I came across For the Love of Men by Liz Plank as a possible gift, and I initially started flipping through with no intent to read the whole thing.
The blurb starts with:
A nonfiction investigation into masculinity, For the Love of Men provides actionable steps for how to be a man in the modern world while also exploring how being a man has evolved.
I'd love to listen to some actionable steps by a woman! It's easy enough to know what not to do, but a bit harder of what one is supposed to do. Particularly, in the dating scene, which is the topic the book starts with.
The first response I get on what a man should do is a question. Why assume all women like the same behaviour by men? Some women prefer traditionally manly men, while others fancy modern masculine ones. While I used to be under the impression that it was traditional masculinity that was eclipsing, lately I've been noticing the opposite. For instance, I have many straight women friends who would not go on a second date if the man splits the bill on the first. Actually, I have zero women friends who wouldn't like it if the man pays on a date.
In any case, these thoughts had helped me solidify the correct course of action. A man does what they think is best, and, inevitably, they connect with women who prefer the same things. Which, I guess, is what actually happens in practice. Hooray?
Do women like traditionally manly men?
In Chapter 7 of the book, The Great Suppression, Liz talks with Tomi Lahren who asked:
Is it just me, or have men gotten really soft these days?
She continued—quoting from here:
This has nothing to do with sexuality. It has to do with the helplessness of today's young men. It seems few can change a light bulb let alone fix a flat tire or change oil, and that makes for pretty slim pickings for the females out there looking for a match.
Jewellery is all but dead, and so is manliness. And by the way, wearing a flannel shirt and having a beard doesn't make you a man if you still can't change a tire and are scared of the dark.
It seems like millennial men either don't have jobs or are still using their parents' credit cards to buy us drinks at the bar...
So whose fault is it? Is it our fault, ladies? Are we getting too strong? Nah, I don't buy that. See, a real man knows how to handle a strong woman, so this isn't our problem. Maybe it's the way boys are raised these days: fatherless homes and no male role models. It's hard to learn how to be a man with no man around.”
Please teach your sons to be men, because the women of the world are tired of the boys.
Right—an interesting viewpoint, nonetheless. The author takes this as an example to explore traditional masculinity, and with it being the one that struck me as the most intriguing, I will use it to illustrate some of the core ideas of the book.
Continuing with this encounter, a most interesting bit is when Tomi's friend, John, is asked by Liz to define the term he used: "new-age man".
If we want to boil it down to fashion, we could go that route: skinny jeans, very metrosexual, very effeminate. It's cool if you want to do that; if that's your thing, do your thing; be happy with it. But don't you dare turn around and demonize my class of people that want to be like the old-school type of men. Not criticizing or belittling women, but just being the old-school alpha male that “if you come near my woman or you insult her, I'm going to knock your teeth down your throat.”
Now, we can answer whether we should "Hooray" that men and women with the same ideas of masculinity connect with each other. The answer is "Not hooray"; and the reason is that traditional masculinity is toxic and sexist.
What's the problem with old-school men?
Throughout the book, Liz, in addition to noticing a lack of positive masculinity, also identifies all the many ways traditional masculinity fails. The book explores this across various countries, with a focus on North America (which is the author's origin).
Traditional masculinity says that the man is the provider. The one who works and brings the money. The woman is the carer, the person who stays at home and takes care of the house and the children.
At some point, Liz asks John, what would happen if he weren't able to fulfil the man role. What if he broke his leg or had some other more permanent issue? John replied:
The way I was raised, no, I could never be a stay-at-home father. I'd have to go out and work. I can't fathom the idea of a woman supporting me. It's just I want to take care of her; that's how it should be.
Liz eventually tells us what would happen by looking at what has happened. Men are ashamed of not being able to provide and thus be properly manly. They can't deal with this shame, and thus self-destruct by becoming abusive—to themselves too. How frequent, of a movie cliché, the alcoholic or violent father, is?
And this is how the book answers to John's warning on why the old-school type of men are demonised. Because this type of masculinity leads to harmfulness.
Eventually, the author also voices an opinion on dating. Liz talks about the detrimental effects of letting men pay. It's nice to make the benevolent sexist gestures such as the man paying or bringing gifts; but we should be aware of the potential underlying dangers that come with it. Why do some men insist on paying even when women reject the offer? What do men gain out of paying for the date? Food for thought.
