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Liz Plank: Why traditional masculinity remains a barrier for us all

The author of “For the Love of Men: From Toxic to a More Mindful Masculinity” tells Mika Brzezinski how men can apply the lessons of feminism to defeat their own gender stereotypes.
Celebrities Visit BuzzFeed's \"AM To DM\" - October 17, 2019
Liz Plank discusses "For The Love Of Men" with BuzzFeed's "AM To DM" on Oct. 17, 2019 in New York.Roy Rochlin / Getty Images file

There’s no question that the #MeToo movement has made great strides in addressing sexual harassment and sexual assault in recent years, yet it’s also clear that so much more must be done. Liz Plank, award-winning journalist and author of the 2019 book, “For the Love of Men: From Toxic to a More Mindful Masculinity,” believes we must shift the focus away from what men should stop doing and encourage what men can start doing.

Just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski sat down with Plank to learn more about her concept of “mindful masculinity” and what it means for workplace culture.

Mindful masculinity empowers men to redefine what it means to be masculine and how they carry out their interpersonal relationships. Plank characterizes it as a Marie Kondo-type of approach to masculinity — discarding the toxic parts of masculinity that do not serve men, like appearing strong at all costs—and embracing the aspects that spark joy, like meaningful friendships.

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As Plank explained, the notions of traditional masculinity include “the pressure to never show vulnerability or being emotional, this idea that boys will be boys, are rougher and tougher and are created differently than girls.” As a result, boys and girls are raised differently to meet certain societal expectations. “Everyone has a need for emotional intimacy, but we don’t treat boys and girls the same way,” Plank said.

There’s a stereotype that men don’t have as many needs as women in terms of intimacy, but Plank argues that for many men, sex is perceived as the only way to find that intimacy. She looks at male-male friendships and describes them as side-by-side relationships, where women catch up with one another face-to-face and have stronger emotional connections. “Men don’t have permission to have that male-on-male intimacy because of ideals of masculinity,” she said.

“We focus on women… but you can’t just change one segment of the population,” Brzezinski said. “It usually involves more than one person to create a behavior that impacts somebody.”

In her book, Plank suggests that gender equality also helps men. She explains how men can learn from feminism and apply those lessons to defeat their own gender stereotypes.

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She challenges men to ask themselves big questions. For example, “Is being powerful, hiding vulnerability and emotions really serving me as a man?” Plank adds, “maybe the answer is yes, but I want them to think about it and make their decisions for themselves.”

Mindful masculinity also involves questioning behaviors that make you feel threated by women in the workplace or even other men in the workplace. She points to certain scenarios where there is an “alpha male” who demands that others ascribe to what he says, or they will be viewed as weak.

The ultimate goal of mindful masculinity, Plank says, is to help men lead happier lives.