What’s the problem with Mark Manson’s tribal feminism?

In the last few months, I’ve loved reading Mark Manson‘s work. I discovered him a few years ago after I somehow stumbled on ‘Fuck Yes, or No‘.  That’s some great life advice right there.  I recently flew through his book, ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’.  I highly recommend it (yes, the f*ck theme is real – I like it).

I was caught a bit off guard when his latest article arrived in my inbox late last week titled, ‘What’s the Problem with Feminism?‘.  I’m going to be honest here and say that actually I bristled when I read the title.  Ugh.  Another white guy weighing in on what’s wrong with women.  What else is new.  And just when I was becoming a SERIOUS fan of his work.

Before I weigh in on that particular article though, I want to point out that he wrote that article as a companion piece to ‘What’s the Problem with Men?‘.  Which I will say, I thought was totally on point.  It’s filled with gems such as:

“We unfairly objectify women in society for their beauty and sex appeal. Similarly, we unfairly objectify men for their professional success and aggression”.

Amen, brother. And:

“It’s why a woman who speaks up at board meetings is seen as shrill and bitchy, and a man who talks over people and demeans them in front of others is seen as bold and a strong leader”.

Yep. True statement right there.

He discusses at length about how society’s complicity in silencing men’s emotional expression harms not only their relationship, but their general health.  And goes on to makes lots of other great points.  I definitely recommend checking it out (linked here again – seriously, check it out).

But then he gets into feminism.  After re-reading the article a couple of times, I’m still left with a sour taste.  I posted a link to the article on a friend’s social media page, and another female friend – who, I will say, has thought AT LENGTH about feminism – weighed in that it felt very ‘reductionist’.

I have to agree.

The central point seems to be that ‘third wave feminism’ is tribal feminism.  He seems to be saying that modern (tribal) feminism is just the Feelings Police.  Sigh.

He compares current feminism to previous iterations of it by saying:

“This is a tricky business because you’re no longer dealing with institutions—you’re dealing with people’s perceptions and people’s brains. You have to confront belief systems and irrational assumptions and force people to unlearn things that they’ve “known” for decades. It’s a really, really hard thing to face”.

I agree with this. It is hard. F*cking hard, in fact.

But isn’t that exactly what all other feminists had to overcome as well?  They all to start dealing with people’s perceptions and brains – trying to convince them that they weren’t hysterical beings, that they too could be physicians and scientists (and could develop the underlying skill set of mathematics – and I’m going to take a second here to say that the gender bias in how we talk to girls and boys about math hasn’t yet fully changed), and that they were fully capable of holding such responsibility as voting.  They had to change people’s perceptions and brains BEFORE they could change institutions.  It’s a pre-requisite. 

Adam Grant has some great insight on the first wave feminism movement that Manson is referring to, in his ‘Originals‘ book – he tells a great perspective on how these non-conformist women struggled to make change, how the movement was messy, and un-unified at times.  This is critical.

It’s critical because interpreting social change is easier in the rearview mirror.

Manson goes on to say that:

“Women now make up almost 60% of college graduates, yet they still only constitute 20% of STEM professions (which make much more money, it so happens). You want more women in math and science? Be a woman who pursues math and science. You want more women as CEOs and winning at business? Start a business. You want more women in politics? Run for office. These are the real activists. This is where real progress happens”.

Yeah, I agree.  I happen to be a woman working in STEM – returning to STEM after time spent doing other things – and I can’t say that the transition back has been easy. Those same attitudes Manson’s mentioned in his ‘What’s the Problem with Men?’ are so very prevalent.  Even among the ‘good guys’.  I mean, if I could tell you some of the stuff I’ve heard…. but that’s a story for another time.

When comparing current feminism to previous iterations, he says:

“Previous generations of feminists were the change they desired. They got out and protested and voted. They went to the schools and got the degrees and took the jobs”.

You’re right, they did.  And if we want to get back to the mathematical skill set, I’m pretty sure those women didn’t start out by getting 60% of university degrees.  More like 1% (or less).  And they kept inching the bar higher.

Aren’t we struggling with the same type of institutional questions today in regard to the number of women on boards or the number of women in elected office?  When the day comes that equity is achieved in those domains (in my lifetime, please), I’m sure we’ll look back and be able to understand how that all happened.  And recognize it as real institutional change.  But we’re not there.  Nowhere close.  So we’re working on changing perceptions and brains.

