The Problem With Men Being Men

by Tami Winfrey Harris

In his bestselling book, and soon to be movie, Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, Steve Harvey offers women advice on “how to be a girl,” something he believes is a lost art. Many of his suggestions, including cooking for your man and not lifting heavy items, are typical of the reductive thinking permeating incessant modern discussions about black male-female relationships. Women are to be dependent, submissive, chaste yet sexually available, and focused on “womanly things” like nurturing, child-rearing and cooking. Above all, a good woman must “let a man be a man”–that is independent, a natural leader in all things, emotionally distant, sexually voracious and prone to stray. We are told, the fate of the race and black women’s happiness depends on both men and women acting out these roles. But treating traditional gender roles as gospel is more damaging to the black community than helpful. There is no one way to be a man or a woman.

This isn’t a treatise against men and women who like to kick it old school. Do you. But it is dangerous to hold up regressive ideas of femininity and masculinity as the way it should be. Too many of our ideas of gender roles are based on the sexist hierarchy entrenched in the majority white culture, long before black men were recognized as fully men and black women as women. Narrow views of gender do a disservice to both black men and women, curtailing their freedom to be their authentic selves and exacerbating already serious problems in the black community.

Harvey and many other advice-givers traffic in the notion that black men are simple and largely the same. Those claims make me angry every time I hear them. I am angry because that idea sells short every wonderful black man I know–my husband, my brother, my nephews, my father, my grandfathers–all good men, who are as complex and varied as any other human being. None can be summed up in with cartoonish descriptions of manhood.

When it comes to relationships, men are also varied in what they want and need, as are women.

There are old-school brothers who believe in ruling the roost and there are more modern types who prefer egalitarian relationships. I married a man that wants to be my partner not my leader. I have another married friend that believes in “husband as head.” We both have happy marriages that work for us. Which is the point, really. Women who wish to marry aren’t in search of just any man, but one that fits their unique needs. Advice that encourages women to bend themselves to fit men, with men defined as some monolithic group, is as useless as it is sexist.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    I’ll be very honest, I’m a proponent of gender balance and equity, but in reality do enjoy the dynamics of the imbalance. I used to have the super-independent mentality in which I tired of competing for recognition as an equal to men. At the end of the day, all I long for in a relationship is respect and my voice to be heard. If that will find me cooking and cleaning for my man-so long as I am well taken care of, I could give a damn. Life is too short to expend our energies in trivial shit! Live and let live!

    Radical feminists-please don’t come at me with your brouhaha.

  • QoNewC

    “But it is dangerous to hold up regressive ideas of femininity and masculinity as the way it should be.”

    No its only dangerous to hold up socalled regressive ideas of feminity. Men on the other hand are shamed for not being “real men.”

  • http://livefromthematrix.wordpress.com TAE

    Checkmate.

  • Stanley

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read something good on this site!

  • Tonton Michel

    This book has has drawn a lot of fuss through no fault of the author, he gave an opinion and it’s you if you want to follow it. It’s not a good move to let men tell women how to be a women just like it is never a good idea to listen to women tell men how to be a man. Self interests usually tilt that advice.

  • LemonNLime

    I say this, if my ability to open cans, lift boxes, make my own choices confidently, maintain a successful job, etc. make you feel like less than a man, then you probably were not one to begin with. Real men have confidence in themselves and aren’t using women and our actions as a thermometer to measure their own manhood.

  • LemonNLime

    I don’t know why the feminist would come attacking. I always assumed one of the ideas behind feminisme was respecting a woman’s choice to do what she wants with her life. If that is what you desire, I don’t see why they would attack you.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    real men do not take advice from steve harvey…….

  • http://itsoftenbeensaid.wordpress.com Sasha

    Agreed, especially about the radical feminists. Can’t stand those types.

  • African

    Blaming gender violence on masculinity & this statement “Behind all of this “let a man be a man” stuff lurks a damaging notion that the essence of manhood, particularly black manhood, is machismo. It asks men to perform a masculinity tied to swagger and dominance.” lost me. According to my mama, this was a f*cking cool narrative in the 70s, we are in 2012 women stuck in that victim-hood era gotta smarten up and craft new ideas of how to delegitimize masculinity in 2012.

    Women who are actually doing something to change the world don’t even care how people live their lives, they rebuke the ills in the society and inspire humanity to higher positive levels. It’s men and women with “nothing positive to do” that keep on analyzing how to be a woman, how to be a man and most of the time they all end up sounding stupid. Rebuke the negatives, stop trying to describe to humanity how it should survive unless you are doing something better to enhance humanity.

