The first feeling I had upon completing The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck written by Mark Manson was a sense of immense letdown. This was following all the hype that surrounds this book. It also reminded me that we need a book that can be read by, and more importantly, is friendly to women and non-binary readers.
I have to admit that there is a certain charm to the way Manson articulates himself which can resonate with younger readers. He articulates the value of self-worth by using popular examples of band members from Metallica, Megadeth and The Beatles. He is blunt, unapologetic and occasionally potty-mouthed. The narrative feels like an insight into various thought processes in the author’s mind which makes it easy as well as enjoyable to follow.
Where self-help books are concerned, this is a refreshing take as opposed to the usual trajectories defined by the likes of Louise Hay and Deepak Chopra, to name a couple of popular examples. Manson does not believe in sugar coating life’s problems for us and this book is a dosage of tough love. But it is also one that also encourages us to look out for ourselves and hope for better lives. To put it crudely: it jolts us into getting our shit together.
there is a certain charm to the way Manson articulates himself which can resonate with younger readers.
The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck takes us on a journey through historical and literary examples, finding purpose in this tiny bracket of time that is our lives, working our way around existentialism, weeding out meaningless incidents and benchmarks and facing that inevitable last stage called death. These examples are also interspersed with significant examples from the author’s own life.
In the midst of this humorous and informative trajectory: time and again, Manson throws in jarring sentences that reek of misogyny. While reading, this book would repeatedly subject me to rude shocks. Besides references to his wife and a couple of his acquaintances, the author resorts to talking about women in this casual, almost disposable manner. While I will not endorse the behaviour of some of the women that Manson has had bad experiences with, for example, a certain ex-fling who resorted to stalking and harassing him, that is not sufficient ground for addressing women in a dismissive manner.
I shall back this up with a couple of examples. In the middle of a very important lesson on how we need to evaluate and reevaluate the way we define and measure the idea of success in our lives and the importance of looking beyond material goals, one example of a superficial measure of success particularly stands out – “We realize that we’re never going to cure cancer or go to the moon or feel Jennifer Aniston’s tits. And that’s OK“.
No, it is most certainly NOT OK. Here, his and my idea of “OK” will starkly vary. Need I remind the author that women are not property for the enjoyment of men chasing the ‘good life’? While talking about doing away with superficial aims in our life, the author contradicts himself by reducing Jennifer Aniston to an object. Lest he should forget, Jennifer Aniston is a person and not a trophy.
A second disturbing example is of a discussion based on False Memory/Recovered Memory Therapy. I will not deny that the latter is a fertile ground for danger and that false memories planted in people’s heads are issues in need of much discussion and direct action.
The example being referred to here is of Meredith Maran, who thought that her father had sexually abused her when she was young, that the memory was repressed and later rediscovered in therapy. She later realised that this was, in fact, a false memory. By then, it was too late, after having openly accused her father and her family being polarised into those who believed her and those who didn’t.
While there is no denying the ramifications of false complaints of sexual abuse and the way repressed memories are addressed, Manson’s analysis of Maran’s actions are fury-inducing. He equates her mind to a breeding ground for false memories BECAUSE she is a radical feminist, she had a strained relationship with her father and that she was in a lesbian relationship after a string of failed relationships with men.
Need I remind the author that women are not property for the enjoyment of men chasing the ‘good life’?
The blame lies with her therapist and her therapist alone for malpractice and manipulation. This has absolutely nothing to do with Maran’s political affiliations and relationship choices. Feminism and queer relationships cannot be solely reduced to a backdrop for irrational behaviour. That is reductionist and of course, patriarchal.
Perhaps the author needs a reminder that women do not become lesbians after giving up on the idea of relationships with men for good. In addition, the few false cases of sexual abuse are not grounds to deride sexual abuse, women and feminism in all their complex entirety. This is textbook disgruntled MRA behaviour.
As a feminist, as a woman and as someone who does not give two hoots for the gender and sexual binary, The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A Fuck made me feel as though I am someone who does not deserve self-help. This is not to claim that I represent all women and queer persons who read and responded to this book in various ways. But where the claims of life lessons and self-help are concerned, it only generated a sense of alienation.