Book Review: I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

by | Book Recommendations, Book Review

Shraya is a Canadian musician, artist and writer. She came out as a trans woman in 2016, and before this identified as a queer man. In I’m Afraid of Men she explores issues surrounding masculinity: how it has been enforced upon her, and how her own subconscious bias has, at times, enforced it on others, as well as the ways she attempts to tackle this within herself.

The title of this book almost seems like bait. I can already hear the ‘not all men’ crowd in the distance packing their bags, ready to set up camp in labelling this book lefty radical feminist propaganda. However, this – what some might call – sensational title only works to elucidate one of the central questions Shraya posits within the book: Why do marginalised peoples only warrant attention – and why are the privileged only encouraged to recognise their own bias – through sensationalised stories of their suffering? LGBTQ+ people face the brunt of one of the many power asymmetries in our society, and for those on the other side of this, when the experience of the marginalised community is only in their peripheral vision, so to speak, it is easy to gloss over it and not actively listen.

The book begins as a litany (for lack of a better word) of how her life has been defined through various misogynistic experiences with men, clearly setting out multiple examples as explanations for her fear. To this, however, she then begins to contrast the flawed ideal of a ‘good man’, which she admits to once holding – even for her past self as a queer man. Shraya recognises the problematic nature of our society to just say ‘boys will be boys’, yet discusses how looking for exceptions to this ‘rule’ only enforces it further; Looking for a ‘good’ man makes us complicit in permitting, or at least overlooking that a typical man is or should be inherently ‘bad’. The intangible and immeasurable ideal of a ‘good’ man sets everybody up to fail (male and female).

Reading I’m Afraid of Menmade me much more acutely aware of my own subconscious biases, and demonstrated to me how to start challenging them in myself and others. I think the most important thing to take away is that it is okay to admit that you have biases (in fact you should), because it is the first step in changing them. And that’s the key part – change. You can be a feminist and admit that you hold misogynistic biases – it’s all that can be expected living in a world where misogynistic ideals are everywhere – as long as you are aware of them and actively trying to change them.

This book is really short – it took me less than an hour to read – but it really effectively highlights the fundamentally toxic nature of defined and enforced gender roles. Shraya’s description of her previous attempts to camouflage herself amongst straight men emphasises the importance of Pride month. LGBTQ+ people should not feel the need to have to figuratively and literally hide just to be safe. Pride creates safe spaces for a community that is otherwise sentenced to be clichéd supporting characters in the movie of life starring all the straight cis people.

Ultimately, Shraya acknowledges that she is afraid of so much more than just men, because of her gender and because of her queerness. What we should all fear is the intrinsically prejudiced constitution of the world. Reading this book is a great (and quick) way to start thinking about your own personal biases and how to combat them, as well as putting you in a position to start a conversation with others about changes that need to be made.

You can purchase this book here.

Words and photo by Nell Wedgwood.

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