I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya

Though a very short book, I’m Afraid of Men gives a very personal account of the author’s fear of men. She talks about a long string of distressing encounters with strangers who have gone out of their way to try and make her uncomfortable, either as a result of transphobia (as the other is a transwoman) or plain old fashioned misogyny.

Having lived and presented as a gay man for a large portion of her life, she shares insights from that period too. She talks about how many communities of gay men are hyper sexual and pay little regard for boundaries or consent, perhaps based on the perception that men are always interested in sexual activity. Though obviously not universal, she talks about how this problem fed into her fears and how there are many gay communities who need to address the issue. She does a fantastic job of highlighting the ways in which the casual of behaviour of men can make people feel unsafe without them having any idea they’re doing it.

What I liked the most about this book was that it gives an insight into the anxiety that women face every day – with the author facing extra prejudice because of the fact that she is trans and because she is not white. It’s important that everybody read accounts like this, because we all have a responsibility to understand these points of view so that we can do everything we can to ensure that they feel comfortable.

There were two bits I didn’t like so much though. At one point, the author talks about a man (a taxi driver, I believe) who told her something extremely sexual out of the blue and how it made her really uncomfortable. That’s a perfectly valid thing to call out and a reasonable response. However, at one point the author also shares the fact that, to this day, they masturbate over a man who was nasty to them years ago, in a fair amount of detail. It’s obviously not exactly the same, but it felt like an instance of needless over-sharing that was a little uncomfortable. I’m not against people talking about masturbation because it’s a healthy and normal part of life, but it was very unexpected to find that here and I’m not really sure why it was included.

Next, the author has a (completely understandable) pessimistic view on people and the world. They go on to talk about how we should stop expecting men to be “good men” because if you expect somebody to be “good” your expectations will be too high and you’ll generally end up disappointed in them. She tells the story of a “good man” that she once loved and how he betrayed her trust and she realised not to expect people to be “good men” because of that. To me, that’s just too pessimistic. There are good men, and to say that you shouldn’t expect anything better almost feels a little too much like a more negative way of saying “boys will be boys” – as if it’s in their nature to be bad and that’s that. Obviously, the author still thinks that men should be held to account for their bad behaviour, but still, I continue to believe in good men, despite the damage that misogyny does to the world. Maybe it’s easy for me to say that from a place of privilege, but nonetheless, I didn’t agree.

So all-in-all, while it was very short and there was a bit of (seemingly irrelevant) over-sharing, I think there’s a lot of value in this book and would recommending giving it a read.

Rating: 7/10

Buy it here.

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