When feminist journalist Liz Plank decided her first book was going to focus on men, masculinity, and how the patriarchy harms people of all genders, she faced more than a little skepticism. It came from fellow feminists who wondered whether examining how men benefit from feminism was the most constructive place to focus her attention. It came from publishers who told her “men don’t buy books.” It came from men who assumed that any feminist setting out to question masculinity was “anti-man.”
But since the book hit shelves, the author, commentator, and delightful social media presence is confident many of those initial skeptics have come around. As a feminist who may have felt my own twinge of hesitation about Plank’s mission before cracking open her book, I can say I certainly have. Plank’s empathy and hope are palpable in For the Love of Men‘s meticulously researched pages — pages that are also just plain enjoyable to read. (Yes, feminists can be funny.) The overarching feeling Plank’s work left me with was excitement about what our future could, and hopefully will, look like once we banish harmful gender norms and progress past patriarchy.
I caught up with Plank in LA last week over a late lunch in the lobby of a Hollywood hotel. She’s the kind of person you might call a “ray of sunshine,” if by “ray of sunshine” you mean someone who radiates equal parts warmth and intensity. During our conversation, Plank reflected on the impact of the book and shared her exasperation over the fact that we don’t involve men in conversations around gender more meaningfully. “Everyone has a gender. Not just half of us have a gender,” she said. “The point of all these [social justice] movements should be to be good for all humans. There’s this common good from all of these policies, and the fact that we don’t talk about them is not helping anyone.” Read on for more from Plank on why redefining manhood is truly a matter of life and death, and how — though it’s certainly not on women to fix what’s broken about men — we can all work toward a more egalitarian society.
POPSUGAR: You mostly avoid referring to “toxic masculinity” in the book. But doesn’t the negative reaction to that phrase prove how tangled up our idea of manhood and masculine behavior have become?
Liz Plank: I used to think that. Now, I think about if someone had approached me before I knew what feminism was and told me, “Have you heard about toxic femininity?” I would’ve been like, “Wait, what?” I came up with positive framing, this idea of mindful masculinity. I also switched out “toxic masculinity” for “idealized masculinity,” because these are ideals, right? Men are doing bad things because they’re told to do bad things, and they’re rewarded for doing bad things, and the patriarchy is like a pyramid scheme. There are a few men at the top who dictate and who get benefits from it and then most of the men don’t get any of those trickle-down benefits. But they think they will, so they act like Billy Bush. They laugh. Or they don’t feel safe actually questioning it because they’re not high up in that hierarchy. I want men to realize that they’re living in a power structure, too.
PS: We hear so much about women at work and imposter syndrome, but your book explores this profound way so many men are experiencing imposter syndrome around their entire gender identity.
LP: I love you putting it as imposter syndrome, because again, we’re used to having these conversations with women: “What shame do you carry around? Female shame of not being perfect, not being perfect in your body, not being perfect at your job, not being perfect as a girlfriend or as a mom?” Men carry so much shame, too. And wasn’t it so amazing when someone gave you the language to recognize there’s nothing wrong with me, there was something wrong with society? That my body wasn’t broken, society was broken? It’s such a liberating experience for women, and I would love to see men being able to experience that freedom, too.
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