The Mother of All Questions

Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me was warmly welcomed by readers who saw their own experiences reflected in Solnit's reaction to patronizing exchanges with men who considered her incompetent or underestimated her intelligence simply because of her gender. In her follow-up collection, The Mother of All Questions, Solnit continues the conversation with new and previously published essays that explore the "rapid social changes of a revitalized feminist movement in North America and around the world that is not merely altering the laws [but] changing our understanding of consent, power, rights, gender, voice and representation."

In this collection's newest and longest essay ("Silence Is Broken"), Solnit writes of "the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard.... 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."

Distinguishing silence from quiet's more voluntary nature, Solnit explores why many in society perpetuate the silencing and discrediting of women through instances of domestic violence, sexual assault, online harassment and economic inequality, among others. Solnit is encouraged by the groundswell of activism in the aftermath of recent high-profile incidents such as the Steubenville rape case, the massacre at a University of California Santa Barbara sorority (which prompted the hashtag #yesallwomen), and reports of "America's Dad" Bill Cosby assaulting enough women for New York magazine to fill an entire cover with their photographs. Solnit documents an uprising of empowerment that can amplify others' voices and stories with the potential to bring meaningful change. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

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