Traditional masculinity kills men too
One of the main insights of the book is how traditional masculinity is excessively damaging to men too. Indicatively, across the world, it is women who have longer expected lifetimes. Why?
The books says three factors of traditional masculinity play a major role: work, risk, doctors.
Working is a way for men to demonstrate their manliness. Especially with tough jobs, e.g. mining. Dustin White, a coal miner's son, whose father died of cancer, speaks out about how mining killed his father and the need for change in the industry. In response, the miners who die of cancer, shout at him "where's your dress?". Of course, it is a hero man's, a provider's job to die working. They probably don't agree it would be better to not die.
Risk taking is also core to the art of manliness. Liz starts with an example, in 2017, when Donald Trump stared into the solar eclipse without sunglasses. It was called, by Tucker Carlson, "the most impressive thing any president’s ever done". Maybe jokingly—maybe not; Tucker though is definitely an advocate of Donald's.
Finally, not going to the doctor, is also characteristic of men. We all know men are tough and they don't need to go to the doctor, so there is nothing else to say here—except, maybe, that health care providers have also been convinced by this ideology, and thus they don't need to cure men as well as non-men. It becomes even more interesting when one looks into black men. Liz says:
[...] Half of white medical students believe false racialized myths like that black people’s bodies are stronger, black people’s skin is thicker, their nerve endings are less sensitive than whites’ and black people’s blood coagulates more quickly (none of which are true).
Liz continues with male suicide data, and ends the chapter with:
[...] Data shows that gender equality may in fact be an unsuspecting antidote to male suicide, because women’s empowerment may protect men from economic shocks.
The author: Liz Plank
Just before I started reading the book, I came across this tweet by Liz:
Can every woman who sees this change their handles to reflect their credentials? – @feministabulous
She meant, add your
PhD title like her: Liz Plank, MSc. phD in adhd & depression. There were some responses which were lots of fun, e.g. RaKell, the inappropriate (Sworn Enemy of Rufus!) or SheilaW, Girl Friday Extraordinaire. The responses even acquired further non-Twitter commentary. Truth to be told, it was mostly women who identify as conservatives (i.e. enemies of Liz's) that responded like that.
Liz's Twitter profile is also interesting. She's @feministabulous and her bio reads:
I cherish women.
I didn't get it.
I kept on reading the book, though, as it was very enticing. Across the pages, written by a scientist, PhD holder, there are some unexpected expressions. For instance, an excerpt from Chapter 10, The Mancession:
Although some politicians have instructed men to blame women or immigrants, they should be blaming robots: they’re the ones taking men’s jobs. The United States reverting back to being mainly a manufacturing economy is as unlikely as One Direction getting back together.
Apparently, One Direction (an English-Irish pop boy band—just in case someone doesn't know) are on indefinite hiatus since 2016.
Or, from Chapter 7, The Great Suppression:
There’s a phenomenon called benevolent sexism, and there’s a likelihood you’ve participated in it before. I have a master’s degree in gender studies and heck, I do it all the time. Benevolent sexism is sort of like the Macarena: you don’t remember when you learned it, but for some reason you’re really good at it.
Or, from Chapter 9, Waffles Are His Love Language:
Same-sex couples tend to split the childcare and the handling of sick kids evenly, while for straight couples, women were more likely to take on those tasks. What was the secret to this chore utopia? Talking. Apparently, when gender isn’t a determining factor, couples are forced to (gasp!) discuss (gasp!) what works best instead of relying on obsolete gender stereotypes that we’ve kept around for no good apparent reason.
This is the chapter about men and parenting, where she also talks about her father and how he would make waffles every Sunday, as a perennial ritual while she was growing up.
When my mother became very concerned with the calories we were all ingesting, he replaced butter with canola oil, but just half the oil because it made the waffles “too droopy,” he would explain in the same way a scientist would explain how he created the cure for cancer.
Liz is fun, and writes in a fun manner too.
After finishing the book, I now I get Liz, and the why of her fun-ness. I think at least. It's optimism; a result of a loving childhood plus the encounter of acute toxicity in the world.
At the end of the day, it is a news channel she works for, not the serious academia.
Needless to say, highly recommended. I really liked this book and it provided brilliant insights on how both men and women perceive gender.
In an attempt to be more objective, no actionable steps (promised in the blurb) are really given, and there isn't really a new vision offered, per se. Regardless, a great piece of nonfiction publication.