The Mother of All Questions

Rebecca Solnit

Book cover

A favorite turn of phrase in our household is “bad bitch,” deployed with entirely positive connotation. It started with a photo I found of my great-great-grandmother Toni Stibal, who came to America from Bohemia around the turn of the 20th century. It’s difficult to communicate without being able to show the picture, but when I saw it, I just said, “Wow, who is this bad bitch?” She must have been 80 years old in the picture and just had this look of determination and toughness, like she had seen it all and didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought of her.

So I mean it in the most positive possible way when I say, Rebecca Solnit is a bad bitch. One of my favorite parts of her writings on feminism is that, beyond being thoughtful and incisive, they are also very often funny, usually bitingly at the expense of patriarchal power structures and those who shore them up. Earnest commentary is all well and good, but it’s important to make the emperor look ridiculous too. This book is abounding in smart humor, whether on the titular topic of people bugging her about why she isn’t a mother, on rape jokes, or on bizarrely incomplete FDA warnings about the relationship between alcohol and pregnancy.

There’s plenty of good analysis in here too. I think “A Brief History of Silence” is one of the best explanations I’ve read of the “rape culture” idea that sexual violence exists on a continuum with much more quotidian instances of oppression or denigration, and shouldn’t be seen as standing alone as a freak event in isolation from the cultural context in which it takes place.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars