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Liz Plank’s ‘For the Love of Men’ Is a Look at Why We All Deserve More From Masculinity

Followers of Vox journalist Liz Plank might expect her first book to expound on the current political rhetoric and chaos fueling toxic masculinity, to excavate the narratives and remind us why they’re so problematic. Her critics may swarm, demanding to know why she hates men (or women), as they have before. Plank is the executive producer of Vox’s Divided States of Women, a series, podcast, and platform that, in her own words for Vox, “shine[s] a light on the voices that aren’t always heard, and will delve into big political questions that every woman in America has an opinion about.” She’s covered gender and politics for years, work about which the gamut of public misinterpretation runs wide.

But anyone making these assumptions about Plank’s new book would be mistaken. The book is not a specific guide on how to be a man or a woman, nor is it an admonishment of one or the other. Overwhelmingly, Plank’s For the Love of Men, published on September 10, is a tender, intelligent meditation on why now, more than ever, men deserve more than the language and tropes they’ve been fed to define themselves and their experiences, and how we can all adjust to make this happen.

Teen Vogue spoke with Plank about our cultural attachments to masculine behavior, and how a joking conversation with her sister birthed a modern look at the ways we all interact with gender in our lives.

The whole point of this book is not, in fact, to tell men and women how to act, but to encourage everyone to act like themselves.

Teen Vogue: I’ve followed your work for seven years, and assumed going into it that I already knew what the larger takeaway of this book was going to be. Being surprised was my favorite part. I had, sheepishly, never once considered my own role or expectations in the way we expect men to behave.

Liz Plank: Writing the book was a journey itself. I hate using the word journey, but that’s what it was. I rewrote this book three times, and the first time I wrote it, it was very basic. It was, “men should do this.” “Men should do that.” It was so easy to point out everything that was going wrong, to criticize, but where has that gotten us? In the fight for gender equality, we don’t get women’s perspectives nearly as much, so I’ve never been interested in the male perspective until now, because there’s been such a dearth of the female perspective. But once I started doing my research, and talking to men about their experiences of being men, I realized, “I’m part of this too.” This is a system that we’re all breathing, and living in, and it feels good to acknowledge your responsibility in being part of the problem. It’s a collective problem.

TV: I loved the way you examined your relationship to chivalry in the book. I kept thinking of my own very gendered, very traditional attachment to the marriage proposal — in that I’ve always assumed it’s something that would come from the man I was with. That it’s something I was waiting for, once a man decided it was a “thing” that was going to happen, instead of a mutual, ongoing conversation about our future.

LP: I wrote a lot about how I tried to go on this chivalry diet, and how it was really difficult. It was an interesting exercise in realizing how much control I was giving away to people in my relationships, in exchange for getting “stuff.” And it dawned on me, the stuff is just a vehicle for power. I realized I had so much more freedom than I thought in my romantic relationships. That said, I don’t think we should give up the things that make us feel good! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to honor the customs and rituals that you’re attached to. The whole point of this book is not, in fact, to tell men and women how to act, but to encourage everyone to act like themselves. We’ve been talking for so long about how women are put into a box with gender, but we don’t talk as much about how men are put into a box, and men don’t realize that that is what has been happening. There’s been this assumption for so long that men don’t require as much emotional support. That men aren’t in touch with their feelings, or shouldn’t be.