Part II of Liz Plank’s For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity is called “I Love Men”, with chapter 7 being “The Great Suppression.” This is a review of just that chapter, and the “Victor’s Story” interlude right before it. There are mini-profiles of assorted men in between the chapters.
Victor’s starts like this:
The minute I met Victor, I knew he was a ladies’ man. Charismatic, confident, and flirty, he hit all the playboy boxes. Yet he tells me it still surprises him when people refer to him as “alpha” or a “wolf pack leader.” Victor lives with a disability, which means he gets around in an electric wheelchair and uses a machine to help him breathe. Although he’s not society’s image of a prototypical womanizer, I can tell you from experience, he’s always the most charming man in the room.
“I project and learned to project some type of strength because I have a physical weakness,” he said to me. Knowing that people would make assumptions about his body, he compensated for it with a rock-hard psyche. “Because I weigh ninety pounds and have thin arms and thin legs, there is a perception that I am fragile and weak or incapable. There has to be for me a moment where I can project strength in order to circumvent the pejorative social construct that would limit what I can do.” Victor doesn’t think he’s alone. “A lot of men with disabilities have to confront this idea that they don’t see us as sexualized or fully human.”
Victor developed a strong sense of self to make him immune to societal perceptions about disability. “I don’t have the typical male body that you see in magazines, underwear commercials, billboards, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel like my body is attractive, beautiful, and able to feel desire and pleasure. Masculinity is anything you want it to be. The problem is when you think it’s prescriptive that it’s a problem.”
In other words, Plank is attracted to all the obvious signs of a womanizer. A talent for manipulation, a lack of self-questioning, and indiscriminately trying to have sex with everyone is considered “charming.” Personally, I think slick politician types are creepy, but normals seem to love them. Maybe I’m immune to their body language voodoo?
It’s nice that Victor has self-esteem, but this passage is delusional about how identity works. He says masculinity is “anything you want it to be,” that it’s not prescriptive, except he achieved success precisely by finding a non-standard way of doing what everyone else is doing.
This idea that we’re not sexual or even human isn’t a free-floating “idea” that we confront. It’s an idea that lives in the heads of people we wish were interested in us. You can’t “circumvent” that. You might be able to convince people to change their thinking, but no amount of personal development can force someone else to lose their biases.
Pretending that masculinity isn’t prescriptive just means you’re being rewarded enough for what you’re doing to be content.
This kind of crap isn’t the way that therapists talk about identity. Our identities are inherently social, based on how the world reacts to us. We can do things to be more positive in our interactions, but haters are gonna hate, always.
I don’t think the wheelchair Casanova represents most people’s experience. It’s not even available to everyone in the same uncomplicated way. She doesn’t state Victor’s race, but I think she would’ve said something if he were black. See how far “projecting strength” gets you around scared white people. Victor went on to say things I agree with about the universality of dependence and so on.
When we spoke about the role models that exist for men, he said there were plenty, but that we often failed to see how they represent masculinity differently. “Real power doesn’t come through coercion. It comes through deep understanding, compassionate leadership and having a way to express a level of morality and ethics that makes you bigger than just a man.” Victor referred to the fact that some of the greatest leaders were those who embraced issues that we traditionally associate with femininity like empathy and human dignity, leaders such as Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Alright, but in our culture, Gandhi and MLK aren’t presented as people you want to have sex with. As a matter of fact, MLK had affairs and Gandhi was all creepy with women trying to prove his asexual purity or something. Not the best picks in terms of feminism, I’d think.
I think Plank is giving a pep talk unattractive men have heard before: “Surely someone else would sleep with you! You have some random asexual good quality.” I get the sense Plank is impressed, but she doesn’t actually choose people like Victor, and neither does anybody else she knows. After all this “rah rah disability” stuff, on the literal next page:
The women in men’s lives were asking them to be more sensitive in private, but men were still expected to hide the fact that they were even capable of feelings in public. Their girlfriends were telling them to man up. They didn’t know which man to be and, honestly, I didn’t blame them.
Women’s pain was real. “Hi! Today, please meditate on how easily we accept women’s pain as collateral damage in men’s self-discovery,” read a viral tweet by writer and author Carmen Maria Machado. Her tweet came on the heels of a widely read New Yorker column by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz where he revealed disturbing serial mistreatment of the women he had intimate relationships with due to what he said was unresolved childhood trauma. A few days later, my phone started buzzing with different female friends sending me the same message. It was a meme of a young woman surrounded by half a dozen hungry dolphins with the label “men who need therapy” inscribed over the dolphin pack. When I shared the image on my Instagram with the caption, “If your girlfriend has become your therapist, don’t date her, pay her,” it took no less than two minutes for me to receive an alarmed text message from my boyfriend at the time: “Is this for me?” It was.
