I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
Published by Penguin Canada, 2018
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Phenomenal. This book should be required reading. To say so much, so succinctly, about the pervasive harm of masculine energy, whilst offering hope for a better future, is frankly awe inspiring.
I am neither trans nor a person of colour, as Shraya is. For that reason, I would never deign to suggest I understand the extent of fear and suppression she has experienced. That said, as a gay man, I still felt so seen by this book. I don’t hate that I’m gay, but I hate that being gay makes me constantly police my own body language, appearance, and behaviour, through fear of ridicule, aggression and intimidation (all of which I have experienced as a queer person). I’ve never seen an author capture so eloquently and vividly how exhausting and frustrating it is to feel compelled to live your life this way, nor the kind of self-loathing it incites. This, in itself, helps to systematically uphold the patriarchy, the fear teaching us to publicly reject the parts of ourselves that ascribe to traditional feminine norms.
The use of direct address when relaying stories lends the book an intense immediacy. I also adored how nuanced and intersectional it is. No one is spared their rightful lampooning, with Shraya highlighting the kind of prejudices brought on by life under a misogynistic regime that plague us all: The gay men who are repulsed by the thought of vaginas; cis people who refuse to accept their trans counterparts; the ones who invalidate bisexual relationships; the straight women who have internalised misogyny to such an extent that they actively uphold heteronormative societal roles, and stand by in the face of injustice.
The book is also very self-aware, Shraya pointing out that queer and non-conforming people don’t want pity, and shouldn’t have to share experiences of trauma to earn respect or understanding. And yet, here we are, the shock of reality sometimes all we have to fall back on to be given a platform or taken seriously.
Shraya ultimately asks us to destroy the pedestal that upholds the concept of ‘The Good Man’. With the standard of ‘goodness’ in cis/straight men set so low, it excuses the failings of the typical man. We all have to strive for better. By dismissing gendered expectations, we will all be free to explore and express ourselves as individuals. After all, if there are no set roles to conform to, there can be no fear of non-conformity.
Frank, compact, perceptive, and eye-opening, I implore you all to read this absolute gem.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of I’m Afraid of Men (and again, I can’t urge you strongly enough to do so), you can find a copy of it with free shipping by clicking here. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!