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The Importance of Discomfort

“Don’t let your desire to be known as a good guy in front of others get in the way of taking part in the bigger conversation.”

Liz Plank, For the Love of Men

Why do I think the way I do?

Why do I act the way I do?

Why do I hold certain beliefs?

What do I believe about myself?

Those are some of the questions award-winning journalist and author Liz Plank told the students in Wabash Professor of Rhetoric Jennifer Abbott’s Gender 101 class to ask themselves on a frequent basis.

“And then ask yourself, how do these things help you?” Plank said. “Sometimes, our thoughts are actually reverberations of what we’ve been told—by parents, caretakers, friends, and even society. But it’s important to be able to disconnect from the thoughts of others in order to see who you really are.” 

Plank was virtually brought to Wabash as part of the President’s Distinguished Speaker Series. The above exercise, which she calls “mindful masculinity,” is a large focus of her recent book, For the Love of Men.  

Plank describes mindful masculinity as a way for men to get in touch with the intentions behind their thoughts and actions. By encouraging them to look inward, they align themselves with their best selves—with the ways that make them good men—instead of the selves that are shaped by society and the thoughts of others regarding what it means to be a man. 

“The result is that men become aware of the reasons they do the things they do,” she explained. “Intentional masculinity is the cure for toxic masculinity.”

It’s not an easy exercise. In fact, there’s a lot of discomfort that comes from the process. 

But recognizing that discomfort, she said, is vital to understanding sexism and its impacts.

“It’s not easy to change the way you’ve been socialized,” Plank said. “Men don’t need to feel like they’re perfect in order to be part of this (feminist) movement. That discomfort is not a sign that you’re at the wrong place; it’s a sign you’re at the right place.” 

But where can men start? 

As Andrew Freck ’21 asked Plank, “How does mindful masculinity become externalized?”

One of the first steps is acknowledging the systemic problem, she answered. Then acknowledge that there are things you might not know about or fully understand. 

“Don’t let your desire to be known as a good guy in front of others get in the way of taking part in the bigger conversation,” she said.

“We have all grown up in a patriarchal society with sexist tendencies,” she continued. “Acknowledge it, exhale, and ask, ‘So what I can I do to change it?’”

That includes having deliberate friendships with people who are different from themselves, which, Plank said, is one of the best and most satisfying parts of being an activist. 

She also encouraged students to become comrades as well as an allies.

A male ally of the feminist movement might share with women how terrible sexism is, a comrade will address it with other men.

“It might feel scary. It might be really hard. And it will probably be uncomfortable,” Plank said. “But that’s where impact happens.”