First of all, actual therapists like Sue Johnson, author of Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy with Trauma Survivors: Strengthening Attachment Bonds, emphasize how much Liz Plank is the fucking problem here:
It is logical that as an intimate relationship improves, the individual partner’s sense of self and general resources for dealing with life’s challenges also improve. It is perhaps not so easy to recognie that couple therapy may provide a unique arena for specific and crucial changes in individual functioning. When a survivor is able, in spite of terror and shame, to turn to his or her partner and ask to be held and comforted during a flashback, rather than to dissociate or harm him- or herself, not only are the negative symptoms of PTSD modified, but a new world of trust and a new sense of self open for that survivor.
This book suggests that for many clients, particularly those struggling with the aftermath of a trauma characterized by “violations of human connection”, there is a potentially more powerful corrective relationship than the relationship with a therapist. This is the relationship with the person’s life partner. This relationship is often overlooked or discounted by health professionals as an active source of healing. It is addressed, if at all, only when distress between partners cleraly and irrevocably undermines the effectiveness of one partner’s individual therapy. This book focuses particularly on the aftereffects of different kinds of trauma and takes the position that if a person’s connection with significant others is not part of the coping and healing process, then, inevitably, it becomes part of the problem and even a source of retraumatization. As healers, we may sometimes forget the brilliance of ordinary people in healing themselves and the people they love. My client couples have taught me that, in general, we underestimate the ability of a husband to comfort his wife when a traumatic flashback wakes her in the middle of the night. We tend to forget the powerful, positive impact of such events on a survivor. As therapists, we may have focused too much on the individual and underutilized the power of a client’s attachment to a significant other as a natural and potent antidote to helplesssness and loss.
If you aren’t your partner’s therapist, you’re an asshole. That goes for everyone. I mean, WTF? The idea of therapy is that it’s like a lesser, toy relationship to work out your shit, so you know how to relationship. It works by repairing ruptures to the therapeutic alliance caused by empathic failures. Real relationships are like therapy, but more.
But Plank doesn’t want any of that, and neither do her friends! It’s not like men are so different and wouldn’t self-disclose and be vulnerable if their girlfriends didn’t shame them on Twitter for it.
Plank is basically saying, “Ew, gross. Mental illness.” She checked off the box and included a guy in a wheelchair, but how much has she really thought about the disability rights movement. It’s bad when your boyfriend depends on you emotionally, because dependence is bad, amirite?
Plank is aware that her hypocrisy makes life impossible for men. She says so herself, at the start of the passage.
When I came out as queer to my friends and started dating women, I could see the envy boiling inside my straight female friends. While they were doomed to what they considered a pool of undateable men, I had, well, other options. My friend Meredith even designed a T-shirt that read: “Sadly, still straight.” It seemed like women’s expectations were evolving faster than men’s abilities to fulfill them.
Food for thought: women’s unresolved anger at men is just as destructive to relationships as men’s unresolved anger at women, for the same reasons. The Sisterhood of the Man Haters stuff is an obnoxious turn-off, and I say that as Andrea Dworkin’s #1 male super-fan. Jesus Christ, it’s socially obtuse.
Is Plank the right person to be writing this book, if she hasn’t worked out the solutions in her personal life?
One friend left her husband because he would tune out and watch television every night, refusing to even go on a date or go to couples therapy with her. Another walked away because he had hidden a drug problem from her and, once she found out, refused to get help. Another woman told me about a controlling husband who blamed her for trying to leave after he got physical with her. “If I had cancer you wouldn’t leave me, so you shouldn’t leave me if I do this,” he told her one night after she tried to end the relationship. “I looked up all these therapists. I did all the work. I made sure the took the insurance and said I would go with him,” she told me. When she did and he was given anti-anxiety medication, he refused to take it because he was offended it had even been prescribed. This was more than emotional problems; these women were left dealing with their husbands’ unresolved mental health issues. Many women didn’t feel married; they felt like rehab centers.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that a woman who stayed in any one of those relationships has unresolved mental health problems.
Ignoring your wife and watching TV is not, in itself, a mental illness. Having addictions doesn’t mean destroying the trust in your relationships by hiding stuff and not taking responsibility for how you affect others. Addicts aren’t automatically subhuman monsters. You’re not supposed to stay with a man who hits you. Plank just quoted some gaslighting bullshit and let that go unremarked. Lots of men take their anxiety meds just fine, like grown-ups.
