity) are silenced, which allows for the continuation of violence against women, rape, mass gun violence, racial injustices, etc.

For example, she dissects an ad campaign by the CDC warning women about the dangers of excessive alcohol use. The info graphic warns women that drinking can lead to violence and unwanted pregnancies, but completely leaves out true cause of these "dangers," which is men who take rape and assault women who happen to be intoxicated, as if the alcohol itself is the danger--when in fact it's statistically men (often who are also intoxicated).

She writes, "If you listened to the way it's framed, you might believe that women get pregnant on their own. You can imagine a parallel universe of non-misogyny, in which men are told that they carry around dangerous stuff that can blow a woman up into nine months of pregnancy and the production of other human beings, and that they [men] are irresponsible, immoral, and lacking in something or other...when they go around putting that stuff in impregnable people without consent, planning, or care for long-term consequences. These is not much scolding along those lines, outside of warnings about women entrapping men with pregnancy, which is often a way of describing male withdrawal of responsibility."

The Mother of All Questions. What question is Solnit referring to? After reading this collection of essays, as well as "Men Explain Things to Me," I think the mother of all questions is why we continue to treat violence against women and gun violence as isolated events or individual tragedies, rather than as a epidemic with root causes: white supremacy, the silencing of womens' voices,and toxic masculinity (which silences men that don't fit a narrow definition of masculinity).

Solnit writes "...the thing that until very recently was almost never said about modern mass shootings is that almost all of them have been men, and most of the men have been white. Instead, such incidents are usually framed either as mysterious and terribly surprising, or about mental illness and other specifics that make each shooting unique, like snowflakes [...] if you acknowledge that women are far more immune to the desire to massacre and are less violent overall (with some spectacular exceptions, of course), maybe you can address the causes of extreme violence with more precision..."

Her quote of bell hooks summarizes much of her argument about silence, masculinity and violence: "The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem." Solnit adds, "a certain kind of emotional wholeness is the price men pay for power."

Aug 16, 2018

This should be a text book in schools. Vital reading.

May 07, 2018

This is a wonderfully researched and written set of essays on sexism and how men hate and fear women so much that they (yes, yes, not all men) want to kill women. This is current, and depressingly reminiscent of books written by women 30, 40, 50 years ago. And the violence against women (and others who do not fit gender norms) goes on. Solnit: “Even when the evidence (of sexual abuse) was overwhelming some still hurled abuse and threats at the victims and found ways to deny the merits of their stories… (because) to believe them… would be uncomfortable, and many speak of comfort as a right, even when – especially when – that comfort is built upon the suffering and silencing of others.” I read this on the day that Camille Cosby ‘stood by her man’ after his conviction on just a small sample of his long career drugging and assaulting women. Solnit includes the new venue for violence against women: the internet. I was introduced to Lewis’s Law (‘all comments on feminism justify feminism’), which reminded me of some wisdom I’d seen previously: “Feminism: Latin for don’t read the comments.” Solnit’s analysis of the Isla Vista massacre was chilling. “the misogyny, the killer’s furious sense that women owed him something, that he had a right to whatever pleasure and adulation they could deliver.” “But the dead are still dead, the bereaved are still grieving, and the setup is still ripe for more murders.” And then we had the horrific use of vehicle as weapon in Toronto, the perpetrator in that act of gender terrorism citing his admiration for the perpetrator of Isla Vista. I reject the term they’ve created for themselves because it disappears the essential ingredient of gender. Solnit: “Of course, Margaret Atwood had made the same point as Louis C. K. much earlier and more pithily when she remarked, “Men are afraid women are going to laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” Read this, and expect to be moved.

Aug 09, 2017

All Solnit added b/c of NYT profile.

May 25, 2017

One of those books, like everything Solnit writes, that you find yourself quoting for the next week (or month) after putting it down. Such a thick book, in the way that well-thought out, well-edited, well-written, well-crafted ideas are so solid you can't just skim through lightly waiting for the bus. I found myself re-reading paragraphs to make sure I understood exactly, as I wanted to make sure I could repeat her examples and conclusions when conversing with friends or when the situation seemed to call for a little elevation. And, being female, the situation always seems to call for something elevated, something Solnit.

My husband, being a retired law enforcement kind of guy, isn't the perfect demographic for this book, but I've overheard him quote her ideas as well. That's how good she is. What you expect from the woman who gave us "mansplaining?"

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