This is one of those books I have to read for other projects, and I always hope they will be about one thing and they never are. I needed it to be a book about gender roles and it was really a book about marketing to men in the modern era. I chose this book based on its title–I select them from the online library catalog, you see–and my copy does not have the subtitle that shows with the book. Furthermore, the back text says “A Revealing New Look at What It Means to Be Male.” So when it turned out to be nothing that I could use for my project, I was a little disappointed. I also ended up skimming stuff; by about halfway through the book it started to seem repetitious, so I’d really only read the first paragraph of each subsection to see if this would finally be a passage I could excerpt. It never was.
If I knew a thing at all about marketing, I might have liked it more. It was obviously a book that aims to teach a professional lesson; key passages were printed in bold, there were factoid lists, and there were summary/review questions at the end of the chapter. Still, even if the book is a good overview of the modern differences between men and women, it doesn’t seem particularly insightful. It pulls from the same popular press news stories that all the other gender roles books pull from, and I remember them all just as well as the authors do. Frankly, I don’t think some of it was sorted well. They referred to the idea that the Y chromosome is disappearing–maybe in 10 million years it will be gone. How on earth could that possibly have an impact on how to market men and get their money now? Worse, they printed an email that went around the net about how 1950s women were instructed to greet their husbands when they came home from work. Even acknowledging that the email is probably an urban legend in the book doesn’t really excuse its presence.
Ultimately, each chapter seemed like a shallow overview of very interesting topics. I guess that serves the purpose o the book–to give professionals in the field food for thought and not to provide a scholarly social analysis. I just like analyses more than overviews. But don’t you think the portrayal of men as infallible authority figures transitioning to domestic doufuses on television in commercials and sitcoms across as short a span as fifty years would make an interesting book all on its own? At least the overviews did hit very interesting subjects, even if they didn’t fully explore them: the acceptance of gay men, the feminization of the masculine ideals, the rise of single women with no children and no spouses, the pressures men put on themselves, the traditional female markets that are opening up, and men’s feelings about the changing roles of wives. Also, after reading that disastrous book, Are Men Necessary?, which was just a collection of impression and thoughts of the author’s current mental state in no particular order, it was a relief to see studies cited and references identified. The book definitely has a professional presentation and looks and reads like a book that has gone through editing. It’s just sort of flat.
All that ho-humness aside, I did like this one particular passage from the chapter “What Is Masculinity?”:
In a recent academic study, college men in the United States and Europe were presented with a computerized test; they were shown a male image on a computer screen and were asked to manipulate the levels of fat and muscularity to the point at which the image would represent what women consider the “ideal male body.” The men typically chose a male body with twenty or thirty pounds more muscle than that of an average man. But when the same academics gave the test to college women, the female students chose a perfectly ordinary male body without all the added muscle. When the academics gave the same test to Taiwanese students and to nomads on the plains of Kenya, those groups of men had no difficulty in judging the male body that women would prefer. In other words, young Western men seem to have developed a uniquely dysfunctional idea of what they are supposed to look like.
Now this is passage stands out in two ways: First, it provides some interesting information about men, but the book fails to follow-up on just what is so interesting about this. It’s a marketing book, but the authors never really address whether or not to prey on this insecurity to get male dollars or if marketers should provide men with less stressful portrayals of themselves instead. I guess the book doesn’t want to talk down to professionals by spelling out what it means, but beyond a general discussion of machismo vs. Orlando Bloom, the book leaves the topic without saying anything provocative.
It is also interesting to me at home, by explaining why Husband is insulting me by going on his own diet just as I am starting one myself. Dude, he already weighs about twenty pounds less than me. Him walking around calling himself a fat bastard and counting calories and talking fats and carbs is annoying. All this is of course an implicit criticism of my failure to have done the calorie counting or perceive myself as the real fat bastard in the past. Never mind the sheer joy I experienced creating a kickass spreadsheet with advanced Excel formulae that included IF/THEN requirements for him to track it all on the computer. It’s easy to read and it even tells you at the end of the day what percentage of your diet came from fats, carbs, and proteins. It is a thing of beauty.
I am tired of reading overview books. Thank god I have a Susan Faludi book to read next! She always puts on a good show.