    I’m a man, I carry out myself as one. I don’t have time to prove my manliness to anyone, neither do I waste time preaching to people how they should be. As long as the people are me are happy, that’s enough reason to go to bed with my head high anticipating another beautiful, positive day. This is all that matters. All in all, take care of your business. Male or Female, time will judge you based on how well you handle your business (Personal responsibilities, friends, family and the community in general). The rest are just noise.

    Peace!!!

  • LMO85

    Agreed. @ Clutch, more Tami please! We need daily dosages of ‘intelligence and eloquence’ shots.

  • http://WWW.MSWORLD365.TUMBLR.COM MS WORLD

    Thanks for speaking the TRUTH Ms. Tami!

  • mamareese

    Uh hm excuse me….this book in not the Bible or an instruction manual. I think people are reading it for the wrong reasons…especially chicks trying to get a man or husband. Steve Harvey is just sharing how he’d and other men of his likeness like to see women behave and carry themselves. The overall feel of the book is repect your self, body and mind and others will repect it too. Really he’s saying Act Like a Lady…PERIOD…and understand how most men think. Also, ladies if you really want to hold a deserving man down and have his back…respect his word. Ponder his thoughts and don’t immediately come back with I’m not doing that. Consider where he is coming from, because a REAL MAN is not going to do anything that will harm or displace his family, my father has shown me that. Come to an even playing ground and listen before you react….we can have the tendancy to react on raw emotion before logic at times.

  • Kema

    ” I always assumed one of the ideas behind feminism was respecting a woman’s choice to do what she wants with her life.”

    My thoughts exactly! If thats what you CHOOSE to do then do you. Its a problem when we all HAVE TO do it. Choice is a beautiful thing. I can stay home cooking and cleaning for my man or I can work and help bring home the bacon.

  • LMO85

    Wow really Clutch? I want to thank Tami for this –a very refreshing read.

  • http://cupofjo-jo.blogspot.com bk chick

    Lol wow…I think this.article went over a lot of ppl’ s heads….the article was eloquent and well argued….I agree with the author 100%

  • Yesmama

    This exact topic has been on my mind lately. I appreciate that you critiqued the limitations of the “one size fits all” approach to Black masculinity and femininity without insulting people who chose more traditional couple roles.Thank you so much for this balanced, well-written and thoughtful article!

  • http://www.aworknprogress.com Diana

    Puts one fist in the air! Tami, thanks for writing this. We need more women in the conversation because last time I checked it takes two to date, two to marry, etc. So, why are we allowing men to make the rules and keep us in a box?

  • JoJo

    @mamareese

    I totally agree with everything you said.Very good points!

    @Tami (author)

    This is a well-written piece and a great read.

  • oknow

    i never read Steve Harvey’s book.. I guess because it is his opinion and because he doesn’t represent every man out there..

    i just feel like when they say act like a lady they want us to act like the damsel in distress, or the helpless woman at home who can’t function til her man comes home, or the woman who raises the children, cook, clean, work and still cater to her man..

    i believe that this works both ways.. respect should be given both ways.. i never liked the term “let a man be a man”.. how can u let someone be something that they were born to grow up to me.. never got that.. how about treating a lady w/respect! you barely hear ppl mentioning that..

  • I got sense!

    @ mamareese

    The point I think the author was making is that he doesn’t get to decide how a lady should act. No man does but that is what our society and many others have and continue to do. It’s still happening here like with the victims of rape being blamed for their own assault b/c she was wearing a skirt or low cut top. It completely excuses the actions of the rapist and puts the blame on the women.

    I was a abuse counselor for a while in college and had a girl tell me how the dad of her friend groped her in the car as he was taking her home. He actually parked the car and felt everywhere he wanted b/c it was his fantasy to be with the “naughty” cheerleader. When she finally told her parents years later, the first thing out of her mothers mouth was, “what did you do to make him think you were ‘that’ kind of girl?” After years of being how to dress, think, talk, etc by a male dominated society only looking out for themselves women have internalized this bullshit and automatically blame the woman. If the was modest, if she were dressed properly this wouldn’t have happened. It’s sick.

    And these types of comments are very similar to what Mr. Harvey is saying. As a man, he thinks he knows how women should think and behave, not because it’s in the black communities best interest but b/c it’s in men’s best interest. It’s the same thing that keeps men and women divided. Men want it to go back to the days of women being nothing more than overgrown children and maids. As for Mr. Harvey, what’s his degree in again?