Plank is just saying she hates people with mental illness and never wants to have sex with one. Yeah, we’ve encountered that sentiment before.
When confronted with signs that what she’s advocating won’t fly, because it’ll be perceived as the pussification of men, she plays dumb and pretends not to understand the point.
The pressure on men became clear to me when I sat down with conservative commentator Tomi Lahren and two of her friends on a sticky, hot day at a bar in Dallas, when I interviewed her for my podcast. We disagreed on everything from institutional racism, immigration to climate change and men were no exception. Specifically, I wanted to ask her about a video she made that was titled, “Is it just me, or have men goten really soft?” In it she worries about the “helplessness of today’s young men” and how undatable it makes them. “It seems few can change a lightbulb, let alone fix a flat tire or change oil, and that makes for pretty slim pickings out there looking for a match.” The video received millions of views, resonating with a lot of people (and of course angering some,too). A few weeks after our encounter, she also tweeted: “As I watch millennial men struggle to lift their bags into the overhead bin I am reminded how f’d we are if there’s a draft.” When I asked her to explain her position on modern masculinity, it was pretty clear that she didn’t welcome a conversation about alternative masculinities; in fact, she was personally insulted by it:
I think being twenty-four and dating or watching my friends date, it’s very obvious; watching TV, it’s very obvious. I think we’ve gotten to a point where masculinity has become a negative thing, it’s become an offensive thing to be a man. It’s one thing to be tolerant of those that are metrosexual or maybe a little more feminine, it’s one thing to be tolerant of them; it’s another to glorify them.
When I pushed back at her use of the word “tolerant” to describe her attitude toward men who display more traditionally feminine characteristics, she explained, “We’ve gotten to the point now where masculinity has now become something that is offensive to people, and I’m offended by that. I know that masculine men are offended by that as well.”
It’s actually true that the military worries about the unfitness of American men for a draft. It’s actually true that, on average, younger men have fewer “traditional man skills.” It’s partly because those skills aren’t being taught by older people, or they aren’t as simple as they once were. I don’t know how to work on cars, but I know that cars are more expensive and computerized than they were when home mechanic stuff was more popular. It’s the same with computers. The trend is away from people knowing how they work, as they become more complicated.
If you think about the zombie apocalypse, it’s obvious you’d want to be on a team with the fascist military types and not a bunch of repressed liberals who don’t know how to do anything. This is a failure of the left to leave any place for militancy.
Plank doesn’t have courage, or likely the heartfelt belief, in her convictions. Fuck yes we are saying traditional masculinity is bad and it’s bad for men to act that way and they should be sexually passed over in favor of men who don’t act like that. We have enemies, and they’re Tomi Lahren and her friends. We’re ridiculous to them, acting like we don’t even know they’d put us in concentration camps the first chance they got. Plank may be more tolerant, but I’m not getting the sense that she’s actually enthusiastic about discussing men’s feelings with them. Far from it.
Andrea Dworkin wrote an entire book of much more insightful things about rightwing women, back in 1978:
If sex oppression is real, absolute, unchanging, inevitable, then the views of right-wing women are more logical than not. Marriage is supposed to protect them from rape; being kept at home is supposed to protect them from the castelike economic exploitation of the marketplace; reproduction gives them what value and respect they have and so they must increase the value of reproduction even if it means increasing their own vulnerability to reproductive exploitation (especially forced pregnancy); religious marriage–traditional, correct, law-abiding marriage–is supposed to protect against battery, since the wife is supposed to be cherished and respected. The flaws in the logic are simple: the home is the most dangerous place for a woman to be, the place she is most likely to be murdered, raped, beaten, certainly the place where she is robbed of the value of her labor…
Right-wing women, who are less queasy in facing the absolute nature of male power over women, will not be swayed by the politics of women who practice selective blindness with regard to male power. Right-wing women are sure that the selective blindness of liberals and leftists especially contributes to more violence, more humiliation, more exploitation for women, often in the name of humanism and freedom (which is why both are dirty words to them).
40 years ago, we had this. Now we have the Liz Plank podcast with Tomi Lahren. They disagree on immigration go figure! Plank admits that they’re really the same IRL. Duh. Liberals are conservatives.
