“Women are in so much pain, and so much of it is coming from the men in their lives,” Elizabeth Plank writes in her new book, For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity. “But the more men I interviewed and the more I dug into the data, the more I realized that men were hurting us because they were silently hurting inside.”
Men’s pain starts from childhood. Boys are taught to block out all emotions because they are thought to be feminine traits. This type of toxic masculinity restricts the range of emotions boys and men can have to anger, stoicism and aggression. For the Love of Men advocates for exchanging toxic masculinity for positive masculinity—which expands the definition of manhood to include male courage, strength, leadership and compassion.
I’ll admit it: I hate men sometimes. This doesn’t mean I’m a bra-burning feminist, angry black woman or misandrist. But I did harbor resentment towards men, stemming from my upbringing as a first generation American with West African roots.
As a kid, when I went to school, I was in America. When I came back, I was in little Lagos. In the kitchen during holidays, aunties would readily joke about cooking for my husband. Gender roles for women were precisely defined. The birth of a male child was celebrated because he could pass the family name down while girls were less valuable.
My disdain for men worsened when I became a motorized wheelchair user at age 20. Prior to that, I walked normally, and no one could tell that I was chronically ill. When my disability became visible, strangely enough, men hit on me more. They weren’t flirting with me because they wanted to be with me, but because I looked like easy prey. Men thought I was more susceptible to manipulation and financial abuse. I was even followed by men when I ignored their advances.
But the broad brush I used to paint men as bad changed when I read For the Love of Men. Before this book, I always saw men almost exclusively as my oppressors. Don’t get me wrong: Plank doesn’t exonerate men for how they’ve oppressed women for centuries. But she observes, too, that feminism mainly focuses on how sexism hurts women—but not how it traumatizes men.
Male pain is a harmful consequence of sexism, and it leads to to shorter life expectancies for men, suicide, racism and poor health. In this way, men and women actually have a lot in common. Toxic masculinity is killing all of us.
Toxic masculinity breeds ableism, for example—discrimination and prejudice against people living with disabilities, which I’ve experienced this firsthand. Doctors have unconscious bias and believe racist stereotypes about black people—that we feel less pain and are drug dealers. I had a heart and kidney transplant at age 11; less than a week after my transplants I was told to take Tylenol for my pain.
“People with disabilities have always had the most to lose,” Plank observed, “and put the most on the line to move our society forward and their resolute and unwavering dedication to creative and life-altering activism needs to be taught as part of our history.”
When it comes to mainstream feminism, it can often feel like the movement is white women’s voices talking about white women’s problems ad nauseam. Plank brings a more intersectional idea of feminism into focus in For the Love of Men, making a point to pass the mic and let people of color, people with disabilities and other marginalized folks tell their own stories.
“This is a generation with a totally different experience,” Plank notes, “and I’m dazzled by the activism and leadership of women of color in the movement right now. What I crave more of though is the experience and voices of women with disabilities in the movement too. Women like Keah Brown, Emily Ladau, Alice Wong, Mia Ives-Rublee, Imani Barbarin, Rebecca Cokley, Anastasia Somoza and so many more! They are all doing such incredible work and storytelling, and I see them already leading this next wave of feminist activism.”
This book opens up a fresh dialogue about feminism that is both radical and intersectional, and represents a future where all identities and groups are included in the fight for gender equality.