What I do agree with him on is the fact that the world is getting better.  The world continues to improve, and I feel really lucky to be a woman today.  I’m grateful for my education, my freedom, and my ability to, as Liz Dolan of the ‘I Hate My Boss‘ podcast (so great and so funny – go check it out) would say: stay noisy.  I think I get noisier with each passing year.  Life as a woman today is pretty good. But it can get better – for both men and women.  Which, for the record, I think is Manson’s central tension and a good one.

Perhaps what Manson is struggling with is that today’s feminism is multifaceted, and that we’re in the middle of it – it’s hard to see the forest through the trees.

Women aren’t gathered in the streets in one collective march (although technically, we did actually do that this year).  The methods look different because the world has changed drastically – power is decentralizing and that means everyone can have a voice.  The voices aren’t all at the same amplitude, but they’re out there.  Saying lots of different things, in lots of different domains.

It’s easier to interpret movements after they’ve happened – hindsight is 20/20.  I’m sure first wave feminists would have done a lot of things differently if they could have seen into the future.  But they couldn’t, and I’m so grateful they had the courage to be out there changing people’s perceptions and brains – knowing that they’d be criticized, and ridiculed but that their reason for being out there (institutional change) was more important that those insults.

That’s what today’s feminists – in all of their current forms – are doing too.  We just don’t yet know how and when all of the pieces are going to fall into place.  Which is kind of exciting.

And final note: Mark Manson, I still like your work. I hope you write a follow up piece – sounds like you’ve been getting lots of feedback.  Curious to see what comes next.


Holding back

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  Mainly:

  • How am I holding myself back?
  • What am I holding myself back from?
  • And most importantly – why?

At times, there are legitimate reasons to hold back – whether it be emotional control in personal or professional relationships, not eating lots of sugar because it makes me feel terrible, or simply going to bed at a reasonable, consistent time so that I accomplish what I want to accomplish each day.

For me, those are some great reasons to hold back.

I’ve come to realize though, that there are other ways that I’m holding myself back – in more subtle, subconscious ways that aren’t so great for me.  I’ve been working on the question ‘why am I holding back myself back from my own potential’ lately.

That is a difficult one to answer.

I’ve totally fallen in love with podcasts recently, and have been listening to all kinds of them (there are SO MANY truly fabulous ones – not enough time in the day!).  In the last week, I’ve discovered The Tim Ferriss Show and I gotta confess that I totally love it.  What I like most is his down-to-earth honesty mixed in with this drive to do awesome stuff, and to just generally explore awesomeness in many arenas.

Because, why not.

I’ve listened to him interview both Vince Vaughn and Jason Khalipa – they’re both people that haven’t held themselves back.  They’ve both accomplished so much, and from very different perspectives and in very different arenas.  While I don’t think either of them would say that they’ve had perfect journeys, what they both seem to have in common is a general joy and curiosity about what they were doing, mixed in with a drive to achieve for some larger purpose.

What a fantastic combination.

I love hearing these stories because it makes me stop and consider what I’m striving for – what brings me joy, what I have deep curiosity for, and what gives me a sense of a greater purpose.

I keep coming back to writing.  I’ve been a huge reader, editor and writer-in-secret for as long as I can remember.  And I’ve been asking myself why I’ve held myself back from this for so long.

What I keep coming back to is fear.  I’ve been afraid.  I’ve been afraid to write more frequently because I was afraid I may be terrible at it.  Or that people may target me for it.  But the new question I’ve chosen to ask myself after listening to so many very human stories on podcasts is – is writing something I would do anyway? For the love it, for the joy and curiosity – even if I start at the bottom.  And the answer is yes.

I’ve been reading Adam Grant’s great book, ‘Originals‘.  He references the work of psychologist Dean Simonton, who has spent his career studying creative productivity. Grant says:

‘Simonton finds that on average, creative geniuses weren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers.  They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality’.

I find that so relieving.  Everything I put out there doesn’t have to be sprinkled with pixie dust – I just have to keep working.  Thanks, Simonton and Grant.

I’ve been working on quieting my ‘lizard brain‘.  It’s going to be a long journey.  But something tells me it’s going to be fun.


It’s my birthday today, and I turn the slightly terrifying age of 35.