  • Alyssa

    @Kema or both! :)

  • LA, California Dreaming (Ocean Blue)

    Why yes, I agree with this article.

  • Kami

    As with the other replies, I’ll say, “Do you boo boo.” But your wording, and several of the other repliers wording, “radical feminists” is something that’s so interesting to me. Why is it that most women shy away from the term “feminist,” and why is that equated with something being “radical.” I just think it’s so strange because I don’t think it’s TOO radical for women to make their own choices about their bodies and well-being. So I guess my question is- what is radical feminism and why is that labeled as a bad thing necessarily? This isn’t a rhetorical question, I earnestly want to know what you all think.

  • http://www.whattamisaid.com Tami Winfrey Harris

    Agreed @LemonNLime and @Kema! No feminist I know begrudges women the right to the life they choose. They DO however begrudge the idea that there is a gender-directed way things are supposed to be that preference men over women.

    And I worry at the increasing number of times I hear “independence” as it relates to women as a negative thing–Something women can have too much off. Here’s an excerpt of what I’ve written about that–in this case tied to the Tyrese/NecoleBitchie.com controversy:

    There is nothing about the descriptor “independent” that is negative on its face, at least not based on Merriam-Webster’s definition above. My parents taught me to be independent. When I became old enough to drive, my father taught me how to check my tire pressure and oil and how to change a tire. I keep my AAA membership payed up, but I know if roadside service can’t get to me, I can take care of myself. To be independent is to be free. Because I can handle an auto emergency, I’ve felt free to crisscross the country on road journeys points southwest to northeast.

    What could be wrong with being free? Nothing, unless, of course, you believe that it is not advantageous for women to be “not subject to control by others” or “not requiring or relying on others (as for care or livelihood).” Would Tyrese caution men this way? Would he warn them against not needing women.

    Sexism lies at the root of the actor’s monologue. In the regressive language of modern black relationship advice, it is not enough for a black woman to want a man deeply, with all her heart and soul. Male egos must always be fed with the idea that women are unfulfilled and incapable of living without a man. We must avoid being uneducated free-loaders, sayeth Tyrese, while being sure to remain needy and helpless enough to be attractive to men like him.

    http://www.whattamisaid.com/2011/11/tyrese-mansplains-to-too-independent.html

  • http://www.whattamisaid.com Tami Winfrey Harris

    You’re right. The idea of black machismo is nothing new. It was certainly around in the 70s, but then so was domestic violence, sexual assault, etc. Patriarchy is as old as racism. The connectedness between this thinking and crimes like rape can be witnessed in the recent Too Short/XXL controversy: http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2012/02/too-shorts-xxl-advice-video-prompts-outrage-petition-and-apologies/

  • Lana

    Steve Harvey is as credible as a relationship expert as he is as a hairstylist. He’s a tool capitalizing on black female insecurity. What kind of fool tells women beware of the dogs and the men who use you instead of telling the men to stop being dogs and to stop using women?

  • Alexandra

    This entire article is awesome. Though I have never read the book or plan to see the movie in theaters, it summed my exact thoughts on societal gender creations (not natural) for men and women. It hurts both genders. High Five Tami, I always like reading your articles.

  • Alexandra

    “how can u let someone be something that they were born to grow up to me”

    Right?!! Haha. Agreed with your comment.

  • Yeahright2011

    Gender roles are a convenience, not a biological obligation. I think men want to keep women dependent so there is no incentive to be fair or respectful. Women want men to be providers and protectors so that when the feces hits the fan blades she can put on men. There are racial roles too, based on convenience. Whites want blacks to be dependent for the same reason. Blacks want whites to provide the means for their empowerment and protect for the same reason. All based on what’s convenient.

  • QCastle

    @Ms. Harris

    Please dont bait and switch us here. Racism=bad. Rape=bad. Sexual assault=bad. Patriarchy=quite good actually. They are mutually exclusive.

  • http://www.whattamisaid.com Tami Winfrey Harris

    @QCastle,

    I have to disagree. Patriarchy is a system of oppression, as is racism. And patriarchy is at the root of rape and domestic violence. Most oppressions intertwine: racism/classism; racism/sexism; sexism/transphobia, etc.

    Either one is about equality and justice for all or none. To argue against racism but for patriarchy is hypocritical.

  • lulu

    how about a let a woman be a woman- i dont take advice from steve harvey he is questionable and he cheated on his wife- so no

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Ladies,

    I am not against feminists, HOWEVER-I HATE/ABHOR feminist ideologies that are radical in nature-SHOOT ME!

    Clearly from my comment, I am a feminist.