While I was speaking with Tomi and her friends, I felt personally conflicted. Although I disagreed with the premise of chivalry, the truth was that I actively participated in this culture by letting men pay for dates, gifts and trips. Hell, a part of me even came to expect it–just like them. In fact, I had developed a steady pattern of dating men who went above and beyond in the chivalry department. One guy I was in love with sent me an intricate s’mores-making machine (yes, this exists) after our second date because I had mentioned in passing that I love marshmallows. One particular boyfriend would send me giant cookie cakes with romantic messages, enormous edible arrangements and ridiculously large flower bouquets at my office. I thought these grand gestures were expressions of love and maybe he did, too, largely because that’s how our culture classifies this kind of behavior. People’s reactions would also form my own perception and opinion about his romantic gestures. Women would walk by my desk and smile, but I could tell it was laced with envy. These same women would express confusion if I didn’t place the large bouquet on my desk because I was uncomfortable with the attention it was attracting.
It took me a while, but I came to realize the reason why this particular partner’s grand gestures bothered me was because they weren’t ways to draw attention to me; they were ways to draw attention to himself. It was a way to exert control inside the relationship and to impact how he was perceived by others. It took me some time to figure this out. For the longest time, I blamed myself for feeling uncomfortable, and not being appreciative, failing to realize that the problem was not me. When I asserted myself and kindly asked him to stop sending lavish packages to my office, he kept doing it. This summed up the ultimate paradox of chivalry: If the act really was for me, why did he do something I specifically said I didn’t like?
What’s left unsaid is that all of those romantic gestures cost money. The bigger the gesture, the more money it costs.
She seems to have had as much basic difficulty understanding her feelings as the men she’s writing about. She didn’t know if she liked the gifts or not, even though they were making her uncomfortable. She turned to the people around her to know how she’s supposed to feel, instead of having an opinion. This means she’s easy to manipulate by periodically spending a bit of money in a way that other people see it, so she stays convinced things are good despite all evidence to the contrary.
While she’s demonstrating growth and improved self-awareness, liberal feminists really don’t like to think about the messages they’ve sent to men in the process of self-discovery. For every one of these Annoying Man Things she’s endured, she’s sent the message that they’re ultimately ok because she won’t break up with you. Why would anybody change?
Lo! Egalitarianism led to better relationships.
When I realized this, I cut chivalry out cold turkey. I learned the most about chivalry when I stopped participating in it. It wasn’t until after going on a self-imposed chivalry cleanse that I really started seeing the ways it was setting up my relationships with men to fail or at least unnecessarily struggle. I couldn’t see its effects because I knew nothing else and it was ingrained in my own perceptions about relationships between men and women. I approached every relationship moving forward by splitting everything as equally as possible. It certainly made some men uncomfortable, especially at first. They would always say they were appreciative, but I could tell it made them uneasy because suddenly they were giving up a form of control. Ultimately, though, it freed up a power dynamic that I hadn’t even known was there all along. Because I was expected to accept all these gifts, I was also expected to accept everything else. It made me more reluctant to ask for what I needed and made me less assertive in the relationships. It made some situations more uncomfortable because we weren’t falling back on familiar gender dynamics, but ultimately the result was a healthier relationship between two equal partners undefined by roles and rules that someone else had made up. It also felt good to release the men I was dating from the financial pressure of providing and paying for everything. It was only when I quit chivalry that I realized how much I had bought into the idea of a gendered stereotype for men when I was so against them for women.
In other words, she had no imagination for more radical alternatives before. Yeah, that’s what we’ve been saying. Liz Plank had not done the work she’s asking of men.
Isn’t it a giant red flag if someone becomes uneasy when they can’t control everything? The statement that she didn’t know the power dynamic was there all along is absolutely absurd. Everybody under the sun has heard that men are supposed to be dominant, which by definition means taking control and trampling boundaries.
It should be obvious and go without saying that getting rid of your own hypocrisies is a good place to start. It’s concerning that, for Plank, this seems like a revelation. Of course it does, because hypocrisy is the defining trait of liberals. They think it’s cute instead of a serious problem to work on, to prevent people from dying:
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. Benevolent sexism is the grand equalizer. While women are less likely to participate in hostile sexism, when it comes to benevolent sexism, the gap pretty much disappears. Just like breathing, we all do it.
Use of the term “we” like that is always suspicious. In the book, Liz Plank is explaining the conditions for dating her. She’s saying she rewards benevolent sexism all the time, despite understanding the problems with it. As a man, why would I ever cut out the benevolent sexism? Is there anyone less likely to appreciate it than a woman with a master’s degree in gender studies? She’s totally into it, though. Lesson: feminism is just some shit women like to yap about, which you are a complete chump for taking seriously.