On Wednesday, the editors of the New York Times’ Style section proved that they are not even trying to write creative headlines anymore. “Men Have Book Clubs, Too” is, on its surface, ambiguous: Do men have book clubs in addition to other things (elevated levels of testosterone, an indelible interest in grilling, control of all three branches of the federal government)? Or do men, in addition to women, have book clubs?
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Times writer Jennifer Miller profiles a number of men-only book clubs whose members want everyone to know that they’re extremely masculine, thank you very much. The 16-member Man Book Club in Marin County, Calif. abides by a cardinal rule: “No books by women about women.” The International Ultra Manly Book Club of Kansas City, Kan. consumes “manly—like, spicy” food and rates books “on a five-hand-grenade system for ‘manliness.’ ” Members of the Houston Men’s Book Club contend with false assumptions that they’re gay, while the actually gay founder of the NYC Gay Guys’ Book Club protects its grateful constituents from having to read “a 1,000-page book on lesbians who were persecuted in Russia.”
Most of the book club members quoted in the story seem pretty self-aware about the fact that they are men in a stereotypically female arena.
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The article seems designed to stir up outrage on social media, and lo, that’s exactly what happened.
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But do men who join men-only book clubs really deserve our scorn? Is it really so terrible for men to have safe spaces where they use literature as a lens through which to discuss society’s narrow expectations around masculinity, just as women have safe spaces to use literature as a lens through which to discuss society’s narrow expectations around femininity?
Most of the men who belong to the book clubs profiled in the Times article seem sensitive to the fact that women’s book clubs are often an opportunity for reflection and bonding over what it means to be a woman. “[Men] worry that, if they do join, they’ll be seen as intruding on a female activity or stigmatized as being the only guy,” says International Ultra Manly Book Club member John Creagar, who is correct that many women would not be happy if men started crashing their all-female book club meetings. We shouldn’t see all-male book clubs as a reactionary backlash against female book clubs, or an attempt to co-opt a traditionally female space, but as a way for men to enjoy the social and intellectual benefits of book clubs without destroying the homosocial camaraderie of all-female book clubs.
Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.
PG is not a member of a book club. He reads a lot and talks with other people about what he reads, but he has never felt a need to do so in the context of a book club.
PG didn’t know there had to be rules, written and unwritten, about gender and book clubs.
After reading this Slate piece, if PG were ever going to join an all-male book club, he would probably require a few rules.
1st Rule: You do not talk about Book Club.
2nd Rule: You DO NOT talk about Book Club.
3rd Rule: If someone from Slate asks you about Book Club, you RUN AWAY away without mentioning Book Club.