Rebecca Walker




WHAT MAKES A MAN: Twenty-two Writers Imagine the Future  

Edited by: Rebecca Walker

Binding: Hardcover, 384 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Published Date: March 22, 2004

Dear Friends,

I am delighted to share 22 fresh essays on contemporary masculinity, a topic proving to be one of the most important of the 21st century. From Daddy Day Care to Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, metrosexual presidential candidates to gay four-star generals, it seems clear that what makes a man is under serious review. Could it be that conventional masculinity, with its stoicism and violence, has become so toxic that men themselves are refusing to take it on?



In search of answers, I interviewed dozens of men about what it means to be a man today and asked 20 of them to write personal, revealing essays about their attempts to challenge the narrowly defined masculinity they were introduced to as children. The result is What Makes a Man: 22 Writers Imagine the Future, a diverse collection that explores the interstices of contemporary masculinity and war, money, sex, marriage, and inner peace, among others.

What I discovered is that most men want to come out as the sensitive, multi-dimensional beings that they are. They want to be loved without having to fight to prove their manhood, without having to hurt others in order to secure their own place at the table. In the same way that women have had to break free of traditional behavior, men too are beginning to reject the idea of a one-size fits all masculinity, and to liberate themselves from the socially acceptable performance that restricts their full human potential.

This book is special to me not just because I edited it with my father, son, brother, and former lovers in mind, but because I believe that the work of redefining what it means to be a man is the work of securing the survival of our species. I have no doubt that when men no longer feel the cultural imperative to dominate a family, an employee, or a country, and when they are free from the fear of expressing their vulnerability, we will be closer to a world in which all people can be assured of their birthright: to live in peace.

As Barbara Ehrenreich graciously writes, "Whether you are a man exploring issues of identity, or a woman who loves one, or you are just a person who believes in the possibility of human evolution, this book is for you."

I urge you to help me get What Makes a Man into the hands of the men and women who need it the most.


Rebecca Walker

  Rebecca Walker hosted a show on Pacifica Radio (KPFA 94.1 fm) called What Makes a Man, listen to radio archives:  
March 05, 2004
Introduction to What Makes A Man
March 08, 2004
Guests: Robert L. Allen & Paul Kivel
March 10, 2004
Guest: Anthony Swofford
March 15, 2004
Guest: Spencer Nakasako
March 17, 2004
Guest: Shantam Nityama
March 22, 2004
Guest: Marc Bamuthi Joseph

  Publishers Weekly Review Booklist Review  
  In this literate essay collection, Walker (Black, White and Jewish) brings together male and female writers to ponder the male figure in its various poses: ill, robust, young, aged, confident, emotionally spent. The result is a book that portrays masculinity as a fluid mosaic, giving added resonance to contributor Caitríona Reed’s claim that "the Navajo have at least forty-nine gender designations." Elsewhere humor writer Bruce Stockler, in "No Means No," uses agile diction to portray the frenetic schedule and social stigma attached to being a stay-at-home dad—for four children, including triplets. And Meri Nana-Ama Danquah, in an essay that uses narrative twists to surprise readers with thoughtful analysis, ambivalently describes Ghana, a country where men link pinkies while chatting in bars because Ghanaian society accepts the display of physical affection between male friends. Almost half of the writers are African American (two others are gay men), and a recurring theme involves the shedding of machismo associated with that culture. Most of the essays are well crafted—an exception being Michael Moore’s hollow rant "The End of Men"—and a number of them chronicle a personal transformation from a limited view of masculinity to one imbued with nuance and so-called femininity. These awakenings are sometimes cloying and may make readers yearn for a defense of the red-blooded man—which they’ll glimpse in the excerpt from Anthony Swofford’s acclaimed Gulf War memoir Jarhead. But overall the anecdotes and insights will keep readers engaged, even if they cast only occasional light on an imagined future.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Walker, author of the memoir Black, White, and Jewish (2000), has put together a timely and profound anthology. One wonders what changes could occur in our society if such texts were read and openly and sensitively discussed among boys and girls who are on the verge of entering the limiting spaces we call "manhood" and "womanhood." Walker's introductory essay offers poignant and insightful observations about our reactions as parents, children, and peers to the process of becoming a "man." Other striking pieces include a mother's questions about her three-year-old son's insistence that he's a girl; a man's reflections on his childhood and the experiences, role models, and expectations that shaped him; a privileged young black man's life of trying to fit in while remaining true to his belief in peace over violence; and a transsexual's search for self beyond stereotype. Walker has done society at large a great service by bringing forth these voices, these views. Now if only society will listen. Janet St. John

Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
  REIMAGINING BOYHOOD, By Deborah Solomon, © New York Times Magazine, 06/13/2004  
  "MOM, I NEED TO PLAY SPORTS", ©, 06/17/2004  
  NEW AGE DAD, By Kathleen Grant Geib, © Alameda Times-Star, 06/18/2004  
  WHAT LITTLE BOYS ARE MADE OF, By Meredith Maran, ©, 05/28/2004  
  "POLITICS GET PERSONAL" WITH REBECCA WALKER By Tara Lombardo © Venus Zine, Summer 2004 issue  


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