Discussion Questions

The Mother of All Questions

by Rebecca Solnit

  1. In the chapter “A Short History of Silence,” Rebecca Solnit makes the point: “Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories. A free person tells her own story. A valued person lives in a society in which her story has a place.” How does this resonate in the recent wake of the #MeToo movement? What does this reflection tell us about who is free and who is valued in our society?
  2. In the chapter on men’s role in the feminist movement, Solnit credits several male comedians with being “not only in the conversation but an increasingly witty part of it as well.” Included on her list of “feminist standup comics now speaking out” are Aziz Ansari and Louis C. K. Knowing what we know about these men now, how does this complicate our understand of men who purport to be supportive of women’s rights on a public stage, yet continue to engage in harmful, sexist behavior behind closed doors?
  3. Solnit begins a chapter on discrimination and the dangers of categorical language with a story about a tour guide who assumed that “Jews are a homogeneous mass with one mind, like sentient halvah or slime mold.” Arguing that categories are “leaky” and encouraging us to consider the ways in which our minds tend to put things in boxes, she ends the chapter by stating that “sometimes, not always, the leaks in categories are cause for celebration.” What do you think she means by this? Do you agree? Is categorizing people and things always dangerous?
  4. Solnit is pragmatic in her view on our ability to create change: “Undoing the social frameworks of millenia is not the work of a generation or a few decades but a process of creation and destruction that is epic in scope and often embattled in execution.” Yet, she remains hopeful that change is possible: “Silence and shame are contagious; so are courage and speech.” How do you remain hopeful during challenging times? What helps keep you inspired and motivated?
  5. Which essay in this collection resonated most with you? Was there anything you strongly disagreed with?

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Discussion Questions." (Viewed on September 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/node/24442>.


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