Liz Plank: Considered one of the World’s Most Influential People in Gender Policy by Apolitical, and named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30. Award-winning journalist, news correspondent and author, Plank explains why we need to include men in conversations about gender equality.
London: 2012. A campaign against skirts in Olympic boxing during the 2012 Summer Olympics.
As a Master student at the London School of Economics, Liz Plank became involved in organizing a campaign against female boxers being required to wear skirts while boxing in Olympic matches. “I’ve always been an activist at heart. It felt like a natural thing for me to get involved in.” One of the things that Plank helped to organize was a petition on change.org against this requirement, and after receiving over 50,000 signatures, the Olympic committee changed their decision on the requirement for skirts.
Never Expected to Be a Writer
Plank didn’t expect to become a journalist, let alone one who has created a massive online following like she has. While writing her master’s thesis, her professor told her that she was a terrible writer, and it was something that she never saw herself being good at it either. Her breakthrough in writing would come about due to her personal activism. After her successful campaign against the requirement of skirts in the Olympics, she was asked to write about her experience, but as she said at the time, “I am not a writer.” Despite this, she would go on to write something about her work with the Olympic petition, and it was published in the Huffington Post. While this would be her first taste of engaging with the online writing community, it would certainly not be her last.
“I spent all my weekends writing about feminism and women’s rights, because that is what I care about, and what I wanted to write about.”
The Rise From an Intern to a Senior Correspondent
Her writing for Huffington Post would help her get an internship at the media company, “Mic.” Within the first few months of working there, Plank helped bring one million new visitors to the webpage, where it became clear to her the hunger that existed for thoughtful conversations around gender equality in our society. She also saw the potential of online journalism and writing. “I could share this with so many more people, and have a conversation with so many more people, so the internet was this amazing playground for me.”
One of the World’s Most Influential People in Gender Policy
It would be a playground that she would excel at. Plank would later be recruited to cover the 2016 election for Vox Media, where she produced two well recognized and award-winning series called “2016ish” and “Divided States of Women.” Since then, her media presence has only grown. She is also now a columnist for MSNBC, and has been featured on BBC, CNN, and a host of other international and national programs to discuss a variety of topics that relate to gender and gender equality. Today, she is considered one of the World’s Most Influential People in Gender Policy by Apolitical and was also named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30.
For the Love of Men
I first learned about Plank from a radio interview she did on NPR (in the US) about her insightful and important book, For the Love of Men (read our review of the book here). The book explores the many problems that exist in society due to masculinity, not only for women, but for everyone. One of the things I was most curious to hear about was how she came up with the idea for this book. As it turns out the inspiration would come from a mix of creative brainstorming with her sister over some delicious ramen at a restaurant.
“It was about the end of 2015, and we were having this conversation over ramen, and we were both having difficult situations with the men in our lives.”
“While we were looking at the menu for ramen, we said, if only there was a guide for men like there was here with this menu.”
Plank and her sister were expressing frustration at the fact that too often men today are pressured to be a certain way, and in the process lose important and valuable traits including kindness, empathy, and many more traits as well. As they laughed about the idea of there being a book that helped men realize the many different ways of being a man, it would be a lightbulb moment for Plank that maybe she should write the book, and she gives her sister credit for this idea and revelation.
There would be another motivation for Plank in writing this book, and it would be that not enough men were involved in the conversation around gender equality. “I would get very frustrated, having done women’s studies as a bachelors, gender studies as a master’s student, and then working in this field, going to conferences and you know, there were never any men.” During the height of the #metoo movement, Plank would especially notice that she would be on television panels with only women discussing what could be done, and it was clear to her that to solve the many problems around gender equality, men needed to be engaged and involved.
“Men don’t care about gender equality.”
Putting together the book was challenging in many ways, including the fact that she had trouble getting a publisher interested in the book. In her first meeting with a potential publisher, she was told directly, “men don’t buy books,” and this book wouldn’t sell well because men aren’t interested in masculinity or gender equality. Being a natural optimist and solution-oriented person, Plank would still write the book and these traits would also inform how she would write. “On the cover I try to frame it around the solution instead of the problem, and I say in the book, ‘Look, masculinity is not the problem, masculinity is the solution.’ There is just a complete misunderstanding about what masculinity can mean, and what it can be.”
Not Women Feminizing Men
Plank’s intuitions paid off, because it would be a book that would be quite successful. While Plank receives positive feedback on this book from a wide variety of different people, including men for whom this book has been meaningful for, there was one particularly sweet validation of her book. It would turn out that the publisher who initially passed on her book saying it wouldn’t sell well, was surprised when her own boyfriend bought a copy for herself. This was a special moment not only because of the confirmation, but also because “It was my hope that my book would do this. It would prove there is demand and hunger from men about this conversation. It isn’t just women feminizing men.”
A Man in a Gown
We are living in an exciting time when it comes to gender equality and one that is also disruptive when it comes to ideas about gender roles. This offers both potential and pushback when it comes to conversations about men and masculinity. Plank is hopeful seeing the way in which this topic is getting more focus in mainstream society, and highlighted the recent controversy around Harry Styles posing in a gown on the cover of vogue magazine.
“Someone of his stature and celebrity status doing that, where he is really playing with ideas of what it means to be a man in our homophobic and misogynistic society. Harry Styles is not a catalyst but is instead a part of this larger movement.”
Stereotypes for Boys
“We have really encouraged our parents to question gender stereotypes when it comes to raising girls, but we are still very comfortable with parents doing the same with our boys. There isn’t a real questioning of ‘traditional masculinity.’ I am worried about what needs to happen for us to change that and offer a different model for being men.” For the Love of Men outlines the many consequences and problems our society is confronting because of traditional models and ideas of what it means to be a man. It also offers thoughtful insights and conversation starters about what solutions we can have. •