  • Jinx Moneypenny

    OOP! There it is.

  • chanela

    Is it sexist to say that tampons are for women???? just wondering…

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    @ chanela

    Quick question are you the same one I talk to elsewhere?!

    No, it is not sexist. It’s a FACT. How are women getting oppressed by that statement exactly?!

  • binks

    This article is on point. Another thing that kills me is when I hear people say play or know your role…blank stares… I don’t have to know or play a role in a relationship other than being me

  • LA, California Dreaming (Ocean Blue)

    I die a thousand deaths when I hear that phrase.

  • chanela

    talk to elsewhere? what are you talking about?

    women aren’t oppressed.men are. why can’t they use tampons too??lol

  • LA, California Dreaming (Ocean Blue)

    I was once told that gay men use tampons in their butt to stop the bleeding. I don’t know if that is true or not.

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    @chanela,

    Who is stopping them from using it? In any case is the tampon not for bleeding folks?!

    If it has any other uses, please enlighten me, because I find that question so RIDONC!

  • Jay_Z

    Preach! I’m co-signing on this article. I always found it funny that people would actually take Steve Harvey as a serious relationship-advice giver. He most definitely isn’t someone young men and women should look up to as an example.

  • Socially Maladjusted

    Hmm!

    Addressing the point someone made about choice -

    choice is a wonderful thing isn’t it?

    If you choose to be a housewife on your own dime then that’s a choice I respect

    If not –

    then could be that some MAN has NO CHOICE but to waste his life toiling in some drugdery so you can be a stay at home mum.

    That I don’t respect – because it is parasitism.

    I aggressively support the abolition of gender roles and all the expectations, on BOTH SIDES, that go with em.

    I don’t support hyprocrites who want CHOICE for themselves but want to keep men confined in their tradtional roles.

    It’s irrelevent that some men want to perform that role because it’s not really a choice they make consciously. it’s something men are conditioned to want to do by indoctrination from society (other men and WOMEN) that teaches men that masculinity is expressed in your utility to others,

    The boss, the wife, strangers even.

    No – we want to be free and have CHOICE too. That freedom starts with educating the masses of working men that they are not obligated to facilitate anyone’s stay at home choices.

    Indeed, men should object to such an impostion because they are denied so many of the joys of family life – like bonding with one’s children.

  • Erika

    Hi

  • Dave

    Preach! I’m co-signing on this article. I always found it funny that people would actually take Steve Harvey as a serious relationship-advice giver. He most definitely isn’t someone young men and women should look up to as an example.

    That light skinned woman is beautiful! Can someone tell me if she is an actress or model? Does she have a fan page?
    PS: I’m not thirsty

  • Socially Maladjusted

    dave

    I’m not thirsty

    LMAO!

    Why not the b itch makes me thirsty.

    ha ha . . .

  • jamesfrmphilly

    i prefer a matriarchal system……

  • E.M.S.

    If the old school gender roles work for someone else, great, but they don’t for me. I prefer working together as a team & being on the same level. That’s worked out pretty well so far :)

    I’m the type of woman that believe in complete equality. That includes paying for dates! We always alternate to take care of the bill and fill the gas tank.

  • http://generation-x.net/viewProfile.php?user=Kaptansolo&ref=Kaptansolo Kaptan Solo

    Thugtician…I swear man…still promoting your ideas of being a house-husband…eh?

    smh..

    ok…let’s examine this…

    your quote:
    “It’s irrelevent that some men want to perform that role because it’s not really a choice they make consciously. it’s something men are conditioned to want to do by indoctrination from society (other men and WOMEN) that teaches men that masculinity is expressed in your utility to others”

    Kap’s response
    Ok clown…”if” women are the keepers of culture, then men certainly are the keepers, builders, repairmen of community. But, since you don’t believe in any type of “forced” roles…do you really expect women to build bridges?…smh
    How about apartment buildings?
    Homes?
    Factories?

    I am talking about building them (at the collective level).

    “No – we want to be free and have CHOICE too. That freedom starts with educating the masses of working men that they are not obligated to facilitate anyone’s stay at home choices.

    Indeed, men should object to such an impostion because they are denied so many of the joys of family life – like bonding with one’s children.”

    Kap’s response
    Ya…I guess you will just whip out your “breast” and give the infant some milk too…huh? Not that I don’t get your point, but you know good and damned well the technological advances that have been made that gave rise to jobs that women now perform are NOT advances in the areas where men once worked. …and as you look around at crumbling cities…it is obvious that MEN are needed in traditional MEN type work environments….smh.

