Book Review: Men’s Society: a Guide

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When you think of a self-improvement guide on how to be more manly, what do you think of? You’d probably think it would include, among other things, a few useful how-tos on tasks like jump-starting a car. Maybe you’d think to find an outline on an exercise regimen. You might even expect something philosophical to get you to consider what you stand for and how strongly.

If you’re expecting anything as useful from Men’s Society: a Guide, then you’re already set up for disappointment. Like it or not, there is a new kind of manliness in town; a kind that is obsessed with image and with defining your identity with what you buy, rather than your character.

Men’s Society: a Guide comes to us from menssociety.com, and it largely reads as an advertisement for items featured on their online store. I mean, their website, because their online store is their top page. The commercial agenda screams “ethics” as loudly as some energy scam kiosk right inside the doors of a grocery chain.

Let’s keep it real here: real manliness came to be because the traits associated with it were what was necessary for men to get by in times when resources were limited. Real men are strong, smart, skilled, nimble, adaptive, and strong of character. The new form of manliness that’s obsessed with an outward show of old-timey rusticness is nothing more than a sham that was crafted to get people to spend money on things.

Where does Men’s Society fit in the scheme of things? To find out, let’s look at the topics discussed in this book, one at a time:

  • Grooming – a few fundamentals and a list of grooming supplies for you to buy
  • Drinking – a list of alcoholic beverages for you to buy
  • Style – a few staples of outward appearance for you to buy
  • Culture – a list of books, films, and other media for you to buy
  • Travel – a few pointers about getting from one place to another, so you can continue buying things somewhere else
  • Manners – the part of the book that was rushed because it’s not intrinsically conductive to you buying things

Whether it’s consumption of media or consumption of products, the main point of this book, again and again, is consume, consume, consume. The commercialization of manliness weakens manliness in the same way that the commercialization of Christmas led to the weakening of the Christian identity.¬†Commercialization is nothing more than a means to an end, that being to line the pocketbooks of a few with leafy greens at the expense of the rest of us. To the entrepreneur enriched by this endeavor, any identity weakened in the process is considered an acceptable expense.

The authors of Men’s Society are British, so the perspective of this book is from that of a British man. There are a few points in this book that indicates that real manliness in the UK is in serious trouble.

For one thing, there is a section in this book on how to survive a flight. Fast fact: surviving a flight is easy. Flight is considered the safest way to travel, and it’s no mistake that nearly everyone who attempts flight survives the experience. All there is to surviving a flight is to sit down and not make too much noise. Do it right, and none of the other passengers will have much reason to throw you out a window.

There is a paragraph that discourages manspreading. Non-ironically. It opens with this gem:

MANSPREADING

This is a derogatory term that you don’t want used to describe you.

Sorry, Men’s Society, “manspreading” is a verb, not a noun. You have failed.

And it gets worse, as three pages later, the book includes a similar section on mainsplaining. Again, non-ironically. The term “mansplaining” was obviously invented in a cynical effort to shut down productive conversation because feminists can’t stand being proven wrong. A willingness to hold water for the intersectional agenda is a sign of weakness and isn’t a trait of one qualified to teach manliness.

When the advice isn’t bad or geared towards marketing, it’s usually lazy. One can imagine that a book packed with advice on men’s style would include at least a few informative pages about hats. Instead, there’s a short paragraph at the end of a chapter which says little more than that it’s acceptable to wear baseball hats and “street-style go-tos” (whatever those are), and that if you were to wear any other style of hat, “you’re a bold man.”

Really? That’s all that Men’s Society has to say about hats? What a cheap cop-out. There’s a lot more to say about hats, but I suspect that the brevity to this section is owed to the fact that I found no hats in their online store (but two pages of shaving products and three pages of haircare products). I imagine that they’d have more to say about the style of a derby or the protection of a bucket hat if those were products in their online store.

This is a bit of an aside, but Men’s Society has an obvious obsession with mint tin kits. I get it, pocket-sized kits are awesome. But here’s the thing: you don’t need to buy them. Mint tin kits are packed with cheap items that would usually set a person back just a few dollars altogether if one would construct them themselves.

Men’s Society understands the profit behind giving some trial-size products their own label then selling them for 25 British pounds (about $30), and here’s an example of one from their website:

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Yes, a beard removal kit. They think so little of your ability to accomplish the task with the items you have on-hand that they put together a kit designed to assist you toward that end.

Speaking of shaving, people can stop patting themselves on the back for using a razor to shave, as though that were any kind of accomplishment. Technology should be embraced as an expression of how adaptive and nimble men are, not shunned for that smug glow of superiority that comes with refusing to keep up. I use electricity to shave because I’m not a luddite.

You don’t have to pay piles of money for mint tin kits. You can make one of your own. Assembling one for yourself shows ingenuity and is rewarding when you finish one up. It’s so simple, I can give you a short guide right here:

  1. Procure a mint tin. An Altoid’s tin would work.
  2. Throw out those suspiciously non-Kosher Altoids mints and wash the mint smell from the tin. (Is there pork in them, or something?)
  3. Put what you want in them, whatever would reasonably fit. Fishing hooks, band-aids, twine, it’s up to you.
  4. That’s it. You now have a mint tin kit, and didn’t pay someone $30 to do it for you.

While we’re at it, here’s an article on how to make mint tin kits on Art of Manliness, a much better page on manliness than Men’s Society.

Part of the book that I found myself sometimes liking was the “Don’t Be That Guy” sections, which added a little bit of humor to an otherwise commercial experience. A couple of my favorites include “Don’t Be That Guy: You know, the guy with longer hair who thinks he’s Kurt Cobain?” and “You know, the guy who leaves the top four buttons of his shirt unbuttoned?” However, these are short blurbs in what is otherwise a paid advertisement (one that the reader paid for, not the marketer).

As it is, Men’s Society: a Guide could be more appropriately called, “Men’s Society: A Buyer’s Guide”. It’s written with the expectation that if you’d pay for a book to tell you how to be manly, then it can suggest a bunch of other things for you to buy, leading you down a deep rabbit hole of continual spending in a vain attempt to find identity. And that’s assuming that you’d want a bunch of posh blokes telling you how to be manly. Men’s Society brings to mind the words of an Asian proverb:

“The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”
-Confucius

The time has come to give this book it’s score. Men’s Society: a Guide gets a score of Don’t Be That Guy out of ten.

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Because the Don’t Be That Guy sections make up around 1% of this book, that comes to 0.1 out of 10.

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