Realizing that this birthday has been coming up has been a bit of a reckoning.  A reckoning because 35 is a culturally scary age for a single woman.  An age where society, in all kinds of discrete ways, wants to tell you you’re no longer desirable (among other things).

I’m wise enough to know that this is a message that I don’t have to choose to believe.  It defines me only as much as I let it.  As Brene Brown says, ‘you have to let go of who you think you should be, so that you can be who you are’.

I reside in a camp that, if I had to put a name to it, I’d have to call ‘pragmatic optimism’. Pragmatism can generally be pretty useful, though at times can also be quite terrifying – for me, it often holds me back because I think to myself, ‘gosh, I just don’t know how the rest of my life is going to play out’.  But then my optimism reminds me that, hey, actually no one knows how the rest of their life is going to play out, so I might as well just get over it, and get my head back in the game.

At the start of each year, I set new year’s intentions rather than resolutions – they feel more gentle, and give me a guiding focus.  This year’s intention was to ‘not rush’ – to take the time in my day to reflect, to be grateful, to make time for the things that bring me joy like walking the dog each morning… even when he wakes me up at 3AM to pee.  This whole ‘not rushing’ thing has been revitalizing.

Two of my wise mentors recently said to me (independently, and without consultation – they don’t even know each other), ‘Vanessa, you don’t have to live your entire life in a year’.  That resonated.  It resonated for two reasons – the first, because it felt true really deep down because I’ve always felt a pressure to achieve x and y by z.  I’m not really sure why – it was a story I chose to believe about myself, I guess.  What’s the rush?  Actually, I have no idea.  It also resonated because it’s so interesting that people observe a lot about you without you needing to say a thing – a good reminder for living an authentic life.

The best part about 35 is that I feel confident in who I am.  I know who I am at my core, am surrounded by tons of awesome people, and have problems that I’m pretty lucky to have.  I re-read this very wise post today, and it made me smile.  It was exactly the gift I needed today to open my 36th rotation around the sun.  Lucky, lucky me.

“You won’t do it at the right time.

You’ll be late.

You’ll be early.

You’ll get re-routed.

You’ll get delayed.

You’ll change your mind.

You’ll change your heart.

It’s not going to turn out the way you thought it would.

It will be better”.

Love or ego?

Which one are you in it for?

The question applies both to professional and personal life, though I’m going to stick to professional life here.

We all know people in our workplaces who are motivated solely by their ego – these are the people that you don’t trust.  Maybe you realize why you don’t trust them, and maybe it’s a little nagging feeling that makes you act a little extra cautious around that person.

Then there’s the people that you instinctively trust.  The people you know are in it for love.  I think it’s important to say that these people exist across all sectors – public, private, and non-profit.

Sometimes we limit ourselves to thinking that everyone who is in the non-profit sector must be in it for love, and every one in the private and public sectors must be in it for their egos.

In my experience, this hasn’t been true.  There are people in all of these sectors who are in for love, and those who are in it for their egos.  I know people who are both rich in materials goods and love – whose mission is it to help seed fertile land for others – and I’ve known them in all of these sectors.  And I know people who are motivated primarily by their own self-interest, who forget their integrity when they think no one is looking, or when they have power.

I’ve really come to believe in the adage, ‘when someone shows you who they are, believe them’.

Power tells you a lot about how someone is motivated.  Does someone with power use it to build a bigger table, or build a higher fence?

Does this mean that people can’t change? I wholeheartedly believe that they can.  And I think that people achieve their best work, deepest impact and most meaning from their days when they are working for love – to build something greater than themselves.  As Dan Pink would say, when they are working for ‘autonomy, mastery and purpose’.

I also know that humans are social, and group behaviour is real. Workplace culture can promote all kinds of behaviour.  If you aren’t working consciously on culture, then you can’t quite be sure what types of behaviours it is promoting – this has become pretty obvious with recent cases like Uber, or United Airlines – both situations in which a shitty workplace culture finally came back to bite their bottom lines.

The best places to work know exactly what behaviours they want to incentivize, and why those behaviours help their bottom line – whether that bottom line is value to shareholders, public services, or community impact.

Apparently everyone at Amazon has a desk made from a cheap door with legs attached to it.  Why? Because they want to obsessively cut costs to deliver the most value to their clients. That’s clarity.