    “If you choose to be a housewife on your own dime then that’s a choice I respect

    If not –

    then could be that some MAN has NO CHOICE but to waste his life toiling in some drugdery so you can be a stay at home mum.

    That I don’t respect – because it is parasitism.

    I aggressively support the abolition of gender roles and all the expectations, on BOTH SIDES, that go with em.”

    Kap’s response
    Of course you support the abolition of gender roles on both sides…because you want to be able to be a “stay at home” dad…smh.

    When are you all going to realize that you can have a few exceptions to the rule, but you can’t change the rule. If you do, your community will not be maintained and your culture will die…

    …oh…just like the black community.

    ..and before any of you try to hide behind what the dominant culture has done to us, even if we were to break away and form our own nation elsewhere, men would have to BUILD from the ground up, MEN will not be staying your behind at home with the little ones…smh.
    You can’t hire a secretary until you build an office building.

  • http://generation-x.net/viewProfile.php?user=Kaptansolo&ref=Kaptansolo Kaptan Solo

    Thugtician…I swear man…still promoting your ideas of being a house-husband…eh?

    smh..

    ok…let’s examine this…

    your quote:
    “It’s irrelevent that some men want to perform that role because it’s not really a choice they make consciously. it’s something men are conditioned to want to do by indoctrination from society (other men and WOMEN) that teaches men that masculinity is expressed in your utility to others”

    Kap’s response
    Ok lol…”if” women are the keepers of culture, then men certainly are the keepers, builders, repairmen of community. But, since you don’t believe in any type of “forced” roles…do you really expect women to build bridges?…smh
    How about apartment buildings?
    Homes?
    Factories?

    I am talking about building them (at the collective level).
    I got news for you, they aren’t, will not and “can’t” (collectively)

    your next one:
    “No – we want to be free and have CHOICE too. That freedom starts with educating the masses of working men that they are not obligated to facilitate anyone’s stay at home choices.

    Indeed, men should object to such an impostion because they are denied so many of the joys of family life – like bonding with one’s children.”

    Kap’s response
    Ya…I guess you will just whip out your “breast” and give the infant some milk too…huh? Not that I don’t get your point, but you know good and damned well the technological advances that have been made that gave rise to jobs that women now perform are NOT advances in the areas where men once worked. …and as you look around at crumbling cities…it is obvious that MEN are needed in traditional MEN type work environments….smh.

    “If you choose to be a housewife on your own dime then that’s a choice I respect

    If not –

    then could be that some MAN has NO CHOICE but to waste his life toiling in some drugdery so you can be a stay at home mum.

    That I don’t respect – because it is parasitism.

    I aggressively support the abolition of gender roles and all the expectations, on BOTH SIDES, that go with em.”

    Kap’s response
    Of course you support the abolition of gender roles on both sides…because you want to be able to be a “stay at home” dad…smh.

    When are you all going to realize that you can have a few exceptions to the rule, but you can’t change the rule. If you do, your community will not be maintained and your culture will die…

    …oh…just like the black community.

    ..and before any of you try to hide behind what the dominant culture has done to us, even if we were to break away and form our own nation elsewhere, men would have to BUILD from the ground up, MEN will not be staying at home with the little ones…smh.
    You can’t hire a secretary until you build an office building.

    smh…and lmao

  • Tumaini

    Great article! I find it so frustrating how some macho notion of maleness is always used as the reference point for prescriptions as to how women should act.

  • TruBlu

    I’m sure you have taken or are currently taking advice from someone with a questionable past. You just don’t know about the skeletons.

  • Elizabeth

    I agree why should I take advice from a man that has been married 3 times.I’d rather ask for my parents advice.This is loosely connected but I always find it weird when people look up to celeb couples that have been together for 10 or so years when your parents have been together for more years and your grandparents even more.

  • Leelee

    @Mamareese

    REAL MEN can do things that can harm or displace their families unintentionally. You can make a choice with the best of intentions and it can still go horribly wrong. This doesn’t make them less of a man or bad people because they make an unwise choice. That’s why,I believe, other opinions are needed. Group think can be toxic, just ask the staff of the Challenger. This is my main problem with gender roles. I have a right to decide which direction my life goes. So when there are big decisions that could forever change my life I have a right to be a part of them.

  • Miss September

    IMO it can be a balance in a relationship . I agree with the article that traditional gender
    roles does not always work . Every relationship is different and a lot of it is trial and error . Also , ladies I wouldn’t take advice from any of these so called gurus . I think
    the best advice is to follow your heart . That should determine if the relationship is
    for you or not ……

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